Tom Richmond: Parliament’s carry-on over proxy voting doesn’t bode well for Brexit – all the week’s talking points

NOTHING to discuss? It is difficult to have confidence in Parliament over Brexit when it seems incapable of managing itself.

How can MPs advance on Brexit when they agree on so little?
How can MPs advance on Brexit when they agree on so little?

Take Monday. Commons proceedings started at 2.30pm before Theresa May confirmed that she had no new Brexit plan after the previous week’s 230-vote defeat. Business came to a halt at 8.14pm – instead of the normal 10pm cut-off.

Or Tuesday. Parliamentary business – a row about the proxy voting rights of female MPs

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Or Wednesday when proceedings started at 11.30am, there was some important discussions about fire cladding before the Commons rose at 5pm.

But the Government did pull a proposal which guaranteed extra Friday sittings to debate new laws proposed by backbench MPs. In a week when Westminster should have been heeding The Yorkshire Post’s call on for a series of indicative votes to see where a Brexit consensus might be possible, the public are right to be exasperated.

And they will be even more angry after it emerged that Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, has been blamed for protocols not being agreed that would afford proxy votes to heavily pregnant MPs – or new mothers – that were promised months ago when the issue first flared up.

Why? The result will be further time being taken up by this issue next Monday in the hope of avoiding a repeat of last week’s farce when a heavily pregnant MP, Tulip Siddiq, had to delay a caesarian section operation – deemed urgent by doctors – so she could be pushed through the voting lobbies in a wheelchair. Given it just needs the name of the absent MP, and their proxy, to be recorded, this carry-on does not bode well when far more complex issues remain unresolved. Like Brexit.

I’LL be kind to Chris Grayling. The Transport Secretary has written to Colne Valley MP Thelma Walker acknowledging the disruption suffered by passengers using Marsden and Slaithwaite stations. Given the problems date back to last May’s timetable changes, the reply – like some trains – is better late than never.

Yet he still blames others for the New Year fare increase that was the final insult for many. “The Government sets the maximum average amount by which regulated fares can rise,” he wrote. “Operators can choose to raise their fares by a lower amount, although most operators will have assumed when bidding for their franchises that they will make full use of this headroom.”

And it does not excuse his failings over Brexit planning. Not only has Jacques Gounon, the head of Eurotunnel, accused Mr Grayling of “anti-competitive” practices by awarding three contracts to ferry firms – some more reputable than others – to keep cross-Channel trade flowing in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but he says the scope for extra rail freight trains is being ignored.

KEIGHLEY MP John Grogan makes a fair point – EU legislation has helped to clean up our beaches and he will absent himself from next Tuesday’s Brexit debates in order to meet water chiefs to demand the same for rivers.

A member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, he told Parliament this week: “The overflows from combined sewers owned by the water industry are a national disgrace. We have cleaned up our beaches in the past two or three decades, largely, dare I say it, because of European regulation.

“We now need to clean up our rivers. Ilkley in my constituency is a great tourist destination, with swimmers in the Wharfe all the time. We should not have sewage being discharged on a very regular basis.”

He is right. Any Brexit deal must include a commitment to high environmental standards.

IF Theresa May wants some Brexit advice, she should seek out her constituent Bernard Donoughue who was Harold Wilson’s political secretary at the time of the 1975 referendum on EEC membership.

She would get a warm welcome. He tells me that he admires her “resilience and determination”, but now thinks that “her obstinacy is a downside”.

As a solution, he says Mrs May should invite Jeremy Corbyn for one-to-one talks – “alone as leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, not as one of a gaggle” – and say this to him: “Well you have always said that you want an election, so I am offering you an election. But in return you have to deliver my option.”

His logic? “She would go out on a success. Corbyn would get his election. The present chaos would be relieved. Each could avoid no second referendum and no-deal,” he explains. “The election in June could be fought not on the Brexit mess, that would be on the shelf, but on the domestic economic and social issues which have been neglected.” It is, he also ventures, also what Harold Wilson would have done.

AN update on the racehorse Brexitmeansbrexit who was a remote eighth of 10 runners at Wolverhampton on Monday. Given the race was run on an all-weather Tapeta surface developed by legendary Yorkshire trainer Michael Dickinson, I can only assume that the political going was too heavy.

Yet, on the subject of ironically-named horses, No Trumps outran her 33-1 odds to finish fourth of 11 at Warwick under my good friend Jonathan Burke. Given that the owner and breeder is none other than the Queen, I wonder if Her Majesty’s choice of name was a mischievous way of registering her displeasure at the prospect of a state visit by the President of the United States and his wife. I’m not betting against it.