The significance of the next two days in Parliament seems huge to those people who are still feeling engaged and concerned about the process of leaving or remaining in the European Union. Writing as someone who believes our departure will be a huge mistake and one that will cost our nation very dearly for many decades to come, the idea that the many amendments from the House of Lords to the ‘European Union (Withdrawal) Bill’ can all be fully discussed and considered in two days seems at best ridiculous. On the other hand it would be fascinating if there was some way of testing the 650 MPs in the Commons to find out how many of them are actually going to take part in the debates and how many of them will vote differently as matters proceed than they would if they were faced with voting for all of the amendments at 11.30 on Tuesday morning. After all if there is to be nothing more than two days of hot air and theatrics before the same decisions get taken as would be the case at the outset, then that will be a very costly case of going through the motions. One of the other matters that is being discussed in Parliament on Tuesday is a debate on the care for prisoners children. It seems strange for such a vital matter to only take half an hour and assuming that the two day focus on the Lords Amendments changes nothing except the rejection of all or most of the amendments, perhaps the focus on something more vital for children in our society would be a better use of our MPs time. Every piece of news about the behaviour and statements from people like David Davis and Liam Fox make it clear that our Governments ability to come up with a good outcome following the Brexit vote is almost impossible, and add to that the views from Boris Johnson that what is needed is Donald J Trump “Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He’d go in bloody hard. There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere” So Boris thinks that unless there is lots of breakdowns and chaos, we won’t get anywhere!
Outside of the Brexit bubble there is news following a debate last week in Parliament on the subject of the railway chaos that in some areas staff at GTR are creating contingency plans for taxis and minibuses to ensure that school pupils facing exams are still able to get to school in time. This seems in one sense very inspiring and yet it seems just as disturbing that the same level of planning and care cannot resolve the missing train services that the taxis will help mitigate. The reality is that unless our Government is prepared to address the problems inside the Department of Transport and then resolve the matters caused by the current franchise arrangements our nation will gradually collapse as people are forced to lose their jobs as the roads become more and more blocked and the rail lines stay empty for hours on end. The latest crisis is an acute aspect of the challenge which Sussex Commuters have been facing for decades but most painfully in the last five years. Chris Grayling has displayed the same sort of results with the railways that he achieved with the probation service when he was Lord Chancellor, both required change and both have been pushed over a cliff. In terms of his senior team it is hard to know if people like Jo Johnson who came into post in January as Rail Minister have caused problems or was simply in post when the can of worms got opened. Outside of the Politicians The lead Civil Servant in the Department, Bernadette Kelly was Director General of the Rail Group from September 2015 and she was promoted in April last year. Her successors in the Rail Group are Polly Payne and Ruth Hannant who have been in post as a job share since December so are in the same position as Johnson. Then there is Peter Wilkinson who is responsible for Passenger Services and has been in the Department since 2013. He was the person who told a public meeting in early 2016 that he was going to take on the Unions “Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support”. His personal and pecuniary links to the various rail franchises are deeply worrying but should surely mean that he would at least have had the understanding to head off the crisis that is currently impacting the various timetables.