We seem to be at a very significant point in history on several levels. For those of us who were thrilled that were able to join the European Communities almost exactly 47 years ago following campaigns by the two main political parties, the last few days feel very sad. The early rejections by the French Government are now reflected in the acts by our Government 50 years later. Our Government has finally reached the point where it can now remove us from the European Union which its predecessors helped to form almost exactly 26 years ago. The damage that will begin to take place in our economy now our Conservatives have succeeded in putting the final nail in the EU departure is hard to justify on any level. However they have also chosen to ignore the views of so many people and several constitutional bodies in leaving in such a destructive manner. With the exception of our Brighton and Hove MPs, all of the other Sussex MPs have supported the rejection on matter such as Erasmus+, unaccompanied children who are seeking asylum and workers rights. They have also chosen to destroy the open door between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland. On all of these themes they have rejected the opposition by the House of Lords and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies for the departure to take place in the way it will. Not only will this severely impact the future of our current so called United Kingdom which is merely 98 years old, but it also raises questions regarding the integrity of the Conservative manifesto which was voted for back in December. The manifesto stated “We remain committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK. Our ambition is for full devolution across England…so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny.” Of course the current lack of devolution in Brighton and Hove where most people voted against our departure from the EU, helps to explain why our views did not get considered by local MPs including people like Maria Caulfield who used to live in and represent our city, but given how Maria and her 12 colleagues ignored the views of the devolved nations that currently form the UK, their commitment to local devolution is clearly non-existent.
Apart from the votes that have recently taken place in Parliament, there have not been very many meaningful matters in Parliament that will impact our communities. However there are one or two. Last Wednesday Caroline Lucas asked a question regarding the funding of sixth form students which has been frozen for 7 years since 2013/14. The argument set out by London Economics that it is vital for the mental health provision and teaching for modern foreign languages and the provision for work placement all led to a call for an increase of at least 19%. This is something that the cross party education select committee had also agreed with, in part as it represents a match with inflation. That was what Caroline asked for. The response was very pathetic which came from the Under Secretary of State for Education “We are investing an extra £400 million in 16 to 19 education next year to ensure we are building the skills that our country needs. We will increase the base rate of funding by 4.7% for the academic year 2020/21… This is the biggest injection of new money into 16 to 19 education in a single year since 2010.” All of this was promised back in September long before the election and so it appears that despite the many words in the manifesto regarding education, that nothing has improved for our nation when it comes to sixth form education and none of the recommendations have been taken on board.
Another question that came from Caroline on the same day related to the train line to London, with a specific focus on the Croydon Bottleneck. The response from Chris Heaton Harris, the Minister was “We recognise the need to improve capacity on the Brighton Mainline..the next decision point for this scheme is May 2020 and the allocation of additional funding will depend on a robust business case and local support, including stakeholders and beneficiaries partnering with my Department on funding and integration with other transport modes and the wider public realm.” So it would appear that all of us need to get in touch with our local MPs and Mr Heaton Harris who is the MP for Daventry so that he realises how supportive of such an improvement we would all be. Maybe the Conservative Sussex MPs will be able to join in with this, as presumably they will be too timid to call for more funds for their sixth form students?