The next 6 weeks are critical for the negotiations between the United Kingdom and European Union, both on the withdrawal agreement and on the ‘political declaration’ regarding the future partnership in trade, security, policing and much else.
When the EU Exit Committee, of which I am a member, met the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier earlier this month, it was clear that most of the withdrawal agreement had been settled but that there was still serious talking to be done about the outline of the future partnership.
The Prime Minister will meet other EU leaders in Salzburg this week with the aim of making further progress. The intention is to conclude these negotiations by the end of October or early November. The result will then be put to votes of the UK and European Parliaments.
This timetable is tight and allows for little delay. The Government has therefore published two sets of documents (with a third to follow) setting out the consequences of not reaching an agreement and what people, especially businesses, should do to prepare for the eventuality of no deal being reached. These documents can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/how-to-prepare-if-the-uk-leaves-the-eu-with-no-deal#overview.
I repeat what I wrote two months ago – that I believe that a ‘no deal’ outcome would result both in serious damage to the economies of the UK and parts of the EU, and in a deterioration in relationships with long-term consequences. It is the responsibility of all – the Government, EU and Parliament - to do our utmost to ensure that this does not happen.
Last week, Sir Bill Cash MP led a debate on HS2 in Parliament. This was partly in response to serious reports coming out which warn that the cost of HS2 will be considerably higher than the current estimate of £56 billion (in 2015 terms). One report put the cost at more than £80 billion. I called for a pause to HS2 until a proper current estimate could be reached, based on the latest information.
The pause would also allow for alternative plans to be developed, which could improve capacity, reliability and speed across the entire national rail network, especially East-West routes.
This week’s cabinet meeting of Staffordshire County Council is considering the council’s budget for next year. The increase in children’s and adult social care (£315 million next year compared with £200 million ten years ago) will result in a shortfall of £35 million.
I have written to the Government, and raised questions in the House of Commons, asking for additional money to meet social care costs. I also want to see us keeping more of the business rates raised in Staffordshire and a suspension of the restrictions on raising council tax. All this is vital to reduce the cuts to services which will otherwise occur.
This past weekend, we marked the 78th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and 100 years since the formation of the Royal Air Force, with which Stafford has had a long and happy association. I would like to thank all members of the armed forces serving in the UK and throughout the world for what they do on our behalf.