York Press column – From 2018 to 2019
January 3, 2019
As 2019 opens, I would like to wish all readers a Happy New Year, and I hope you have all enjoyed a merry Christmas.
2018 was a year of major anniversaries of events that have shaped modern Britain, the centenary of the end of the First World War in 1918, and the 70th anniversary of the creation of the NHS in 1948. However, I know that for many the highlight will have been the phenomenal performance by the England football team in the World Cup. I hope I am not being too ambitious by praying for a similarly impressive showing by Leeds United in 2019.
On a darker note, 2018 also saw the deadly use of a chemical weapon on British soil by agents of the Russian state, to which I was glad to see our government lead a robust international response with our allies. April witnessed the atrocious use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime as part of the ongoing Syrian civil war, which was punished by targeted military action by the UK, France and USA. As we enter 2019, I feel these incidents should remind us of the value and effectiveness of solidarity and cooperation among the Western democracies, which rather puts international differences over questions like Brexit into proper perspective.
At Westminster during the last year I have remained active on Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, and have lobbied Ministers on improving bowel cancer screening and rural 4G mobile coverage, alongside many other subjects raised by local residents. In York, I have worked closely with the Council on campaigns to improve broadband and secure new investment in York’s outer ring road, and have continued to bang the drum for our schools and local health service. 2019 will see elections for City of York Council, and a big choice for local residents on who they want to take our city forward over the next four years.
Big decisions are also looming in Parliament this month over the government’s Brexit deal, a topic which many York residents raised with me during 2018. I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the deal, particularly on the issue of the ‘backstop’ temporary customs arrangement with the EU. I would like the Prime Minister to be able to present a revised deal to Parliament, and will be watching to see what she can achieve along these lines through her ongoing conversations with EU leaders before I decide how to vote. I think it is vital to agree a reasonable settlement that protects our economy, unites the country, and upholds the 2016 referendum result, allowing us to develop a strong new relationship with Europe while also charting a more independent course in the world.
Success outside the EU will depend on the new tailored UK systems we establish to replace Europe-wide ones, and readers will be unsurprised to learn a huge amount of technical work continues on the details of these. Before Christmas, the government published the first blueprint for a post-Brexit immigration system, which will be consulted on widely during this year. Although there will no doubt be many alterations before the plans come to Parliament to be passed into law, the broad outline of a new system that assesses migrants on what they can offer rather than where they come from is very encouraging.
Brexit also means we will have our first independent environment and agriculture policy for over 40 years, and I and other MPs will be kept busy deciding the details of this as the Agriculture Bill continues through the Commons, and a new Environment Bill is introduced for consideration. With dales, moorland and two National Parks, our part of Yorkshire is home to some of the UK’s most iconic landscapes, and during 2019 I will work to ensure this new framework is right for the local area.
The opportunities for positive change in these and many other areas as part of the Brexit transition show our future can be what we make of it. Our city and our country have so much going for them, and with the right outward-looking and collaborative attitude, this New Year can see us achieve great things.
I wish you and your families all the very best for 2019.