Stourbridge News Column – Thursday 17th October
As always these days, I look forward to leaving Westminster for Stourbridge on Friday, this time for meetings with a local housing association, the West Midlands Police and more. But this week is different because it looks like I will have to return on Friday evening to attend a special session of Parliament on Saturday morning. That session will go ahead if the PM is able to agree the outline of a deal with the EU on Thursday of this week.
If a deal is agreed it looks very likely that Northern Ireland will remain, to all intents and purposes, in the Single Market and a customs union with the EU. This is similar to a proposal put by the EU to the former PM, and rejected by her, eighteen months ago so it feels like we’ve come full circle.
My concerns about this approach have not changed. If Northern Ireland stays in the Single Market and the Customs Union then I believe that Scotland will demand the same treatment. And if the Scots are denied the same treatment, as they will be, then this is a gift for the Nationalists and is likely to result in another referendum on Scottish independence. And the dismemberment of the United Kingdom is more likely than not to result.
There are other changes within what are said to be the current proposals, such as the abandonment of compliance with EU regulations on environmental, consumer and employment protections, which I am also concerned about.
As I write this column the final proposals have yet to be confirmed so I am still able to live in hope that a deal that I can support emerges.
I have been continuing my work to retain vocational skills training and adult education in Stourbridge, following the closure of Stourbridge College last month. Working together with local education leaders and others, there is a firm hope and commitment that we can support the continued provision of learning on the Hagley Road site.
There are hurdles to overcome of course. BMet have a duty to pay down its debts and will want to get the best offer they can for the site. In Parliament earlier this month, I held an hour-long debate on the issue. I called on the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) – a wing of the Department for Education, to whom BMet owe a proportion of their debt – to take note of the extremely strong desire in our town to keep the site reserved for educational use. We certainly do not want another debacle akin to the Longlands School saga, the future of which has taken over eight years to conclude. Next week I will meet the Education Secretary with local college principals, teaching unions and others to continue our push for progress. I hope to report positive news soon.