I am pleased to be a member of the UK-EU Parliamentary Assembly (PPA) as part of our post-Brexit institutional framework to ensure a good and productive relationship with the EU. This group aims to maintain dialogue over trade so that we can build security and prosperity across Europe. This week we hosted our European partners in Westminster for the first time, hearing from the UK Minister for Europe, Leo Doherty MP, Maros Sefcovcic, from the European Commission, former European Commissioner, Lord Hill, and the EU Ambassador to the UK, Joao Vale de Almeida. The main items of discussion were the Northern Ireland Protocol and the importance of maintaining peace. We also discussed Russia’s war on Ukraine and the security implications for the rest of Europe from energy and cyber security to food security and our support for Ukraine’s military and refugees. We are in a new phase in our relationship with Europe but we have to find constructive ways to engage and continue working together on issues of global and regional security from climate change to economic prosperity. I look forward to future meetings.
Labour secured an Opposition Day debate on the Pension Triple Lock this week. This debate ended with a vote to tell the Government to protect the Triple Lock. The Triple Lock promises to ensure pensions rise with inflation, earnings or 2.5% – whichever is the highest. Pensioner poverty is up by a shocking 450,000 since the Tories came into power in 2010. Something Labour had nearly abolished when in government with our policies of free TV licences for the over-75s and Winter Fuel Payments during cold snaps to name but a few. The soaring cost of living is putting further pressure on pensions with 3.5 million pensioners already this year having to spend less on food and essentials. Over half of the UK’s pensioners are cutting back on gas and electricity, with Age UK suggesting that 2.8 million older households are set to be in fuel poverty this winter – 1.8 million more than in previous years. We want to see the UK be a decent place in which to raise families and grow old. That can only happen if our pensions are able to offer a good standard of living.
I was also able to speak in Northern Ireland Questions. Having recently met members of East Border Region, a cross-party, cross-border local authority-led organisation delivering peace and prosperity across the border, I called on the Minister to meet them himself in order to hear first-hand the work that is happening in Northern Ireland and the importance of our supporting it from here in Westminster. The Secretary of State referred to the three strands of the Good Friday agreement, and he needs to make sure those three strands are fully implemented to help us through both this crisis and the forthcoming crisis. The three strands are the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is paramount that all three strands are worked on and that relationships are maintained.
It was a pleasure to meet German Ambassador Miguel Berger in Bristol this week. We spoke about plans to strengthen ties between the British and German societies, in particular youth mobility and cultural and academic exchanges. It is so important that both our young peoples get to experience different cultures and learn more about the differences in the world but also the ways in which we are fundamentally the same – we all have families we care about and want to help move forward, we all have interests that we follow, we all want to find work to support our families. Visiting other countries and talking to other people is such an interesting and joyous experience, I really want to make sure that our young people have those chances after Brexit and I am pleased that Germany shares that view.
This weekend we mark Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. It is a time of reflection – of those in our family who may have served in past conflicts, of those who have lost their lives in serving their country, and of those who continue to serve today. Our Armed Forces are phenomenal. They work in the toughest of circumstances, leaving their families for long periods of time, and sometimes, not knowing whether they will return to them. Bristol’s Remembrance Day Parade and Service will take place on Sunday at City Hall and the Cenotaph. We will remember them.
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