Last Monday Suffolk’s Chief Constable and myself met with the Police Minister. I had finally managed last month to ask Theresa May publicly to meet with me and the Police & Crime Commissioner for Suffolk. I wanted to discuss the funding for our Police – or lack of it – with her, following the tragic murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens and the other knife crimes recently in Ipswich. She gave a bland response, but indicated that I could meet someone senior, and I had hoped that might be the Home Secretary. It still took a considerable length of time and some serious cajoling before I secured a meeting, and that turned out to be with the Police Minister, Nick Hurd. And then I discovered that the Police & Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, would not be available after all. So this was not to be the meeting I had planned.
As it happened, I was very pleased with the meeting we had. The Chief Constable was very clear about the facts, about what his force requires, and about his aims for the future. The Police Minister was well-briefed, accepted that Suffolk is seriously under-funded, acknowledged that the formula needs to change and that he was going to do his best to change it over the next couple of years, and in the meantime offered the possibility of additional funds for Suffolk Police this year to help deal with the knife crime and drug gangs in Ipswich – we have to bid for it and show how it will be spent.
During the week I talked to representatives from Autism and mental health charities, the National Trust, Anglian Water to discuss the smell at Cliff Quay, Which? about preventing cash machines closing, and New Zealand MPs to discuss climate change. I have attended meetings about young people being damaged by hard drugs and to challenge OFWAT and DEFRA about the ownership of our water companies. And I visited the 2 Sisters chicken processing plant in West Bromwich to check on the improvements they promised last year.
But of course the big political news story of the week is the effect Brexit is having on the Conservative Party. I managed to be in the House of Commons Chamber for the most important announcements and, like much of the rest of the country, have looked on with disbelief as the Prime Minister’s attempts to portray a united Cabinet front have unravelled, almost while she was speaking.
This really matters to Britain. The deal when we leave the EU is not a game, and it is far more important than party advantage. If we crash out of the EU on 29th March 2019 it will have a massive negative effect on our economy compared to leaving with a negotiated settlement.
But to get a negotiated settlement with the EU, a fundamental requirement is for the Government to know what it actually wants to achieve. It is astonishing that Theresa May has taken two years to get even close to this.
In the immediate aftermath of the Chequers summit there was concern that her cobbled together position wouldn’t last five seconds contact with the EU negotiators.
In fact, it’s even worse than that – it hasn’t even survived first contact with the Conservative Party. Whatever Theresa May pretends, she is effectively back to square one, the Tories are in disarray, and the clock is ticking ever closer to the date in October when this is all supposed to be signed sealed and delivered.
So what happens now? Will there be an early General Election? – I doubt it, it would need a substantial number of Conservative MPs to vote in favour, and they don’t want to lose their seats. Will Theresa May resign? I doubt that too, and I doubt anyone will push her, because the prospect of Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg as Prime Minister is too horrible even for most Conservative MPs to contemplate. My guess is that Theresa May’s Government will limp on ineffectually, and we will drift out of the European Union without any coherent plan. The damage to the Conservative Party will be profound and lasting, but what really worries me is the damage to our country, and for that the voters will never forgive her.