Rory appeared on Question Time this evening, hosted by Fiona Bruce, and on a panel with Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary, Kirsty Blackman, the SNP’s Spokesperson on the Economy, Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist and author, and Anand Menon, Professor at Kings College London.
Rory, in his capacity as Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, appeared before the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons today, alongside Edward Argar, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, to discuss prison provision in Wales. Watch it here:
Rory has confirmed that he will be voting in favour of the Government’s Brexit Deal this evening.
This vote will determine whether Britain is to leave the European Union under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and in line with the Political Declaration that the Prime Minister negotiated.
Rory has been a supporter of the Prime Minister’s Deal since the Withdrawal Agreement was published in November and has been prominent in arguing for it, across both Cumbria and the UK. In December he held a public meeting on the deal at Newton Rigg, which was attended by over 300 people, and was streamed live over both Twitter and Facebook. He has also argued for the deal in various other debates and in the newspapers, writing numerous letters to The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald on the matter, two Word from Westminster columns and an op-ed in The Financial Times.
Confirming his intention, Rory said: “I will be voting for the Prime Minister’s Deal this evening, because I believe this to be the best deal for our country. It ends the jurisdiction of European courts and gives Britain control over immigration – which was a key issue in the referendum – while also reassuring Remainers by providing economic certainty and a positive model for a future relationship with the European Union. I am proud to be supporting it”
“The alternatives to this deal would be disastrous. A No Deal Brexit would damage the economy and, particularly, our farms as it could result in tariffs of over 40% put on beef and sheep meat. No Brexit cannot be an option – every single member of parliament and every party, and the government itself, promised to uphold the referendum – whatever the result. Reversing this would cause serious damage to our democracy and so, because I believe the Prime Minister’s Deal to be in the best interests of our country, I will be supporting it this evening”.
Long before I was a politician, I monitored – as a diplomat – two elections in Indonesia, and ran a polling station for the first post-Saddam elections in Iraq. Later, again on behalf of Britain, I helped define the conditions for an election in Zimbabwe, funded grass-roots movements in Pakistan, parliamentary mentoring in Burma, and the training of political parties in Bangladesh. And last year, I spent an hour with President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, trying to settle a timetable and rules for the election, happening this week. None of this prepared me for democracy in Britain after the Brexit vote.
We often tell ourselves and others that Britain is democratic because our voters are registered, polling stations well run, ballots secret, and counting well-monitored. Or we pride ourselves on a free media, and political parties with well-developed manifestos, and well-informed voters. Or on peaceful transfers of power for the last 330 years; minority rights, the rule of law, and the constitution.
But as people are being painfully reminded day after day at the moment there is a large difference between formal ‘democratic institutions’ and a government that does what you want. Your vote in a general election is one of perhaps 40 million. If you are lucky the person you voted for gets elected, and if you are lucky, a critical number of candidates from the same party are also elected in other constituencies. (Although in every election in Britain the majority of voters always fail to get the government they voted for).
But that is only the beginning of the complication. For most of the last decade no governing party has had a majority in parliament – meaning they abandon their manifestos to accommodate other parties or a handful of rebels. And even if they manage to get legislation through they then have to try to implement it in the face of the vast and complex terrain of British public life – negotiating step by step with shifting public opinion, the media, civil servants, lobby groups, NGOs, and the courts. And they have to do this with an ageing population, modest economic growth, a limited tax revenue, and a thousand competing priorities.
When our parliament faces an issue as divisive and important as Brexit, the unpredictability becomes far more dramatic. For almost six months, hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, the resignations of half a dozen cabinet ministers, or the votes of 324 MPs can have had little effect on the process. Then suddenly this week, a tiny number of individuals swapping sides, can come close to breaking the camel’s back. An accident of arithmetic can give twenty rebels immense power, without their views necessarily reflecting those of their constituents, let alone the views of the governing party, of 40 million potential other views on the Brexit deal, or the realities of a five hundred page deal, painfully developed over two years, through making and seeking concessions from 27 other member states.
Little wonder that many feel that the Brexit they voted for has no relation to the Brexit they are getting. Or that others – on the remain side – are tempted to try to ignore the result of the popular vote entirely – and insist on what they think is ‘right’. Little wonder that as a Minister, I feel daily that I am trying to operate a vast rusting machine with innumerable levers, gears, and wheels, and no instruction manual. Most of the time, when a lever is pulled, it appears to be attached to nothing, or after a cacophony of grinding and an explosion of smoke the machine lurches forward a single foot and stops again. But occasionally if you blow gently on an elusive spot on the side, it seems to accelerate smoothly for miles. How much we must all subconsciously be longing for our smart-phones, where at a single click, we can get exactly what we want.
So is our democracy broken? No. Because a democracy is not a smart-phone for satisfying individual desires. Nor is it the formal institutions I used to talk about in Asia and Africa. Instead, I am beginning to feel democracy is simply the coexistence of a human nation. Britain is a gathering of forty million quite different views and experiences, a community in which we can never meet more than a tiny fraction of our fellow-citizens, at a time when social media increasingly encourages us to trust no-one, but when trust and leadership is inescapable to face the contradictions, inanities, and impediments of government.
Our democracy is the organism through which our nation lives together. Its flaws are our flaws. Its task is to embody, sometimes exaggerate, but mostly mitigate, the common and distinct values, and impossible dilemmas of human society. It is shaped by all the uneven prejudices, misconceptions, insights and affections of our human species – human MPs, human economists, human civil servants, and human voters. Democracy is as untidy, as often absurd, and as necessary, as a nation, living together.
Rory held a public meeting on Brexit this afternoon at Newton Rigg Conference Centre, which you can watch here:
This meeting was featured on Channel 4 News, which you can watch here:
Rory appeared on Channel 4 News with Krishnan Guru-Murthy last night, to discuss the Prime Minister’s Brexit Deal, and the day’s events in Parliament. Watch it here:
He also appeared on Five Live, listen to it here:
And with Christiane Amanpour on CNN:
Rory will plant five trees on 18 January at Castle Park in Penrith, as part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy.
The saplings, two silver birch, two rowan and a hazel, are UK sourced and grown, and were donated by a partnership between the Woodland Trust, Sainsbury’s and ITV. If well maintained they can be expected to grow to 12-25 meters in height.
The QCC was launched at the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting by Frank Field MP and aims to save the association’s members’ forests. By creating a network of forest conservation projects, the QCC will demonstrate the Commonwealth’s unity, raise awareness of the value of the planet’s forests and create a lasting environmental tribute to the Queen’s leadership. To date, over 40 Commonwealth countries have agreed to participate. The parliamentary initiative was also started by Mr Field, who wrote to all MPs to request their participation and Rory was delighted to accept. Some 500 other MPs have also received saplings, linking Penrith and The Border to constituencies across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust, Beccy Speight, said, “We are delighted so many MPs have decided to join us in our bid to plant trees as part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. We all need trees. They are a cornerstone of our landscape and countryside, forming an essential and cherished part of our cultural identity. They are crucial in improving soil health and water quality, reducing carbon, trapping pollutants, slowing the flow of flood water, sheltering livestock, providing a home for wildlife or a space for us to breathe. I hope the residents of Penrith and The Border will enjoy watching them flourish as part of this wonderful legacy initiative.”
Commenting on the initiative Rory said, “I am very much looking forward to linking Penrith and The Border with constituencies up and down the country through this wonderful initiative. These trees, which will be a permanent part of Castle Park, will be a striking monument to the Queen’s dedication and an important reminder of the need to protect the Commonwealth’s forests. I am very much looking forward to playing a part in this with the planting on the 18th“.
Rory has welcomed the news of new Government grants to two local Mountain Rescue Teams.
The Penrith Mountain Rescue Team has received £8,586.74 while Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team was given £4,005. The money comes from the Government’s Rescue Boat Grant Fund, which was launched in 2014 with the objective of distributing £5 million over five years to independent search and rescue teams working on inland waterways. The money received by these Cumbrian Mountain Rescue Teams will assist them in their work to keep inland waterways safe by helping with the cost of new equipment. So far, nationally, money has been given to 98 search and rescue charities, paying for 65 new boats, as well as launching vehicles, rafts and procuring safety equipment.
Rory has been a committed supporter of Mountain Rescue Teams since his election in 2010, and has served as the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mountain Rescue in Westminster, championing the service nationally and supporting its efforts locally. He takes an active interest in the work of those Teams operating across Penrith and The Border, and, most recently, visited the Penrith Team to lend his support to their campaign for bigger headquarters.
Welcoming this increased investment, Rory said: “This is fantastic news for the Patterdale and Penrith Mountain Rescue Teams, both of which do such selfless, vital work. Day in, day out, their volunteers give up their time to keep us safe and I am very pleased that the Government has allocated them these funds. They are very much deserved”.
Rory appeared on the Today Programme with Jon Humphreys to discuss the use of scanners to combat the supply of drugs on the prison estate. Listen to it here: