Last week the UK government finally reached an agreement with the EU to move onto the next phase of Brexit negotiations. 18 months after the referendum result, and after a week of serious embarrassment and frantic late night phone calls the prime minister has u-turned on all her redlines on Brexit to agree continued regulatory alignment with the rules of the single market and customs union to protect the Good Friday agreement; a continued role for the European Court of Justice in the UK; and payments of tens of billions of pounds to the EU for a worse trading relationship than we have now.
This deal contains more fudge than a Christmas stocking. And there is nothing for the NHS which voters were promised would get £350 million a week. Instead the budget gave the NHS just £350 million to deal with all the winter pressures it faces. As phase 2 of the negotiations begins in the New Year we will see the difficulties and complexity of the negotiations increase.
Meanwhile our armed forces face a double whammy. First, the Tories’ budget cuts have left army numbers at their lowest since Napoleonic times. Second, as Ministry of Defence officials told Parliament last week, equipment is more expensive because of the weaker pound, which is worth 13% less after the EU referendum. Despite a manifesto pledge not to cut military personnel, the Chancellor suggested last week that the army should be cut from 80,000 to 50,000.
Commuters returning to work after Christmas will face the largest rail fare increase for five years - 3.4%. Rail prices have risen 32% since the Tories came to power in 2010. The increase is based on the rate of inflation, and prices have risen as the pound has fallen. The hefty train fare rise is another Tory betrayal of passengers as public sector workers enter their seventh year without a pay rise. Labour would cap rail fare rises, saving the average commuter £500 over the course of the parliament.
Meanwhile Transport Secretary Chris Grayling made clear whose side he’s on by giving East Coast operator Stagecoach a bailout. Stagecoach will be toasting the rise in their share price which came after Grayling allowed them to cancel their loss-making East Coast franchise three years early. I have argued that the Tories should have kept East Coast as a public sector operator and avoided the millions that have been spent on new uniforms and interiors.
Finally some good news. Residents were concerned they could lose their local post office after Post Office Ltd announced that they were reviewing it. I am pleased that after 1,600 people signed my petition to save Ossett Post Office, Post Office Ltd will keep the Post Office on Towngate.
As a dramatic year draws to a close, I want to send my heartfelt thanks to everyone in Wakefield who has contacted me - and who voted for me! - over the past year. Christmas is a chance to spend precious time with friends and loved ones. But during these celebrations we should remember those who are alone or ill, and those dedicated people working in our public and armed services all year round to keep us safe and well. I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.