Theresa May confidence vote is an unwelcome distraction from Brexit negotiations

I really enjoyed visiting the Chichester Free School, finally housed in wonderful new and restored buildings.

Wednesday, 12th December 2018, 1:56 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 8:19 am
Gillian Keegan

I toured the facilities, which are lovely and spacious, with all mod-cons being put to good use, enriching the educational experience for pupils.

The Free Schools programme was introduced in 2010 to help create more school spaces and give parents, governors and educational specialists more involvement in the education system.

Bidding for central funding continues to be available for groups who feel there is a need in their community for new schools to keep pace with demand.

Since then, Chichester Free School and almost 400 others are up and running across the country, utilising derelict or unused sites to provide new places of learning.

The school opened in 2013 with 210 children after groups of parents and teachers felt there was a gap between independent and state-school facilities in the area. Now Chichester Free School has around 1,000 pupils and since September has welcomed sixth formers to its mix. Whilst there the pupils quizzed me on a number of topics including women in leadership, radiotherapy treatment and, of course, Brexit.

After spending most of Sunday writing my speech to take part in the debate on Brexit in Parliament I was, like many, disappointed that the debate was cancelled. I understand why the Prime Minister did this as it was clear that many MPs are very uncomfortable with the Irish backstop arrangements contained within the agreement. The fact that Northern Ireland shares a land border with another sovereign state, and the Belfast Agreement is based on a seamless border, means usual arrangements to external frontiers are not workable.

The DUP and others are also apprehensive that if talks break down we could end up in the backstop indefinitely, which is not the intention.

The Prime Minister has said she will further negotiate with the EU to make the temporary nature of any backstop arrangement clear in the event it ever has to be used.

Without these assurances many colleagues are not willing to back the Prime Minister’s deal, and I think it is only right and proper that we give her the chance to see if she can come back with something that can command majority support in the House of Commons.

As I am finishing this article the news comes in about a confidence vote being triggered in the Prime Minister. In my view it’s the wrong time to indulge in a leadership contest when people expect their Government to be focussed on securing the best Brexit deal we can whilst protecting jobs and our economy.

Let’s hope this distraction is dealt with quickly so we can get on with focusing on what is really important to our country’s future.