On Thursday November 29th, Bim Afolami held public meetings on Brexit at Rothamsted Conference Centre in Harpenden and later the same evening at Hitchin Boy's School. Each meeting followed the same format, with a local Conservative Councillor selecting audience members in batches of three to ask questions for Bim.
The Harpenden meeting was a sell-out, with the 230 seat Fowden Hall at full capacity, and Bim faced tough questioning from the outset. He stood his ground on his oft-repeated positions that he supports the Withdrawal Agreement, and also provided some detail regarding the work he is doing with Nick Boles MP and Stephen Kinnock MP in exploring the Norway option (EEA / EFTA) as a 'Plan B' in the (very likely) event that the Withdrawal Agreement fails to secure a majority in the House of Commons on the 11th December.
In all, approximately 24 questions were asked by the audience, covering a broad range of topics. The common thread was universal criticism of the Withdrawal Agreement and Brexit itself. There were numerous questions regarding the People's Vote, each of which was followed by an energetic round of applause from the audience.
You can read the questions and answers in full by downloading the PDF attached below.
Don't miss the superb question from local sixth formers, who came armed with the results of a survey they had conducted across all 3 local secondary sixth formers in which they found 79% support for a People's vote and 82% support for staying in the EU. Amazing work!
If, however, you'd prefer to read a shortened report of the Harpenden public meeting, we have distilled the key points and quotes in the following document.
But what does Bim's wider constituency think of the Withdrawal Agreement? Since the meeting we've been hitting local streets in Harpenden and Wheathampstead again with our trusty Brexitometer survey boards to find out. Each of the 5 separate surveys has revealed the same story...
A member of the audience in the Hitchin meeting that followed Harpenden's has also kindly shared their report of how the evening went. You can download it here to read more. Note that we hope to replace this report with a full transcript at a later date.
Also, events have moved on since the meetings. On December 6th, Mr Afolami gave an unintentionally revealing interview to Evan Davis on BBC Radio 4 PM, in which he says that the vote on the deal should actually be delayed to allow more time for negotiation around the backstop. Listen in particular for Bim's reaction to Evan's final question, "Bim, she spent two years trying to get that deal. What chance do you think there is that the EU is going to say “Oh! You want a unilateral right to withdraw from the backstop that we have made the absolute centrepiece of our negotiating position”, what likelihood is there that in the next 10 days they’re going to give you any material change on what she’s got already?"
BBC Radio 4 PM, 6th December (start from 10 minutes, 30 seconds into the episode).
The transcript is also downloadable here:
Since this interview, Bim has also asked two Brexit-related questions in the House of Commons, seeking to appeal to (or lay blame on?) the EU and opposition parties for the difficult position we find ourselves in. His questions were as follows:
Debate on Exiting the European Union 10/12/18
"I agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when she says a no deal would be bad for the UK, but it would also be bad for the European Union, and with that in mind, would my right hon. Friend agree with me that the European Union, as they and their diplomats watch this debate, need to really decide whether they want a deal or not, because without changes to the backstop, a deal will not pass this House".
Topical Questions 11/12/18
"I have been listening carefully to these questions, and it strikes me that from members of all the Opposition parties we hear pleas that business wants uncertainty to end, but at the same time they have been deliberately seeking to provoke chaos by not supporting the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement. Does the Chancellor agree that they are playing political games with the lives and jobs of the British people?"
As an aside, the Speaker's response to the latter was as follows: "Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman was trying very hard, but—forgive me: I say this by way of kindly counsel to the hon. Gentleman, who is a new Member—questions must be about the policies of the Government, as the Clerk has just swivelled round to remind me, and not about the policies or tactics of the Opposition."
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