Banbury MP Victoria Prentis talks Brexit

Banbury MP Victoria Prentis
Banbury MP Victoria Prentis

Whichever side of the political divide you sit there is no doubt that we are witnessing an historic moment in time for our country.

The Banbury Guardian travelled to Westminster to speak with Banbury MP Victoria Prentis to see how she is coping with Brexit chaos and uncertainty.

MP Victoria Prentis and Oxfordshire Sands chair Karen Hancox.

MP Victoria Prentis and Oxfordshire Sands chair Karen Hancox.

An MP wears two hats: that of a party member and the other representing the constituency which elected them.

With thoughts of a potential looming national crisis, late night voting, and government defeat after government defeat I asked Mrs Prentis how she was coping with this most turbulent time in parliament’s history.

Mrs Prentis said: “It’s not ideal, it’s all consuming (Brexit) and it means we can’t focus on the other things we need to focus on.”

One of the roles Mrs Prentis holds within parliament is as private parliamentary secretary to leader of the house and Brackley MP Andrea Leadsom.

On Thursdays Mrs Leadsom informs the House of Commons what business will be debated in the coming week. Even this has been thrown into disarray by Brexit.

Mrs Prentis said: “Normally we do business questions once a week.

“This week we’ve done four, today (Thursday) we have two when we normally have one and tomorrow we have one, and one on Monday.”

The Brexit situation has also allowed Mrs Prentis to draw on her vast legal expertise in preparations for business questions.

Mrs Prentis said: “Because I was a constitutional lawyer by profession for 20 years I’m very involved in my role as private parliamentary secretary for Andrea who runs the business of the house.

“So our day job is organising what happens when, which at the moment is quite a busy day job.”

She added: “We are very busy, we are not getting a lot of sleep, it’s very difficult.”

The full importance of the Brexit debate will probably not be fully understood for many years but there is no doubt that the current crop of MPs will be the ones who define the country’s future.

Mrs Prentis said: “It’s not great at the moment, but it’s quite exciting.

“I will look back on it and think that was a great privilege I’m sure, because I am in the decisions, in the meetings and very involved with having ideas about procedure.

“What I am so lucky with is this is my background, this is what I know about, constitutional procedure and suddenly I’m in a job where that is useful.

“With hindsight I am sure I will look back and think, ‘that was extraordinary’.”

Whichever model of Brexit is finally achieved Banbury’s economy will undoubtedly have to adapt, whether that is to an alternative tariff system for our larger employers like Karcher or for the large eastern European community who now call Banbury home.

Banbury MP Victoria Prentis is a the heart of the Brexit impasse and ever aware of the challenges Brexit will mean to Banbury.

Mrs Prentis said: “I think it will all be all right. People I meet, non political people, when I can get home, they are very supportive of me, very supportive of Mrs May and much more willing to compromise.

“Not everyone obviously but people cross the road to tell me how tough they think Mrs May is and how good Mrs May is.

“I have had a few constituency days like that where people have literally crossed the road to tell me.

“People are engaging but in a nice way. I’m very sorry people are having to go through this.

“People going abroad in the holidays, the Polish people who live in Banbury do not quite know what the rules are going to be when they get back and it’s not funny.

“We can try to laugh our way through it but it’s terrifying.”

Banbury, once a small rural market town where agriculture was the main employer, is now intertwined with Europe on so many levels the Brexit uncertainty is an ongoing, significant concern for our MP.

Mrs Prentis said: “We have a lot of international business in Banbury and they have got to know where they are.

“It’s really not a great way of doing things and I would never defend it as a good way to do things but we are just doing our best and I think the public get that we are doing our best.

“I did four school visits last Friday, so met a lot of not formally politically engaged people who were all on the same message: let’s get on with it, let’s get this through, let’s move on, let’s do other things.”

Despite London becoming an ever increasing drain on Banbury MP Victoria Prentis’ time she is still managing to keep one eye firmly on constituency work and find time to engage with the politicians and voters of tomorrow.

The silver lining to the Brexit cloud could be the increased political engagement of future generations, a by-product Mrs Prentis is excited to see.

She said: “The kids last week, the school children were brilliant. They knew all about Brexit and they’re really interested. They know it’s important.

“I had four school trips last week, they all knew about it they all wanted to know about it, nobody was shouty, they were nice kids and very engaged, which is good.”

Mrs Prentis is supported by a small team who arrange her diary, answer constituency emails and focus on the MP’s other projects such as her work with Oxfordshire SANDs and charity work.

Parliamentary assistant Andrew Fellows has worked for the MP for the past year and he too can see the increased political engagement of our youngsters.

Andrew said: “I went down to meet the kids and we didn’t think Victoria would have time but she managed to run out of her meeting for five minutes to come down.

“They were all asking about Brexit and really engaged which was nice and as they were only Year Six and Year Seven so really young.”

The flip side of that coin, however is the division and distrust Brexit has caused within the adult population.

Andrew said: “I think we’re in a very tricky situation our political system has never faced before.

“I think it’s going to take a long time for people to reengage with politics. The next generation of politicians that come in will find it tough to build back that bridge.”