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A pro Brexit demonstrator in Parliament Square, October 19 2019.

Tech-savvy MP says Johnson’s Brexit deal threatens UK industry

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A British MP who voted in favour of an amendment of the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill adds insight on E&T’s previous findings on tech and engineering MPs. She explains why she thinks it is crucial to have more techies in parliament.

Chi Onwurah, an IET Fellow and MP who has represented the Newcastle upon Tyne Central constituency since the 2010 general election, - was asked about the findings of an E&T analysis which suggested MPs with a technical qualification or interest were less likely to have voted for an amendment at last Saturday's parliamentary session that will see the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill receive greater Parliamentary scrutiny. 

E&T also found that, statistically, Conservative MPs are more likely have engineering and technology skills or interests.  

In her response, Onwurah told E&T that "it would reflect the Conservative nature of the current crop of tech/engineering MPs. 

"Also, relatively few have actually spent time working in engineering as I have”, she added. 

Boris Johnson's deal navigated its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday evening, but MPs rejected a fast-track timetable for further consideration, making the PM's target of leaving the EU on 31 October unlikely.

Onwurah, who voted against the bill at its second reading, and on Saturday supported the amendment that requires Parliamentary approval before it can proceed, told E&T she did so "because it was clear that as it stood the process could end up with a No Deal Brexit which would be disastrous for the British economy and especially engineering and manufacturing”.   

She wants to avoid a Brexit deal that could harm or jeopardise the connection of key engineering industries based in the UK: "I know that the recent success of automotive engineering and manufacturing in the UK depends on our European integrated supply chains,” she said. "The [presently proposed] Brexit deal threatens all that."

With regard to E&T's findings on MPs' backgrounds, Onwurah stressed that diversity is an important element of creating teams that can come up with innovative solutions."As an engineer, I know how much innovation depends on people with different backgrounds, disciplines and experiences coming together to solve problems and make things work".

Onwurah agreed that more MPs with technical skills are generally needed in Parliament. In a recent article for the policy and funding journal Research Fortnight, she expressed her views on why she thinks it to be important of having more MPs with a background in engineering or technology. 

A lack of MPs with scientific backgrounds could end up creating an obstacle to getting useful results from parliamentary debates, she believes.

"The last thing an MP wants to do is to look stupid or be caught out in ‘gotcha’ interview because they aren’t across a technical piece of detail", she wrote.

But it would be also a question of providing information in an understandable way, "that can inform their [MP's] political activity, as well as inviting them to events or laboratories." 

The debate around genetically modified organisms is one example, in her view, where more scientists in Parliament could lead to better communication both to and between MPs, helping to make the UK what she calls an 'Innovation Nation'. 

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