NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 21st April 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Ever since I became MP for Nottingham East, the cases most frequently raised with me relate to migration and the rights of individuals to visit or remain in the UK. In fact, I cannot remember a day when I was not wrestling with the creaking bureaucracy of the Home Office on some outstanding visa, asylum or residency situation. So when the ‘Windrush Generation’ scandal hit the headlines this week I was appalled but not surprised that the Government had treated Commonwealth citizens, invited to Britain before the 1960s, with such disregard.
After the Second World War a significant African Caribbean community settled in Nottingham and other towns and cities to help rebuild Britain and contribute to our industries. They didn’t apply for passports because they were granted ‘indefinite leave to remain’ at that time. Yet more recent policy changes requiring proof of residency status for bank accounts, jobs or tenancies were introduced without anyone apparently remembering that such a significant population might suddenly encounter a real burden evidencing their existing – and undisputed – rights.
So my colleague David Lammy and many other MPs were right to highlight the impact that Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy towards migrants has had on these long-standing residents and quite rightly forced the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to apologise and change tack dramatically this week.
If you or anyone you know may be affected by this situation I would be keen to hear about any difficulties or problems encountered so that I can raise these directly with the new ‘taskforce’ set up in the Home Office to disentangle this saga. This shoddy affair has already done genuine damage to our reputation abroad – especially in the week of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit – and will have done little to reassure anxious EU nationals in Britain about the Home Office’s capacity to competently and compassionately administer their status post-Brexit.
- Yesterday I visited Nottingham Academy to join their sixth formers and other students to hear Holocaust survivor Simon Winston talk about his experiences evading Nazis during the Second World War and the horrors that can result from antisemitism and discrimination. As a very young boy Simon escaped from a ghetto in what was then Poland and hid for several years in dreadful conditions while his family and community were massacred. This school event was arranged by the Holocaust Educational Trust who aim to provide opportunities for students across the country to learn about this period of history so that it is not forgotten, especially at a time where sadly there are extremists willing to distort or attempt to deny or rewrite this appalling chapter of recent history.
- The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has released its final proposals for new council wards in Nottingham City. In Nottingham East there will be minor changes to Dales Ward and St Ann’s Wards and more significant changes to Arboretum and Berridge Wards. I am happy that most of the proposals in the Commission’s report broadly reflect strong community links and boundaries in the neighbourhoods within Nottingham East, however, I am concerned that the proposed Hyson Green and Arboretum Ward crosses the strong boundaries of Gregory Boulevard and Alfreton Road to include fragmentary parts of Radford and Bobbers Mill.
- In May 2019, Nottingham will be jointly hosting a global gathering of UNESCO City of Literatures with Norwich. This week-long programme of cultural events, dubbed ‘Nottwich 2019’ will see cultural leaders from 28 countries come to both cities. Sandeep Mahal, director of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, commented: “Nottwich 2019 is a wonderful opportunity to show the rest of the world the things that make Nottingham and Norwich Unesco Cities of Literature”.
- There has been further recognition of Nottingham’s universities as Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham and have been nominated in several categories for three awards schemes. Nottingham Trent University has received nominations for the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2018 and both universities have been shortlisted for the 2018 The Times Higher Education Leadership & Management Awards and the Guardian University Awards. The University Of Nottingham’s work ‘the Dinosaurs of China’ exhibit was particularly noted in their Nominations for these awards. NTU’s work in outreach with 14-19 year olds from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds and their high student satisfaction ratings helped them get their nominations.
- A former lace mill on Newdigate Street is set to be developed into 56 studio flats for students after plans were approved by councillors. The five-storey Grade II-listed building was built more than 200 years ago and also made camouflage netting during the Second World War. Hilary Silvester, the chair of Nottingham Civic Society, said: “It’s a good reuse for this old building. It’s better than if it dwindled away and crumbled away.” She added: “It seems it’s going to be well-managed. [I hope] they are not going to change the windows too much. I would not want [them] to change the outward appearance because the windows are very important; they are the eyes of buildings”.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- Last weekend a joint intervention from British, French and American forces pinpointed some of the chemical weapons research and manufacturing facilities in Syria which the Assad regime had been using in recent years to produce the banned gases deployed indiscriminately on his own population. The horrors of the attack in Douma, with the pictures showing children foaming at the mouth, killed in basements where these gases seep in and sink to the lowest levels, provided evidence that past ‘agreements’ between Russia & Syria to ban these weapons were ineffective.
The 1925 Geneva Protocol had agreed that chemical weaponry should never be used, but recently the deployment of chlorine, sarin and of course Novichok nerve agents here in Britain shows that this ‘red line’ is being flouted with regularity. Briefing from the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the National Security Adviser and the Royal Air Force on the mission to isolate some of the factors of production in these weapons convinces me that the action was necessary and appropriate. The evidence of helicopter usage by Assad and other intelligence highlighted both the cause and the humanitarian grounds as the legal basis for this action. At present the intelligence suggests that these facilities were degraded with no loss of civilian life because of the action taken away from populous areas in the middle of the night.
On Monday the Prime Minister made a statement to MPs about the chemical weapons facilities. With Russia vetoing action and vetoing independent investigations in Douma it was clear that the diplomatic route at the United Nations Security Council was no longer possible. Faced with that reality, countenancing inaction yet again seemed to me a greater risk to civilian lives in Syria than taking these specific steps to degrade the facilities identified. I respect those who come from a pacifist tradition and believe that all military intervention is always wrong, but on this occasion I disagree. The rules of the international community banning these abhorrent weapons had to be enforced, there wasn’t a viable alternative, and for the sake of protecting the future civilians who would undoubtedly be gassed by Assad if we turned a blind eye, it was in my view the right thing to do. Ultimately, I do not believe we could just turn away and walk on by on the other side, given such atrocities and the ability we had to do something to minimise them in future. While parliamentary approval for limited and specific action like this might have been preferable, this is simply not safe or viable in all circumstances – because sometimes it would be wrong to share intentions widely in advance or put our service personnel at greater risk.
- On Tuesday afternoon, MPs debated the scourge of antisemitism in Britain today. It was simply heart-breaking to hear several of my Jewish Labour colleagues – Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth, Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman and others detail the abuse to which they are constantly subjected. While all parties and organisations need to get their houses in order, it is simply impossible to listen to these speeches without acknowledging the fact that the Labour Party is still in need of confronting this problem. We all need to share in the responsibility of rooting out this corrosive evil, and without delay.
- The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London this week was accompanied by some speculation about the value of this network of 53 nations. It is certainly worthwhile to connect these countries diplomatically and with broadly shared values – and there are benefits to Britain in maintaining these links. But when Liam Fox and other hard Brexiteers suggest that the Commonwealth can somehow substitute for the European Union in economic and trade terms, this is sadly misguided. The Commonwealth accounts for just 9% of our exports, whereas the EU accounts for 43%. Moreover they are typically far-flung countries whose trading priorities aren’t necessarily with the UK. Geography cannot be wished away and we should focus our trade priorities with our nearest neighbouring countries if we are to take a sensible, evidence-led approach.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
It was really encouraging that the House of Lords votes so convincingly on Wednesday to amend the EU Withdrawal Bill and call on the Government to negotiate Britain’s participation in a Customs Union. As you will know, this is essential for avoiding queues and checks at ports and borders and the imposition of obstacles that would harm our trade and employment prospects in the UK, not to mention risk a hard border in Ireland. This will now come to the Commons before the summer and I think that Theresa May’s ‘hard Brexit’ approach may not have the numbers in Parliament – but we will have to wait and see.
Last weekend the new ‘People’s Vote’ campaign was launched – and I’d be interested to know your views. Whatever your view before the Brexit referendum, it is now more clear that a vast array of issues are at stake and when the UK and EU propose a final deal, this is so significant that it deserves to be ratified by the public themselves. It is not certain what that deal will look like, and we will know more when the Government and EU Commission publish their proposal in the autumn. Why shouldn’t the public have a say on whether those proposals are right or wrong? Would you sign a bill without checking it first? The idea that this is a ‘done deal’ is completely wrong and there is nothing certain or irrevocable about Brexit. 2018 will be a crucial year of decisions and the People’s Vote campaign is certainly one to watch.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East