I know many of my constituents have watched events unfold in the US following the death of George Floyd with growing distress – and many have raised this with me recently. I know that there were many heartfelt stories behind your emails and the themes raised were such that I thought they could be best answered with one statement.
Like you, I was incredibly distressed to see the footage of what happened to George Floyd and his death in police custody. I agree with the Prime Minister when he said the events were ‘appalling and inexcusable’ and I understand that the police officer involved in the incident has been charged with second-degree murder, and there will be a federal review.
Following the protests in the US, many of you have raised the issue of the supply of equipment to the US police force and were concerned about how they have been used. I have been reassured by Liz Truss, Minister for International Trade, that the UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes.
To explain in full, each export licence application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the Government to think very carefully about the possible impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. The Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria – and these decisions take account of prevailing circumstances at the time of application and include human rights. The UK Government will not issue export licences where there is a clear risk that the goods might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
I know that the issues constituents have raised with me go far wider than the one case of George Floyd, and go further than the US. It’s clear that the anger and grief is felt not just in America, but also here in the UK. While, in the wake of this killing, racial divisions in the US are plain to see, it is also incumbent on us to use this moment to look with renewed vigour at how black people are treated here in the UK. Racism is abhorrent. It has no place in our communities and we all have a part to play in tackling it. The wealth of diversity across our country should be something to be celebrated. Enabling social mobility and creating equality of opportunity is one of the key reasons I got involved in politics and no-one should be discriminated against because of their background, colour, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or age. I will continue to do what I can to help eliminate discrimination in all its forms and there is considerable cross party consensus in parliament on this. But I am aware that words are easier than actions and we must redouble our efforts and focus on policy interventions that work.
Several constituents have also contacted me about the death of transport worker, Belly Mujinga. Her death was tragic and my thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time. Belly Mujinga was simply doing her job at Victoria station, helping those who needed to travel. I understand that the British Transport Police have now invited the Crown Prosecution Service to conduct an independent review of the available evidence. I’m glad that there will be an opportunity for the case to be reviewed and will be sure to follow any developments closely.
I entirely understand the strength of feeling and of course fully support the right to peacefully protest. Recently, we also saw concerning scenes in central London. I know that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful but I want to be clear here that I do not advocate the use of violence in protest. Violence only creates more divisions, and is especially unhelpful when what is needed is unity and collective action from all of us to tackle the problems at hand. We are also in the midst of a health crisis and Coronavirus still poses a very real threat so I would urge protesters to think carefully about acting respectfully and sticking to the social distancing guidelines that are there to protect them, their families and others.
In the last couple of weeks, we have seen solidarity in the UK, whether that be by colleagues in the Parliamentary community, lighting buildings in purple or people from many walks of life ‘taking a knee’. There are some good national and local initiatives out there with great people involved in them and I believe that as a country, we are more than ready and willing to tackle racism with more force than ever before.
There are well-established mechanisms in place in Whitehall and the police to address racially motivated discrimination, improve policing and stamp out racist bullying in schools, some of these flowing from a Hate Crime Action Plan (which you can read more about here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/hate-crime-action-plan-2016). At this time, we must not only draw on these resources, but also examine whether they are sufficient.
We also know that ethnic minorities seem to be particularly affected by Covid-19, something that I, like many of you, find extremely concerning. The disproportionate impact has been recognised by my colleagues in Government and Public Health England was commissioned to conduct thorough research into the matter. Importantly, the racial disparity holds even after accounting for the effects of other factors such as age, deprivation, region and sex.
Following these findings, PHE has been commissioned to carry out further work to better understand the key drivers of the disparities identified in the initial report and the relationships between the different risk factors and we will use this initial report as a basis for other research in this area.
I appreciate this is a long statement but I sought to address the main issues that have been brought to my attention. I have, of course, also ensured that ministers are aware of the strength of feeling on the issues raised with me in your correspondence.
I do hope this goes some way to reassure you that we do not tolerate racism in the UK, we must work together to tackle it and we support those across the globe who are involved in this movement.
Thank you again for taking the time to read my statement on this.