The past week has seen a very troubling mix of legitimate and well-ordered protests alongside appalling thuggery, violence and disorder. The murder of George Floyd in Minnesota which sparked the Black Lives Matter protests across the world was shocking, and the deeper racial injustices and discrimination that it has brought to the fore in the USA, the UK and elsewhere shame us every one of us. I’ve been proud to support the campaigners, and to join parliamentary colleagues to ‘Take the Knee’ outside Westminster last week. I know many constituents have also been participating in similar events, at a safe social distance. The Black Lives Matter protests have been dignified and moving, and the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last weekend speaks to deep-rooted pain and anger – as the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees has said, while not condoning the damage done, it was an affront to Black people and should have been removed years ago.
Black Lives Matter cancelled protests due to happen on Saturday, but far-right protests went ahead, with some appalling scene of violence and despicable behaviour seen particularly in London. I’m especially sickened at the image of the man who urinated alongside the memorial to PC Keith Palmer, who was killed outside parliament in 2017 while protecting us from a terrorist.
The ignorance, viciousness and hate on display at the demonstration on Saturday afternoon was shocking, and the attacks on the police were replicated at an illegal rave in Carrington on Saturday evening. This had nothing to do with protest, and nothing to do with local people; most of those who attended had heard about it on social media, and came from across the region. It was an utterly irresponsible event, and unsafe for everyone who attended. Tragically, a number of assaults took place, including a serious stabbing and a rape, and social distancing was plainly impossible. The authorities had little warning in advance, and the police didn’t have the resources available unable to prevent it. I’ve been speaking to senior officers over the weekend about what can be done to prevent future such events as we head into the height of summer, but I have to say that anyone attending a rave that puts more pressure on the emergency services when they’re already stretched to the limit coping with the Covid crisis is behaving absolutely disgracefully.
In parliament last week, I spent most of my time in a committee room participating in the line-by-line scrutiny of the Immigration bill, which the government has introduced to end free movement as we leave the European Union. I had lots of questions to ask the minister about future arrangements for UK citizens travelling to, working or living in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK. I asked about protection for children of EU and Swiss nationals, future arrangements for pensions for people who retire abroad, and whether the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover UK nationals travelling in the EU after the end of this year. Working on bills in committee is one of my favourite parts of being an MP – it’s definitely a bit geeky, but I really like the intricacy and detailed analysis involved in thinking through what new laws will mean, and holding the government to account on the impact on my constituents. I’ll be taking part inf further sessions this week.
After the debacle of a couple of weeks ago when some MPs queued for 50 minutes to vote, while those who were shielding were barred from voting altogether, MPs were excited to hear that new arrangements were to be introduced last week that would enable us to vote using smart cards. Sadly the technology failed us, and it was back to queuing to vote, although this time, we joined 4 lines rather than one, which helped speed things up somewhat. The government has also now been forced to concede that MPs who can’t attend parliament for public health reasons can continue to use the online voting system. This is quite right, and should never have been in question – why should their constituents go unrepresented because some MPs are shielding?