It was a big day on Monday because just after leading a pet theft debate, I also led another one on illegal immigration. But I share the exasperation of hundreds of constituents who have written in to me about the porous nature of our border in the English Channel and I thought it was important that their views were at the heart of this debate.
I underlined to the Government how urgent action is needed on two fronts if we’re going to get a grip of this issue. First is stopping all boats trying to arrive here from France. Whether we create some form of blockade or tow illegal boats all the way back to France, we must send a very clear message that all attempts to come here illegally will be futile. This will also help deter migrants from making dangerous crossings which tragically resulted in another death last weekend. The Labour Party have said a more robust approach lacks compassion but clearly the status quo which also fills the pockets of evil people smugglers is far from compassionate. I challenged the Labour Party in the debate to clarify what they would do differently but once again no substantial response was forthcoming.
Second we also need to overhaul our broken asylum system and be clear that anyone who has deliberately chosen to come via an illegal route, including through other safe European countries, should be removed. Illegal migrants know that if they get to our country and claim asylum the odds are they’ll be able to stay even if they don’t have a legitimate claim. There shouldn’t be a reward for breaking our immigration laws and this form of queue jumping is unfair to those in real need of refuge here who want to come here directly from war-torn countries. Helping these genuine refugees in the most unstable parts of the world should be at the heart of a truly compassionate asylum system.
Some on the left will claim that those with concerns about this issue are anti-immigrant or anti-refugee to try and shut down this sort of debate but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We should be open to those immigrants and refugees who want to come to this country legally and make a positive contribution. Tackling illegal immigration is about the rule of law in this country and the fundamental right of its people to decide who can come in to our shared home.
I’ve met with the Home Secretary a number of times about this issue and I know she also finds the current situation unacceptable. The Minister responding to me Monday set out some positive steps the Government is taking like increasing enforcement in the Channel and legislating next year to stop abuse of our legal process, where human rights lawyers use every loophole in the book to prevent deportations.
But over 4 years on from the decision of millions to take back control of our borders we must keep hammering home the urgent need for action when we get opportunities like Monday’s debate.
Raised the BSC Multicultural Services Charity today and the excellent work they’re doing to support disadvantaged people in Ipswich from over 50 different nationalities. During Covid-19 they have been delivering hundreds of food parcels to vulnerable people. But this virus has also severely impacted their ability to raise funds.
This type of community-led support is irreplaceable and it’s right that we do everything we can now to ensure it’s still there for our town in the future. It’s important to raise support for charities in Parliament but one of the reasons why I became an Ambassador is to support BSC Multicultural Services on the ground as well. And I’m looking forward to becoming much more closely involved in their work in Ipswich.
The Chancellor announced a number of welcome measures today for businesses and people with jobs that have been affected by additional social distancing restrictions:
💷 A more generous Job Support Scheme with employers contributing significantly less.
💷 Cash grants for hospitality and leisure businesses in Tier 2 – worth up to £2,100 a month and backdated to August.
💷 A doubling of the self-employment grant from 20% to 40% of self-employed people’s profits.
Much of this support is targeted at areas in Tier 2 which have much higher rates of Covid-19 than Ipswich does but hopefully it will be reassuring for businesses that, as of today, a far more generous support package will be available if the worst comes to the worst and Ipswich is moved to Tier 2 further down the line. However Tier 2 is a long way off for Ipswich and clearly I hope we never get to the point where Tier 2 is necessary.
I’ve been calling for a flexible and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties through this pandemic and it’s good this support package reflects that. It’s also right that these measures support businesses which remain open but are impacted by additional restrictions alongside support that is available for businesses which have had to close.
After his statement, I asked the Chancellor about supporting pubs through the winter by allowing them to use grants to help them purchase equipment like heaters and gazebos which would allow people to continue to eat, drink and socialise outdoors. Clearly in Tier 2, where groups of up to 6 from different households can only socialise outside, having this equipment available is absolutely critical. Even in places in Tier 1 like Ipswich, where social distancing is in place, this is an important way pubs can use the space available to them to welcome more customers.
We need to think carefully about how we can support businesses, including in Ipswich’s hospitality sector, to stay open as much as possible. On the other hand it’s clear that the Labour Party’s approach of shutting Ipswich’s pubs and restaurants down completely, despite the low levels of Covid-19 in our town, would be a hammer blow to them and put the livelihoods of many who work in the sector at risk.
I’ll continue to follow all aspects of Chancellor’s announcement today and what it means for pubs and other businesses in Ipswich.
Important opportunity yesterday to make a speech during Black History Month and pay tribute to the immense contribution made by the black community in Ipswich. We’d be much poorer without this community among us and I thought it was right to pay a particular tribute to the Caribbean and African Health Support Forum in Ipswich which I was able to visit in August and does excellent work raising awareness of the health issues disproportionately impacting Caribbean and African people in our town.
As part of the debate we were also discussing petitions on black history in the school curriculum. I do think there is more we can do to teach the history of black people in this country, including the injustices they have suffered in the past. But this must be done as part of a shared history, which also recognises the great many things we have to be proud of in our past, rather than a separate curriculum being proposed by some. There is much more that unites us as Britons than separates us based on what colour skin we happen to have, and we mustn’t encourage separateness among young people by deciding what they learn based on the colour of their skin.
It was also important to talk about the shocking death of George Floyd and the importance of continuing to stamp out the racism which still exists in our society. I believe this is the true intention of the majority of protesters but it is disappointing that some leadership figures in BLM UK have strayed beyond a unifying anti-racism message into sometimes promoting divisive political rhetoric with calls to abolish things like the police, the nuclear family and capitalism. I also think we have to be careful about divisive terms being used by some like institutional racism which smear entire institutions. We need to root out racist individuals in our institutions and society but it’s counter-productive to label many who aren’t in this way. We must uphold a message of unity and one that focuses about how we can keep improving on the past.
In the Chamber yesterday I raised the comments made by England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, with the Health Secretary when he said: “A national lockdown at the moment would be inappropriate for communities in Cornwall and East Anglia”. And that it would be very difficult to justify to these communities. As things stand with relatively low levels of Covid-19 in Ipswich, I strongly believe he is right. We need a balanced and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties, not the one size fits all national lockdown being proposed by the Labour Party and Ipswich Labour which would completely shut Ipswich’s hospitality sector.
This sector employs thousands of people in our town and includes many great businesses like our local pubs. Labour’s blanket approach would unnecessarily put these livelihoods at risk. It’s important to underline that the situation locally could change but we must be flexible and not approach this crucial issue with the blunt instrument Labour is proposing. It was good that in response to me the Health Secretary re-emphasised Professor Van-Tam’s comments and the need to take action where necessary but not take it where it’s unnecessary. I’ll keep monitoring all aspects of what this pandemic means for Ipswich and represent our town to the best of my ability at every stage.