I’ve been contacted by a number of constituents following the recent death of George Floyd, and the protests that have followed it both in the United States of America and here in the United Kingdom.
The emails that I have received focus on a number of different aspects and take different perspectives. It isn’t possible to write a bespoke response for each one and as such I hope that what follows encapsulates my views on the issues raised.
I start from the position that that all forms of racism are wrong, and we must continually work to create a tolerant and open society. All equal under the law, no exceptions.
This response attempts to capture everyone’s concerns on topics including the death of George Floyd, Export Licences, the Black Lives Matter movement and the effect of Coronavirus on the BAME community.
To follow this up I have already written to the Foreign Secretary to highlight constituent concerns about George Floyd’s death and I have sought an overview of the work of the UK Government to promote racial harmony and tolerance in our society and I will obviously keep across this developing matter.
I watched the scenes in America during the last week, and I was incredibly distressed by the footage of what happened to George Floyd in the lead up to his death in police-custody. I understand that the police officer involved in the incident has been charged with second-degree murder, and there will be a federal review. I was also pleased that Chief Constables from police forces across the country, the Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Chief Executive of the College of Policing and the President of the Police Superintendents Association issued a joint statement that they stood alongside all those across the globe “who are appalled and horrified by the way George Floyd lost his life. Justice and accountability should follow.” You can read the statement in full via this weblink: https://news.npcc.police.uk/releases/uk-police-stand-with-those-appalled-by-george-floyd-death
I understand the strength of feeling over this situation and of course fully support the right to peacefully protest. I am aware that there have been similar protests in Westminster, but I am concerned that the scenes across America of rioting and violence (as well as the reports of disturbances near to Downing Street on Wednesday night) do little to advance causes and are very distressing. I want to see America come back together and not tear itself apart over this incredibly distressing incident.
Black Lives Matter
One of the consequences arising from the death of George Floyd is to plainly demonstrate the racial divisions in the US but 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.
I have been heartened by the solidarity shown in the UK, whether that be by colleagues in the Parliamentary community. I have also been struck by the number of British people wanting to demonstrate their support for the Black Lives Matter campaign. But the strength of feeling in the wake of George Floyd’s killing serves as a reminder that work remains to be done here in the UK.
There are some good national and local initiatives out there with great people involved in them. There are also 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. With this in mind I have ensured that ministers are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue.
At the same time there are no excuses for criminality when protesting whether that means assault to property or person, including our police officers. Anyone committing criminal acts whilst protesting should be prosecuted without fear or favour and to the full extent of the law.
Furthermore we have to recognise that criminal activity, whether against property or against the person, never enhances an argument and always diminishes it. We have to appreciate that All Lives Matter and seeking to harm any of them only serves to detract from the heart of the argument.
Issues associated with export licences being withdrawn to the US for crowd control measures were raised in Prime Minister’s Questions on 3 June and I know the Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously. Indeed, the UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes. 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. My understanding is that the Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria. I will make sure that Ministers are aware of the points that constituents are making at the appropriate moment.
Coronavirus and BAME
I suspect that you may be aware that I am a member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee and we continue to discuss the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on ethnic minorities. The Health Secretary commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to complete an urgent review on the disparities in risk and outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic and has now published its findings. The report confirms that being black or from a minority ethnic background is a risk factor. Importantly, this racial disparity holds even after accounting for the effects of other factors such as age, deprivation, region and sex. However, I would add that the PHE ethnicity analysis did not adjust for factors such as comorbidities, so there is much more work to be done to understand the key drivers of these disparities, the relationships between the different risk factors and what must be done to close the gap. A proper analysis of genetic and socioeconomic factors must be addressed so that generalisations are not made and that the evidence of disparities is properly explored. Things like this may explain statistical differences between the PHE report and other findings; it is important that we build on this initial work.
In the wake of the report, 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. The Race Disparity Unit will be closely involved in this work, but if we are to get to the heart of this racial inequality, a number of government departments will need to be involved. I suspect that the matter will continue to be considered by the Health and Social Care Select Committee going forward.
This report is a welcome first step, but there is still work to be done. I will continue to follow this issue extremely closely and to press ministerial colleagues to keep up the fight against health inequalities, I hope the my career as a doctor and GP will help me in this work.