It was great to see Ukrainian President Zelensky speaking via Zoom directly to a packed House of Commons. The overwhelming support for the Ukrainian people was there to be seen. It’s worth pointing out that this has never happened before, not even for the most distinguished people who have spoken directly into the chamber of the House of Commons.
📺 Watch: President Zelensky’s speech in the Commons
Even those who are very cynical about Mr Putin in Russia have been shocked by his decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. There has been shock, too, at the brutal human cost in these early days of the war, at the sight of children lying in hospital beds and the knowledge that hundreds of civilians – and possibly thousands of soldiers – have already died.
Ukraine’s neighbours should be praised for the support they have provided to those crossing the border in search of safety. Some countries have waived visa requirements for Ukrainians entirely. Unfortunately, the UK Government has shown its usual reluctance to help the refugees, and while it is slowly being pushed into providing more avenues for Ukrainians to seek safety here, it can and should do much more. Not only should we greatly increase the ability of refugees from Ukraine to come to this country, we must also act to support those countries on Ukraine’s borders which are receiving the majority of those fleeing the war.
Supporting the Ukrainian people does also mean supporting their capacity to resist the Russians, which they have done extraordinarily bravely. The increasing frustration the Russians will feel at the fact the war has, so far, clearly not gone to plan will only mean they increase the force they use, and how indiscriminately they use it. The Ukrainians need anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, vehicles, body armour, communications equipment and light arms if they are going to be able to continue holding out.
It is also essential that we get humanitarian support to Ukraine, particularly food and medical supplies, which are already reportedly running low in some areas.
🙋 If you would like to help, there are a number of drop-off points for donations across Rochdale. Click here for a full list of where you can donate and what items are required.
Something else that we now have to look at seriously is the way in which our legal system has been acting to defend the interests of those around Putin and the oligarchs who base their moneys here. One glaring example is the ability of the super rich to prevent journalists from examining the truth. Inquisitive journalism is fundamental in outing the role of dirty money in the City of London, as we must do. It isn’t just about the dirty money, it’s also about those who protect that dirty money in our society.
We’ve got to make sure that we’re hitting those around Putin very, very hard. Hitting them in the wallets, preventing families travelling, it’s preventing families coming here for education, and things like that. And if we don’t show resolve now, then when will we? We need now to bring our laws up to date, to say ‘No, it’s not going to happen here. ‘And we will work to make sure it doesn’t happen anywhere else.’
📻 I spoke about this on the Andrew Pierce show. Listen here
Labour Friends of Ukraine
I recently appeared on That’s TV Manchester to speak about the situation in Ukraine, and the launch of the Labour Friends of Ukraine group. I am proud to take the Chair of this group which is desperately needed at this time as we have a duty to be a part of the solidarity Ukraine needs. You can join the Labour Friends of Ukraine mailing list ahead of their launch, where they will be sharing details of upcoming events.
I recently met with the ambassador from Moldova. The country’s population is something short of 3 million people, yet it has already taken 90,000 refugees from Ukraine, which is proportionately the equivalent of the UK taking in 2 million people fleeing war. Moldova is a desperately poor country and it cannot accommodate that 90,000. There has to be some process by which the flow of refugees can be moved from the reception countries to those that have greater capacity, but in any case we need to ensure that we are making the necessary humanitarian assistance available to Moldova.
Since 2020, there has been a mass imprisonment of people who simply exercised their basic human right to protest against unfair elections and police violence. I joined 170 MPs from across Europe in writing to Belarusian prison authorities, calling on them to stop all violations and abuses of the rights of the prisoners in all Belarusian detention facilities. The letter makes it clear to those responsible for the treatment of political prisoners that the world is aware of the abuses that have been happening, reminds them of their responsibility to honour Belarus’ international commitments to treatment of prisoners, and presses for the release of all political prisoners.
📰 Read the letter in full
Bees and Pollinators APPG
At the recent meeting of the Bees and Pollinators APPG, the Environment Minister set out the government’s targets and policies relating to bees and pollinators. I raised with her the monitoring of progress towards those targets. She said that the Environment Act contains a whole system of reporting on progress and there will be annual reports. But once again government action undermines their words as ministers are now allowing a derogation that permits the use of neonicotinoids, an insecticide which kills bees and other pollinators. This was against scientific advice and saw ministers cave in to the farming lobby. The minister said she has been assured that there will be monitoring of the impacts but frankly that is not good enough.
Bus service cuts
Covid has had a devastating impact on public transport and particularly buses, but bit by bit things have been picking up as people get back to work and get back to the social and family life that they were used to. The threat from bus operators to withdraw from around thirty routes around Greater Manchester will be devastating, especially for those too young to drive, those who can’t drive, and those who don’t have access to their own car. Each route taken out unwinds the public transport network that little bit and on this scale it will do a lot of damage. That’s why I have written to Boris Johnson about this. His Government must recognise bus transport in Rochdale and Greater Manchester are a crucial part of what he claims is his ‘build back better’ agenda.
📰 Read more
I joined striking RMT members on the day rail cleaners withheld their labour on a 24-hour walkout. The striking workers who clean London’s trains and stations are employed by the outsourcing company, Churchill. Cleaners currently earn either the National Minimum Wage of £8.91 an hour or the so-called Living Wage of £9.50. As a result of soaring inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, RMT revealed that these workers are more than £1,200 worse off than they were 12-months ago. Their demands are simple enough: £15 an hour and a sick pay scheme. The heart of their fight is bound to be recognisable to millions, that right now the people we relied on the most during the pandemic are being treated the worst. The current way of doing things isn’t good enough, and Churchill must sit around the negotiation table and do the right thing before the next planned strike this weekend.
Journalism and its role in Ukraine
I urged the Culture Secretary to look very seriously at how we finance the UK media effort, and spoke about the important role of our brave journalists who help give a voice to Ukrainians who are bound to be frightened to death and who have put up with the most atrocious circumstances of death, destruction, and violence. I asked the Culture Secretary to ensure that those are the voices that are heard across Russia. In the end, they are far more important than British voices. Ukrainian voices speak very, very loudly.
📺 Watch here.
Countering Threats from Russia
On top of the points I have already covered above, I made the point that we need to make sure we have a commitment that our role with respect to Ukraine is not just during this period of crisis. We are always excellent at focusing on a crisis before moving on, but we have to be here for the long run because Ukraine is too strategically important both militarily and to the ecosystem of the wider Europe. On that basis, in the long run, reconstruction has to be somewhere on the planning agenda of the G7.
📺 Watch here.
With any sanctions regime, it is the detail that ensures we can police it. I asked the Foreign Secretary to look into the case of the plane of Mikhail Gutseriev, a friend of Putin who is already sanctioned under Belarus sanctions. The plane itself was sanctioned by the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor, but, I am told, landed twice at Luton airport. That cannot be right.
📺 Watch here.
Rochdale Grooming Gangs
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, talked big on the need for exemplary punishment for the perpetrators of violence against women and girls, yet members of the grooming gang in Rochdale still haven’t yet been deported, despite her promises to do so. I asked for meeting with her to discuss this, and I still await that meeting. I asked for an update.
📺 Watch here.
PM’s statement on Ukraine
During the Prime Minister’s statement, I made the point that there is only one lawful Government in Ukraine — the Government of President Zelensky. If they are forced to move or possibly forced into exile in the short run or the longer run, I asked Prime Minister Johnson to state clearly that the UK will ensure they can be a functional and effective Government, wherever they operate from.
📺 Watch here.
Long-term security in Europe
Part of the calculation of the Kremlin and President Putin is that the West will lose interest, as unfortunately we have in the past. I asked the Prime Minister to make it one of his key tasks to ensure that our allies are there for the long run. We have to be there until this is brought to a proper conclusion.
📺 Watch here.