Remembrance

Like countless others, I spent time last week remembering the sacrifice of so many people who gave their lives or have been damaged defending our freedom and values. Values that we can too easily take for granted today.

The poignancy of participating in our communal act of remembrance is not diminished as the years pass. I am heartened each year by the increasing number of young people taking part, sometimes wearing the medals of their ancestors.

Next year we will commemorate 100 years of the ending of the First World War and plans to mark this special occasion are well underway. When a campaign for volunteers was launched in August 1914, thousands answered the call to fight. Among them were 250,000 boys and young men under the age of 19. A concert in Birmingham will remember their stories, they will be given a voice in words and music by 250,000 youngsters of today. What a memorable occasion that will be.

Some say our wearing of the poppy, participation in the collective acts of Remembrance or laying of wreaths is glorifying war. I disagree. It is essential that we remember and learn from the past. Sadly, there are always those at home and abroad who will seek to undermine or destroy the morals and values of our shared society, of freedom and justice, of compassion and fairness.

While we work for peace at home and around the world, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves and our allies. I am very grateful to members of our armed services who serve at home and abroad who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe. Their families too. I am also very grateful to the many local charities who support veterans and their families to recover from their experience.

First published in the West Briton

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NATO and Defence

I was pleased to join crew from four naval ships, forming a NATO deployment, in Falmouth.  Our Royal Navy vessel is working alongside three European naval vessels, including one from Estonia. This week they will be heading to the Baltic to undertake mine clearance and participate in NATO support for our allies.

120 soldiers from the 5th Battalion The Rifles, including from Cornwall, deployed to Estonia this week to set up a UK headquarters in the country before the remaining 680 troops arrive in April.

The defence secretary said they would deter “Russian aggression”. The UK is taking a leading role in NATO’s “enhanced forward presence” operation, aimed at reinforcing the alliance’s eastern border.

Tensions between Estonia and Russia increased as a result of the Ukraine conflict, which resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.

The UK-led Estonia battlegroup is one of four NATO multinational deployments to eastern Europe, which were agreed to at the 2016 Warsaw summit. Other NATO armies are sending forces to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, where 150 UK personnel will also be sent as part of a rotating deployment.

Separately, the Royal Air Force has committed to providing Typhoon jets to bolster air defences in Romania for four months.

While it is understandable that Estonia is building a fence along its borders to defend itself against Russia, it is nonetheless sad. Also, an important reminder that it is important to both show our support for our allies in Europe and work hard to build the peaceful and secure Europe we all want to see.

Finally, it was an honour to join the 75th commemoration of the St Nazaire Raid from Falmouth with the Honorary French  Consul. It was a moving reminder of our countries long standing shared bonds of friendship.

Refugees

Britain has a proud record of helping the most vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger, and this Government is committed to upholding this fine tradition.

Our response to the migrant crisis has been to establish resettlement schemes from the region, where we can best target our support to help the most vulnerable. That is why between 2015 – 2020 we will resettle 20,000 Syrians also 3,000 children and their families from the wider region.

In the last year we have granted asylum to over 8,000 children. Of the more than 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children. 3,000 children came through family reunion – the Dublin process, and a further 3,000 came through as unaccompanied children asylum seekers, including from European countries. For example, 900 came from Calais as part of the camp clearance process.

Behind these numbers are vulnerable people so the Government works closely with local authorities to ensure that they have the resources that they need to provide support to unaccompanied migrant children and vulnerable family’s from Syria and the region. Following discussions with local authorities the amount they receive to care for the children was significantly increased to £41,000 a year for under 16s and £33,000 for over 16s.

The Government has been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe. The migration crisis is a global challenge and the government works closely with European countries and has provided £70 million to the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

In Syria and the wider region we continue to work with the UN and invest more humanitarian aid than any other country apart from the USA. The UK has pledged £2.3 billion in aid to the Syrian crisis – our largest ever humanitarian response to a single crisis.

First published in the West Briton 15/02/17

Donald Trump

Every country is entitled to set its own immigration policy, control its own borders and do what it thinks is in the best interests of its citizens’ safety. On those issues, no nation should interfere, but the UK has an obligation to speak out and to be a critical friend to the USA because of the ramifications of the President’s Executive order for the internal stability and security of our country and the rest of the world. The order undermines what our Prime Minister said so eloquently in her speech to Republicans of both Houses of Congress last week in Philadelphia about the need not only to defeat Daesh on the battlefield, but to defeat its ideology.

The Executive order is not only wholly counterproductive in combating terrorism and the narrative of Daesh, but could worsen the situation, playing into the hands of those who would see more terrorist atrocities, not less. Those sympathetic to Daesh will link the order to abhorrent recent events—most notably, the burning of a mosque in Texas and tragic shootings at another mosque in Quebec, Canada.

I was delighted that our Prime Minister and President Trump pledged to renew the special relationship between the UK and the USA—a relationship that has proven beneficial for both countries. The uniqueness of the special relationship has meant that the Prime Minister has rightly conveyed her concerns to the President’s Administration, with some success.

If this strategy of calling for a sensible review of the order is to continue, we cannot possibly have a constructive discussion with the President unless we maintain close relations. For this reason, I think we should welcome President Trump to the UK, so that we can engage in meaningful dialogue with our closest ally in the hope of a change of stance.