Death of George Floyd

Thank you for writing to me regarding the brutal, abhorrent and sad killing of George Floyd.

I completely understand and share the strength of feeling over this tragic situation and like you, 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. This brutality has no place in a civilised society.

While, in the wake of this killing, racial divisions in the US are plain to see, it is also incumbent on us to use this moment to look with renewed vigour at how black and minority communities and 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 and multi-culturalism across our country should be something that we all celebrate.

I have been heartened by the solidarity shown in the UK, whether by colleagues in the Parliamentary community, the lighting purple of buildings, or people from all walks of life ‘taking the knee’. 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 much work remains to be done here in the UK. I totally support Black Lives Matter.

It is right and proper in a free democratic society that we all have the right to speak freely and protest against any form of intolerance or injustice. But I firmly believe that all protests should be completely peaceful and there is no place at all for violence. Equally, I believe that we must be cognisant in the current situation of public health risks and that protesting must respect social distancing. I was incredibly saddened by the violent scenes in recent well-intentioned protests in London, including the unacceptable vandalism of war memorials and the statue of our former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who did so much to free us from the threats of intolerance and fascism. I was horrified by the violence shown towards our brave London Police, who do so much to keep us safe. Quite how violence towards London Police, including their horses, serves to help the cause against police brutality in Minnesota is completely beyond me.

Here in the UK, there are some really 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 among my constituents.

I am appalled by the racism experienced by those in the BAME community and I will continue to support society’s efforts to end racism, be it societal or institutional. In life all men, women and children are equal, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

With regard to the figures illustrating that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19, I find this extremely concerning and it troubles me greatly indeed. The disproportionate impact has been recognised by my colleagues in government and accordingly, Public Health England was commissioned to conduct thorough research into the matter.  PHE has now published its report and I await the Department for Health and Social Care's full response as soon as possible; already the Government is starting to act on its conclusions.

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.

On the export of riot control equipment, 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 these criteria and they keep all export licences under review. I have ensured Ministers are aware of the points you make about these exports.

I will of course be following developments closely, including throughout the federal review and I will raise the concerns of constituents with colleagues.

This is such an important issue. Racism of any sort is unacceptable, abhorrent and uncivilised. We must all work together to stamp it out, for the sake of humanity.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

With best wishes

Neil