Letter published in Guardian

Labour Party

The Guardian has published a letter I sent following news that a former sex worker from New Zealand has been made a Dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the industry. You can read the letter in full below and the edited version on the Guardian website is available here.

Dear Sir,

RE: New Zealand former sex worker becomes a dame in Queen’s birthday honours

It beggars belief that a former sex worker from New Zealand has been
awarded Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to
the rights of sex workers.

Honouring Catherine Healy in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her work
condones prostitution. It is something the new Duchess of Sussex, who as a
self-proclaimed feminist, will surely have a view on?

It is well known that pilot schemes in the UK, where designated safe zones
were tested, have not worked. Most notably in the Holbeck area of Leeds
where a decriminalised zone was created so women could work in apparent
safety. It was during this pilot, and within the decriminalised zone, that
the brutal murder of a sex worker took place.

Women remain vulnerable even if in a seemingly controlled environment.
It’s never safe to work as a sex worker and creating such zones does
nothing to protect women. At best it creates an unsafe ghetto in which to

To celebrate the activism of someone who has been so instrumental in the
decriminalisation of something that has such negative consequences on
vulnerable women and vulnerable parts of society is reckless. Normalising
prostitution is not something that should be celebrated, and it does not
help vulnerable women in any way.”

Sex work has catastrophic and devastating consequences on women’s lives.
Bestowing such an honour for work which can have such life long and
terrible consequences on women’s lives is wholly inappropriate.”

Yours Sincerely,

Mary Honeyball

Labour MEP for London. Labour’s spokesperson in Europe for gender and


UK must ratify the Istanbul Convention

Labour Party

As day two of the Brexit Withdrawal Bill continues I and my colleagues are in Strasbourg carrying on the business and work of the European Parliament.

Today we are debating the Istanbul Convention and MEPs will hear an update from the Commission and Council on the EU’s progress in implementing the Istanbul Convention, which it signed a year ago.

Several EU countries, including the UK, have not yet ratified the convention, which requires countries to criminalise all forms of violence against women, including stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, forced abortion and sterilisation.

The European Parliament recently backed a resolution calling on the EU and all national governments to ratify the convention, and for greater law-enforcement cooperation between countries.

While the European Parliament is urging all EU national governments to ratify the convention countries like Croatia are challenging its very premise. Although it has ratified the Treaty, a conservative group in the country has launched a campaign to abolish the Treaty all together. It has now collected enough signatures to call a referendum under the Croatian constitution.

The group is concerned that the convention promoted the so-called “gender ideology” and that it affects basic traditional and cultural legal aspects of Croatian society.

Why is the UK dragging its feet having signed the convention in 2012? In a report published in November 2017, the UK Government said it “will only take steps toward ratification when we are absolutely satisfied that the UK complies with all articles of the Convention”. This is now six years on from when it first signed the convention and that should be time enough to ensure the UK has its house in order.

The UK must ratify the convention with urgency to ensure that women are protected not just in the UK but across the EU. In ratifying this convention, it will also help to combat trafficking which as we know continues to be a problem across Europe.


Remain Tory MPs must vote with their conscience

Labour Party

“Ignore the will of the people at your peril” is the full-page headline in the Daily Express today, with the union flag emblazoned behind it. The Sun asks if it will be “Great Britain or Great Betrayal”.

The headlines concern the 12-hour debate of the 15 amendments from the House of Lords which will take place inside the House of Commons over the next two days.

Of the 15 amendments the Government is to accept one (a completely tokenistic) amendment which states the UK will be able to choose to stay in EU agencies after Brexit. On three further amendments it is offering compromises and the remainder it will simply vote down.

But the area of paramount importance and which is to be debated this afternoon concerns whether Parliament should have a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final withdrawal agreements.

Pressure has been applied to pro remain MPs who have threatened to vote against the Government. They have been warned they face jeopardising May’s negotiating power in Brussels by both colleagues, and the press (see two of the headlines above). And May issued a final plea calling on them to not undermine her negotiating clout.

The Sun’s rather menacing headline suggests that pro remain MPs would be responsible for an apoplectic situation should they seek to secure Parliament the right to a meaningful vote. They claim it would be a ‘great betrayal’.

I can imagine the pressure the pro remain MPs are under. But a vote that doesn’t involve Parliament in a meaningful way is not sufficient and is not acceptable. It is crucial that Parliament has a role on one of the most important decisions the UK is going to take in the immediate future.

Furthermore, the kind of promises that were made in the campaign can’t be met. No discussions currently hint at a deal which will match up to what was promised. So, in such circumstances the House of Lords is right to insist there must be a serious parliamentary debate.

The conclusion to this debate might be that the Government seeks an extension to the negotiating period or that the question should be put to the people again or that it withdraws notification of the intention to leave the European Union which can be done up until the 29 March 2019. All of these scenarios are entirely plausible.

Whatever happens in the next two days Parliament must get its say before the die is cast.

All MPs must search their conscience and do the right thing so that Parliament has a sincere voice and the authority to scrutinise the negotiations going forward.

Millicent Fawcett’s Birthday Honoured

Labour Party

Today’s Google Doodle is in honour of Millicent Fawcett; the equal rights campaigner who today would celebrate her 171st birthday.

Millicent Fawcett although well known within feminist circles has reached a wider audience in recent months and is recognised for being the first woman to take her place alongside other famous and significant men in Parliament Square. Earlier this year a statue to the women’s rights campaigner was unveiled – the very first statue of a woman to appear in square to recognise the effort she made to achieve voting rights for women.

The unveiling of her statue was not only significant because she was the first woman to have her statue erected in Parliament Square, but it is also the place where many significant battles between the suffragettes and Police took place.

Millicent was not the only person in her family to strive for equal rights, her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, also pushed boundaries in medicine and fought to be the first female Doctor in the UK.

Today the Fawcett Society, a leading women’s rights and equality charity, works to advance women’s equality. Continuing the legacy of Millicent, who aged just 19 collected over a thousand signatures on a petition to secure women the right to vote, the society fights sexism and gender inequality through its research and campaigns.

On Sunday thousands of women and girls marched through the streets around across cities in the UK wearing the colours of the suffragettes to mark the centenary of some women getting the vote.

This important moment in history was only made possible through the grit and determination of those like Millicent Fawcett and her contemporaries such as Emily Wilding Davison and of course the famous Pankhurst sisters whose lives were dedicated to ensuring women had the right to vote.

London’s TV Broadcasters will be forced to relocate by a hard Brexit

Labour Party

Last week’s announcement that the Discovery Channel will be closing its European hub in London may be the start of a much larger trend, if the government continues down the road to a hard Brexit and fails to secure the same terms for EU-wide broadcasters that we currently enjoy.
As an EU member state, TV broadcasters in the UK have benefitted from EU country of origin rules since the 1990s. Put simply, this rule means that if a TV company is licensed by one national authority, in our case OFCOM, it can broadcast to all EU Member States.
The vast majority of international TV companies have their European bases in London, including Discover, Disney, 21st Century Fox, and of course BBC World News. The concentration of creative talent and the ability to do business in English, has attracted US TV  companies in particular to London. Currently OFCOM estimates that over 400 TV broadcasters are licensed to broadcast across the EU from London.
It would therefore seem nonsensical that the government’s position, as set out by Theresa May in her Mansion House speech in March, is to end the UK’s participation in the Country of Origin regime. Instead, the government hopes to secure mutual recognition of broadcasters in much the same way as they want to achieve this for the banking sector.
It is likely that the EU side will see this as cherry-picking. The government wants to end free movement and the jurisdiction of the ECJ, two key pillars in the functioning of the single market, and yet maintain a preferential arrangement for key sectors such as television and banking.
Discovery, for their part, has stated that their decision to close their London base has nothing to do with Brexit uncertainty. However, their motivation to “move to a more agile operational technology model” most likely shows their real intentions. In the absence of commitment to the broadcasting sector from the government, they have put their contingency plan into action.
The government continues to live in fantasy world, negotiating with itself between options which are completely unacceptable to the 27 EU Member States. Until the government comes up with workable solutions, Discovery will not be the only TV company looking into contingency plans.

Cambridge Analytica’s Impact on the EU Referendum

Labour Party

Following Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in the European Parliament two weeks ago, a conference held last night with influential speakers, some of whom were directly involved in breaking the Cambridge Analytica news story, in which delegates were told about the lengths to which the now dissolved company went to in order to achieve the results it was being paid to get.

Among the speakers were Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian journalist who was one of the first to break the story, Christopher Wiley, the former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower, and Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner.

Although we have heard his story before, listening to Wiley’s account was nevertheless chilling. Cambridge Analytica took personal data from Facebook users and exploited it to skew democratic elections and referendums. Wiley described this situation as a “New Online Cold War.”

Specifically, in relation to the EU referendum, Wiley told MEPs about a tangled web of influence across the Atlantic. Both Leave campaigns were connected to Cambridge Analytica and its subsidiaries. However, Wiley pointed to possible breaches in UK electoral law, as there were connections with other groups such as BeLeave, Veterans for Leave, and even the DUP – the very party which the UK Government has formed a coalition with.

Whatever the result of the various investigations taking place into the Leave campaigns, the big tech companies will have questions to answer. It was known well before the 2016 EU referendum and US Presidential Election that Facebook users’ data could be manipulated in this way.

Cadwalladr expressed her frustration as a journalist, with the denial and lack of complete answers from tech companies – a sentiment shared by many in Brussels after Zuckerberg’s evasive testimony in the European Parliament two weeks ago.

Equally, in her view the European Parliament has the opportunity to get answers from Nigel Farage and Gerard Batten, the current leader of UKIP, who also avoid questions from journalists investigating the case.

Only the EU has the economic and political clout to take on these internet giants. From competition rules to copyright, and now to defending our democracies, the EU is able to stand up to huge companies like Google and Facebook and make them play by the same rules as everyone else.

A peoples vote is essential to avoid and ‘Armageddon’

Labour Party

A Government report published over the weekend reveals a doomsday scenario if a no deal Brexit is drawn up. It states that Britain could be hit with food and medicine shortages within two weeks of leaving the EU if a Brexit deal isn’t reached.

The civil service paper speculates on three different scenarios which it categorizes into three possibilities 1. Mild, 2. Severe and 3. Armageddon. Either way none of it sounds hugely promising. Worse still is that it’s not even the so-called ‘Armageddon’ scenario which could plunge the UK into metaphorical darkness.

Indeed, The Sunday Times revealed that its source said even the second scenario will lead to serious consequences for the UK: “In the second worst scenario, not even the worst, the port of Dover will collapse on day one. The supermarkets in Cornwall and Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within two weeks.”

The source added that “the RAF would be needed to transport emergency medicine to the far corners of the UK and warned that the country would also quickly run out of petrol.” It is deeply concerning to read let alone considering it could be a reality.

A people’s vote on the outcome of the deal is not only sensible but essential to give legitimacy to whatever the final agreement is.

And I am not alone with this view. I was pleased to see an open letter from 18 London MP’s to Jeremy Corbyn calling for a people’s vote on the deal Theresa May will bring back from the EU.

The letter, published in the Independent, calls on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to push for a referendum on the deal.

The letter states: “It cannot be right that 650 MPs decide on whether to accept the deal…that’s why we think it’s essential that there is a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal, so that 65 million people can have their voices heard as well.” The emergence of a deal is still far from clear, and there is an increasing possibility that there may be no deal at all.

This scenario as we have seen from the above will to lead to significant problems. These concerns have been raised by civil servants and therefore cannot be dismissed as “project fear” by David Davis and his team.

May can and should do more to facilitate change over Northern Ireland’s abortion law

Labour Party

‘“There are currently no plans to intervene in the Northern Ireland abortion law debate”, the Prime Minister has said. Such a statement denies women citizens of Northern Ireland, who require an abortion, the opportunity to receive safe medical care, dignity and compassion. In fact, it not only denies them access to such care but it ignores their need for it.

It would be foolish to not recognise that the political situation makes this an incredibly difficult journey to undertake, but as complicated as it is its most definitely a necessary one.

May’s spokesman has said that the only way legislation can come into force is through legislation from the devolved assembly because it has responsibility for health. The problem is, of course that the Stormont legislature hasn’t sat for 16 months.

If Theresa May is to pursue this line (that change must come from within Stormont) then the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must work with great urgency to facilitate the restoration of the legislature. It’s simply not good enough to make a dismissive statement like “it was a matter for the devolved Northern Ireland Government”.

The current stale mate can’t continue. Northern Ireland must change its laws on abortion and do so urgently.

I campaigned in the Irish refferendum last month and was obviously pleased with the result. I wrote about my experience for the New Statesman, and the article is available online which you can read here. Now that the eighth amendment in Northern Ireland will be repealed the focus inevitable turns to Northern Ireland where the pressure to change the law will rightly increase.

Artists must have fair remuneration from internet giants-No ifs No Buts!

Labour Party


I have worked for many years to defend artists whose livelihoods are at
stake with the growth of online video platforms.

It’s something which is very much on the agenda in the European Parliament                     with the current Commission’s Single Market reforms under way.

It is known that companies like YouTube have changed the way we listen to
music. The digital revolution has made music more accessible than ever
before, and many of today’s stars have established themselves through
social media. The same can be said for the film industry. And for many
unknown artists it’s been an enabling platform which has helped to ensure
their music (or whichever medium they use) is accessible to an audience
that it may never have reached previously, in the days of CDs or… tapes!

However, there are associated problems with this so-called revolution.
Many artists find they are in a weak negotiating position and find it
difficult to ensure they receive proper remuneration from online

It is much harder to monitor sales digitally than tracking sales of CDs or
DVDs for instance. Worse still many of the biggest internet platforms pay
pitiful amounts for the content uploaded to their services.

Therefore, I am backing an artist’s right to fair remuneration to be
included in the EU’s upcoming copyright reform legislation. Artists should
receive the same remuneration whether their work is enjoyed online or
offline – no ifs, no buts.

Today I’m coming together with MEPs from across the political spectrum, to
host an event with the Fair Internet Coalition and the Society of Audio
Visual Authors, hoping to raise awareness of the difficulties artists face
online, by hearing directly from the artists themselves.

By working together with artists, the creative sector and legislators at a
European level, I hope we can achieve a level playing field online and
ensure a sustainable future for the next generation of Europe’s artists
and creators.

Max-Fac customs model could cost UK business £20bn

Labour Party

The customs model favoured by Brexit Secretary, David Davis, and other senior Government ministers could cost business as much as £20bn a year the head of HMRC has warned.

The Government department said, during a hearing at the Treasury Select Committee, that the so called “Max-Fac” model-which relies on technology to carry out border checks-is a significantly more expensive option than the alternative.

It is yet another blow for the divided Government, and perhaps in an attempt to ‘shrug some embarrassment, senior cabinet figures claim they were never briefed by HMRC that the cost could be so high.

Meanwhile Theresa May’s partnership model, the alternative model, has come under fire from within her own Government and those such as Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg have reportedly applied pressure on the Prime Minister to press ahead with the Max-Fac option instead. And far from denying the £20bn claim Downing Street said it had asked for more work to be done on the various customs models. In other words, the Government isn’t certain about which model it should propose.

Either way Jon Thompson advised that it would take around “three to five years to begin implementing the UK’s new customs arrangements, depending on which of the two options were decided upon by the government.”

It is yet another example which reveals the Government is lacking credible evidence for it to make any decisive decisions relating to how it should proceed on this matter. And despite explicit warnings from a senior civil servant, some senior cabinet members maintain that the “Max-Fac” model, which will be prohibitively expensive for many businesses and is therefore hardly viable, is still favoured.