A raft of profound concerns on Brexit emerge over weekend

Labour Party

Defence, security and cooperation between France and the UK are all under threat if Britain leaves the European Union the former Ambassador to France has advised.

Lord Ricketts, who was the UK’s Ambassador to France until 2016 warned the UK will have to work harder on its relationship to ensure the two countries don’t drift.

But this was not the only deeply worrying concern to be voiced over the weekend. There were also concerns raised from campaigners and MPs who warned that leaving the EU without a deal could seriously jeopardise the efforts to combat anti trafficking.

Safe guards for those at risk will be removed; Jakub Sobik, from the charity Anti-Slavery International warned that if the UK loses access to key institutions which help to combat slavery then it will impact on the ability to dismantle trafficking networks.

We all know that access to Europol and the European Arrest Warrant is key to combatting this crime and having this access is key to fighting it Jakub warned.

And in a letter published by the Observer organisations including Amnesty International, Liberty the Fawcett Society and the National Aids Trust voiced their concerns over the EU Withdrawal Bill. They warned that the EU Withdrawal Bill will not protect people’s rights in the UK as the Government promised. The letter states: “This is in large part because the bill removes the EU charter of fundamental rights from our law.”

The common theme of the profound concerns raised by the various individuals and organisations named above is that if Britain leaves the European Union then its citizens become vulnerable; economically in terms of defence and security as well as protecting and safe guarding citizens’ rights. But especially in terms of protecting the most vulnerable members of our society.

Acting in such a solitary way will be harmful, destructive and encourages us to drift- but to where? And for what benefit when we have such structures and strategic relationships working so well.

 

The issue of Modern Slavery exposes Conservative policy at its most flawed

Labour Party

John Major’s attack on Euro-sceptics as living in “fantasy land” hits on an uneasy fault line. There is a fissure within the Conservative Party, between an aspiration to again be ‘the natural party of government’, and a temptation to fall back on knee-jerk, Tea Party style approaches which win quick votes. At its core this remains a 1980s distinction, between high-handed ‘wets’ and the visceral politics of Thatcherism. This is perhaps why Major’s experiences remain so relevant 16 years on – nothing really has changed. The Conservatives are still torn between rhyme and reason.

This schism is brought into sharp relief by today’s European parliament vote on trafficking and organised crime. MEPs from across the member states have overwhelmingly endorsed recommendations by the Organised Crime committee, following a new report on trafficking networks. The report advocates tougher sanctions and renewed emphasis on improving labour conditions. It also asks for a pan-European public prosecutor’s office, and has drawn calls from trafficking NGOs for a more proactive Europol.

How the Conservatives respond to this will be fascinating. On the one hand Theresa May has made a clear and commendable pledge to end Modern Slavery; on the other she has persistently sought to repatriate judicial and policing powers from Europe and talk tough on immigration. These two approaches are wholly contradictory. They are two dogs, lashed together, which will simply never run in the same direction.

According to the committee’s report there are currently 880,000 enslaved people in Europe – 270,000 of whom work in the sex industry. I know from my own efforts to address sex trafficking that acting unilaterally just isn’t an option when faced with the fluid challenges posed by globalised crime. As the National Crime Agency’s Keith Bristow says, organised crime now operates “in an interconnected world where international borders are much less significant.”

On top of this – as the 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster showed – the groups most vulnerable to trafficking are refugees and migrant workers. These individuals need more help from the UK government. Instead, as Walk Free’s Global Trafficking Index reports, the UK’s vulnerability to trafficking is exacerbated by the “incredibly precarious living situation” our asylum system creates for people going through it.

The Conservatives’ hostility to the European Arrest Warrant, Europol, Eurojust, and the European Bill of Human Rights – not to mention their aggressive stance on asylum seekers – therefore fly in the face of all serious attempts to tackle trafficking. Moreover they undermine the party’s self-styled toughness on crime, and make a mockery of any designs their MPs have on becoming ‘the natural party of government’.

In July of this year the Conservatives grudgingly agreed to ‘opt back into’ 35 of the 130 EU Law and Order measures which they had previously withdrawn from, meaning Britain will now, thankfully, retain our involvement in Europol and the European Arrest Warrant.

But we need to go much further. As Anti-Slavery International’s Klara Skrivankova puts it, “The tools are there, but we don’t use them enough. Europol is still seen as a supplementary force – it should be more proactive.” To genuinely take on the scourge of trafficking we must not just pay lip service to Europe, but throw our full weight behind the solutions it can provide. On the issue of trafficking – if on nothing else – we really do need an ‘ever closer union’.

I would therefore urge Theresa May, if she wants to show she is genuine about tackling modern slavery, to set aside her party’s gut impulses for a moment and focus on the real problems the modern world faces. The alternative for the Tories is to succumb to incoherence and allow the brawnier, stupider of the two animals lashed together to lead Britain down an isolationist course which ultimately makes us more vulnerable.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw Football Association board member Heather Rabbatts – along with the government’s Sports and Equalities Minister Helen Grant – speak out against the lack of diversity on the new commission into the future of the English football team. The body was initially made up of eight members chosen to rejuvenate the national side. It was all-white and all-male, with an average age of 57.

Rabbatts, the only female or non-white person currently on the FA board, questioned the selection process for the new commission at the weekend. She described it as “particularly ironic”, given the number of black players in the England set-up, that there is “absolutely no representation from…ethnic minority communities”.

The FA have previously been criticised for their handling of the John Terry and Luis Suarez racial abuse cases, and yesterday anti-racism organisations – including Kick It Out and Football Against Racism in Europe – questioned the selection process for the new body.

FA Chairman Greg Dyke pointed out on Sunday that steps had been taken to find ethnic minority representation (albeit without success), and then, at the eleventh hour, it was announced that Manchester United’s mixed-race defender Rio Ferdinand would join the panel.

Given how important promoting diversity will be to the new commission’s work, the initial lack of black faces does look like an oversight. It is also worrying that Rabbatts – a talented women who has helped modernise Millwall FC as well as several local authorities – had to go public to get her voice heard.

Much of the current debate around diversity at the top focuses on business and politics, but we must not ignore sport and the arts. The FA, in particular, is an organisation often accused of being out of touch with the increasingly fast-moving and globalised sport which it governs. To shake of its ‘gaffe prone’, blazer-clad image, a commitment to diversity is vital – not for cosmetic reasons, but to make it more effective as an organisation.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, Theresa May used international Anti-Slavery Day, which took place on Friday, to announce her forthcoming Modern Slavery Bill. In order to send out the “strongest possible message” that the UK will not tolerate slavery, she said the bill will include a maximum life sentence for trafficking. The UK currently has around 4,600 enslaved people according to Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index, and a recent report suggests big increases in trafficking from Albania, Lithuania and Poland.

There were suggestions from some that May’s proposals overlook victims. Klara Skrivankova, from the charity Anti-Slavery International, said “Unless the protection of victims is put on a statutory footing, we’re unlikely to see more prosecutions”, and David Hanson MP, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, pointed out that 60% of the UK’s trafficked children go missing after being identified by authorities.

Walk Free also say that the UK’s vulnerability to trafficking is exacerbated by the “incredibly precarious living situation” our asylum system creates for refugees, and others have pointed out the difficulty of tackling trafficking while looking to withdraw from organisations like Europol or the EU Arrest Warrant.

I applaud May’s commitment to ending modern slavery, but would ask her to avoid letting Tory prejudices on immigration and Europe undermine these efforts.

Human trafficking petition receives over 1,300 signatures

Labour Party

human handsAs regular readers to my blog will be aware, almost a month ago I launched a campaign to highlight the issue of human trafficking and started a petition intended for the Met Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson to halt his proposal to close the Mets dedicated human trafficking unit.

I’ve received a huge amount of support so far and the petition has almost 1400 signatures to date. The campaign has received support from my MEP colleagues, MPs, local councillors and GLA members. In addition the Public and Commercial Services Union, and Anti Slavery International have also shown their support.

I will present my petition to Scotland Yard this Friday ahead of the decision which will be made by the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) between 16 -18 November.

Opponents argue that the unit doesn’t save enough people to warrant it staying open but when you hear the stories of those it does save you understand why it’s so important.

Only last Friday the Met Police reported that a Hungarian human trafficker who regularly raped and beat his girlfriend over a period of two years and then brought her to the UK, forcing her to work as a prostitute, has been jailed for 16 years.

The head of the unit, detective inspector Steve Wilkinson said in a statement following the conviction, that the human trafficking unit ‘continues to work towards freeing exploited victims from their captors and ensuring that we continue to successfully bring the traffickers to prosecution.

‘We hope that this result will encourage any other victims to come forward and speak with police who may have felt that they couldn’t do so before.’

But if the MPA decides to cut the funding of the dedicated unit then where will those victims go? And who should they turn to? If there isn’t a dedicated unit how will a greater number of traffickers be prosecuted?

As I have said throughout this campaign, the unit requires the dedicated and specialist knowledge of trained officers to do this role and successfully catch the perpetrators.

Not only will fewer victims feel they can come forward but even fewer prosecutions are likely to take place as a result.