The news on Monday morning that my constituent Aras Amiri, a British Council employee, had been sentenced to ten years in an Iranian prison was a devastating blow. I’ve been in contact with her fiancé and the Foreign Office about this case for some time and we’ve been hoping for a more positive outcome. Yet Iran is increasingly pursuing a policy of imprisoning innocent employees of legitimate institutions to use as diplomatic leverage, a hostage diplomacy that we’ve also seen in the ongoing appalling case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Following the news, I raised the issue with the Prime Minister in Parliament, attended a briefing with her employers the British Council and held an urgent meeting with the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Aras’ fiancé to discuss next steps. I asked Jeremy Hunt to raise this urgently with the Iranian Foreign Minister.
I’m pleased to have joined the new Labour Friends of Yemen Advisory Board and attended my first meeting on Monday. The situation there is horrific with the UN estimating that 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – require humanitarian or protection assistance with up to 85,000 children having lost their lives to starvation. There is no military solution to this conflict, instead a political settlement is absolutely vital and I believe the Government must use all its influence to play its part in bringing this about. Labour’s policy to suspend arms exports to Saudi is the best leverage we have to achieve a lasting change and avoid humanitarian emergency in Yemen.
I attended Justice Questions on Tuesday to raise my concerns over the shocking figure of 47% more violent incidents in private rather than public prisons. It leads to serious questions over whether corners are being cut in a bid to save money and I do not believe the Government should be pushing ahead with plans to build two more private prisons when there hasn’t even been a full investigation into what is going on into the failings of G4S and other failing providers.
With European elections less than a week away, I’ve been campaigning across the constituency because it’s crucial the left vote isn’t split to open up a path for the likes of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson to try and pretend their values of intolerance and division represent this country. They do not. I continue to make the case for a second vote, with the option to remain and welcome the comments made by Keir Starmer, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary reaffirming the clear argument for such a public vote to be included within the upcoming withdrawal bill.
Finally, I’ve spent time this week preparing for my upcoming Quaker Salter Lecture entitled “Solutions for a Divided Society”, and it feels very timely with top economist Sir Angus Deaton warning only this week that we risk reaching US levels of inequality. Over the last four decades, the wealth of the richest few has increased while those at the bottom have lost out. While wages remain lower than a decade ago and housing costs soar, more and more food banks are opening up in Britain. With 1.6 million food parcels handed out in the last year – half a million of which went to children – the Prime Minister needs to admit that Tory Britain has failed.