Black lives matter.

I cannot think of anyone who disagrees. And while it would be easy to reply, “all lives matter”, that would be a disservice to the thousands of people who have legitimate grievances about racism. That those grievances evidently continue today, after ten years of the Equality Act, is deeply troubling. 

With mounting concern, I have been listening carefully to Black British people. It is clear the Conservative Party needs to move beyond our proud record of establishing the most ethnically diverse government ever, to becoming more proactively anti-racist in what we say. We are going to have to find new language to articulate our passionate commitment to the moral, legal and political equality of every person and to everyone’s right to equal opportunities. And we are going to have to use that language without fear of condemnation from radical political opponents who seek to exploit identity politics for electoral advantage. 

“Black lives matter” ought not to need saying, yet it does. And as we heard from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel this week, British Asians too face racism in the UK. We must act, and act in ways which cannot be enshrined in law, to change people’s hearts and minds and souls to be more accepting of the truth of our equality.

George Floyd may have died at the hands of the police far away in another jurisdiction, in a country with a worse record of race relations than our own but we have seen nevertheless the need for a change of heart here at home. That is why I was so glad to watch Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement, which you can find here:

You can find further statements from the Chancellor and the Home Secretary here:

More must be done and there are some good national and local initiatives with great people involved. 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 flow from a Hate Crime Action Plan, which you can read more about here:

At this time, we must not only draw on these resources, but also examine whether they are sufficient. Ministers are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue.

At the same time, public order must be upheld in the interests of the whole community. I would draw your attention to the following statement on public order by the Home Secretary:

In particular, Priti Patel said,

“This Government are clear that racism and discrimination in any form have no place in our society, and we will do whatever is required to eradicate it. Of course there is more we can do. There is more that we should all do to combat inequalities across society, to support those seeking social justice and better life chances and to offer hope, but all too often, too many are confronted by despair. It is right in any democracy, in an open and free society, that we advance these issues in a constructive, sensitive and responsible way. 

“The Government understand the importance of the right to protest. In normal circumstances, a large and peaceful protest would not be of concern to the authorities, because we live in a great country where our right to protest and to have our voice heard is integral to our fundamental democratic freedoms. The right to come together and express our views peacefully remains one of the cornerstones of our great democracy. Members across the House share an enduring commitment to uphold liberty and freedom of expression, on the basis of respecting the rule of law. As our nation battles coronavirus, however, these are not normal circumstances, so to protect us all and to stop the spread of this deadly disease, any large gatherings of people are currently unlawful. We cannot afford to forget that we are still in the grip of an unprecedented national health emergency that has tragically claimed more than 40,000 lives, so the severe public health risk forces me to continue to urge the public not to attend future protests. The Government’s scientific and medically led advice remains clear and consistent. No matter how important the cause, protesting in large numbers at this exceptional time is illegal, and doing so puts everyone’s lives at risk.”

Finally, I know the Government takes its export control responsibilities 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 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 the criteria. I know that Ministers are aware of the points you make about these exports.

I look forward to working together in a renewed spirit of goodwill for the benefit of all.

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