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City MP joins ‘inspirational’ veteran’s community effort for Afghan evacuees

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan paid a visit to veteran community organisation Ems4Afghans ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

The volunteer-led organisation, founded by Emsworth RAF veteran Matt Simmons, was set up in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis to support those being evacuated with clothes, toiletries and other essential items.

The Shadow Armed Forces Minister joined the sorting of incoming donations at the group’s hub in Fareham with volunteers.

Earlier this week, Mr Morgan visited a bridging hotel where Afghans who supported British forces are being housed temporarily to give out ‘winter packs’ of coats, scarves, hats and gloves as the weather turns colder.

As well as basic needs like winter clothes, the Shadow Armed Forces Minister also raised concerns that the Home Office was yet to process their immigration paperwork.

Without confirmation of the Indefinite Leave to Remain promised by the government, ARAP evacuees face difficulties in accessing work, housing and essential services.

The separate Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme has still not yet been launched.

On Tuesday, Ems4Afghans volunteer and RAF veteran Melanie Clark helped deliver an Afghan refugee’s baby in one of the bridging hotels.

Portsmouth South MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan said:

“Matt has led an inspirational group of local veterans to support those Afghan nationals who bravely backed British forces during their deployment.

“Their sense of duty to those who served alongside them represents the best of our forces, and I want to pay tribute to them as we mark Remembrance.

“Unfortunately, ARAP evacuees and their families – who have already suffered immense hardship – now find themselves at the mercy of a postcode lottery of support and constrained by a cliff edge on their immigration status.

“Councils, charities like Ems4Afghans and voluntary organisations are doing their best on the ground. But Ministers must deliver clear and consistent pathways for the support offered through Operation Warm Welcome if they are to keep the promises they have made to those who bravely supported our forces.”

Ems4Afghans founder Matt Simmons said:

“The initial crisis support we offered was so important, with those fleeing for their lives coming to the UK with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

“It’s more than that though. For me starting Ems4Afghans was about building relationships and being a bridge between communities where we can do great work in the future in resettlement – education, jobs.

“I wanted to make them feel welcome. We have a sense of duty as they worked alongside British forces.”

To donate to the indicative and help Afghan families click here

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City MP discusses mental health with All Call Signs ahead of Remembrance Sunday

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan visited award-winning forces mental health initiative ‘All Call Signs’ to discuss their work and highlight Labour’s pledge to veterans ahead of Remembrance Sunday.   

The Shadow Armed Forces Minister highlighted the importance of improving ongoing mental health support for personnel and veterans, particularly given events in Afghanistan this year.

It comes as Labour announced £35 million fund to support British veterans and Afghan interpreters.

The funding, recovered from cancelled MoD interpreter contracts, will be used for grants to charities and Local Authorities in England to provide mental health support services and support for those Afghan nationals who have relocated to the UK through the ARAP scheme.

Calls to veteran’s mental health charity Combat Stress have doubled since the Taliban swept to power. At the same time, its income has fallen by 37% in the last financial year partly due to cuts in NHS funding support.

Research last year found only 26% of charities thought that the government supports the mental health of veterans, and 79% of charities believe that the responsibility to support veterans should lie more with the government and armed forces.

All Calls Signs, based on Albert Road in Southsea, provide peer support organisation for veterans and serving military personnel.

Their chat app is staffed by over 700 volunteer listeners with experience of life in uniform with digital caseworkers bridging the gaps in veteran’s mental health services for hundreds of users seeking help.

Portsmouth South MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan MP said:

“I’ve long been a proud supporter of All Call Signs’ innovative work to support serving personnel and veterans across our country, and am really proud this organisation is based in Portsmouth.

“This year our armed forces have stepped up once again to protect us at home and abroad. Events in Afghanistan have taken an understandable toll on both serving personnel and veterans, so Remembrance is a timely reminder that we must keep our promise to support those who have fought for our country.

“Recent government announcements on mental health are a drop in the ocean whilst the uncertainty surrounding future funding for the Office of Veterans Affairs threatens to pull the rug from under our personnel when they need it most.

“Labour’s new support fund of £35 million will make sure we protect those who protect our country and keep us all safe.”

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Statement from Stephen Morgan MP – Government denies pay rise for 8,200 service personnel

Reacting to reports of a government decision not to award service personnel a £250 boost to their annual pay, the Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South and Shadow Armed Forces Minister, said:

“The government has short-changed our service personnel once again. As if a decade of real terms pay cuts wasn’t bad enough, this report reveals Ministers have deliberately conned 8,200 of the lowest earning service personnel out of their insultingly low £250 bonus.

“Over the last year Her Majesty’s Armed Forces have shown just how indispensable they are to the nation’s security, from airlifting British Nationals out of Afghanistan to driving NHS ambulances in Wales.

“Yet Ministers still don’t think it’s worth giving the lowest earners taking the highest risks to protect our country a pay rise that’s worth just £200 after tax. To add insult to injury, they will also be paying more for food and service accommodation.

“This continues a decade of Tory decline for our armed forces who’ve seen forces pay, numbers and morale all down since 2010.”

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Shadow Defence Minister visits Leonardo Southampton to view world leading thermal imaging technology

Portsmouth South MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan was able to view world leading sensor technology created at Leonardo’s Southampton site at close range during a recent visit.

Leonardo in Southampton builds a compact sensor system that can provide minute detections of fractional changes in temperature, while being highly portable, meaning it can be used in a wide variety of environments. It is thought that the sensor system has world leading levels of sensitivity and is used in observatories around the world.

Peter Dillon VP Sensors for the Southampton site said: “It was great to be able to demonstrate this exciting technology, drawing on the skills of our research team, our production team and our partners across the Solent region. Stephen took real interest in the innovation and learned about its many applications including detecting the signatures of planetary objects.”

Leonardo in Southampton creates communicationsoptronics and air traffic management products for the defence and security sector. The company’s thermal imaging cameras have many uses including being used by the BBC around the globe for high profile wildlife series such as Springwatch, Planet Earth and Big Cats.

Across the UK Leonardo employs more than 7,500 staff, of whom 500 are on their apprenticeship and graduate schemes, offering them degree-level qualifications alongside practical training.

In October 2018, the Southampton office was renamed Nicolson House, after the actions of Flight Lieutenant Nicolson VC who achieved one of the Second World War’s most extraordinary heroic feats, fighting off German planes above the skies of where the Southampton office now stands.

Mr Morgan toured the site with staff before sitting down with senior representatives of the company.

Portsmouth South MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan said:

“Leonardo are pioneers in British-built aerospace, defence and security technology.

“The next era of defence technology is not just about our national defence but also about the creation and maintenance of high-skilled, well-paid jobs. Leonardo know this and their enthusiasm for local apprenticeship schemes is commendable and infectious.

“Ministers must do more to support Leonardo’s world-leading operations, which has clear benefits for investment and jobs in Southampton and the wider Solent region.”

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ARAP Chaos: Portsmouth MP blasts government with just 1% of applications accepted and almost 7,000 still outstanding

  • Government figures reveal just 850 applications have been accepted since April
  • Almost 7,000 applications remain outstanding
  • Just 213 evacuated in 18 months between the Doha Agreement and Operation Pitting

Stephen Morgan MP has blasted the government after new figures have revealed that just 850 applications to the government’s ARAP scheme have been accepted since the beginning of April, with 6,800 still outstanding.

The revelations contradict Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim on 6 September that just 311 of those Afghans who supported UK forces were left in the country, and cast fresh doubt on the government’s chaotic withdrawal from the country.1

Data from the Ministry of Defence shows that 60,000 applications to the scheme were received between April and August 2021, with 52,350 being rejected and 6,800 still being processed, meaning just 850 (1.41%) applications were accepted during the period.2

Ministers have also been forced to admit that just 213 ARAP-eligible Afghans were evacuated in the 18 months between the Doha Agreement and the beginning of Operation Pitting on 13 August, illustrating a further lack of planning.3

Labour’s Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan said the revelations showed the government was “out of touch and on the beach” during the immediate crisis. He called on the Defence Secretary to set out a “credible” plan to help those left behind.

Mr Morgan called on Armed Forces Minister James Heappey to clarify the figures in the House of Commons today, but the minister failed to answer, suggesting he would write to respond instead.

The government has confirmed that no further evacuation flights have been conducted since the conclusion of Operation Pitting on 28 August, yet claim the scheme remains open.4

Earlier this month, the Portsmouth representative also met with members of the local Afghan community to listen to views and concerns about family and friends in Afghanistan.

Portsmouth South MP and Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan, said:

“Despite the very best efforts from our armed forces, this government has woefully mishandled the crisis in Afghanistan.

“These figures reveal the government’ systemic failure to plan for the withdrawal in the 18 months following the Doha agreement and prioritise the safety of British nationals and brave Afghans who supported our forces.

“While Ministers claim the ARAP scheme is still open, this will be cold comfort to those still on the ground, now living in fear under Taliban rule. The Defence Secretary is yet to set out a credible plan to secure the safety of those the government has left behind.

“This crisis was a fundamental test of the government and its leadership. Once again, Conservative Ministers were found to be out of touch and on the beach.”

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Afghanistan: Portsmouth MP delivers scathing attack on government during key debate in Parliament

Stephen Morgan MP accused the government of ‘damaging the UK’s international reputation’ due to the way it has handled its exit from Afghanistan during a key debate in Parliament today.

Representing the Official Opposition in his role as Shadow Armed Forces Minister, the Portsmouth MP blasted the government’s “complacency, mismanagement and diplomatic ineptitude”.

He added that Minister’s handling of the crisis had damaged the country’s international reputation, weakened UK national security, and jeopardised two decades of hard work and humanitarian progress in the country.

The Portsmouth MP also called for a cross-party joint committee to investigate the withdrawal from Afghanistan – from the Doha Agreement to the conclusion of Operation Pitting.

Armed forces personnel and civil servants involved in Operation Pitting were praised by the Shadow Minister during his speech. The evacuation airlifted over 15,000 people in 14 days and was the largest operation of its kind since the Second World War.

But Mr Morgan said they had been “lions led by donkeys” and further criticised the government for its failure to prepare for the end of the drawdown in the 18 months following the Doha agreement.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, commented:

“The events in Afghanistan were a fundamental test of this government and its leadership.

“The character of our country is defined by how we respond to these moments.

“Once again, Conservative ministers were found to be out of touch and on the beach.

“That’s why I’ve called for a cross-party joint committee to investigate the withdrawal from Afghanistan so we can learn the lessons of the government’s failures to ensure they never happen again.”

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‘Stop Aquind’ campaign reaches critical moment as Portsmouth MP submits 6,200 signature petition to Parliament

Stephen Morgan MP has submitted a 6,200 signature petition to Parliament today, calling on the Business Secretary to scrap the damaging infrastructure project. 

The campaign, supported by the local ‘Stop AQUIND’ group, has been the leading local voice of opposition to the proposed interconnector project. The Portsmouth representative’s petition cites the huge damage it would cause to the local infrastructure and environment, as well as ongoing concerns surrounding the project company and its directors.

Local activists met the city MP on Tuesday morning outside the House of Commons, ahead of the petition’s submission.

The Portsmouth MP, who strongly opposed AQUIND from the earliest stages, has written a string of letters to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng MP on the issue, regularly attended local demonstrations against the project and held Ministers accountable through written and oral questions in the House of Commons.

Kwarteng has until October 21 to make a decision.

The original deadline was September 8, but this was postponed earlier this month after Mr Kwarteng queried why an alternative plan without commercial telecoms aspects still included rights for the associated land.

The company has until September 16 to respond.

Commenting on his latest intervention, the member of parliament for Portsmouth South, said,

“The people of Portsmouth have spoken: the Aquind Interconnector Project must be stopped.

“I’ve been clear from the outset that this project would bring untold disruption to our daily lives and natural environment, with no clear benefits. Meanwhile, the company directors’ cosy relationships with government ministers continue to raise suspicions.

“The Secretary of State needs to provide certainty to the thousands of city residents whose daily lives will be affected.

“Over 6,200 of you have spoken. It’s time the government finally listened.”

Responding to the news in a joint-statement, the co-chairs of the ‘Stop Aquind’ campaign, Viola Langley and Paula Ann-Savage, also said:

“Today was a critical moment in our campaign with Portsmouth voices being heard loud and clear In Parliament through Stephen’s petition, and we’re grateful for his support and being alongside us every step of the way.

“It cannot be right that decisions impacting residents here in Portsmouth are made hundreds of miles away behind a desk in Whitehall.

“It’s time the Business Secretary listened to our concerns, end the uncertainty and scrap Aquind.”

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Reflections on 9/11 terror attacks, 20 years on

I vividly remember how the 9/11 terrorist attacks fundamentally shook our society.

I was a student in Bristol at the time, and in the days that followed I recall the then Labour MP for Bristol West Valerie Davey explaining that the horror of what people had seen on their televisions had prompted random acts of kindness between strangers in the city.

Twenty years on, we remember the 2,977 people killed from 90 countries, including 67 UK citizens.

The attacks defined a decade of US and UK foreign and defence policy, with military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq following swiftly as part of the ‘war on terror’.

We pay tribute to the bravery and professionalism of our forces exhibited during those conflicts and we must ensure that our society fulfils its promise to care for our veterans.

In the two decades that followed, we have ensured that no terrorist attacks on allied soil from these countries.

Those who lost loved one have had their lives forever altered by loss, with empty spaces at dinner tables, occasions missed, lives not lived.

The reverberations of the attacks were felt again when the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan once again last month, meaning the country could once again become fertile ground for terror.

In this environment, and with the US increasingly reluctant to be the world’s policeman, the UK must pursue a more integrated foreign and defence policy with our nearestneighbours. This is now the only way to protect the gains made at home and abroad in the two decades since the attacks, and ensure we never again witness the horror of that day in New York.

Stephen Morgan MP

 

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‘The character of our country is defined by how we respond to these moments’ says City MP on Afghanistan debate

Today (Wednesday 18 August 2021) Parliament was recalled to allow MPs to receive an update from the Government on the shocking and worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Speaking in the debate, Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Opposition, said:

“20 years ago, the Taliban were largely in control of Afghanistan. Al Qaida were using the country as a training ground and a base for terror – including plotting the horrific 9/11 attack.

“There were widespread human rights abuses. Girls were denied an education, women could not work. Being gay was punishable by death. All imposed without democracy.

“Since then, a fragile democracy emerged.

“It was by no means perfect, but no international terrorist attacks have been mounted from Afghanistan in that period; women have gained liberty and won office; schools and clinics have been built. And Afghans have allowed themselves to dream of a better future.

“Those achievements were born of sacrifice. Sacrifice by the Afghan people who fought bravely alongside their NATO allies. And British sacrifice.

“Over 150,000 UK personnel have served in Afghanistan including Members across this House.”

Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement during the emergency debate, the Shadow Armed Forces Minister and Portsmouth South MP, Stephen Morgan, said:

I know many members of the Armed Forces Community in Portsmouth and further afield will be deeply distressed by the reports of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“The sacrifices of British personnel, alongside the Afghan people and NATO allies, allowed for something that for many Afghans was not previously possible – to dream of a better future.

“Today the Prime Minister had the opportunity to reassure UK personnel who served in Afghanistan and worked to secure that future that their work will not be undone – but his statement offered little.

“The government’s failure is a dereliction of duty to the Afghan people, the 150,000 British personnel who served and the 457 who did not return home.

“What is happening in Afghanistan will have a profound impact on the mental health of many veterans, which we have known for some time is already in desperate need of addressing.

“This must be a wake-up call by Government to better understand, and better invest, in mental health support for our armed forces personnel and veterans.

“Keir Starmer was right today to say that mental health services for veterans must improve. The Prime Minister had little to say on the matter.

“I will be doing all I can to demand answers on what the government will be doing to address what I fear is an impending spike in mental health cases within the Armed Forces Community.

“I encourage any member of the Armed Forces Community who has been struggling with their mental health in recent days to contact Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion or All Call Signs, who will be on hand to provide the support that’s needed.

”You are not alone.”

In recent days the city MP has heard from many constituents with regards to the risks faced by UK nationals in Afghanistan, the implications of recent events on human rights and the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

The MP has already spoken with a number of local groups and the city council with regards to resettling Afghan families in the city and continues to help support this.

On the recently announced new resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees, the Portsmouth MP added:

“The latest resettlement scheme proposal by Government does not meet the scale of the challenge or complexities being faced, with the separate scheme for Afghan interpreters already far behind schedule.

“Not only does this risk leaving people in Afghanistan in deadly danger, it will also undermine the leadership role Britain must play in persuading international partners to live up to their responsibilities.

“In recent days, many of my constituents have shared with me their concerns for those fleeing the country in fear of persecution – or even death – seeking sanctuary in the UK. I will continue to help on these matters with the urgency they deserve.

“Soldiers and diplomats must be given the resources that they need and clear routes to safety must be established and expedited, both for Afghan refugees and those who have worked with Britain.”

Commenting on the Government’s lack of a plan to address the unfolding crisis, Stephen Morgan MP also said:

“The character of our country is defined by how we respond to these moments. We must now ensure our city and our country plays its part in providing a safe haven for families in need of safety. We all have a role to play and must be held to account – including the government.

“The scale of the refugee crisis will require an international response. 18.4 million people in Afghanistan already require humanitarian assistance and there is a real risk that this humanitarian disaster will get worse, particularly for women and girls.

“That response starts by the UK urgently ramping up humanitarian and development support for those who need it most and working with trusted partners who are already embedded in the country to deliver that vital support, so it reaches Afghans in need.

“With Portsmouth a proud city of sanctuary I know our communities will want to go above and beyond to help those needing support at this desperate time.”

 

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Local MP accuses Government of breaking its pledge to support veterans into work

Stephen Morgan MP has slammed the Government for breaking its pledge to help personnel, veterans and their families find work after they leave the Armed Forces. 

In 2019, the Government announced plans to employ 100 specialist advisers – or ‘Armed Forces Champions’ – in job centres across the country. But Ministers now admit that just half that number will be hired.

The change means that there will be just one Armed Forces Champion to support every 14,000 working age veterans into employment. And a single specialist adviser could be set to cover all 29 job centres in the local Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Isle of Wight area.

There are 121,472 veterans of working age in the South East Region.

The unemployment rate for veterans is 7%, almost double level for the general population at 4.8%. In just Portsmouth alone, there are 5,083 veterans of working age.

Ministers have faced criticism from Labour and Service charities that their Armed Forces Bill doesn’t provide any further assistance to Forces personnel, veterans and their families to gain employment. The Government told its MPs to vote against a Labour amendment to widen the scope of the Bill at Report Stage to include provisions to support veterans into work.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South and Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan, commented:

“It is clear that Forces personnel, veterans and their families in Portsmouth need more support to find work, yet the Government has broken its pledge to provide specialist advice.

“This is yet another example of Ministers failing to match their words with action.

“That’s why I will be taking action to ensure the government is held to account for breaking its promise and will be pushing to see what it will be doing to remedy it as soon as possible.

“Labour will always honour the commitments of the Armed Forces Covenant. This government is treating it with contempt.”

Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey, also said:

“Ministers are failing our Forces personnel and veterans. They have outstanding skills from their military service but many need help to get civilian employers to see their talents or to deal with problems in getting work.

“Labour want to see Ministers do more to support our veterans get work and successful civilian careers.”