Ben Obese-Jecty: As an ethnic minority party member, my experiences have been positive. But Singh’s report shows room for growth.

27 May

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

The publication of Dr Swaran Singh’s independent investigation into alleged discrimination within the Conservative Party has made for interesting and at times tough reading for Conservative members.

Allegations of discrimination, particularly racial and specifically Islamophobic, have dogged the party in recent years, and while this report offers a welcome degree of closure to the issue, it also offers a robust and granular view of where there is significant scope to address current failings.

My own experience as a party member spans across multiple associations, as an association executive officer and even as a prospective parliamentary candidate, but across these varied groups I am yet to experience, or indeed encounter, any racism. Even within the febrile atmosphere of social media, particularly Twitter, I am yet to experience any intra-party bigotry.

The findings of Singh’s investigation are thorough and sometimes scathing, pulling no punches in revealing the number of incidents of alleged discrimination and their respective outcomes. It is notable that the investigation details how the party takes an even-handed approach to the handling of all complaints, whether they are anti-Muslim in nature or otherwise. But amid the findings and recommendations it is also important to recognise that the report found no evidence of institutional racism, which is hugely welcome.

While those on the Left continue to bivouac on the moral high ground on matters of race, despite the damning EHRC report into Labour anti-Semitism only last year, the abuse I have endured during my time in politics has always come from the supposedly more “inclusive” end of the political spectrum. A narrative that often depicts black Conservatives with the ugly neo-racism of race-treachery, of “Uncle Toms” and “House Negroes” accompanied by social media memes of tap-dancing cartoon characters that play on the most racist tropes of the American Deep South. This is bigotry that largely goes unseen, or washes over those who are happy to ignore it. To hear it casually used on Good Morning Britain without an eyebrow raised by presenters is astonishing.

The Conservative Party has undoubtedly grown and changed over the course of my lifetime. Where once a non-white Conservative MP would be extremely unlikely, the contemporary party is now more diverse and more representative than at any previous point in its history. Indeed, the Conservative Party has now had double the number of ethnic minority Cabinet members that the Labour Party has had. There are currently as many British Indians around the Cabinet table as the Labour Party have had ethnic minority Cabinet members in its entire history.

Much has been written before of the diversity we have seen in the Cabinet and the great offices of state during this government. More yet has been written by those who view this as the wrong type of diversity, of brown-washing Conservative racism. Accusations that are mired in their own soft bigotry. The belief that black and brown Conservatives lack the agency to forge their own path. But the success that the party has had regarding the diversification of its MPs is indicative of an organisation that has already recognised the need to evolve and is doing so with aplomb.

No political party can claim to be completely free of those with prejudices, be they overt or more pernicious, any large organisation can expect to contain those with unsavoury views. But removing those whose bigotry is known before it can be allowed to fester and spread is a key step to assuaging fears and convincing sceptics that it is an issue being taken seriously.

That the party leadership has committed its time to being subjected to this level of scrutiny should provide a degree of reassurance in that regard, and the fact it has agreed to implement all of Singh’s recommendations in full shows the party’s commitment to improving things where there have been failures.

The findings from the Singh investigation propose deep reforms and provide a welcome chance for the party to assess how best to adapt and address the opportunity to make it a political home for all those who wish to be a part of it. As a party we should welcome measures that can help address existing shortcomings, transform the way the party works and broaden its appeal beyond its core voter base.

While the Conservative Party has not traditionally been seen as a natural home for voters from Britain’s ethnic minority populations, there is no reason why an ideology that speaks to personal responsibility, hard work and aspiration cannot continue to win support from those who feel that they are values which represent them. With the party committed to a levelling up agenda across the country, why shouldn’t a place where talented individuals are able to thrive no matter their background be the most attractive proposition?

Ben Obese-Jecty: To tackle serious youth violence effectively, London needs a more robust strategy

27 Apr

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

On 19th January, Anas Mezenner was walking home when he was involved in an altercation that led to him being stabbed. He died in hospital seven hours later. Five boys were charged with his murder, all of whom were aged between 14 and 18. This is not an isolated incident within Tottenham. On 17th February, a taxi driver was found fatally stabbed in his car. Six boys were charged with his murder, all of whom were under 18 at the time of the incident, three of whom were 15 years old. On 8th March, Nikolay Pandev was stabbed to death. Two boys aged 15 and 17 were charged with his murder.

There have been four murders in Tottenham this year. Of the 14 subsequently charged, 13 were children when the murders occurred. It is ironic that the local MP, David Lammy, has been silent regarding the issue of serious youth violence within his constituency despite the fact that he is the Shadow Justice Secretary.

The figures around serious youth violence should alarm anyone and particularly those who are parents to teenage boys who are as often the victim as they are the perpetrator. Within Haringey, three-quarters of victims are aged between 15 and 19. As of last year, Haringey was the second worst London Borough for knife crime offences. On 17th March, an Opinium poll on the Mayoral election asked participants what Police should have as their main priority over the next 12 months. 56 per cent of respondents listed knife crime as the main priority.

With the forthcoming London Mayoral Election, Londoners have the opportunity to make their vote heard. Sadiq Khan has shown that he will be quick to blame any correlation between his tenure and the rise in serious youth violence upon austerity. As he showed in the BBC debate, he is keener to highlight Shaun Bailey’s role as Youth and Police Adviser nearly a decade ago, than shoulder responsibility for any of the decisions taken whilst he has been at the helm. The manifesto for his mayoral campaign is 102 pages long and yet contains only two references to knife crime; there are twice as many references to racism.

Rival candidates have done little more to address the issue. The Liberal Democrats’ replacement candidate, Luisa Porritt, and the Green Party’s repeat candidate, Sian Berry, have both avoided any serious discussion of crime, the latter obliquely referring to it as “Safety”; Porritt focussing on the rebranding of the police as a “Service” rather than a “Force”. It is not the nomenclature of the Met that young men in London are wary of.

Despite his blend of truculence and grandstanding, Sadiq Khan is still a shrewd and astute politician. He knows he cannot afford to expose his heel, Achilles-like, whilst cloaked in the armour of identity politics, and so exploits the benefits of incumbency, pointing to the establishment of the Violence Reduction Unit and the recruitment of 1,300 additional officers as successes without the need to articulate whether they have been effective. The fact remains that knife crime has risen steadily under Khan’s tenure, with offences in the prior three years up to 2020 higher than under any previous Mayor.

The topic of serious youth violence and how best to tackle it is Shaun Bailey’s area of expertise. If you have ever heard him speak about the topic it is clear that he is a man who cares deeply about the issue, the improvement of outcomes for those vulnerable to it, and the impact upon families blighted by it.

Whilst this is a topic that all candidates intend to address at some level, what more could be done beyond the measures intended to resonate across all demographics?

Investment in youth services alone is unlikely to be enough. Research has shown that the majority of knife related offences involving young people occur between 3pm-6pm in the few hours after school. Re-establishing youth services will be key to reducing the likelihood of vulnerable children finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, for young people, predominantly boys, mired in a milieu of such toxicity that they feel compelled to carry an offensive weapon in the belief that it makes them safe, access to table-tennis and DJ equipment is unlikely to provide reassurances that any potential threat has dissipated. There is a deeper-seated issue as to why such altercations continue to occur; not every child involved is a member of a gang or involved in county lines trafficking. There is a critical need for robust public discussion around how to detoxify the environment which makes carrying a knife permissible.

Cultural issues must be addressed. If the media, national newspapers amongst them, continues to cynically valorise the most detrimental aspects of black culture and celebrate criminality via musicians who are directly and indirectly involved in some of the local rivalries and fatal violence that occurs, we will continue to give impressionable youngsters the greenlight that this is acceptable behaviour. The high-profile afforded by the media to the discussion of race could be far better employed discussing serious youth violence. But nobody is making their name publishing books about knife crime.

Additionally, the viral nature of social media illustrates the ease with which children otherwise on the fringe can become immersed and embroiled within a world where simply sharing your location can make you a target in an escalating contretemps. Social media companies must be held to account and forced to take firmer action on content that could be easily overlooked by those not familiar with the argot. Perceived slights can quickly become the catalyst for fatal confrontation.

The surrounding narrative of the issue must be more closely controlled. Opposition politicians gaslight communities by suggesting that young black men are victims of institutional racism due to disproportionate representation in the youth criminal justice system, but ignore the over-representation of young black men amongst the statistics of both victims and perpetrators of violent crime. As such, we are unlikely to stop families from suffering the heartbreak of losing their sons, either to prison or worse. The recent launch of the Hard Calls Saves Lives campaign, focused on the heart-breaking phonecalls that mothers have made following the violent deaths of their sons, is an example of how the voices of those impacted by such tragic events can resonate far more than those of any politician. The influence of strong characters, be they family members, teachers or local leaders, should not be underestimated. If David Lammy is as influential in Tottenham as his election results suggest, perhaps he should use his platform as Shadow Justice Secretary to prioritise addressing the issue blighting his own constituency and beyond.

Whatever the outcome of May’s election, London’s next Mayor will need a robust plan to combat an issue which continues to needlessly claim too many young lives across the capital. Any solution proposed will need to be far bolder, far more holistic, and far better resourced, than the ineffective piecemeal strategy currently in place.

Benjamin Obese-Jecty: How to take back control of the narrative about foreign national offender deportations

8 Dec

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

In November 2014 Jermaine Stewart was jailed for six years for the rape of a woman who had fallen asleep on his sofa after meeting him on a night out in Liverpool and returning with him to his flat for an after-party. Stewart had removed the clothes of the victim whilst she was incapacitated and raped her. As a condition he will be required to sign the sex offenders register for life.

Last week, Stewart was among 37 Jamaican Foreign National Offenders removed from a Home Office deportation flight at the eleventh hour after a sustained campaign by lawyers, Labour MPs, and a number of black celebrities and activists who had written an open letter demanding that the flight be stopped.

The topic of deportation flights has become an increasingly contentious issue post-Windrush, with any action that can be linked to the scandal likely to see its name invoked and an immediate corollary with injustice, incompetence and institutional racism. The issue that the Government has faced stems from underestimating how those opposing the deportation would seize the opportunity to leverage the situation to their advantage.

Control of the narrative around foreign national offender deportations must be regained from the left. Gifting the left-leaning media the opportunity to convince sceptical members of the public that the rationale for these deportations is one based on persecution, rather than a matter of public safety (under legislation brought in by the Labour Party), could easily be avoided.

The open letter sent to Priti Patel by Detention Action, signed by celebrities and activists, was a prime example of how effective the tactics employed by those on the left can be. Amongst the 90 signatories were supermodel Naomi Campbell, actors Naomie Harris and Thandie Newton OBE, historian David Olusoga, journalist Afua Hirsch, and Sky News anchor Gillian Joseph.

The breadth of the letter’s signatories, and the individual platform and reach each enjoys, has allowed the narrative to be dictated by a small group with the media’s ear, glossing over the uncomfortable truth of those on the deportation flight because it is inconvenient to their cause and instead choosing to pitch the removal of serious and violent criminals as an injustice.

A further letter written by Clive Lewis MP, and signed by 70 opposition backbench MPs, made direct reference to the Windrush scandal and the hostile environment, intimating that these deportations were a direct consequence. This letter also made no reference to the criminal records or serious crimes perpetrated by those in scope for removal, nor of the duty to deport them as set out in the UK Borders Act 2007. Somewhat awkwardly for the Labour signatories to Lewis’s letter, eight of them had voted for the legislation in 2007, including Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Jeremy Corbyn.

Nine months ago, a YouGov poll commissioned following February’s deportation flight to Jamaica asked: under which circumstances foreign-born offenders should be deported? Whilst the majority of respondents were in favour of individuals who had committed a serious offence being deported if they had come to the UK as an adult, this fell to less than 50 per cent once other factors were considered; whether the individual had a partner or children, whether they came to the UK as a teenager or child, or whether they were at risk of violence or would lack access to healthcare.

The human-interest angle is thus where campaigners have focused their efforts, and where appeals are (often successfully) made under section 117C of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

Allowing those on the left to control the narrative around Jamaican deportations specifically means little in isolation. However, with Twitter now a barometer of left-leaning outrage rather than national opinion, and a petition calling for a stop to deportation flights having raised in excess of 180,000 signatories, the lack of understanding feeds into the wider narrative that the Conservatives are a racist party and Government actions are part of a dastardly masterplan to oppress ethnic minorities. Its reputation risks death by a thousand cuts

With nearly a third of Labour MPs, including almost all members of the Socialist Campaign Group, having signed Lewis’s letter, the Government should reiterate Labour’s continued willingness to campaign on behalf of convicted rapists, murderers, and those convicted of child sexual offences, rather than the victims. February’s Jamaican deportation flight saw more than 170 MPs voice their opposition, with a number taking the additional step of joining protestors outside Downing Street.

Labour’s willingness to ignore the legislation that clearly states the duty of the Home Secretary to deport offenders where the conditions are met, further illustrates how little Labour can be trusted to enforce the law when the opportunity for ideological point-scoring regarding identity politics is a factor.

Additionally, during the last year of Labour’s Government there were more non-EU foreign national offenders deported than in any year since, and three times as many as in 2019. This hypocrisy should not go unnoticed.

As the party of law and order, the country has always relied upon the Conservatives to adopt a robust approach to crime and policing. The element of public confusion surrounding last week’s deportation flight has stemmed from the misinformation published by opposition MPs. This was further reiterated by Holly Lynch, the Shadow Immigration Minister, during the media round and written about in a slew of well-distributed opinion pieces online.

The public is almost entirely unaware of Operation Nexus and its success in the removal of over 30,000 foreign national offenders since 2012, and even more so that it’s application has been applied to the deportation of EU nationals more often than not: in 2019, 68 per cent of all those deported were from the EU. These figures could and should be made easily available, both reiterating the success of the Operation and deflecting criticism that the deportation flights are solely focused upon the country’s black population.

Increased focus upon racism and inequality shows little sign of abating. An Opinium poll this weekend has shown that the majority of those surveyed believed the Black Lives Matter movement has in fact increased racial tension within the UK. Much of the negative opinion expressed at the deportation flight focused on a mistaken perception of the deportations. Those criticising the flight placed a strong emphasis on the deportees being black British, a description that resonated with the view that the UK’s black population is being systematically targeted, despite none of those being deported being British-born, or British citizens.

It seems simplistic, but the Government would do well to make clear from the outset that those being deported are not British citizens and should strive to make clear the abhorrent nature of the crimes committed by those being deported.

The deportation of foreign national offenders should be an easy win for the Government. A robust approach that sees serious and violent offenders removed from the UK should set the tone that this Government will continue to take an uncompromising stance on those foreign citizens who enjoy the freedom and opportunity that this country offers but choose to abuse it by committing criminal acts.

At the same time, the Government should strive to get ahead of the inevitable left-wing backlash that will ensue by proactively communicating both the intent and the detail. By allowing news to leak out slowly the perception that the deportation is underhanded will only fester and grow.

Keeping the public informed of the measures the Government is taking to keep its citizens safe, and why, will expose those who wish to champion murderers, rapists and child sexual offenders and make it harder for them to marshal support.

Benjamin Obese-Jecty: Ministers must ensure the Overseas Operations Bill properly supports service personnel

3 Nov

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

The Overseas Operations Bill is critical legislation; we must ensure it supports our personnel effectively

Ahead of the third reading of the Overseas Operations Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its report (‘Legislative Scrutiny: Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill‘) and this week will seek to table a number of amendments.

Though the Bill passed at second reading by 332 to 77, costing a number of Labour rebels their roles in the process, the presumption against prosecution for British soldiers serving on operations overseas has proved to be a topic that has raised concerns in quarters beyond those of solely the Labour hard-left. The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman, has stated that the Bill “will allow those in our armed forces who perpetrate serious crimes to escape justice”.

Having served as an Infantry Officer on our two most recent protracted military operations, in both Basra and Sangin, I have the utmost confidence in the values and standards instilled and upheld by our service personnel and the leadership and moral courage shown by Officers and NCOs in confronting potentially illegal or damaging decisions and orders; to suggest otherwise belies a thorough misunderstanding of the qualities of our service personnel.

Despite the lengthy investigations of potential British war crimes carried out by the Iraq Historic Investigations Team (IHAT) and investigations in Afghanistan under Operation Northmoor, only two British servicemen have been prosecuted. However, the number of service personnel impacted by legal claims runs into thousands.

IHAT investigated 3,400 allegations against British service personnel, and Operation Northmoor a further 675, leading to one prosecution in 2005 and none since (Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman’s prosecution falling outside this framework). Therefore to place thousands of individuals under suspicion, some of whom already suffer the daily challenge of having served on operations during the most costly period for British forces overseas since the Second World War, is precisely the nature of vexatious claims that the Bill is designed to prevent – despite Reverend Nicholas Mercer’s view that the Bill itself is ‘egregious’.

During this week’s third reading of the Bill, Labour are expected to table a number of amendments, several of which are expected to fundamentally change its nature. But there is an opportunity to refine its detail in order to both assuage concerns and better support service personnel.

The Government must do its utmost to uphold the manifesto pledge to end the vexatious claims against members of our Armed Forces. With the majority of those who oppose the Bill having never found themselves faced with the life-or-death decisions placed upon our troops, particularly during the decade of high-tempo operations that started with the Iraq War, it would be remiss of the Government to acquiesce to their demands and facilitate the continued ease with which allegations are made.

Harman is expected to table an amendment that would remove the presumption against prosecution for service personnel, but the accusation that the Bill permits torture and war crimes to take place is not only an insult to the discipline and professionalism of our Armed Forces, it is simply not borne out by statistics. With thousands of service personnel having been needlessly harangued, protecting them from the debilitating pressure of lengthy investigations, sometimes years after they have served, remains crucial.

The six-year time limit restricting the ability of individuals to bring civil claims against the Government or the Ministry of Defence in relation to operational overseas service acts, however, flies in the face of this protection.

It is hard to envisage where the implementation of Clause 11 stands to benefit current or former service personnel. Under the conditions of the Bill, I as a veteran would find myself with a one-year timeframe to bring a civil case against the MoD should I develop an illness in later life caused by my operational service in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is difficult to see how this is of benefit to the thousands of veterans potentially impacted by this change.

Given the Government’s commitment to upholding the Armed Forces Covenant, it should not be afraid of confronting those circumstances when the duty of care towards personnel should have been greater. We cannot expect troops to show moral courage during demanding operations and not expect that to be reciprocated. Removing the six-year absolute limit upon civil claims for service personnel would reinforce the commitment to how they are valued and reinforce confidence that there is a framework in place that facilitates their needs should circumstances require it.

There has also been significant criticism of the Bill with regards to the duty to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights. Clause 12 of the Bill inserts a new section into the Human Rights Act which provides that the Secretary of State “must keep under consideration” whether the UK should make a derogation under Article 15 (derogation in time of emergency). Under this the Government is permitted to derogate from the convention in a “temporary, limited and supervised manner” and can be invoked “only in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”. Though it has invoked derogation from Article 15 before, it is yet to do so in relation to overseas operations.

The ambiguity around whether the MoD defines “war” as per Article 15 ECHR as the same as “significant overseas operation” within Clause 11 of the Bill is one of the issues upon which critics have suggested clarification. In addition, clarification as to whether the Bill applies to international and non-international armed conflict as well as peacekeeping operations, special operations, and counter-terrorism operations will be vital in establishing the framework within which our forces are operating, and would prevent unnecessary scrutiny at a time when clear and transparent decision-making will be critical in ensuring confidence in our military operations.

The Overseas Operations Bill will uphold the election manifesto pledge to protect our service personnel against vexatious claims and the growing judicialization of warfare as well as illustrating that the Office for Veterans Affairs is delivering in its mission to enhance the quality of life for those who have served.

Current service personnel and veterans alike who have had their lives turned upside down by allegations and fruitless investigations by opportunists and activists deserve the protection on operations that the Government seeks to implement. We owe those same soldiers the right to challenge the MoD should they suffer long-term mental or physical injuries as a result of actions on those operations.

Benjamin Obese-Jecty: It’s time the Government did right by Commonwealth veterans

25 Jun

Ben Obese-Jecty is a former British Army Infantry Officer and stood as the candidate for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 General Election.

As we approach Armed Forces Day on the last Saturday of June, the nation will have the opportunity to celebrate our service personnel and show gratitude for the role they play within our society.

Though our operational footprint has reduced significantly over the past half-decade, the Army’s role in the Government’s coronavirus response has seen an uncharacteristically high domestic profile not seen since their mobilisation for the 2012 London Olympics.

The British public holds an affinity for the Armed Forces that is an integral part of our national identity. But over the past two decades as the Armed Forces have struggled to meet recruitment targets it has increasingly relied upon service personnel from the Commonwealth to reduce this manpower deficit. The Royal British Legion puts the number at in excess of 6000 personnel, with circa five per cent of the Army’s strength alone comprised of soldiers from the Commonwealth.

Whilst these personnel face the same hardships and hazards on operations as their British colleagues, those who leave the Armed Forces do so without the automatic guarantee of residency or citizenship of the nation for which they have served. Following several high-profile instances highlighting the pitfalls of the process for Commonwealth veterans, it is vital that we seek to redress the disadvantage that the current system places upon them.

In the United States, non-US citizens become eligible for naturalisation following an honourable discharge from military service. The cost to those who have served is a mere $85 administration charge in return for full US citizenship.

Upon joining our Armed Forces, personnel from Commonwealth countries are granted ‘exempt immigration control’ status. However, it ceases to apply immediately upon discharge. The recent court case brought by eight Fijian veterans against both the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence has revealed the administrative complexity for those former service personnel who wish to remain in the UK following the completion of their service.

Given the current focus upon racial inequality, and the similarities with the Windrush scandal that it evokes, the Government has an urgent need to address this longstanding issue less it becomes a topic that expends yet more political goodwill. But how can this be achieved?

Current rules state that Commonwealth veterans qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after four years’ service, but in order to action this they must immediately apply to the Home Office upon discharge. Many Commonwealth veterans have found this opaque and not made sufficiently clear during the discharge process.

It would be both more efficient and inclusive to automate the application, making it a standard step of the discharge process, one that can be made opt-out rather than opt-in and ensure that no veterans are left without having exercised their option whilst still in uniform.

The issue is further complicated by a five-year residency requirement that excludes military service prior to 2014, owing to exemption from immigration control and potentially leaving some former service personnel outside the criteria. Addressing the gaps in this structure will ensure that all veterans have been given due consideration.

During the aforementioned court case a spokesman for the MoD stated that the department “makes clear to foreign and Commonwealth recruits into the forces the process by which they and their families can attain settlement in the UK, and the costs involved”. Whilst that may be the case, the £2389 per person cost for ILR is significant and confers no advantages or prioritisation for military service, in stark contrast to the costs of attaining full US citizenship.

Given that this disproportionately affects Commonwealth personnel from the lower ranks who may struggle to meet the costs involved, we should seek to waive these fees in return for their commitment to having served the country.

There will be those who have not pursued the legal right to remain in the UK following service due to the prohibitive costs they stood to incur. From my own experience, leaving the Army and embarking on a new career without the familiarity and structure of the military is a daunting enough prospect without the unnecessary additional hurdle of regularising your immigration status. To do so at a cost of thousands of pounds, via either a loan or use of their resettlement package, sets our Commonwealth veterans at an immediate disadvantage that could easily be mitigated.

Lastly, we should seek to broaden the scope of the changes to those who have already left the service; those who through choice, owing to the prohibitive expense, or administrative oversight, have been left without the status of ILR either here or in the country of their birth. Whilst we can do little to atone for the inconvenience and disruption caused to those who have been forced to return home, we can offer those eligible the opportunity to reapply retrospectively under the criteria outlined above, and allow them the opportunity to fulfil the potential plans they had prior to leaving.

Additionally, we should also consider how we can facilitate reimbursing those who have already had to outlay the fees required to stay. Given the comparatively low numbers of those affected, the gesture of goodwill would go some way to allowing our Commonwealth ex-service personnel to start their post-service careers on an equal footing with their fellow former servicemen and women without the burden of incurring a financial penalty for the privilege.

The status of Commonwealth veterans has been addressed by MPs on a number of occasions. Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has been forthright in bringing veterans’ issues to the fore and ensuring that they are given the correct focus. However, there are still significant inequalities in how we treat some of those who pledged to defend this country.

As Conservatives, our admiration and respect for the Armed Forces goes hand-in-hand with the values we wish to uphold. As a Veteran I would like to see those I have served alongside given the same opportunities that I have enjoyed in forging a new life for themselves following their military careers.

There is arguably no greater service to the nation than defending it as a member of our Armed Forces. We owe those who have served, at the very least, the same basic privileges that they have risked their lives to defend.