The last weeks have been a challenging and sobering time for everyone. Not only are we battling COVID-19, but we are also witnessing the scourge of racism.
The murder of George Floyd was heart-breaking and unjust. His death at the hands of those who were meant to keep him safe is unforgivable. I have felt a great deal of anger and pain on behalf of all those who knew and loved George Floyd, alongside the heartache of communities across the world who are rightly enraged that such atrocities still happen in 2020. Enough is enough.
Racism has no place in Melton, or in any community. I fully support the right to peaceful protest so that everyone, regardless of creed or colour, can come together to raise their voices for what is right and to mourn together. Peaceful protest must be safeguarded, and I am disgusted by the footage of some US Police Officers behaving abominably to silence legitimate and peaceful dissent, and by the appalling hijacking of protests in London by those with hostile interests that have seen our hard-working and dedicated Police Officers violently attacked and abused and our memorials desecrated – it must stop. I also urge anyone protesting to maintain social distancing measures, we remain in a pandemic. We can and must all do more to create communities in which division and hatred have no place. I will continue to raise my voice for those who others seek to silence.
A key tenant of creating societies that celebrate diversity is education. Our schools in Melton and across the country play a crucial role in ensuring our children are equipped to identify and tackle prejudice in whatever form it appears.
As our children slowly return to school, we should be immensely grateful to their teachers and all school staff who have been at the frontline of this crisis, providing schooling for children to enable our key workers to save lives. I am enormously grateful to all our teachers locally for their contribution to our national battle against COVID-19 and as the daughter of teachers, I am acutely aware of how important their work is.
I’d also like to pay tribute this week to all those Carers across Melton who do so much, often unpaid and unrecognised, to care for loved ones or neighbours in need of support. It’s important that you know you are not forgotten, and that we do more to ensure you have access to the support and respite that you need and deserve. I recognise the pandemic has been particularly challenging for carers, and I’d like to express my sincerest gratitude to you for all that you do.
Our farmers and food producers have also played a crucial role in this crisis by feeding the nation for which I am enormously grateful. As we leave the EU upholding food standards is important. At the end of the transition period the Withdrawal Act will convert all EU standards into domestic law. This will include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in beef and nothing apart from potable water may be used to clean chicken carcases (chlorinated chicken is banned). Any changes to these standards would have to come before Parliament. I have spoken to the International Trade Secretary, Farming Minister and DEFRA Secretary of State multiple times in one-to-one discussions on the issue of standards. They have assured me that UK Free Trade Agreements will be fair and reciprocal. British farmers will not face unbalanced competition. It goes without saying that securing post-Brexit trade opportunities for our farmers is vital – locally we could benefit from exporting Beef to the USA for the first time in 40 years, we could export lamb to the US where even a 3% market share would boost UK annual exports by £18m, and a reduction in, or eradication of, the 17% tariff on our cheeses. I was elected on a commitment to stand up for our farmers and I remain dedicated to that most important of causes.
From Monday, our local non-essential shops will begin to reopen – many of whom have faced unprecedented uncertainty throughout the pandemic. I encourage Melton residents to make the conscious choice to support our local businesses as they slowly return to normal and be patient with them while they keep their customers safe. Melton Borough Council is working hard to make sure that businesses are able to open safely, with shoppers protected.
The last few weeks have highlighted the importance of community spirit, and I am confident that Melton’s residents will keep this in mind in all aspects of their lives; from calling out prejudice, to supporting those in need, and standing by our industrious local businesses and food producers.