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Jo Stevens resigns from shadow cabinet over Article 50 vote

The shadow secretary for Wales has decided to defy the 3-line whip "as a matter of conscience". 

Jo Stevens, the MP for Cardiff Central, has resigned in order to vote against the Article 50 bill.

The shadow secretary for Wales believes leaving the European Union would still be "a terrible mistake", according to The Guardian.

While some of her colleagues had fallen into line after the Labour leadership imposed a three-line whip, Stevens was torn about the decision. 

She wrote to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that her vote would be "the most important" she would ever cast and that was an issue "of principle and conscience". Here are the crucial paragraphs:

I accept the referendum result is to leave.

I also accept that the parliamentary numbers are such that Article 50 will be triggered and we will leave the EU. But I believe that leaving is a terrible mistake and I cannot reconcile my overwhelming view that to endorse the step that will make exit inevitable, is wrong. I expect this to be the most important vote I will ever cast as an MP and for me it is a clear issue of principle and conscience. 

In response, Corbyn thanked Stevens, who he called "a great asset" to the Labour party. 

“I understand the difficulties that Jo, and other MPs, have when facing the Article 50 Bill. Those MPs with strong Remain constituencies are understandably torn," he said.

“However, it is right that the Labour Party respects the outcome of the referendum on leaving the European Union. We have said all along that Labour will not frustrate the triggering of Article 50 and to that end we are asking all MPs to vote for the Bill at its second reading next week."

Stevens' constituency was pro-Remain, although Wales as a whole voted to leave the European Union. She said she did not wish to cause difficulty for the Labour leadership, but that Wales was a net beneficiary of the EU and she did not trust the Conservative government to protect it in Brexit negotiations.

Her resignation follows that of Tulip Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, who said she had "no choice" but to leave her position as shadow early years minister.

Another shadow minister Daniel Zeichner, has also said he will vote against Article 50. You can find the full list of Labour MPs voting against the bill here.

Jo Stevens' letter to Jeremy Corbyn in full:

Dear Jeremy,

I write following the decision at yesterday’s shadow cabinet to impose a three line whip to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.

I am a passionate European. With Cardiff Central Labour Party members I campaigned strongly to remain. I voted to remain. My constituency and my city voted by a significant majority to remain. David Cameron recklessly and unsuccessfully gambled our country’s safety, future prosperity and longstanding European and wider international relationships solely to save the Tory Party and his premiership from imploding.

Theresa May is now leading our country towards a brutal exit with all the damage that will cause to the people and communities we represent. There have been no guarantees before triggering Article 50 about protecting single market access, employment, environmental and consumer rights, security and judicial safeguards and the residency rights of many of my constituents. And no guarantees for the people of Wales. Article 50 should not be triggered without these safeguards in place.

I accept the referendum result is to leave.  

I also accept that the parliamentary numbers are such that Article 50 will be triggered and we will leave the EU. But I believe that leaving is a terrible mistake and I cannot reconcile my overwhelming view that to endorse the step that will make exit inevitable, is wrong. I expect this to be the most important vote I will ever cast as an MP and for me it is a clear issue of principle and conscience. When I vote I will be representing my constituents, a great many of whom, including a great many Labour Party members and voters, have strongly urged me to vote in this way. That is why, in Shadow Cabinet, I argued against the imposition of a three line whip.

And I know that you, more than any other member of the current Parliamentary Labour Party, will understand that feeling so strongly about such a critical issue, means I must follow my principles and my conscience, even where that conflicts with the Party’s whip in Parliament.

Keir Starmer and our shadow Brexit team have worked incredibly hard to map a path through this difficult issue and period, constructively and respectfully, for all colleagues. I certainly do not wish to cause difficulty for you, my Shadow Cabinet colleagues and the Parliamentary Party. I respect and understand the views of each of my colleagues and their reasons for reaching those views. I feel however, that I must make my position clear in advance of the Second Reading of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as I will vote against it on this timetable, with no guaranteed safeguards in place, with its inevitable consequences.

It is with deep regret that this inevitably means I must resign from the Shadow Cabinet. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as your Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the country where I was born, bred, work and live. In carrying out that role, it reinforced even more strongly to me, what Wales will lose from exiting the EU without the guarantees that are needed and without a seat at the negotiating table for the people of Wales. We are net beneficiaries of EU funding. Over two thirds of our exports are to the EU. It is a lifeline to our manufacturing industry in steel, automotive and aerospace as well as to our farming and food production sector. I do not believe that we can rely on a Conservative government to protect Wales.  I will continue to work hard on behalf of my constituents and with you and our colleagues to hold the government to account during the negotiations so that we ensure the terms of any agreements eventually reached by the Government, are in the national interest. 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve under your leadership, both in your shadow cabinet and previously as shadow justice minister and shadow solicitor general. Throughout my period on the front bench I have always sought to promote unity across our Party and I wish you, my successor and the whole of the Shadow Cabinet the very best in leading our Party through this most critical period.

Yours in comradeship,


Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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“Grooming rings are the biggest recruiter for the far right”: Rochdale and Telford prosecutor

Senior lawyer Nazir Afzal warns the government, and communities implicated in street grooming, to do more – or the situation will get worse.

Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor who led prosecutions against a child sex abuse ring in Telford, and oversaw similar street grooming cases in Rochdale, tells Anoosh Chakelian why these crimes go under the radar, and how to tackle them.

How widespread are these street grooming cases?

My involvement started with Operation Span, which is the Rochdale prosecution, in 2011. And prior to that, when I was in London as chief prosecutor, I was aware it was an issue bubbling but wasn’t getting any attention.

Obviously we’ve now got Telford, Newcastle, Peterborough, Sheffield, Rotherham, Oxford, Bristol. If anybody watched the BBC’s film Three Girls, at the very end, they list I think 16 towns and cities where prosecution had taken place.

We know that it is extraordinarily widespread. Wherever you look, if you turn over the stone, you’ll find this kind of behaviour. 

What do each of these cases have in common?

What we discovered, ten years ago nearly, were groups of men working invariably in the night-time economy, either in taxi services or takeaways or that kind of business, hiding amongst whom were these predators. They’re not gangs in the way organised crime gangs are. They’re very loose networks.

There are vulnerable young girls in so many parts of this country, who nobody else seems to care about. And what these victims need is warmth, transport, mind-numbing substances, food. And where are they going to find that? You’re invariably going to find that in the night-time economy.

I used to describe them as easy prey for evil men. They’re easy to identify, and what tends to happen is that once they’ve identified one victim, through her networks very often they’ll find others.

These men are just taking advantage of the dysfunctional nature of children’s services and young people’s services that have existed now for some time. If anything, it’s got worse, because while there is tremendous learning, the resources have been reduced.

So really good practices – like one council would have a van that would go round fast food premises in the evening to identify young girls at risk and talk to them – are cancelled because they don’t have the money to do it anymore.

People work in silence. Information was available and wasn’t shared. That style of working is part of the problem. So time and again, people are just keeping things to themselves. It’s a lack of competence on their part. It’s competence, it’s not conspiracy. Easier to blame a conspiracy than say “you were rubbish at your job”. And that is constantly something that I have come across.

The victims don’t even see themselves as victims very often. Because of the poverty of relationship education and sex education in schools, these men make them believe that they love them. I remember in the Rochdale case, one of the girls kept calling one of the defendants throughout the trial her “boyfriend”. She doesn’t know any different; nobody has taught her what’s a good relationship, what’s a bad relationship.

Time and time again, survivors have the answers. What the authorities should be doing is listening to their local survivors, and building their response and their interventions on what the survivors tell them: “This is a journey I took, this is where you could’ve intervened. This is where you could’ve prevented my abuse or somebody else’s abuse.”

There are some very, very courageous, extraordinarily strong women now more than willing to share their experiences. And we do so little of that [talking to them].

How can the situation be improved for victims and potential victims?

A lot of these victims have criminal records as a result of behaviours they were made to do – we should be erasing those criminal records. That’s the way we can rehabilitate them. I think victims need compensation for what they’ve been through. And they also need lifelong support, and that’s not being produced.

Taxi drivers in Coventry are trained in local signs of abuse; it’s part of their licensing arrangement and I work with them actually on delivering that. Why is that not happening everywhere else in the country? Why are we not licensing and training takeaway establishments in the same way?

I discovered recently that in Newcastle, they’re delivering this kind of training. Sadly, it’s voluntary. The people you need to engage with are not coming. So unless you have mandatory training for people working in the night-time economy, it’s not going to happen.

Additionally in the hotel trade, one or two large chains are doing some good work in identifying young people at risk, and sharing intelligence. Why is that not everywhere? We know that predators use cheap hotels and places like that for the abuse they carry out.

The intelligence is there, it’s just not being used. And we’re not using community intelligence either. The vast majority of victims in this type of sex offending are white girls. There are Asian girl victims too.

When I prosecuted the Rochdale gang, immediately afterwards, I prosecuted the ringleader again for his abuse of a girl of the same ethnicity as him. That didn’t get any publicity and he got 21 years for that. So there are victims from the Asian community but because of issues such as honour, shame, and the fact that very often they’re told by their families that it’s “your fault”, they’re not coming forward.

So we need to understand that there are victims out there who are even less likely to report their concerns because of familial and community pressures.

We are scratching the surface, and it really irks me that each and every time it gets in the news, it’s two things.

Number one is that it’s the biggest recruiter for the far right in this country. If you go on any far right website, they use the grooming gangs more so than Isis or terror attacks as the means by which they recruit far right activists.

So we should be tackling this, and by “we” I mean everybody, including the communities most impacted, and most implicated.

Number two is we need to intervene much earlier, but we also need to do some perpetrator programmes. There are perpetrators involved who are still in denial about their activities. There are still people out there who think “well, it’s fair game”.

How can it be prevented from happening in future?

Much more work has to happen in terms of the perpetrators and perpetrators of the future – and that, of course, involves early education.

Too often, we wait until high school to start talking about gender equality and relationship education. We should be starting to talk to them about these types of behaviours and what they should be looking out for when they’re five, six and seven. We’re just building up a problem for the future by not doing any of this.

We should have mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. If you see someone being abused, or you perceive to be being abused, then it should be your duty to report. What the government has said recently is that social workers have come out against it. And my response would be: “Well they would, wouldn’t they?”

NGOs are doing phenomenal work in its field, so there are lots of charities and groups up and down the country trying to identify victims and potential perpetrators. They don’t get enough funding. They’re working on a shoestring.

What do you say to those suggesting ethnicity plays a part?

The vast majority of children and young people are abused within the family. We must not lose sight of that. The second largest group of victims are online. Today, you can pay pennies to watch a child being abused in real-time, somewhere in the world. The third largest group is institutional; we know about places of worship – churches, mosques – we also know about the FA and football and judo and sporting clubs, and the BBC.

Street grooming is the smallest – significant nonetheless, we’re still talking about thousands of victims. It’s smallest comparatively to the other three areas.

More than 80 per cent of child sexual offenders are British white men.

When I’ve prosecuted Stuart Hall or Max Clifford, or whatever, people never said “oh, his religion, his ethnicity”, as if that was important. It wasn’t in their cases, and they remain the vast majority of offenders.

I’ve always said the ethnicity of street groomers is an issue. We can’t pretend that’s not what’s happening.

The night-time economy is one issue. But it’s not the issue.The issue is the availability and vulnerability of young girls. The issue is the fact that they are unwanted and unloved. They get no support: the NGOs that support them aren’t properly funded, neither are children’s services. That is the issue.

But ethnicity is an issue, and I don’t think the community is doing enough. I was really pleased to see, some months ago, I was invited to the launch of the Greater Manchester Muslim community organisation, and one of their four priorities is tackling grooming. And that is rare. Most communities would rather not talk about the subject, would beat me up [verbally] quite regularly for mentioning it, and unless we tackle it, bigots don’t need an excuse to hate you, so why do we give them an excuse? Why are we not tackling an issue that can be tackled?

You can’t just generalise about what it is that might be driving these men. We need to do a great deal more research into background, why perpetrators become perpetrators, in the same way we’re trying to identify why victims become victims.

Authorities are often accused of being scared to act because of political correctness. How do you feel about that?

I’ve not come across anybody who’s scared. I get bored of this going unchallenged. These are difficult cases to prosecute. Very often, the victim treats the prosecutor or the investigator as the bad guy for trying to destroy their “relationships”. Competence was the issue – people not understanding how to bring these cases. They had to leave their tick-boxes and their normal pro formas aside.

Some people, no doubt, may not want to offend a certain community, but I would imagine they’re in the minority. The large majority fail to engage because it’s really difficult.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.