Margaret Hodge urges UK to protect refugees as she opens Commons HMD debate

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Margaret Hodge urges UK to protect refugees as she opens Commons HMD debate

Labour veteran tells MPs 'how we treat those who escape persecution is central to the UK's reputation' as she speaks at HMD debate for a final time

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Margaret Hodge opens HMD debate in Commons
Margaret Hodge opens HMD debate in Commons

Dame Margaret Hodge has opened the Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) debate in parliament by telling MPs:”We should understand that how we treat those who escape persecution and genocide is central to our reputation as a country that boasts a humanitarian approach to genocide and the Holocaust.”

Speaking in what will be her final HMD debate before she stands down as a MP, the 79 year-old Labour veteran spoke of her own family’s suffering at the hands of the Nazis, with both her grandmother and uncle among close relatives who lost their lives.

But Hodge also recalled the experience of her grandfather who came to England on 29 March 1939, aged 66.

She told the Commons on Thursday:” My grandfather did not feel welcome and I did not feel wanted as a nine-year-old girl.

“The asylum seekers who try to come here today face a similar hostile environment. They are told by leading Government politicians that they pose an ‘existential threat’ to the west’s way of life, that they are part of a ‘hurricane’ of mass migration, that MPs feel besieged by asylum seekers’ and that asylum seekers are ‘invading’ Britain.

“We should reflect on what we say and what we do today before we exercise any moral entitlement to condemn the atrocities of the past.”

Recalling the impact of her recent visit to Israel, where she visited Kibbutz Kfar Azar, to witness the devastating impact of the October 7th Hamas terror attack there, Hodge said the Commons debate took place “at a deeply depressing time to reflect on the Holocaust, with many asking themselves, ‘When will the world ever, ever, really learn from our past?'”.

But she added:”So before we applaud ourselves for keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust, we should think about how fragile freedom was then for those who sought to escape death and how fragile it remains today.

“We must take responsibility and stand up to genocide wherever it rears its ugly head, and we must protect those who seek refuge in Britain.

“If we stand by while genocides unfold, or fail to protect those who need it the most, the horrors the likes of which my grandfather, father and even myself experienced will have all been for nothing.

“Freedom is one of our basic values, so surely we owe it to our children and our children’s children to be able to stand up and really mean it when we say, ‘Never again.'”

Elsewhere in the debate, Andrew Percy, the Tory MP who also stands down later this year, issued a passionate plea.

He said:”I want to feel safe on the streets. I want Jewish people in this country to feel safe coming into central London on a weekend, which they do not at the present time.

“I want our democratic values to be defended. I want to live in a country in which children are not brainwashed with hate—be it hate against Jews, hate against members of the Muslim community, or any other hate.

“I want a Government and institutions that stand up and say, ‘That is not acceptable and we will do something about it’—not just standing up and saying, ‘We all condemn it,’ but actually doing something about it.”

Andrew Percy MP

Percy added:”I leave Parliament this year. I have never felt more ashamed or sadder about the state of some of our institutions, about our democracy and about people’s right to express their views freely without fear of being subject to violence or threats of violence. That is what is currently happening on our streets—it has happened on other issues as well—and it is dangerous.”

Labour’s Steve McCabe also focused on the pro-Palestine demonstrations that have seen displays of ugly antisemitism at times.

He said:”When I hear protests about current events in Gaza, I wonder what we have learned. I deplore the killing and the suffering we are seeing there. I want a ceasefire and an end to the killing, an enduring peace and a two-state solution, with Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in recognised and secure independent states. I want that as much as anyone else.

” But I struggle when I hear marchers, demonstrators and protesters chant ‘Ceasefire now’ in one breath, and “From the river to the sea’ in the next. What are they saying? What have they learned, and what are they advocating? “

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