Saturday, 18 June 2016

Life and death of a political angel



I did not know the murdered MP Jo Cox. And despite spending quite a lot of my working time at Westminster, to my knowledge I did not meet her.

Yet she clearly made a big, extremely positive, impression on those who did. Her shockingly  violent death has spawned an outpouring of love and praise from across the politcal spectrum and charity & international aid communities. Former Labour leader and prime minister, Gordon Brown, for whose wife Sarah, (now a campaigner for global health and education, founder and president of Theirworld, a children's charity)  Jo Cox once worked, wrote:

“And the Jo who cut across the often suffocating conventions of Westminster should be remembered as much more than the brilliant, effervescent and seemingly irrepressible MP who sought to help those in need Her life was devoted to building a different kind of world – one in which we owe more than a general responsibility to one another. She wanted us to shout from the rooftops, as she said in her maiden speech, that there is much more that brings us together than drives us apart,” Jo Cox’s legacy should be an end to the downward spiral in our politics; The Guardian, 18 June )

The same newspaper’s editorial appreciation of Mrs Cox ended in the following thoughtful paragraph: “Affection for Jo Cox has led to a proper brief suspension of referendum campaigning, and even an extraordinary recall of parliament to pay tribute to her on Monday. But she was a woman driven, by idealism and compassion, to engage with her times. She saw politics as a way to change things because she understood that we live in a political world. An internationalist and a champion of universal human rights, too, she understood how the fortunes of each is connected with the fortunes of all. She would, we suspect, be inclined to regard the lethal “hatred” of which her husband has movingly written as something that has to be examined in context.” (“The Guardian view on Jo Cox: a killing in context,” 18 June

Current Laboour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, wrote on his moving appreciation of his fellow Labour MP, when laying flowers at the impromptu memorial shrine  near the spot where Mrs Cox was murdered in Birstall: “In loving memory of a wonderful, passionate and committed woman. Her life was dedicated to justice and human rights.”

Indeed, the only thing I have come across where I did not agree politically with Jo Cox was in her recent co-authored ( with fellow Labour MP, Neil Coyle,)  article in the Guardian on 6 May (“We nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership. Now we regret it,”   in which she jointly opined “We didn’t expect to be debating things far from the priorities of most voters: unilateral nuclear disarmament, the Falkland Islands, the monarchy and all the rest.” To me, nuclear disarmament  is - and should be a political priority.

Jo Cox, to her huge credit, was one of very few MPs who refused to let the nightmare of Syria- especially for its benighted generation of children- be swept off the political agenda as an unsolvable problem. Below is a collection of her Parliamentary interventions on Syria, several from urgent questions she herself had raised,  from the last eight months, including the very last written  question she asked of ministers.  In her own words:


Asked by Jo Cox

(Batley and Spen)

Asked on: 03 June 2016

Department for International Development

Syria: International Assistance


To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, with reference to the finding of the Concern Worldwide (UK) report of 20 May 2016, Still Paying the Price, on the proportion of funding pledged during the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference in February 2016 so far received, what steps her Department is taking to ensure that all pledges are being fulfilled.


Answered by: Mr Desmond Swayne

Answered on: 09 June 2016

The Supporting Syria and the Region Conference raised an unprecedented $12 billion for Syria and the region, including $6 billion for this year. Since the Concern Worldwide (UK) Report was published, further funding has been received by the UN towards their 2016 appeals, bringing total 2016 disbursements to $1.7 billion.
A recent letter from the Prime Minister – signed by all Conference co-hosts – pressed leaders for prompt disbursement of their pledges. We are also in final negotiations with a provider to develop and implement a tracking mechanism for all the financial commitments made at the London Conference. On 24 May the Secretary of State chaired a constructive meeting in the margins of the World Humanitarian Summit to review implementation of both financial and policy agreements made at the London Conference, and progress will be reviewed again at the UN General Assembly in September. I am working closely with Syria Conference co-hosts to ensure these measures help to maintain pressure on donors to honour their pledges through more rapid disbursement.



03 May 2016

Volume 609

3.36 pm


(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Aleppo, Syria

Jo Cox


“I have to say that, once again, it is a shame that the Secretary of State cannot be here personally for an important discussion on this matter. I hope that that will be noted.

Without international action, on current trends, at the end of this short debate, another two Syrian civilians will be dead and four will be badly injured. On Friday, desperate doctors in Aleppo appealed for international help to stave off further massacres and the potential besiegement of that city, fearing a repeat of the horrors of Srebrenica. In the light of this, does the Minister agree that it is the Syrian authorities who are primarily responsible for these horrific ongoing abuses, continuing their long-standing policy of targeting civilians in rebel-held areas? Does he also agree that we now urgently need a mechanism, with clear consequences, to deter further barbaric attacks on civilians? I have raised repeatedly in this place the need for a no-bombing zone; will he now look again at that?

What is the UK doing to work with all those with an influence over parties to the conflict, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Russia, to put pressure on all sides to stop all attacks on civilian targets, including hospitals? Does the Minister have evidence that Russian forces have been directly involved in the latest air strikes? If they were, does he agree that is it surely time for fresh sanctions against Russia? Is it not now also time for his Department, along with the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, to look again at airdrops to besieged communities? Why can we not join forces with our European allies to get food to starving people? Would not airdrops also put the regime under renewed pressure to grant more traditional and reliable land access?

On accountability, is the Minister’s Department involved in collecting evidence to enable eventual war crimes trials, as we did during the Balkans conflict? I understand that the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, which is funded by the UK and US Governments, has evidence to link abuses to the highest level in the Syrian state.

On refugees, given the escalation of the violence in Aleppo and the lack of medical care now available there, what more can the UK do to get the most vulnerable people out of harm’s way? Surely, given what we know about the horror from which many of the refugee children in Europe have fled, it is now time to end the Government’s shameful refusal to give 3,000 unaccompanied children sanctuary here in the UK.

While I am a huge fan of President Obama—indeed, I worked for him in North Carolina in 2008—I believe that both he and the Prime Minister made the biggest misjudgment of their time in office when they put Syria on the “too difficult” pile and, instead of engaging fully, ​withdrew and put their faith in a policy of containment. This judgment, made by both leaders for different reasons, will, I believe, be judged harshly by history, and it has been nothing short of a foreign policy disaster. However, there is still time for both men to write a postscript to this failure. Does the Minister agree that it is time for the leaders of both our countries, even in the midst of a two hotly contested political campaigns, to launch a joint, bold initiative to protect civilians, to get aid to besieged communities, and to throw our collective weight behind the fragile peace talks before they fail? I do not believe that either President Obama or the Prime Minister tried to do harm in Syria but, as is said, sometimes all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.



01 March 2016

Volume 606

12.37 pm



(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria .

Jo Cox

“I thank the Minister for updating the House on such a vital issue. The cessation of hostilities in Syria  that began on Friday is a much needed ray of hope in this tragic civil war, yet, as he has set out, it faces serious challenges after growing reports from international non-governmental organisations and the media of numerous violations of the truce. Syrian opposition leaders have claimed that it was close to collapse over the weekend and the French Government have urgently called for a meeting of the monitoring group amid allegations that Syrian and Russian forces have seriously breached its terms. In this context, will the Minister set out specifically what action the UK is taking within the ISSG to ensure robust and transparent monitoring of the cessation agreement?

Secondly, is the UK joining efforts led by France for urgent action in the ISSG on the growing reports of violations of the cessation agreement by Assad and by Russia? Indeed, will the Minister address how it is even conceivable that the monitoring of the agreement is being jointly conducted by Russia, the same party that is responsible for the vast majority of recent civilian deaths? If the reports of Russian and regime violations are verified, what measures will the UK pursue to force a change in the calculations of both Putin and Assad? The UK has a critical role to play in giving everybody confidence in this system, in particular that the violations will be called out and the agreement protected. Are the Government considering, for example, further targeted sanctions against Russian entities in the event of further violations?

Further, what is the UK’s assessment of the mobilisation of Assad’s forces and militias to encircle Aleppo? Is this not a direct violation of the cessation agreement? Can the Minister confirm that the cessation agreement covers those areas where al-Nusra or any other Security Council-designated terrorist group is mixed with the moderate opposition? If the cessation holds this week, can the Minister confirm that negotiations on political transition will be at the very top of the agenda at the meeting in Geneva next week?

Finally, in the light of the reduction in violence, many Members of this House are deeply concerned about the lack of access to besieged areas inside Syria, particularly ​Daraya just outside Damascus, where people are starving to death. There is no ISIL or al-Nusra in Daraya, and it is unacceptable that the Assad regime, with the backing of Russia, is preventing this lifesaving aid, paid for by the British taxpayer, from getting to the most vulnerable. Do the Government and their partners have a deadline by which aid will reach Daraya and other besieged areas?



Syria: Madaya

11 January 2016

Volume 604

​ 4.11 pm


(Urgent Question:) To ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the current situation in Madaya and other besieged communities in Syria

Jo Cox              


I thank the Secretary of State for her response. I am sure she will agree with the following quote:

“In order to break the siege, you need to first break the silence surrounding it.”

Those words were spoken by an individual in Yarmouk—a camp in Syria’s capital, Damascus—which was besieged for two years by the Syrian Government, causing a reported 200 people to die of hunger. It should not have taken an international outcry on this scale to agree what is a nominal agreement on access to just one small community of 40,000 people out of up to a potential 1 million currently living under siege in Syria.

As we know all too well, it is the Assad regime that is primarily responsible for the policy of sustained, systematic starvation of the population of Syria. Of the areas under siege, 52 are under Assad control, two under rebel control and one under ISIS, so let us be clear: he is responsible for 99% of those areas under siege.

I would be honoured if the Secretary of State could reply to a few questions. First, UN Security Resolution 2165 states that

“United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners are authorized to use routes across conflict lines”.

Does she agree that, to date, the UN has not pushed the envelope and used that clear authorisation to break the siege not just in Madaya, but country-wide?

Secondly, will the Secretary of State demand answers from the UN on why it is still waiting for permission from Assad when resolution after resolution states that that is not necessary? It has the authority and the mandate to go in right now. Thirdly, will the Secretary of State ask the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs why certain besieged areas are not yet classified as such? For example, why is even Madaya not classified as besieged in the latest OCHA report to the Security Council?​

Fourthly, does the Secretary of State agree with me, Médecins sans Frontières and other aid agencies that one-shot distribution to Madaya and other places will not alleviate the problem in the months to come or deal with the wider issue country-wide? Sustained and ongoing access is needed. What measures will the Government take from today to make sure that that pressure is maintained?

Fifthly, does the Secretary of State agree that, as the second largest donor, we have a critical role to play in making sure not just that next month’s donor conference is successful in raising the significant amount of money needed, but that that aid actually reaches Syrian children? We play a welcome role as the second biggest donor to the country, and it is critical to get access.

Finally, does the Secretary of State agree that, if the UN fails to negotiate and agree sustained, ongoing access to those populations under siege, we should start contingency planning for RAF food drops? It has worked before—we have seen it happen. I was an aid worker for more than a decade and I have seen the difference that airdrops can make. Will she investigate whether that is a viable option at this time?

Daesh: Syria/Iraq

16 December 2015

Volume 603


“I remain deeply concerned about the lack of progress on civilian protection inside Syria , much of which is being perpetrated by the Assad regime. Does the Secretary of State agree that ending Assad’s indiscriminate use of barrel bombs is a key confidence-building measure that should be prioritised alongside efforts towards a formal ceasefire? Should a ceasefire not be delivered on Friday, may I urge him to look again at other measures to protect civilians, including putting in place no-bombing zones. Will he also reconfirm the Government’s unequivocal commitment not to have truck with anyone—including the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—who says that working with Assad’s forces is a compromise that we should be willing to make? That would be not only morally wrong, but counter-productive given that Assad is Daesh’s biggest recruiting sergeant.)"

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