Commons Diary: Chris Bryant

Posted On: 
15th March 2018

From Commons power cuts to when foreign power corrupts, a defiant Chris Bryant’s calls for a strong response to the Skripal attack results in torrent of abuse

The Russian Embassy in London. "The Ambassador seems to think that the Russia APPG should cheerlead for Putin", Chris Bryant writes
Credit: 
PA

Politics is a funny old business. I was in the gym in Ystrad in the Rhondda the other day when a couple of young lads in their early twenties kept on staring at me. Eventually they came over.

The older asked ‘Are you belonging?’ ‘No, I don’t think we’re related,’ I replied.

‘So how do we know you?’ the younger one asked. ‘Are you an actor?’ ‘No, I’m not an actor.’ ‘But you’ve been on the telly?’

Eventually, with that strange mixture of pride and self-deprecation MPs often adopt, I admitted, ‘Yes, I’m the MP for the Rhondda.’

I hadn’t expected the answer, which came as quick as lightning: ‘No, that’s Chris Bryant – and he’s much younger than you.’

 ***

That’s not the worst public response I’ve had this week, as I’ve taken an interest in Russia ever since I was first elected in 2001, I’m chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Russia and I’m one of Putin’s harshest critics. After I called for a strong response to the Salisbury poisoning last week I received a fierce vituperative volley on Twitter, Facebook and in my inbox.

So far I’ve been called a degenerate, a dimwit, an idiot, cretin, poof, shirtlifter, warmonger, fascist, communist, murderer, f****ing tawt (I think this is an attempt to get round filters), hypocrite, Jew and pervert.

Even the Russian Embassy’s official account decided to attack.

There’s nothing new in this. In the 2010 parliament the Embassy sought to get me removed as chair of the APPG, tried to bribe a Labour colleague to stand against me and sponsored a Conservative Friends of Russia group with the sole intention of ousting me at an AGM that was attended by more than 200 MPs (including several members of the Cabinet).

The Ambassador seems to think that the APPG should cheerlead for Putin.

***

But I was the first minister to meet with Marina, the widow of Alexander Litvinenko, and with Bill Browder, who was described this week as Putin’s number one enemy in the UK. Bill has run a very determined and courageous campaign to get a Magnitsky Act passed in this country in honour of Sergei Magnitsky who was murdered in jail by Putin’s thugs when he uncovered a vast fraud.

When the Prime Minister made her pitch-perfect statement on Monday laying out that either Russia had directed the attack on Mr Skirpal and his daughter or Russia had lost some of its nerve agent, I asked her, for the 29th time, whether she will introduce that Magnitsky Act so that none of the people who were involved in his murder is ever allowed in this country. On Wednesday she announced that she will indeed do so.

I fully support her though many questions still remain, not least whether we will be cooperating on intelligence for the World Cup as we did for the Sochi Olympics. If not I can’t see how English supporters will be safe.

***

In my office we’ve been putting the finishing touches on a couple of roundtables and a lobby of parliament on Acquired Brain Injury this week, so it was fascinating meeting people from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists on Monday.

Two disturbing facts: children from poorer families are four times more likely to have a major traumatic brain injury by the age of five and between 14 and 21, when the brain is still developing; and thanks to the government’s new trauma centres, we now save 500 more lives a year, but one in four centres has no rehabilitation consultant.

***

On Tuesday I chaired the Finance Committee. We were considering the major works needed to the Palace of Westminster. It felt symbolic that the tearoom, the Opposition whips office and the committee corridor were without electricity, as a workman had drilled through a major cable whilst installing a sprinkler system. 

Chris Bryant is Labour MP for Rhondda and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia