Portsmouth campaigners deflated as debate about veteran suicides is cut short by Brexit vote

BREXIT chaos marred a critical debate into Britain’s veteran suicide epidemic last night

Thursday, 4th April 2019, 12:52 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th April 2019, 12:57 pm
From left, Stephen Morgan MP, Dan Arnold, Viv Johnston and Stephen James holding copies of The News from yesterdat. Picture: Tom Cotterill
From left, Stephen Morgan MP, Dan Arnold, Viv Johnston and Stephen James holding copies of The News from yesterdat. Picture: Tom Cotterill

MPs were forced to leave halfway through the hearing to cast their votes on a bill ruling out a no-deal Brexit.

It caused a debate in the House of Commons — set up by Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan — to stall, leaving city campaigners deflated.

Almost two dozen MPs deserted the critical discussion into how Britain could cut the number of forces heroes with post-traumatic stress disorder from taking their lives, with about half coming back to resume it.

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Stephen Morgan speaking at the debate regarding veteran suicide.

The politicians had left Westminster Hall to cast their vote on how Britain should move forward with its divorce of the European Union (EU).

The chaotic night made history as MPs from across the house hit a deadlock, with no side able to secure a majority.

In rare tie, there was a split decision between the number of MPs voting for a motion to seize control of Monday’s agenda to stage a fresh round of voting alternatives for options to ditch the EU.

A total of 310 voted for the motion, with 310 against it. It was the first time since 1993 that such a tie was recorded, with speaker John Bercow casting the final vote against.

Stephen Morgan speaking at the debate regarding veteran suicide.

It took more than 30 minutes for MPs to reach a decision, which meant the few who came back into the critical debate on veteran suicide rates ‘rushed through’ the remainder of it.

It left veterans and armed forces campaigners from Portsmouth – who had travelled to London to hear the debate – furious.

Veteran soldiers Dan Arnold and Stephen James, from the Portsmouth-based armed forces group All Call Signs, said the debate failed to be taken seriously by government.

Stephen James, co-founder of the group who was among those in Westminster listening to the debate, said: ‘It was disappointing the number of MPs who left the debate then never came back again. It caused an arrest in the debate.

Stephen Morgan speaking at the debate regarding veteran suicide.

‘We knew Brexit was going to play havoc as it has done for everything else. But it would have been nice to see MPs at least come back and speak about this crucial issue.’

Most of the MPs at the debate were from the Labour Party. However, despite political divides, all agreed ‘more needed to be done’ to support the nation’s armed forces heroes.

The crux of the concern comes following an investigation by The News, which revealed the UK, unlike its allies the US, Canada and Australia, had no comprehensive record of the number of veterans taking their own lives.

This, armed forces campaigners and military charities say, is critical in understanding the true scale of Britain’s veteran suicide rates – and more importantly, how the government can act and reduce the number of those taking their own lives.

Stephen Morgan speaking at the debate regarding veteran suicide.

In the past year alone almost 60 veterans are officially recorded to have killed themselves. However, campaigners are adamant the figure is closer to 100 - with 21 have to have taken their lives since the start of the year.

Speaking during the debate, former British Army Major Dan Jarvis MP said the situation was at a crisis point.

‘It seems that now, not a week goes by without the sad news of another veterans’s death, all to often, tragically, as a result of suicide,’ he said, adding the nation should give ‘lifelong support’ to veterans.

MPs demanded the government make it compulsory for all coroners to record how many veterans take their lives.

It was also claimed evidence showed those who had served in the armed forces were less likely than their civilian peers to take their own lives, something that campaigners disputed, claiming Britain’s current statistics were inaccurate.

Tory veterans minister Tobias Elwood insisted the government was doing all it could to address the problem but failed to give any concrete answer on what steps Whitehall would take directly following the debate in Westminster.

Mr Elwood said: ‘Just because somebody served in the armed forces doesn’t mean the suicide was caused by being in the armed forces.’

He added: ‘Every suicide is a tragedy and every effort must be made to get those numbers down.

‘I remain committed to looking at this. Changes that we have seen to date (in support) are good but absolutely more needs to happen.

‘Data is critical. More funding here is needed.’