In my years working as the MP for West Dunbartonshire, the UK government department I have spent perhaps the most time pursuing on behalf of constituents is the FCO (now known as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office – FCDO).
British Citizens and their families who find themselves in difficulty abroad rely on the FCDO for support and answers, but all too often the consular assistance they need falls well short of what’s required.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Deaths Abroad, Consular Services & Assistance was founded in 2018 by my SNP colleague and friend Hannah Bardell MP. It was established to help improve outcomes for families who experience trauma abroad, and champion policies which give British Citizens a legal right to consular assistance overseas.
I am proud to be Vice Chair and Treasurer of this important APPG which has helped to shine a light on the difficulties experienced by a number of my constituents. This includes the family of Dumbarton-born British Citizen Jagtar Singh Johal who has been held in arbitrary detention in India for over 4 years now.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve raised Jagtar’s case on the floor of the House of Commons since he was first detained in India in November 2017. He has seen numerous Foreign Secretaries come and go – including Boris Johnson the current Prime Minister – and at every turn my constituent’s family here in Scotland have felt ignored and let down by the UK government.
Unfortunately, the experiences of families whose loved ones have been imprisoned abroad, go missing or lose their lives whilst overseas, show time and time again that a better system of consular support for UK families is long overdue.
The shortfalls of the FCDO were highlighted in a report published by the APPG in 2019 which drew on evidence provided by 60 families, including family members of my constituent Lisa Brown from Alexandria who has been missing in Spain since 2015 and is sadly presumed dead.
Again, in the early weeks of Lisa’s disappearance my constituents – Lisa’s family members here in Scotland – struggled to get any answers from the FCDO. In the months and years that have followed they have felt badly let down by the lack of engagement, poor information sharing, and low levels of support and communication from the UK Foreign Office.
For my constituents – the families of Lisa Brown and Jagtar Singh Johal – these past years have been hellish. They have shown remarkable courage and determination in their search for answers and, quite frankly, they deserve better than the inadequate support they have received from their own government overseen by numerous Foreign Secretaries.
As their MP I continue to do all I can to speak up on their behalf. And I will continue working cross-party alongside the members of the APPG on Deaths Abroad, Consular Services & Assistance to campaign for better practical assistance for those experiencing difficulties overseas and their loved ones.