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Rumours resurface that Penally Camp could be turned into a camp for immigrants

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RUMOURS have circulated on social media, suggesting that Penally Camp near Tenby is being adapted from its current use with the military into an immigrant camp.

There was talk in 2016 about the proposed change, with the Home Office in London saying they had considered the move, but had not made any decision.

The UK Government said, four years ago, that no decision had been made as to the future of the site, and things went quiet.

But on Sunday afternoon (Sept 13), a widely shared post on Facebook group ‘Wales for a United Kingdom’ stated that the camp will be used as a ‘transit camp for illegal immigrants arriving in the UK’, but the post does not cite any source for its claims.

The post, which has been seen by several thousand people, then blames Plaid Cymru for the plans stating: “The reason Plaid Cymru are so unpopular in Wales is because they plan to turn Wales in to the world’s largest refugee sanctuary…”

This statement obviously has no basis, as any decision regarding the future of the camp would be taken in London, not Wales.

Penally county councillor Jon Preston issued the following statement on social media shortly after the post went up. Cllr Preston said: “Many of you will quite understandably be concerned with information that is being shared by some that suggests Penally Training Camp is to be used to accommodate asylum seekers.

“I am told that a ‘scoping exercise’ has been carried out by the home office and that no decision has yet been made.

“I have written to the Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart MP to seek clarification on the matter and how he intends to make representation for the people of South Pembrokeshire. I have also contacted the First Minister Mark Drakeford and I await their responses.

“I understand that a statement on behalf of the Home Office will be made shortly. In the meantime, please be assured that I remain resolute in protecting the best interests of the people I represent. I will also actively seek more suitable solutions to accommodate those who are in genuine need,”

In 2016 a Welsh Government spokesperson told the press: “Decisions regarding the dispersal of asylum seekers are the responsibility of the Home Office; immigration is not devolved to the Welsh government.

“The Home Office has informed us no decisions have been taken on the future use of this site.”

In 2016 the UK government said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had been “advised on the possibility of providing temporary accommodation for asylum applicants on the Defence estate. No decisions have been made.”

The MOD and Home Office have been contacted for a statement.

LIVE UPDATES

Monday 13:05HRS – PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL have confirmed that a meeting is to take place later today (Sept 14) regarding the future of Penally Camp.
A spokesperson said: “A meeting is due to take place between the Home Office and the Council later today but as of this moment we have had no official confirmation on the plans for Penally Camp…Any official confirmation would come from the Home Office itself.”

Monday 13:11HRS – County Councillor Preston told The Herald that key points to note are as follows:

  • No decision has yet been made but the situation is developing at pace.
  • Immigration officials are meeting with Pembrokeshire county council, Welsh government and the chief of police this afternoon. (my request to attend was declined)
  • If Penally training unit is to be used it would be in the ‘short term’ of approximately six months.
  • All incoming refugees are screened on arrival and placed in appropriate accommodation (for deportation or asylum)
  • The impact on the local community will be assessed

Monday 13:40HRS – Simon Hart MP said: “A number of people have asked for further information about the possible use of Penally Camp for the housing of asylum seekers whose status is being assessed. The Home Office is meeting Pembrokeshire County Council later today, after which further information should be available.”

Monday 14:22HRS – Mart Tierney, of Welsh Labour said on his Facebook page: “I have written to Simon Hart MP to ask him to clarify plans for the Penally Training Camp. Dear Simon, As I’m sure you’re aware, rumours have been circulating on social media since the weekend regarding the future use of Penally Training Camp by Landmarc on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. You will be familiar that similar claims about the use of the facility to house asylum seekers were made in 2016 which, when they were not clarified, caused concern in the local community. It is disappointing that neither Landmarc, the UK Government in Wales office nor yourself as the local MP have addressed these concerns over the weekend, despite my understanding that queries were raised as early as Saturday. I hope you will agree that Britain has an important and vital role to play in supporting those seeking refuge in our country. Voluntary organisations such as Croeso Arberth alongside Pembrokeshire County Council have played a much-needed role in supporting refugees who have been successfully resettled and now call Pembrokeshire their home. Pembrokeshire has a recognised reputation for welcoming those displaced by conflict thanks largely to the work of Croeso Arberth and Pembroke Open Doors volunteers with whom I have met on several occasions. However, I am concerned that the communication vacuum which currently exists is being filled by online suspicion and unsavoury comment by some on social media. Therefore, I would encourage you to make a statement on the future use of Penally Training Camp at the earliest opportunity. Sincerely, Marc Tierney Former Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.

 Monday 14:43 HRS – Latest from Simon Hart MP: “I have now spoken to the Home Secretary, who is exploring – with a range of partners and government departments – opportunities for further Covid-19 compliant accommodation for those seeking asylum. Following the submission of a request, the Ministry of Defence has commenced scoping options across the UK. One of the sites under active consideration is Penally Training Camp. The Home Office and the Ministry of Defence are working hard to ensure Penally Training Camp is compliant with Covid-19 regulations and will have minimal impact on the local community. It is estimated by the Home Office that the site would temporarily house around 250 people if this option is agreed. I am in contact with the Home Secretary and Pembrokeshire County Council who in turn are speaking to Dyfed Powys Police and other stakeholders.”

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Webpage details penally camp information

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A WEBPAGE has been set up to keep residents of Penally and the surrounding areas up to date with key information relating to the housing of asylum seekers at the MoD base in the village.

The web page here includes a list of frequently asked questions relating to the site.

Residents are urged to check the page for updates.

People will also be able to find links to virtual community meetings held on the issue, Pembrokeshire County Council press releases regarding the camp and a contact email address for further information.

Pembrokeshire County Council Leader Cllr David Simpson said: “It is important for residents to be able to find information about the camp easily and to know that information is accurate, collated by the Council, Dyfed-Powys Police and the Home Office.

“Hopefully the FAQs will answer some of the questions that are being asked and we will have the ability to update and add further information to the page as required.”

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Welsh Health Minister defends retail restrictions

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THE WELSH Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, faced stiff today (Monday, Oct 26) questioning over retail restrictions during the current ‘firebreak lockdown’.

The Minister ducked a question from ITV Wales’ Adrian Masters.

That question asked whether trust in the Welsh Government’s handling of COVID-19 had been harmed by the row over supermarket chains sectioning off areas of ‘non-essential’ goods in their stores.

Instead of answering directly, Mr Gething carefully set out what he termed ‘a balance of harms’.

Vaughan Gething explained that the Welsh Government accepted the lockdown would cause some harm to Wales, to Welsh businesses, and individuals. However, he said, those harms had to be offset against the harm to public health and longer-term more adverse economic outcomes if the Welsh Government did nothing.

The BBC’s Dan Davies tackled Vaughan Gething again on the topic. In response, Mr Gething claimed that ending the rules on non-essential retail would both penalise small retailers and lead to greater community transmission of the virus.

Asked about remarks made by Lee Waters MS, Wales’ Deputy Economy Minister, that a further lockdown was ‘likely’ in the New Year, Mr Gething could not guarantee that one would not happen.

He said: “Measures are possible for the future but that depends on how successful we are in coming together as a nation to act in a way which means coronavirus is less likely to spread in the future.”

The Minister next received direct questions about the Government’s communications and messaging following a row over what were essential and non-essential goods.

This morning, Andrew RT Davies capitalised on a mistake by Tesco, which claimed the Welsh Government classified period products as non-essential. By the time Mr Davies tweeted his outrage and released a statement to the media, Tesco confirmed it was in the wrong and deleted its tweet. As Tesco has since acknowledged, period products – which are for sale in pharmacies – are classed as essential goods.

However, by then the damage had been done to the Welsh Government’s image.

Mr Gething said meetings had taken place with major retailers last Thursday, between ministers over the weekend, and there would be a further meeting this afternoon.

“The conversation we’re having with supermarkets today [about non-essential retail],” said the Minister, “will discuss limited circumstances [in which sales can take place].”

However, Vaughan Gething continued: “Much of what we have seen over the weekend is about the ‘what-if scenarios’ unlikely to come up over the next two weeks.”

Mr Gething continued to try and get the message over about a balance of harms and tried to explain why the Welsh Government imposed the retail restrictions it chose.

He stressed the Welsh Government decided to stop supermarkets selling goods otherwise available in small retailers who were compelled to close during the current lockdown.

The Welsh Conservative Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM, asked Mark Drakeford for a specific reassurance on that point – to protect small businesses compelled to close – last Thursday (Oct 22).

Loud Conservative voices, particularly those of Simon Hart and Andrew RT Davies, have condemned the Welsh Government for doing what their own Shadow Economy Minister asked.

The impression, however – of a ban on the sale of books and baby clothes – does not look good for the Welsh Government.

And neither does the confusion among large retailers.

That criticism was the subject of further direct questioning by journalists who asked Mr Gething how, if major businesses could misinterpret the guidance, how the public could possibly interpret it.

Vaughan Gething remained adamant guidance was clear but would be further clarified with major retailers.

Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price MS said: “The important thing for the Welsh Government to acknowledge is that they have made a complete mess of the messaging. Humility is important in admitting that you have got it wrong. They should have focused very clearly and very simply on the public health message.

“The objective of closing non-essential retail for this period is to try to limit the number of contacts so they can limit the number of infections – and that’s somehow got completely lost in the messaging which has then eroded public trust over the weekend.”

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Public anger over MP’s ‘Hart-less decision’

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A PEMBROKESHIRE MP who backed the UK government not to extend the free school meal scheme to cover children throughout England for school closures up until Easter 2021, has experienced huge backlash on social media.

A motion on providing 1.4 million disadvantaged children in England, with a £15 a week voucher during school holidays until Easter 2021, was voted down in the House of Commons last Wednesday (Oct 21).

Simon Hart MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, stood with his Government and voted against the bill by 322 to 261, a majority of 61.

Simon Hart was named, along with over 300 of his Conservative colleagues, on The Daily Mirror’s front page, after voting to allow some of the UK’s poorest and vulnerable children to return to school ‘too hungry to learn’.

Stephen Crabb, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, abstained from the vote.

With many organisations calling the decision ‘cruel’ and ‘callous’, one Pembrokeshire pub has taken their stance on the situation further.

Taking to their Facebook page, The Globe in Fishguard has issued a lifetime ban for both Pembrokeshire MP’s, they said: “Following the decision by the Mill and Il Manilo pub in West Yorkshire to ban their local MP Rishi Sunak and other MPs in nearby constituencies over their voting against extending free school meals over the holidays, I would like it known that abstainer Stephen

Crabb and Simon Hart, who voted in support of allowing children to starve, are similarly barred for life from The Globe!

“Thank God that the WG has promised to provide food vouchers for children in need in Wales.

“Anyone who actively or passively enables children to go hungry cannot possibly possess any humanity in our opinion. Here in the Globe we only allow humans and dogs to enter the building; as

Mr Crabb and Mr Hart appear to be neither of these then we feel we have no option but to impose a lifetime ban.”

In a statement on his Facebook page rounding up the week of politics, Mr Hart defended toeing the Government line: “The “opposition motion” last Wednesday seeking an extension to the free school meal programme into the holidays was non-binding and even if passed would not have changed anything.

“The frustrating thing about these motions is that they are nothing more than political theatre. For what it’s worth, it was this Government that extended FSM’s in Easter and Summer holidays in the first place but which has now decided that families in greater need are best served through increasing benefits over a whole year, not just via food vouchers in the holidays.

“I do understand how this looks in the media though (which is exasperating for all of us) but it’s not as straightforward as just removing something without trying to offset the consequences.”

Mr Hart omitted to mention that FSM provision over the summer holidays only happened after the Westminster Government was shamed into action after a massive public outcry over its initial refusal to provide them.

His position was not helped by a series of inflammatory tweets from fellow Conservative MPs, such as Ben Bradley, who claimed over the summer meal vouchers were traded for drugs and prostitutes in his Mansfield constituency.

However, Mr Hart will be pleased to have had support echoing his point on free school meals from Carol Peett, the wife of his constituency chairman, Rayner Peett.
Mrs Peett posted the following on Facebook: “All this Marcus Rashford rubbish – momentum scam to try & destabilise the government using a thick footballer’s name as a frontman – the Government had already given money to councils to make sure these children are fed so totally pointless.”

The Welsh Government has extended free school meals for those eligible through the school holidays up to and including Easter 2021.

Commenting on Simon Hart’s vote, Alistair Cameron, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire said: “Simon Hart’s recent voting choices demonstrate callous neglect for struggling families. Whilst Kirsty Williams in the Senedd has been ensuring that poverty should not mean hunger for our most disadvantaged children, our MP has chosen to deny children across the border the funding that could stop them from going hungry. I am deeply disappointed in our MP.”

The Herald asked the Conservatives’ Education Shadow Minister in the Senedd, Suzy Davies MS, to say whether or not she supported the Welsh Government’s decision to extend free school meal provision.

A spokesperson replied: “The UK Government has invested more than £4 billion in Wales to fight Covid-19 which the Welsh Government are able to use to fund support for people including free school meals during holidays.”

“While the primary duty to feed children lies with the parents, we recognise lockdowns and other restrictions have placed real pressure on family budgets, especially where people haven’t been able to access support or have to use convenience shops which can be more expensive.

“Ensuring children stay physically and mentally healthy during this time is a priority so that they can get the best out of their education and not let Covid-19 define their future. But any scheme must support those who truly need it; those that can afford to contribute should.”

The £4bn claimed to be ‘invested’ in Wales is funding the UK Government was obliged to provide to our country using the Barnett funding formula. It came as a result of the UK spending further money in other parts of the UK to tackle COVID-19.

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