Traveller charity hits back at MP over claim that its complaint was “politically motivated”

4 March 2024
Traveller charity hits back at MP over claim that its complaint was “politically motivated”

The Traveller Movement has defended itself against an MP’s claim that the charity’s racism and discrimination complaint against him was “politically motivated.”

 “Conor Burn MP’s accusation that our decision to complain about his use of racist rhetoric was politically motivated is extremely serious and totally inaccurate,” said a spokesperson from the Traveller Movement, adding that it was “their duty” under charity laws to challenge the politicians’ racist rhetoric.

The pushback came after Sir Connor Burns, the MP for Bournemouth West, told the Telegraph newspaper that the Traveller Movement’s complaint against his was “political motivated”.

“I will not, however, be silenced from raising legitimate issues on behalf of my constituents or opposing any planning proposals that I judge not in their interests, especially in the face of politically motivated attempts to mute the voice of a local MP,” he said, still seemingly totally unaware that his constituents INCLUDE local Romany and Traveller people.

The Traveller Movement complained to the Parliamentary Standards Committee when Connor Burns posted a video on his official Facebook page opposing a local council’s proposal to build a Traveller site on a disused car park in Bournemouth.

In the video, Sir Connors Burn MP said the proposal was unsuitable to accommodate “the so-called settled Gypsy and traveller community.”

He said residents would not expect “the local council to decide who our neighbours are going to be, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen, potentially.”

Conor Burns said in the video: “I'm not saying they shouldn't have a site.

I'm saying, in agreement, I think, with many local residents, that this site here in the middle of this residential area is not the right place.”

The Traveller Movement, which represents the Romani, Roma and Irish Traveller community, said his comments “fanned the flames of racism,” while accusing him of “inciting discrimination.”

Pauline Melvin-Anderson, head of trustees at the Traveller Movement, said: "The whole tone of the video is that Gypsies and travellers are a problem to be solved rather than people, individuals, families, valued members of society.

Particularly, saying there shouldn't be any settled site in a residential area is really, really worrying,” she added.

“What it is implying is that people from our community shouldn't be living alongside people from other ethnicities, that we should be living completely separately - out of sight, out of mind."

The full Traveller Movement response is printed below:

"Conor Burn’s MP’s accusation that our decision to complain about his use of racist rhetoric was politically motivated is extremely serious and totally inaccurate. The decision to complain regarding the language used by the Bournemouth West MP falls well within our charitable aims. The Traveller Movement is a registered charity and is regulated by the Charity Commission. Our mission as a charity is as follows: “[to] contribute and create opportunities to aid systemic change that leads to an improved quality of life for all GRT people. Amplify the voice of GRT people through self-determining processes and their proactive participation in influencing and shaping policy and practice”. The actions of Conor Burn’s MP directly contradict our mission, it was therefore our duty to call him out for his actions.  

Furthermore, Mr. Burn’s has been short sighted in his accusation. The same week we lodged our initial complaint regarding his behaviour we wrote to the Leader of the Labour Party Sir Kier Starmer to call for an investigation of the current Labour Candidate for Northeast Mayor, Kim McGuinness. As we have stated numerous times, we are committed to calling out racism from any individual or institution and are committed to working with every political party to ensure that the welfare of our communities is improved.  

It is also sad that despite having weeks to reply to our organisation with an apology Mr. Burns sought fit to double down on his comments behind a paywall in the Daily Telegraph. This is no way for an elected representative to behave. This is a cheap attempt to discredit a well-established charity with a record of defending human rights for Romani (Gypsy), Roma and Irish Travellers in the UK. "

TT News

(Lead photograph: Sir Connor Burns MP, official portrait, taken from Wikimedia)