Q&A with Hannah Bardell
The MP for Livingston on halting the deportation of a constituent and taking on the government
Lola Ilesanmi and Hannah Bardell - image credit: Hannah Bardell
You managed to get Theresa May to intervene in the FGM deportation case of a constituent. What happened?
I asked the Prime Minister to urgently intervene in the case of one of my constituents, Lola Ilesanmi – a Nigerian mother whose three-year-old daughter faces female genital mutilation if the family is deported.
The Home Office had refused Lola, her daughter, and one-year-old son, leave to remain in Scotland.
Lola had been the victim of severe domestic violence by her estranged husband for refusing his demands to send her daughter back to Nigeria to have her circumcised. Her testimony was harrowing – she had her face smashed with an iPad, her body beaten black and blue, she was repeatedly forced to have sex, forced to abort a baby girl and, finally, had a knife held to her throat.
Lola is educated, she has a mortgage, and she had a job at RBS – until the Home Office revoked her right to work.
Having written to the Home Office numerous times and getting very poor responses, it became clear little would happen. So I contacted Cathy Newman from Channel 4 News, as she has done a huge amount of work on FGM, then by a stroke of luck, I came out of the ballot for PMQ’s the week we were due to broadcast.
Sitting next door hearing Lola’s full testimony being recorded was harrowing. My staff, the producer and Cathy Newman were all deeply moved and in tears.
After months of getting nowhere, my question prompted the Prime Minister to intervene directly. The family has been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation, and they have now been given leave outside of the immigration rules for an 18-month period.
The campaign isn’t over, I’m still fighting to get Lola indefinite leave to remain and the peace of mind her family deserves, but we’ve made progress and I’ll keep on at it until the family gets the right to stay in the UK.
Eilidh Whiteford and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh also campaigned on FGM last parliament. Is it a difficult issue to raise in the Commons?
Much of the business of the Commons is dominated by the Tory government, and on cases that involve immigration or asylum, you often need to keep working at it, and use every avenue to pile on the pressure and get results. Whether that’s raising it in debates, writing letters, holding meetings, or bringing issues to the attention of the media. We can also work positively with the media. So often politicians and the media are pitted against one another but sometimes, when they work together, they can produce powerful results.
FGM affects thousands of women and girls in the UK, and many more internationally, so I’m proud SNP MPs have helped get more exposure for this important issue.
Has the new political landscape with a lack of a Conservative majority made it easier or harder for individual MPs to raise issues like this?
The fact that the Tories lost their majority at the election, resulting in a parliament of minorities, has meant that there are more opportunities for the SNP group, and backbench MPs, to make a difference and influence policy. Of course, that has been somewhat tempered by the outrageous £1bn deal the Tories did with the DUP to hold up their administration – giving them a working majority, if only a shaky one.
What does the SNP group need to do now to be heard?
The SNP are the only major party at Westminster with a united team of MPs, and clear positions on the biggest issues facing the country. By working together and focusing on the details and impacts of issues in a united way, we have managed to give Scotland a voice it hasn’t had at Westminster for decades, and we are leading the opposition to Tory austerity cuts and plans for an extreme Brexit.
How has the feeling in the Commons changed since the election?
The main difference is on the Tory benches. We have a weak and bitterly divided Tory government, led by a prime minister with no credibility or authority. The government is being led by events, and Theresa May is being forced to placate the whims of her right-wing backbenchers just to shore up her own position.
Have you made any new cross-party pals?
Yes, it’s a myth that politicians don’t get on behind the scenes. I’ve become friendly with politicians of other parties, particularly working on all-party groups.
What’s the funniest or worst thing that’s happened on your commute between Scotland and London?
Went to the wrong airport… had a pretty stressful day and didn’t read my booking properly, scanned in, computer said no, felt like a right idiot and was mortified.