Steven Woolfe MEP: The Government’s snub to the North West is a slap in the face

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Steven Woolfe MEP: The Government’s snub to the North West is a slap in the face

Given the North West’s military and naval heritage, and the recent terror attacks on Manchester, MEP Steven Woolfe argues it has done a disservice to the people of the North West in not recognising the region’s military commitment in the naming of its eight new Royal Navy frigates. He urges readers to back his petition here.

Comradeship, national duty and military service are at the heart of our regional heritage here in the North West. Whether it be ‘going over the top’ in the trenches of the Great War, storming the landing grounds at Normandy, or combatting terrorism in the barren mountains of Afghanistan, the North West has never faltered from its duty to defend Britain, her values and our collective freedom. This remains so today with the North West accounting for nearly one-third of those serving in Britain’s armed forces, making it the single largest regional contributor in terms of recruitment.

In return for this ongoing sacrifice the people of the North West ask for no special dispensation. No exemptions. No special favours. But they do ask that their commitment be acknowledged. It’s unacceptable therefore that in the naming of its eight new city class frigates due to be built for the Royal Navy the Government has failed in its duty.

Out of the eight ships named, not one represents the North West of England or Manchester itself. The eight Type 26 anti-submarine frigates have been given the working names HMS Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and London.

The exclusion by the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, of either of the North West’s two largest cities, Manchester and Liverpool, has caused considerable disappointment across the North West, but particularly in Manchester, which has a proud history of contributing naval ratings and officers. But the naming of the vessels brings with it added poignance in light of the recent terrorist attack on Manchester, which killed 22 and injured 800.

With this in mind – and supported by the HMS Manchester Association and the Manchester Evening News – I have launched a petition (here) calling on the Government and the Defence Secretary to rename one of the new ships HMS Manchester. We recommend that the planned HMS Belfast be renamed. This is not to disrespect Belfast or its people since there is already an HMS Belfast; the famous World War 2 cruiser that fought throughout the war is currently moored on the Thames in London.

The naming of the vessel would not be without precedent. Our naval heritage has been acknowledged by previous governments. Decommissioned and sold for scrap in February 2011, HMS Manchester, the third warship to carry the name, took part in the 1991 Gulf War and, in 2010, was the first Royal Navy warship to dock in Cuba since the Castro revolution in the 1950s. Known as the ‘Busy Bee’ after Manchester’s iconic worker bee emblem, the ship served as a powerful symbol across the world of both the city of Manchester and the wider region. The nickname ‘Busy Bee’ adds further significance given the bee became a symbol of unity for all communities residing in Manchester in the wake of the attacks. 

The original HMS Manchester was a small stores ship commissioned in the 1800s. 

The city Bee emblem took to the seas again during the Second World War after a second HMS Manchester, a light cruiser, was commissioned in 1938. The ship fought in Norway, Spartivento, Malta and in the Arctic before being torpedoed in the Mediterranean in 1942.

The most recent HMS Manchester, a Type 42 Destroyer, was commissioned in 1982 but sadly was never able to visit its home city as it was too large to sail up the Manchester Ship canal from Liverpool.

Given the region’s military and naval heritage, and the recent terror attacks on the City, it is a slap in the face to the people of the North West to not bring back our Busy Bee, HMS Manchester. I urge you to add your name to our petition and join the chorus of voices urging the Government to reconsider their decision.

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    Steven Woolfe MEP
    Steven Woolfe is an independent politician who has served as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the North West of England since the 2014 European election.
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