'Weirdo' MP Sir Edward Leigh 'does not speak for South Holland on Ukraine' says council leader Gary Porter
An MP who controversially claimed Lincolnshire has already ‘done our bit’ for migrants in response to the Ukraine crisis has been branded a ‘weirdo’ by a leading councillor.
South Holland District Council leader Gary Porter spoke about the ongoing issue in Ukraine at the authority’s full meeting tonight - and was heavily critical of comments made earlier this week by Sir Edward Leigh.
In Parliament, the Gainsborough MP had called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to ‘listen to the voices of people in Lincolnshire, who feel we’ve done our bit in terms of migration from eastern Europe’ when it comes to considering entry to the country of those fleeing the current war.
At tonight’s meeting, held at the South Holland Centre, Coun Porter made his views on those comments clear, stating: “Edward Leigh is clearly a man who speaks for himself and nobody else in Lincolnshire
“Everybody is standing with the Ukrainian people and that does mean we will take refugees when the time is right.”
Coun Porter, a member of the House of Lords, said it had been ‘easy to rebut’ what Sir Edward had said thanks to the ‘massive tradition’ of people in our district when it comes to helping oppressed people from other parts of the world.
He added: “I have an opinion of him that I don’t want to repeat in public. The guy’s a frickin’ weirdo.”
Coun Porter signed the parliamentary book of solidarity with the people of Ukraine this afternoon and told members tonight: “I signed it and I also put a message on behalf of South Holland and made it clear that South Holland people don’t think the same way as one of our MPs did.”
Sir Edward has since written a blog in which he claimed his comments were ‘misinterpreted or taken out of context’.
Coun Porter has spent time in London this week where he has been briefed on the situation in Ukraine and met the ambassador - who had reportedly not slept for four days.
The district leader said that there are currently one million Ukrainian refugees but that the eventual figure could be ‘anywhere up to 20 million’.
He said he understood the idea was that: “They want all the women and children and the men will fight until the last drop of blood drops or until Russia is sent back. This is going to be a long haul war.”
Coun Porter praised the widespread community support seen across South Holland this week - but said the council needed to be ready to step up to avoid burnout among volunteers as time goes on ‘for years not weeks and months’.
He added: “I really applaud all the stuff going on but we have got to be careful to make sure it’s managed. This isn’t going to be a short thing. It’s going to be for the long haul.”
It’s anticipated that many refugees will go to Poland and Hungary so they can be close to home to return when safe.
However, Ukrainian people with family members in the UK will be able to join them - and the country will need to stand ready to take people in.
Coun Porter added: “The scale will be quite large if all the people who can bring family members in do.”
Independent councillor Bryan Alcock said his group wished to associate themselves with the leader’s thoughts on Ukraine, adding: “It’s a dreadful situation and one just hopes wise heads prevail.”
All items donated in South Holland will go to Peterborough, where they are being gathered together at the Peterborough Showground. From there they will be flown to Poland.
The efforts of people locally was praised by council chairman Paul Redgate and vice chairman Andrew Woolf.
Coun Woolf said: “There’s a lot of groups set up across the district that have come to help those over in Ukraine.”
He said that he knew Weston church had been ‘transformed’ into a thriving collection point and highlighted that while there have been an abundance of clothes donated, the priority now is for other items and manpower.
He added: “The do need food, small medical supplies, hygiene etc.
“More than anything else they need hands.”
Coun Redgate added: “We are very fortunate to live in a democratic society and that’s what they are fighting for.”
Earlier this week, South Holland and the Deepings MP Sir John Hayes supported the stance that people coming from Ukraine should have to go through the visa process - a point made by Sir Edward during his intervention in the Commons.