Belfast Telegraph

Chris Moncrieff: Shameful treatment of Billy Caldwell can never happen again

There must be an urgent change in the drugs law to avoid a repeat of this scandal

Billy Caldwell with his mother Charlotte at their Co Tyrone home
Billy Caldwell with his mother Charlotte at their Co Tyrone home
Jeremy Corbyn
Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope

By Chris Moncrieff

The drama over the 12-year-old severely epileptic boy, Billy Caldwell, and the medication he so urgently required need never have happened - indeed, should never have happened.

Billy's mother Charlotte Caldwell, from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, returned from Canada only to have her supply of medical cannabis - banned in this country - confiscated from her by airport customs officials. This is, for her son, life-saving medication.

It seems strange customs officials did not react to her distraught pleadings at the airport. It was only when doctors said this was a life-or-death emergency that Home Secretary Sajid Javid found some special exemption to the rule to allow just one of the 20 bottles to be returned to her.

It beggars belief that a child could have been facing possible death because of the existence of a law which, in cases like this one, could actually be sounding what amounts to a death-knell.

Now, Billy's mother is demanding meetings with the Home Secretary and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, requesting that the law is changed so other children and their parents do not themselves have to face such an ordeal.

As it is, she will have to fight more battles to have restored to her the other bottles when this runs out after 20 days. This is shameful.

And, happily, some MPs are already, in light of this case, calling for a change in the drugs law.

This must happen - and quickly, too - to preserve the lives of other children in similar dire circumstances.

The present situation simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Does Jeremy Corbyn detect some cracks in the Prime Minister's armour over Brexit, leading to the possibility of an early General Election, which he fervently believes Labour would win, even though the Conservatives are seven points ahead in the polls?

Rarely has a government been in such a state of public turmoil and vicious civil warfare as is this administration. But even if the present, dire circumstances lead to the downfall of Theresa May - which is now at least a possibility - that, in itself, would not necessarily lead to a General Election.

But with at least one junior minister resigning over Brexit and Dominic Grieve, the arch anti-Brexiteer (although he would deny that description) saying he and fellow Tory rebels could collapse the government, no wonder Corbyn is looking chipper these days.

What's more, the election of a new Tory leader, should these events come to pass, would assuredly cause yet more damaging infighting in Conservative ranks, including, most dangerously of all, in the Cabinet itself.

I do not want to overstate the situation, but if Tory fortunes continue to slither downhill, their ability to govern properly could be seriously depleted.

And the great British public is beginning to wonder why so little progress is seemingly being made in the Brexit negotiations. Indeed, is the Irish border question really so intractable as everyone says it is?

Of course, Corbyn has his own problems, including more resignations from his front-bench team, but they are nowhere near so serious as the government's problems.

What people are demanding is that Theresa May and her cohorts now start thumping the table and stamping their feet at the Brussels negotiations.

As has been pointed out, President Trump, if he were on our side, would frighten the life out of the obdurate and flinty EU negotiators, who are now trying to squeeze every drop of blood out of the UK.

It took veteran Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope about three seconds and the utterance of a single word for him to destroy his reputation at a stroke.

By shouting "object" in the Commons, Chope effectively blocked the progress of the Bill to ban upskirting, the practice of secretly taking photographs up a woman's skirt.

This popular backbench measure, which had government support, looked as though it was going to sail through parliament - until Chope put paid to that.

Since then, the trolls have been battering down his front door. He has been denounced as a dinosaur and as old, white and male (although what that has to do with anything, I haven't a clue).

Some have even suggested Chope had no idea what the Bill was about - he might have thought upskirting had something to do with floorboards.

He has since said he supports the Bill, but added that it had not been debated properly.

But at the risk of being trolled myself, let me defend Sir Christopher.

He was merely exercising his right to invoke a long-standing parliamentary procedure, whereby an MP can block a measure if he/she does not think it has been given sufficient time for debate.

This Bill may have been very worthy, but it could have been badly drafted and full of legal loopholes.

It is not unusual for some Bills to speed their way through parliament and find themselves on the statute book in a very unsatisfactory state.

So, Chope may have performed a service. And, anyway, the Prime Minister has indicated that she will ensure that this measure does become law.

So, would everyone please quieten down?

Don't you dare ask for Spotted Dick in the House of Commons dining rooms. It has now, ludicrously, been renamed Spotted Richard.

How stupid and Puritanical the politically correct brigade has become.

They might not be aware that "dick" in this context is derived from the word "dough".

At this rate, we will be returning to the Victorian practice of covering piano legs with pantaloons, because they were regarded as too sensual for lascivious eyes to gaze upon.

Don't laugh - it could well happen.

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