Last week we heard the sad news of the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh, HRH Prince Philip. The Queen’s consort for 7 decades, Prince Philip gave his life to serving his nation and leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Together we join in offering our heartfelt condolences to the Queen and the entire Royal Family.
I had the great honour of speaking on behalf of Stoke-on-Trent South in the House of Commons commemoration of the Duke’s life, led by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister. Both gave very touching speeches.
The entire event was filled with personal recollections of the Duke, from MPs from many different backgrounds. It itself was a testament to how the Duke went above and beyond to reach out to all and everyone at any event.
My personal contribution went as follows:
“On behalf of everyone in Stoke-on-Trent, I offer my sincere condolences to the Queen and the entire royal family. Prince Philip led an incredible life of service to our nation, always at the side of our Queen and monarch over nearly 70 years. As the longest-serving consort in our history, on his own he completed more than 22,000 engagements, often fulfilled with his humorous wit and always out of commitment to Her Majesty and our country.
I will focus particularly on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme, which he started in 1956. Millions of people have benefited from the programme, including my wife, who achieved the bronze and silver awards. In Stoke-on-Trent, thousands of young people have taken part. Secondary schools such as St Thomas More and Trentham Academy encourage students to take part, with activities often undertaken in the nearby Peak district. Abbey Hill special school and Strathmore College, which both do incredible work supporting young people with disabilities or learning difficulties, have also had many of their young people undertake awards.
In Stoke-on-Trent, an area where opportunities can often be limited, the awards have had a massive impact in boosting aspirations, building opportunities to grow experience and pushing boundaries of achievement. With Covid and all the challenges it has brought for our younger generations, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award will continue to be more important than ever, helping to transform lives. This is his legacy, and it is the millions of lives that have benefited from the awards for which the Duke of Edinburgh will be most remembered in the years to come.”
One of the Duke’s most memorable quotes is his response to the then Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato at a dinner in Rome, when the PM offered him a selection of local wines. The Duke, parched after a long day of visits, responded:
“Get me a beer. I don't care what kind it is, just get me a beer.”
On this subject, I am pleased many across England had the opportunity to raise a toast to the Duke in their local pub, as outdoor service resumed.
This was part of Stage 2 of the unlocking roadmap and was accompanied by the re-opening of gyms, non-essential businesses such as barbers and beauty salons, libraries, and the restart of weddings. The brilliant progress we have made as a result of a combination of lockdown and the vaccine rollout means our infection rate is low enough to make this possible.
Volunteering again recently at the vaccination centre at St Paul’s, Blurton, I have continued to be hugely impressed by the incredible work being done to efficiently rollout vaccines - doctors, nurses and volunteers all deserve huge thanks for everything they have been doing.
It is now estimated that thanks to the Vaccines over 50% of Britons have COVID antibodies, rendering them virtually immune to COVID. More than 41,500,000 vaccines have now been administered across the whole of the UK, ahead of schedule in offering a first vaccine to everyone over 50 and those with an underlying condition.
Going forward, the continued vaccine rollout will ensure we can progress through the next stages, ending in June with the full unlocking of our country.
This will be an emotional moment for many. COVID has taken the lives of many loved ones, and as we celebrate the end of restrictions, we will all take a moment to remember those who aren’t there to join us.
While we are able to start visiting pubs, gyms, and shops again, we must remember that Hands, Face, Space and the Rule of Six still apply. Let’s get through these last few weeks safely without risking another outbreak which could set us back. As we have done for the past year, we’ll work together to get through this.