Tory accused of ‘fanning racism’ over traveller site opposition says he won’t be silenced

Sir Conor Burns
Sir Conor Burns said he 'will not be silenced for raising legitimate concerns' - Tim Clarke

A Conservative MP has vowed that he “will not be silenced” after a charity accused him of  “fanning the flames of racism” after he voiced opposition to a new traveller camp in his constituency.

Sir Conor Burns, the Bournemouth West MP, said there had been “politically motivated” attempts to stop him from speaking out on plans for a disused car park in Branksome, Dorset, after he raised concerns.

Sir Conor, a former minister under Boris Johnson who has represented Bournemouth West since 2010, posted a video on social media in which he said proposals to accommodate “the so-called settled traveller community” were inappropriate “in the middle of this residential area”.

Campaigners from the Traveller Movement, a charity representing the Romani, Roma and Irish traveller community, accused the MP of “inciting discrimination” and suggested his comments had “fanned the flames of racism”.

‘Not the right place’

Hitting back at the criticism, Sir Conor said: “I will fully cooperate with any investigation into anything I have said.

“I will not, however, be silenced from raising legitimate issues on behalf of my constituents or opposing any planning proposals that I judge not in their interests, especially in the face of politically motivated attempts to mute the voice of a local MP.”

In his video, Sir Conor said residents would not expect “the local council to decide who our neighbours are going to be, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen, potentially”.

He claimed Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council had earmarked the site “for what they call the so-called settled Gypsy and traveller community”.

“I’m not saying they shouldn’t have a site. I’m saying – in agreement, I think, with many local residents – that this site here in the middle of this residential area is not the right place,” he said.

Yvonne MacNamara, the chief executive of the Traveller Movement, wrote to Richard Holden, the Conservative Party chairman, saying: “The content of the video spoke of Romani (Gypsies) and Irish travellers as if they were second-class citizens.

“The member for Bournemouth West stated that he did not believe that the new Gypsy traveller site should be located in the Branksome Triangle because it is a ‘residential area’. We question whether Mr Conor Burns would make such statements about other protected groups, for example Jewish and black communities.”

Responding Sir Conor’s comments, she said: “Conor Burns MP’s accusation that our decision to complain about his use of racist rhetoric was politically motivated is extremely serious and totally inaccurate. The decision to complain regarding the language used by the Bournemouth West MP falls well within our charitable aims.”

‘Out of sight, out of mind’

Pauline Melvin-Anderson, the organisation’s head of trustees, said: “Saying there shouldn’t be any settled site in a residential area is really, really worrying.

“What it is implying is that people from our community shouldn’t be living alongside people from other ethnicities, that we should be living completely separately – out of sight, out of mind.”

The Branksome site was among 15 locations identified for traveller pitches in draft proposals by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council.

The site, situated between two railway lines off Bourne Valley Road, was previously used as a park and ride for employees of LV, the insurance company.

In August, David TC Davies, the Welsh Secretary, faced a police investigation over an allegedly racist campaign leaflet in which he opposed a new traveller site in his constituency. Police later dropped the inquiry.