With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on north Africa and the middle east. On Saturday I visited Benghazi with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. We went to show our support for the people of Libya and their legitimate representatives, the national transitional council. Our overriding impression was of a great sense of optimism among ordinary Libyans, who are hopeful that Gaddafi will leave and deeply grateful for what the United Kingdom has done. I pay tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces and to our diplomats and aid workers in Benghazi for their courageous work.
Benghazi is functioning well under the circumstances, with police visible on the streets, many shops and restaurants open and food staples in good supply. We also noted a dramatic expansion of civil society groups, which rightly see themselves as one of the key building blocks of a free Libya.
The UK’s approach is as I have set out many times before. We continue to take robust action to implement UN Security Council resolution 1973, which authorises military action to put in place a no-fly zone to prevent air attacks on the Libyan people and all necessary measures to stop attacks on civilians while ruling out an occupation force. The case for this action remains utterly compelling.
Operating strictly within the limits of the UN resolution, we are steadily intensifying the military, economic and diplomatic pressure on the Gaddafi regime. We have increased the tempo of air strikes against regime forces, which are currently taking place at a rate of approximately 50 strike missions per day and include the targeting of military command and control sites in Tripoli, regime tanks, artillery, rocket launchers and armoured fighting vehicles. Nearly 10,000 sorties have been carried out since 31 March, including more than 3,700 strike sorties, on top of operations to disrupt regime military activity and arms shipments at sea. On 1 June the North Atlantic Council agreed unanimously to extend NATO’s operations for a further 90 days from 27 June.
It is right that we ensure that our military operations are as effective as possible and that we adapt our tactics as the regime forces change theirs. Last week Britain deployed Apache helicopters to operations in Libya, alongside French helicopters, which is enabling the precise and potent targeting of regime forces.
The Gaddafi regime is isolated and on the defensive. Last week a number of senior military officers abandoned it, including five generals. The head of the National Oil Corporation also recently fled Libya. On 17 May, Arabsat joined European satellite companies in suspending Libyan state television broadcasts, a significant blow to Gaddafi’s ability to carry out psychological warfare, and we press all satellite companies to take similar action.
British humanitarian support has already played a vital role in Libya. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has announced further assistance to protect 200,000 people in Misrata and elsewhere from land mines. We have deployed an international stabilisation response team to Benghazi, which is leading the international effort to plan detailed assistance for Libya when the conflict comes to an end, ensuring that clear plans are in place for the international community to support. Separately, we are providing additional communications equipment, uniforms and bullet-proof vests to help the national transitional council develop responsible security forces and to protect civilians.
In our meetings, we found the NTC focused on Libya’s future. It has published a road map for the transition to democracy, with an interim Government including some technocratic members of the regime and elections. We have advised the NTC to develop its proposed transition in more detail to ensure that comprehensive plans are in place.
Any political settlement in Libya requires an end to violence and Gaddafi’s departure. At the G8 summit in Deauville on 26 May, participants, including Russia, agreed that Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy and must go. On 11 May, at the Foreign Affairs Council, the EU agreed to intensify efforts to block the regime’s access to resources, funding, military hardware and mercenaries. Today the EU has added six regime-controlled port authorities in western Libya to the EU sanctions lists. This will help prevent the regime acquiring military resources and will support the protection of Libyan civilians.
The next meeting of the Libya contact group will take place on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, where Britain will call for all this international pressure to be intensified and maintained. The House should be in no doubt that the efforts of Britain and our partners are saving lives and enforcing UN resolutions. Had we not acted, the bloodshed would have been far greater and the consequences for Libya’s neighbours and the entire region would have been extremely serious.
The Gaddafi regime is not the only Government seeking to suppress peaceful protest. Scores of people were killed in Syria over the weekend after demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people. Members on both sides of the House will have been horrified by the killing of many children and the death of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb, who was allegedly tortured. The regime is using live fire against protestors and blocking UN efforts to get help to those in need. There have been reports overnight that a number of security force personnel have been killed in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, close to the Turkish border, and we call for restraint in response to this incident.
Since my previous statement, our efforts to agree EU sanctions against President Assad and other individuals responsible for the violence and repression in Syria have been successful. We are exploring with our European partners the potential for further sanctions if the violence continues.
Britain has circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning the repression in Syria and calling for the Syrian Government to meet their people’s legitimate demands, to release all prisoners of conscience, to lift restrictions on the media and internet and to co-operate with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The House will appreciate that a resolution is not in our gift and needs the support of nine UN Security Council members and no vetoes. We are working to persuade other countries that the Security Council has a responsibility to speak out. President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside.
We must show the same resolve and purpose in supporting change and democratic development elsewhere in the region, using, for example, the economic appeal of the EU to act as a magnet for positive change in the region. We welcome the review of the European neighbourhood policy, issued on 25 May. It includes many British proposals and follows weeks of intensive engagement by Ministers, including the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. It offers a new partnership based on progressively greater economic integration, including trade, and increased funding for the southern neighbourhood of €750 million. It links EU support with progress on political and economic reform, and it includes a civil society facility and a European endowment for democracy to help fund new political parties and small non-governmental organisations.
The G8 summit agreed the Deauville partnership, which will provide more than $20 billion in vital assistance to Tunisia and Egypt and to countries that commit to more open and democratic government, and in February I announced Britain’s new Arab partnership initiative to support civil society and democratic development in the region, with initial funding of £5 million. The Prime Minister announced at the G8 summit that we will increase that funding more than twentyfold, expanding it to £110 million over four years.
The fund will provide support for lasting political and economic reform through the building blocks of democracy: independent institutions, political pluralism, free media and economic opportunity. It includes up to £40 million to work with Parliaments, civil society, human rights groups and reforming Governments, and up to £70 million to support growth and tackle the fundamental problems that leave so many millions of young people throughout the region without a job. This is in our vital national interest as well as true to our values.
Tunisia has made significant progress towards a more democratic society, but there is a risk of political reform being destabilised by economic challenges. In Egypt there have been further demonstrations calling for faster political and economic reforms and a revised electoral timetable. We are concerned that planned parliamentary elections in September will be too early to allow political parties to organise their activity and to contest the elections. The Prime Minister and I have pressed the Egyptian authorities to ensure an open and plural election process.
The situation in Yemen is extremely uncertain following President Saleh’s departure to Saudi Arabia to receive medical treatment and his transfer of authority to the Vice-President. We urge the Vice-President to work closely with all sides to implement the Gulf Co-operation Council agreement and to begin political transition now. Yemen faces huge humanitarian and economic challenges, and the Yemeni Government need to dedicate all their efforts to confront the impending crisis, with international support.
Recent events have shown just how quickly the security situation in Yemen can deteriorate into ferocious and unpredictable fighting. It is of the utmost importance that all British nationals leave the country immediately by commercial means while it is still possible to do so, as we have advised them to do since 12 March. I warn again that it will be extremely unlikely that the British Government will be able to evacuate British nationals from Yemen.
We are also concerned about developments in Bahrain, particularly the arrest and trial of a large number of politicians, doctors and nurses and the allegations of torture. I raised our concern and the need for the Bahraini Government to meet all their human rights obligations when I saw the Crown Prince of Bahrain last month. I also emphasised the need for a long-term political solution that builds bridges between the different religious communities.
I welcome the lifting of the state of national safety on 1 June and the announcement by the King of Bahrain that a comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue will start on 1 July. Urgent dialogue on genuine political reform is the only way to address the legitimate concerns of the Bahraini people and to ensure long-term stability.
With a month to go before South Sudanese independence on 9 July, we have made strong representations about the violence in Abyei and southern Kordofan. I met the Sudanese Foreign Minister yesterday and urged a peaceful and durable solution for Abyei and agreement on outstanding areas of the comprehensive peace agreement. This is only more urgent following the very worrying reports received just this morning of renewed fighting in southern Kordofan. We are in touch with the UN mission in Sudan and monitoring these developments closely. I urge both sides to cease all hostilities immediately and to return to negotiations under the auspices of the African Union.
The Arab spring underlines the importance of a breakthrough on the middle east peace process. This long-standing conflict needs to be resolved, through negotiations, to give the Palestinian people the state that they need and deserve and the Israeli people long-term security and peace. The status quo is not sustainable, nor will these populations be immune from the effects of change and instability elsewhere. We strongly support President Obama’s recent statement that negotiations should be on the basis of 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps and proper security arrangements, and along with France and Germany we are pressing the parties to return to the table.
The new Palestinian Authority should be composed of independent figures on the basis that President Abbas set out on 4 May. As was the case with the outgoing authority, it should uphold the principle of non-violence, be committed to a negotiated two-state solution, and accept previous agreements of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Hamas will remain a proscribed terrorist organisation unless and until it abandons violence and commits to a two-state solution, and we call again for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit. The UK will judge a future Palestinian Government by their actions and their readiness to work for peace. We are also concerned by this weekend’s violence in the Golan heights, resulting in many deaths, and we continue to urge restraint and call for the avoidance of the lethal use of force.
There must also be no let-up in our efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation in the middle east. Iran is combining brutal suppression of Opposition leaders at home with the provision of equipment and technical advice to help the Syrian regime to crush protests in Syria. This is unacceptable, and compounds our concern about Iran’s behaviour and its intentions over its nuclear programme. We support peaceful pressure on Iran to persuade it to negotiate, backed by the offer by the UK, the US,
Russia, China, France and Germany to reach an agreement through talks. That is why the UK has recently helped to extend Iran sanctions in the EU, with over 100 new designations, while keeping the door open to further negotiations. Until Iran negotiates seriously, international pressure against it will only increase.
In all these countries, Britain’s approach in the coming months will be consistent and determined. We will support greater economic and political freedom while anticipating and addressing threats to our own security, and we will work with our allies to protect our nation’s interests while standing up for the highest values of our society.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it.
Let me begin my remarks with Libya. The mission to enforce Security Council resolution 1973 continues to have the support of the Opposition, but, as has been the case from the start, we will continue carefully to scrutinise the Government’s policy towards Libya. The brave and professional work of our armed forces in Libya has already helped to avert a slaughter in Benghazi and continues to provide vital support to the Libyan people, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that they continue to have the support of every Member of this House.
It has been clear from the outset that this conflict was always going to be easier to start than to finish. I therefore note all that the Foreign Secretary has said about post-conflict planning and, in particular, the work of the transitional national council, which is now producing a road map towards a more democratic future post-Gaddafi. Could he give the House a sense of the time scale by which further documentation might be available and what assessment he has made of the TNC’s capability to meet the challenges set out in this plan? Can I take it from his words this afternoon that in addition to our significant military commitments, the United Kingdom, in the form of the international stabilisation response team, is now also in the lead in developing the international community’s post-conflict planning?
On the Apaches, I think it is a matter of record that the French Defence Minister, Gérard Longuet, announced the British deployment before it was confirmed to this House. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is a matter of regret when French Ministers seem better informed about the deployment of British military personnel than the British Parliament?
I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said about the increased pressure on the regime, but given the continuing limited capacity of the opposition forces to make broader strategic gains within Libya, by what means does he think the pressure can and will be increased in the weeks ahead?
Let me turn to events in Syria. I associate myself with the Foreign Secretary’s condemnation of the actions of the Assad regime thus far, and with what President Obama said recently:
“The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests; release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests; allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition.”
Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on the regime’s efforts to shut down internet and mobile networks in parts of Syria? What work, if any, is under way in the United Kingdom to support people in countries such as Syria, whose freedom of expression is being restricted in that way?
Given the welcome work that is under way at the United Nations, will the Foreign Secretary provide the House with an assessment of the prospects for securing support among the P5 members for a resolution on Syria? What impact does he judge the action in Libya has had on those prospects? Will he tell the House whether consideration is being given to referring Syria’s leaders to the International Criminal Court? Does he agree that the European Union can further strengthen such pressure? The EU can and should be looking at further sanctions on the regime, irrespective of what is or is not agreed at the Security Council. What discussions have the Government held with the Arab League on Syria, given its regrettable silence to date on that issue?
The situation in Bahrain continues to be deeply concerning. I reiterate our belief that the legitimate demands of protesters should be met with reform and not repression. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore give the House more details on the points that he and the Prime Minister made to the Crown Prince of Bahrain at the end of his recent visit to London? Did they raise the issue of military courts continuing to dispense summary justice? Did they raise the cases of the hundreds of protesters who have been jailed and the 90 or so who have been killed or simply disappeared? If they did raise those questions, what answers did they receive? What answers did they receive on the sharpening polarisation between communities within Bahrain?
In that context, what discussions have taken place between the Government and the governing body of Formula 1, the FIA, about its recent decision to reinstate the Bahrain grand prix in October? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that now is not the time to decide on that event, especially given the need for restraint, reform and reconciliation to be the focus in Bahrain in the months ahead?
When I visited Tunisia recently, a number of senior figures in the transitional Government and the fledgling political parties felt that the European Union had not come up with an assistance package to match the scale of the task on which they have embarked. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore update the House on what steps Britain is taking to ensure that more comprehensive offers than those that have been outlined are made to Tunisia and Egypt to help them on the path to democracy and to assist in their economic development?
I concur with the Foreign Secretary’s concern that September is too early to ensure that all political parties in Egypt have sufficient time to organise their activities and contest the elections. Following the work of my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for International Development to highlight this issue, how confident is the Foreign Secretary that the place of women in Egyptian society will be advanced and not set back by the constitutional settlement that is under construction?
Given our vital interest in the emergence of broader based democratic, prosperous countries across the middle east, how does the Foreign Secretary respond to the report by the Institute of International Finance, which predicts that Egypt’s economy will contract by 2.5%? Inflation is now above 12% and unemployment is up this year. According to Reuters, the country’s foreign exchange reserves fell by as much as a third in the first three months of the year. Newspaper estimates suggest that $30 billion have left Egypt since the start of the revolution. Given that the Deauville partnership of which he spoke applies not to one country but to the whole region, and given the scale of the capital flight, does he really feel that the World Bank’s package of $1 billion in each of the next two years and the International Monetary Fund’s loan of $3 billion are adequate? Can he really assure the House that he is confident that the international community’s response is appropriate to the opportunity and the risk of the present moment in the middle east?
There have been significant developments in relation to Israel and Palestine over the last few weeks, to which the Foreign Secretary alluded. I welcome the US President’s decision to reaffirm his country’s long-standing support for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders and mutually agreed land swaps. Last week’s clashes on the Israel border and the Golan heights, in which a number of protestors were killed or injured, were deeply concerning. Israel of course has a right to protect its borders, but can the Foreign Secretary tell the House what the Foreign Office is doing to ensure that Governments on both sides of those borders do everything they can to avoid provocations and escalations that make it harder to find peace? After the President’s speech in the United States and his speech to parliamentarians here in Westminster Hall, can the Foreign Secretary update us on any further discussions that he has had with Secretary of State Clinton on how, in practical terms, the United States and the UK will push for progress on the issue in the coming months? In addition—
Order. I think the shadow Secretary of State is approaching his last sentence.
I am indeed.
In addition, given the widespread discussion that the Palestinians plan to argue for statehood at the United Nations later this year, can the Foreign Secretary give his assessment of, first, where European Union allies are on that issue and, secondly, when the UK Government intend to come to a final view on the matter?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that wide range of questions. There are many subjects within the topic of the middle east and north Africa. I am grateful to him, of course, for joining me in paying tribute to the work of our armed forces, diplomats and aid workers, and for reaffirming what we said together in the House on 21 March—that we needed to avert slaughter in Benghazi. The action that we took did so, and that has been the foundation of the unity of this House on the conflict in Libya. We continue to be grateful for that.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the time scale for the national transitional council producing more detail. I hope that it will do so at the contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi this week, and that it will take every further opportunity to publicise a more detailed programme for the process of transition in Libya. What it has already produced is absolutely sound, and we can support it, but it needs the added credibility of detail to be ready for Gaddafi’s departure.
The right hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that the work done by the stabilisation response team, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and I visited in Benghazi on Saturday, means that Britain is in the lead in post-conflict planning. We met Italian and Turkish experts who are also working with the team there, but we are certainly playing a leading role.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the reference by a French Minister to the deployment of our helicopters. As my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary would tell him, the decision had not been taken in the United Kingdom at that time, although it was clearly assumed in other capitals. That has been known to happen before on other subjects, and I have no doubt it will happen again.
The increasing pressure on the regime comes in all the ways that I set out in my statement. It is military, economic and diplomatic, and it is having its effect. There is no doubt that the regime has lost the initiative both in the military campaign and on the political scene in Libya in recent weeks, as a result of what we have been doing.
As for the right hon. Gentleman’s questions about Syria and internet use, this has been another unacceptable aspect of the Syrian Government’s behaviour in closing down freedom of expression however they can. We will always do what we can to protect people’s freedom of expression, but of course we are not universally able to do so in every county of the world. In the P5 on the Security Council, Russia and China have strong reservations about a UN Security Council resolution on Syria. Russia in particular has expressed those reservations and some hostility to a resolution. We continue to work on the matter at the Security Council.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about a possible reference to the International Criminal Court, but he will be aware that in the case of a country that is not a party to the ICC, as with Syria, such a reference would require a UN Security Council resolution. As we are not able at the moment to pass a resolution on the terms that I described, we are clearly also unable to pass a resolution on a reference to the ICC. The European Union is considering additional sanctions, as he called for, and I discussed the position with the Arab League when I was in Cairo a few weeks ago. However, Arab nations have more divided loyalties than they had in the case of Libya, so there is not the same degree of Arab League unity. We have to face up to that fact.
The Prime Minister and I raised with the Crown Prince of Bahrain all the subjects that the shadow Foreign Secretary asked about. For his part, the Crown Prince is very keen for a national dialogue to be resumed and to mobilise moderate voices in Bahrain on both sides of what is, unfortunately, a very sharp sectarian divide. Formula 1 must take responsibility for its decisions, but if such an event is to take place, it should be a focus for improvements in Bahrain, and provide an incentive for all in that country to work together on a national dialogue. However, Formula 1 must make its own decisions.
The shadow Foreign Secretary asked about several vital matters on Egypt and was quite right to draw attention to the very serious economic situation. In fact, the main conclusion that I drew from visiting Egypt a few weeks ago is that the economic challenge is, if anything, even bigger than the political challenge. Although the measures announced at the G8 and by the EU might have to be revised and expanded over time, they are an ambitious start. It is important that EU nation states follow up with real determination what the Commission has said. The risk of the policy that the EU has announced not being followed through is that nation states will say, “Well, market access for products from north Africa is not so easy,” and will not follow through on the commitments. We must be a strong voice for following that up, for implementing the support for civil society, human rights and the diversity of politics in those countries, and for helping the creation of liberal and secular parties. Part and parcel of that is the great importance of the strong participation of women in society and politics in Egypt and other north African countries, to which the shadow Foreign Secretary drew attention.
On the middle east peace process, of course we are active in urging all sides to avoid provocations. We are in constant touch with France, Germany and the US in encouraging both sides back into negotiations on the back of President Obama’s speech. In my view, the strength of our case would be added to by a statement by the Quartet to follow the US statement. We have asked the US in addition to support that.
Order. A great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking catch my eye, but I just remind the House that Members who entered the Chamber after the Foreign Secretary began his statement should not expect to be called.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and congratulate him on his visit to Benghazi with the International Development Secretary, which was right and timely.
There is a gap between the humanitarian nature of resolution 1973 and the stated aim of removing Gaddafi. Russia’s shift of position means that a further UN resolution on Libya is conceivable. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that such a further resolution is necessary?
The resolution on Libya is now nearly three months old, and circumstances have developed since then. My hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that it has been hard to adapt the resolution because of a lack of agreement on the Security Council to do so. We will continue to search for agreement on, for instance, adapting the sanctions regime, which of course requires unanimity in the sanctions committee, which is a bigger hurdle than a resolution in the Security Council itself. Russia’s position at the G8 holds out some hope that such agreements may be forthcoming, but I cannot yet say to my hon. Friend that the Russian Federation’s change of position at the G8 has been followed by a wider change of position at the Security Council and elsewhere.
May I first express my appreciation to the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, and to their officials and our armed forces, for the work that is being carried out, above all in Libya but across the middle east? May I ask the Foreign Secretary specifically about Israel? He said in his statement that the “status quo is not sustainable”—I think the whole House will agree with that—but does he not acknowledge that the one person who believes that the status quo is indeed sustainable is Prime Minister Netanyahu? It is perfectly obvious from the rebarbative, obdurate speech that he made in Washington straight after President Obama’s statement that he has no intention whatever of making any constructive moves towards a settlement. That is clearly accepted in the States, as I recognised when I was there over the past two weeks.
In that context, is it not time for the British Government to abandon the approach of successive Governments, which is to deal with Israel with kid gloves? Should we not make it clear to Israel that we will make decisions in the interests of the Israeli people, of which the Israeli Government now seem incapable, as well as the wider Arab world?
Prime Minister Netanyahu is the elected Prime Minister of Israel, and we must always bear that in mind, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should make a strong case, as we do, for an agreement based on the 1967 borders. Our Prime Minister met Mr Netanyahu a few weeks ago and made that case very strongly, as I have done to him and to the Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman. We will continue to make that case based on diplomatic persuasion, but we will also vote in accordance with our convictions. In February, we voted in the Security Council for the Palestinian resolution on settlements. That was a clear indication of the view in this country and in this House on those matters and on the importance of taking forward the peace process. I would express this a bit more diplomatically than the right hon. Gentleman did, but it is incumbent on me to do so, as it is no longer incumbent on him.
In spite of my right hon. Friend’s understandably restrained language in relation to Bahrain, does he understand that many of us in the House and outside it think that the decision to reinstate the grand prix is simply shameful, and that it does the sport of motor racing no favours whatever? If the dialogue that is to begin in July is to be given a good start, could that not involve the cancellation of the race and, equally importantly, the release of those doctors and nurses who have apparently been arrested for having the temerity to tend the wounded?
It is very important that due process should be followed. One of the most alarming things is the use of military courts in such cases. That was one of the issues that we took up with the Crown Prince, and on which we are looking for further assurances from the Bahraini Government. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is right to say that the sport of Formula 1 has not done itself any good by that announcement. The important thing is to encourage all sides to get back into a real dialogue. There is no way for Bahrain to proceed into the future without a successful dialogue between the two communities; there is no other way of resolving the situation in Bahrain. We must continue to be on the side of that dialogue while always taking up our very strong human rights concerns, as we have done with the Crown Prince and as I have done in my telephone calls with the Foreign Minister. We will continue to do that.
On post-conflict planning for Libya, the Foreign Secretary is reported to have said at the weekend that although such planning is vital, it is as yet in an “embryonic” state. I do not know whether that is true, but it is what I read in the press. Surely there is now an urgency to post-conflict planning. The Gaddafi regime could go on for some time yet but, equally, it could be on the point of collapse. What is the hold-up? What urgency can the Foreign Secretary bring to post-conflict planning for Libya, and what can he tell the House about the problems and plans involved?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out the urgency of this situation. This is why we are taking the actions that we are. The main case that I made to the national transitional council in Benghazi was that it must step up its own planning for the day that Gaddafi departs. In Libya, it will have prime responsibility for proceeding into the future in a stable, democratic way. We are, however, at the forefront of the work being done. There is real urgency involved, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has sent the stabilisation response team to Benghazi. It is undertaking its assessment there now and will return within the next week or so to write its report. All its work has been accelerated—[ Interruption. ] Well, it has to be a good report, as well as being done quickly. There is a balance to be struck between those two things. The United Kingdom has taken a strong lead in this, and we have shown the greatest sense of urgency of all the Governments that are engaged in the issue.
The Foreign Secretary is clearly right to give priority to the need to get rid of Gaddafi in short order, and then to bring what help we can to the transitional government, but does he agree that the linchpin of the whole of the middle east is Egypt, and the encouragement of the values of human dignity, freedom and opportunity there? Will he quantify what further assistance the British Government are giving to the Egyptian people to help them in their democratic process?
Clearly, Egypt, with its geographic position, its vast population and its history, is at the centre of so much; my hon. Friend is quite right about its central importance. As I said earlier, the economic side of our work with Egypt is of prime importance. To quantify it further, Egypt will or can benefit from the £110 million Arab partnership fund, to which I referred earlier; from the entire EU southern neighbourhood policy, with €750 million of additional funding; and, indeed, from the $20 billion of various forms of financing set out at the G8 summit in Deauville. That is the quantification of the available assistance, most of which, given the distribution of the economies in north Africa, is available to Egypt. It is also necessary for Egypt to undertake its own economic reforms to give confidence to investors and the private sector so that the country can succeed; it cannot all be done by the international community. The Egyptians must have the right environment for economic success set out by their own Government as well.
Why did the Foreign Secretary use the term “allegations” of torture about what The Timesreported as
“47 health professionals… on trial, accused of seeking to overthrow the Gulf state’s monarchy”
in a closed court. It continued:
“The doctors and nurses did this, in reality, only by treating the sick. Only the most paranoid of regimes could see treason in the Hippocratic oath.”
Instead of rolling out the red carpet at Downing street, is it not time that the Foreign Secretary got a little bit more robust with this torturing regime?
It is often necessary to use the word “allegation” and I have used it in respect of certain cases in Syria, which are as disturbing as some of the cases the right hon. Gentleman mentions in Bahrain. He has been a journalist in his time, so he will know that, based on what we read in newspapers, we sometimes have to refer to “allegations” rather than “established facts”. Of course, these things are a huge cause for concern. It is important, however, to maintain our own contact with, and pressure on, those in Bahrain who are looking for a successful dialogue. One of those is the Crown Prince of Bahrain. It is important to maintain contact both with him and with those on the Shia side in Bahrain. Simply not to talk to anybody in Bahrain because terrible things have happened would not be the correctly constructive position of this country.
Will the Foreign Secretary say a bit more about post-war planning? As we saw in Iraq, getting rid of a bloody tyrant in the middle east is a lot easier than ensuring stability afterwards. Let me press him more particularly on these talks with Italian experts. What exactly does that mean? Benghazi and Tripoli were divided for centuries before the Italians imposed unity. What evidence is there that Tripoli will co-operate with the national transitional council after the fall of Gaddafi, if he does fall?
Of course these are valid questions from my hon. Friend. We do not know what the exact circumstances will be whenever it is that Colonel Gaddafi departs the scene. We do know that the national transitional council is preparing for that and we have advised it to prepare more intensively. Already included in the national transitional council are members representing the Tripoli area—in fact, I met those members on Saturday—so it already has representation from all parts of Libya. Its stated goal is to include current members of the current regime—what one might call the more technocratic members of it—in an interim Government. The plans are there; they need fleshing out in more detail, but they are more grounded in sensible reality than was the case immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
The Secretary of State has highlighted the pending independence of South Sudan on 9 July, which no doubt we all welcome. Will he confirm that this was accepted by the United Kingdom Government after the international norm of a single independence referendum?
There was a single referendum, but there was also a 99% vote in favour.
I welcome the statement. I have just returned from a visit to Cairo. Whoever one speaks to there—the Muslim Brotherhood, the military or, indeed, the youths in Tahrir square—no one can predict where Egypt will be in 12 months’ time, but what is certain is the wish for a delay in the elections, which my right hon. Friend mentioned. What encouragement is Egypt being given to allow the newly formed parties time to establish their democratic base, rather than allowing the old institutions to keep their momentum going?
The case advanced by my hon. Friend is mounting all the time, as is apparent to many in Egypt and outside. We must respect the sovereignty of the Egyptians—it is their decision—but we will certainly be making the case, as the United Kingdom, that they would be wise to delay the parliamentary elections. In fact, there would be merit in their holding a presidential election before the parliamentary elections, which I believe would allow the most orderly transition to a democratic system. We will make that case, while respecting the fact that the Egyptians must make their own decisions in Cairo.
Does the Foreign Secretary really believe that his remarks about the killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israel—it was Israel, by the way, which was not mentioned by him—were sufficient, and that remarks that he made urging restraint were enough? Would it not be far better to condemn absolutely what happened over the weekend? I thoroughly agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Straw that it is time that the British Government made it clear to Israel that certain actions, such as what happened over the weekend, are totally unacceptable.
Obviously we condemn anything that leads to unnecessary deaths, and I have made a strong appeal for avoidance of the use of lethal force. Israel’s response is certainly one that should be criticised, but Israel is not the only country that may be criticised in this regard. The area on the other side of the Golan heights boundary is under the direct control of the Syrian Government, and the access that people have gained there leads one to speculate about the motives of the Syrian Government in this matter. So the responsibility may not be all on one side, and trying to cross the borders is not the way to resolve the problems of the middle east.
I think we are all absolutely clear about the fact that the use of lethal force should be avoided whenever possible.
Order. There is intense interest, which is reflected in the number of Members who are seeking to catch my eye. I want to accommodate colleagues because these are very important matters, but there is now a premium on economy, a legendary example of which I know will now be provided by Mr Mark Pritchard.
Thank you for your generosity, Mr Speaker. No pressure!
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the recent violence on the Israeli-Syrian border may well be a cynical strategy on the part of the Syrian regime to try
to distract the eyes of the international community from the regime’s own brutality against, and murder of, its own people within its own borders?
My answer to my hon. Friend is in line with my answer to Mr Winnick. The area on the other side of the boundary fence is under the control of the Syrian Government, and people are able to draw their own conclusions from that.
Can the Foreign Secretary credibly continue to say that Britain is not militarily involved in a war for regime change in Libya? While there are enormous concerns about violations of human rights by the Gaddafi regime and its forces, there are also reports of human rights violations by the forces opposing Gaddafi. Did the Foreign Secretary raise those with the transitional council during his visit? Is he at all concerned about the role that Saudi Arabia is playing across the region, and about its own human rights abuses? He did not mention Saudi Arabia once in his statement.
Let me answer some of those questions. We did raise with the members of the national transitional council the need to uphold the very highest standards in their own behaviour and treatment of prisoners, for instance. The report to which the hon. Gentleman referred said that the council was upholding the Geneva conventions, unlike the Gaddafi regime.
Can we still credibly argue—to put the hon. Gentleman’s question another way—that military action is within the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolutions? Yes, we can. If we were not taking the action we are taking, there is no doubt that the regime forces would move back into the harassment, threatening and killing of the civilian population of Libya.
Given that the Foreign Secretary has so eloquently pointed out that Libya is just one, and perhaps not the most important, part of the events happening in the middle east at present, will he please reassure the House that nothing we do in Libya alienates the support of the Arab world or the UN Security Council, on whom we depend, for solving the much bigger issues of a dozen countries over the next 20 years?
That question is about the importance of maintaining the international coalition and staying within the terms of the UN Security Council resolutions. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are Arab nations involved in this military action as well, and many more are giving it logistic and financial support, or support in the form of overflight rights. We also expect more Arab nations than before to attend the contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi, so we are enlarging the coalition of support on Libya, including with many nations of the middle east. We are also communicating with the people of the middle east in every possible way, such as through satellite television channels, to explain what we are doing. Certainly if our visit to Benghazi was anything to go by, there is very strong support for what we are doing among ordinary people, representatives of civil society and the press.
In the light of the report in yesterday’s The New Yorker that Barack Obama used his recent visit to canvass western European Governments to vote against the recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, will the right hon. Gentleman affirm that this Government will vote in favour of the recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations General Assembly in September, since no decision could be more calculated to force the Israelis to come to their senses?
We have taken no decision about that, and it would be premature to do so. This situation may arise in September. At the European Foreign Affairs Council, my advice to all my colleagues of the other 26 European nations was that we should withhold our statements on that issue. The fact that we have done so, and that we will judge events over the coming months, may be one factor that encourages all parties to behave responsibly over those few months.
Across the middle east and north Africa, appalling stories are emerging of the torture and abuse of civilians during this unrest. Last week, an Egyptian general admitted that women protestors had been subjected to forced virginity tests, and in Misrata two Libyan soldiers told the BBC how they had been ordered to take part in the gang rape of young women. What can the UK and the international community do to ensure that the perpetrators of these abuses are brought to justice, and, in line with UN Security Council resolution 1325, how will women be properly engaged in the post-conflict reconstruction?
We can do many things, which we are doing. They include the following: in the case of the situation in Libya, reference to the International Criminal Court; in the case of many other countries, encouraging their Governments and domestic legal systems to take these problems seriously, and to bring about reconciliation through facing up to what has happened over recent months; and in the cases of regimes that are not listening to that, we are of course trying to intensify the pressure in other ways, as I have described. Our entire programme of encouraging civil society, human rights and the development of political parties is also in line with the strong participation of women in these societies.
How can there be a comprehensive, inclusive national dialogue in Bahrain when secular Opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif is on trial, and moderate Wafaq MPs Matar Ibrahim Matar and Jawad Fairoz have been arrested and detained? Is it not time that they were released, so that they can take part in such a dialogue?
Certainly I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a successful dialogue will have to be with senior representatives of the Opposition and in different circumstances, but that should not stop us trying to encourage that dialogue. The alternative policy to the one we are pursuing is to condemn all concerned and say there is no hope for dialogue. We have to encourage those on both sides of the divide in Bahrain who believe in dialogue to undertake it. Clearly, however, they are not starting from an advantageous position given all the things that have happened in recent months, including the things to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
The good work of our armed forces, the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Libya depends on the support of the United States. Does the Foreign Secretary have any comment to make on moves in the US Congress to review President Obama’s decision on his commitment to our efforts in Libya?
This has been a long-running constitutional issue in the United States of America between various Presidents and Congress, and I probably have enough on without wading into American constitutional theory. We are assured by the US Administration that—[Interruption.] No, I really am not going to wade into that. We are assured by the US Administration that they are entirely satisfied with the powers they have to undertake the operations that they are undertaking and that those operations will continue.
In a year’s time, the barbarous regimes in Bahrain and Syria will probably expect to send teams to the Olympics here in London, along with a load of officials, who will doubtless stay in some very polite London hotels. Will that really be right if the atrocities continue?
It really is premature to consider that. I am not a regular fan of boycotts of the Olympic games, which are brought up every time there is an Olympic games for one reason or another. We should be very reluctant to advocate the boycotting—
Mrs Thatcher supported the boycott in 1980.
Well maybe we should learn from what happened 30 years ago. We should be reluctant about advocating boycotts, but the question is premature in any case.
The reported reopening of the border between Gaza and Egypt runs the risk of refuelling Hamas and Islamic Jihad. What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to make sure that the Egyptian Government stop assisting Hamas and Islamic Jihad, so that pressure can be brought on all sides to return to the negotiating table?
Clearly, we do not want the Egyptian Government to do anything that will increase the risk of violence in Gaza or emanating from Gaza, but I must say that I do not think that the reopening of crossings necessarily leads to that. The closure of borders in Gaza has tended to strengthen Hamas, creating a corrupt economy on which it has been able to thrive and increasing the sense of grievance on which it is based. So I do not think that Egypt’s announcement, in itself, represents a strengthening of Hamas, but of course we must be on the alert for anything that would lead to more weapons going into Gaza and to an increased risk of violence.
Motor racing is a sport and an industry where Britain leads the world; the majority of Formula 1 teams are based here. Does that not give us a special responsibility to make it much clearer to the FIA that its decision to reinstate the Bahrain grand prix is wrong ethically and on safety grounds, that its decision is bad for the long-term reputation of Formula 1 and that it is absolutely clear that there is widespread opposition to the decision among teams and among Formula 1 drivers? We should be clearer in asking the FIA to think again.
Clearly there is widespread opposition of the kind that the hon. Gentleman describes, and the FIA must take that into account as it considers the decision it has made. It must make its own decisions—we should be clear about that—but the widespread opposition that he refers to is clear.
In his statement my right hon. Friend rightly said that the national transitional council represents the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people. So does he believe that the $53 billion-worth of frozen Libyan assets, including the $182 million-worth allegedly held by the Royal Bank of Scotland, will be released to the NTC for it to dispose of as it wishes?
It is not possible to release those assets under the current UN resolutions—of course we have looked at this matter, but all the advice that we have been given is that it is not possible to do that. Other countries have received the same advice and, certainly, all other European countries are in the same position. It is very important that we stay within the UN resolutions and retain the moral authority of operating within international law, even though that is inconvenient in some respects and requires us to do some things differently from how we might wish. So that is a higher priority than finding a way around the UN resolutions. If it is possible to change them at any stage, we would be ready to do so.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that events in Syria have the potential to be even more destabilising than events in Libya given the cynical attempt to stir up problems on the border with Israel? Will he therefore outline to us the additional sanctions on Syria that he is considering with the EU partners mentioned in the statement?
The sanctions so far cover President Assad and 22 other individuals in terms of asset freezes and travel bans. Additional sanctions would involve the designation of further individuals involved in repression and violence in Syria and of commercial organisations, so the sanctions on Syria would be wider spread. I do not want to pretend to the hon. Gentleman that such sanctions will change the entire situation in Syria. They are a demonstration of our strong view rather than something that will transform the situation there. We must recognise our limited leverage in Syria, but we are exercising the leverage that we have.
On the post-conflict phase, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that if the UK were to give long-term assistance to Libyan police and security forces, that assistance would be paid for by the Department for International Development and not the Ministry of Defence?
Yes. Such support predominantly comes from the Department for International Development or out of the reserve. The costs of the operations in Libya are being met from the reserve, as the Chancellor has said, so they are not an additional burden on the Ministry of Defence.
What conditions, if any, have been placed on the Arab partnership fund to ensure women’s equal political participation—and dare I say it?—representation in north Africa’s emerging democracies?
This is one of the objectives of the fund and £40 million of it is there to encourage political reform. That is very much one of the objectives. As I have said several times before, the encouragement of civil society, human rights groups, NGOs, and training for liberal and secular political parties is designed to ensure, among other things, that women have a strong role in the politics and society of these countries. We will strongly champion that.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Israel has the right to defend its own borders, given that the consequences of not doing so would be enormous? Does he agree that Iran is likely to have had influence on recent events over the weekend and has he made an assessment of Iranian influence in Syria?
Israel does have the right to defend its borders but it must do so in a sensible and proportionate way; I think we should stress that. I have no direct evidence of Iranian involvement in the events around the borders of Israel but I have seen a good deal of evidence of Iranian involvement in Syria in attempting to crush dissent, including in the provision of riot control equipment and of expertise in how to flood particular towns and cities with security forces for the purposes of repression. Iran has a strong role in trying to quell the views of the people of Syria and we should condemn it for doing so.
Although I acknowledge the scope and energy of the Foreign Secretary’s personal engagement on these issues, he must accept that there is some concern that he chooses to use language that is so elliptical in relation to some clear-cut events in comparison with others. On the Syrian resolution that the Government are seeking, does any of the resistance voiced include any reference to the possibility that the existing resolution on Libya is being exceeded? If so, how does he refute that?
I do not think that that is a major factor in this. As has been pointed out by hon. Members earlier, Russia, which was not an enthusiast for the Security Council resolution on Libya, has conceded at the G8 that Gaddafi has lost legitimacy and must go. When it comes to the resolution on Syria there are other factors at work. Syria has stronger relationships with various countries around the Arab world and with Russia than Libya has had in recent years. There are more powerful factors at work in making countries reluctant to condemn the Syrian Government, but if these events continue as they are, it must be acknowledged across capitals all over the world that the Syrian Government’s behaviour is unacceptable and we will make a renewed push at the United Nations on that basis.
The Foreign Secretary will know that the United States previously appointed Jerry Bremer as the Governor and administrator in Iraq to oversee the transition to democracy. Will the United Kingdom appoint someone to a similar position to oversee the transition to democracy in the post-Gaddafi regime?
I doubt it because we are not intending to be an occupying power in Libya, where I hope that the situation when Gaddafi goes will be radically different from the situation in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It will not be a situation in which armies have come from outside to remove the system and to try to construct something completely new; it will be about the success of people inside Libya who have fought for their freedom and are able to build a structure in accordance with their own culture and society. I am not anticipating there being anyone from Britain to oversee that.
Would not a fair summary of the Foreign Secretary’s statement be that it suggests the halcyon days of the Arab spring are fast moving towards a harsh winter and that all that will remain is a big bill for the British people to pay?
No; whatever happens with the Arab spring, we should welcome people’s aspirations for freedom and democracy anywhere in the world, including in the Arab world. It is bound to cause many crises and difficulties along the way, but if we did not handle these things in a sensible way, the cost to this country in terms of uncontrolled migration into Europe and new breeding grounds for terrorism would be enormous. I think that the hon. Gentleman’s view is a very blinkered one.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that given all that is going on in the middle east, it is more vital than ever that the international community should take any means necessary to prevent Iran from getting a viable nuclear weapon?
The way I would put it is that it is important to intensify the peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran to turn it away from its nuclear programme. As I set out in my statement, we have secured in the past two weeks the designation of more than 100 additional entities in Iran that are in various ways engaged or associated with the nuclear programme. We are looking to other countries to intensify the pressure and we discussed this a great deal with President Obama and Secretary Clinton on their visit here a couple of weeks ago. We will continue to intensify that policy. This is of prime concern to the security of the region and the world.
Given what the Foreign Secretary rightly says about the importance of consistency, I am astonished that he thinks it could be remotely acceptable for the grand prix to go ahead in
Bahrain. What evidence does he have that the representations that he and the Prime Minister are making constantly, as he tells us, to the Bahraini Government are having any effect at all?
We will see over time the effect that we have in Bahrain. It is important to have channels of communication to the ruling family and the ruling group as well as to the opposition forces in Bahrain, and Britain is one of the few countries that has both those channels, which our embassy in Manama has built up over the years. We should use those channels constructively because there is no solution in Bahrain other than one based on a successful dialogue between both sides. We have to continue to encourage that.
The Foreign Secretary has consistently condemned the use of live fire against unarmed protesters by murderous regimes such as Assad’s and Gaddafi’s, so why does he find it difficult today to condemn exactly the same thing by the Israeli regime? What protest is he making to the ambassador and to the Government of Israel and what sanctions will he consider if there is a repetition of these events, which go on week by week on all of Israel’s illegal borders?
I have pointed out that the responsibility for the situation on the borders is not entirely on the Israeli side. I have made very clear our opposition to the use of lethal force and that the defence of borders and boundaries should be proportionate. Hon. Members should make no mistake about that. That is the message that we convey to the Israeli authorities. We should not be so short-sighted as to believe that in the case of Syria no one else is involved in trying to create those incidents and putting people in a position in which they are caught up in violent incidents.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his comprehensive statement. Will he be specific about the number of British nationals who have fled Yemen since the statement in March? Will he give us his estimate of the number of British nationals who remain in Yemen and, finally, why are there 80 British marines off the coast of Yemen and what do they intend to do? In the statement, he said that it was “extremely unlikely that the British Government will be able to evacuate any British nationals” left in Yemen.
There is a good deal of evidence that many British nationals have left Yemen in recent months in response to our advice, although it is not always easy to track them all individually. Most British nationals who remain appear to be dual nationals, so they may not intend to leave under any circumstances—they are Yemeni as well as British. The number of people holding only British nationality is certainly down to a few hundred as far as we can see—fewer than 300 would be a fair estimate. There are British military assets in the region, but I am not going into the operational tasking of those assets. I restate that, whatever the assets we may have in the region, conducting a safe evacuation from a place where it would be difficult for people even to get to the airport if greater violence breaks out is not something on which people can rely.
The Foreign Secretary suggested that one reason why we heard so little from the Arab League in recent weeks was the level of disagreement. Will he update the House on where agreement may be reached, as the support of the Arab League will be extremely important and vital to all of us?
On Libya, the Arab League has been very clear and is very supportive of what we have done under the Security Council resolutions. I trust that it will be represented on the contact group in Abu Dhabi. This week, it is on Syria that Arab councils would be more divided, because the connections between some of their Governments and the Syrian authorities are much closer than they were in the case of Colonel Gaddafi. There is no doubt that Arab nations individually are, in many cases, playing a role in encouraging President Assad down a path of reform, although it may be too late for that. However, they are playing their role in doing so as individual nationals, rather than through the Arab League.
With respect to the planned national dialogue in Bahrain, what representations will the Secretary of State make to the Bahraini authorities to ensure that that dialogue not only addresses the main sectarian tensions and political reform but wider issues of civil and religious liberty for other minority groupings in Bahrain?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. For it to be a successful national dialogue, it will have to embrace all those concerns. In our next meetings with those authorities, I will certainly make the point that she has made in the House.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary and colleagues for their co-operation.