House of Commons

House of Commons – Backbench Business — Middle East, 23 November 2015


Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham
Very much so. When one travels throughout the middle east, time and again people highlight the fact that they see us as an impartial and honourable interlocutor and as people who can facilitate dialogue to try to dissipate some of the tension the region.

We recently saw the extraordinary strength of British diplomacy, particularly over the nuclear agreement with Iran. If we cast our minds back to the extraordinary tensions with that country—by the way, during our visit we spent time at the British embassy, which had previously been trashed by students—we can see the great accomplishment of that painstaking British diplomacy. I pay tribute to our Foreign Secretary for playing a substantial role in the agreement. It shows what British diplomacy can achieve. I therefore do not believe that it is naive or unrealistic to expect that the United Kingdom could and ought to be trying to secure better dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It is, however, essential that the Government are probed on strategy and planning in the run-up to a potential bombing of Syria. I spent quite a lot of time on that delegation to the middle east with my hon. Friend Mr Baron. He wrote an article in The Mail on Sunday yesterday outlining the case against bombing in Syria, and he is the only one among the entire Conservative parliamentary party who voted against the bombing campaign in Libya. That was an extremely courageous thing to do—to ignore the rest of the Conservative parliamentary party and go into the opposite Lobby. I pay tribute to him—he is a former soldier—for the tremendous courage that he displayed at that time.

I recall from those deliberations how the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and the Government all rushed to support the bombing of Gaddafi. It was a highly emotional time for us. He promised to instigate a bloodbath in Benghazi and, as has been said, we wanted to do something so we sanctioned the bombing of his military capability. Getting rid of a dictator is easy. What is more challenging is the planning that has to take place in order to ensure that the country is then administered properly, and that those important seeds of a democratic society are allowed to germinate before we pass on responsibility to local politicians.


Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
My hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful speech. I thank him again for securing the debate and heed his words on having more opportunities to speak about the middle east and north Africa. He touches on the Iranian elections in February. Does he agree that that will be the first indication, after the signing of the nuclear deal, of Iran’s direction of travel and whether it will engage with the region and take more responsibility, particularly with its proxy influence on neighbouring countries?


Graham Evans Conservative, Weaver Vale 9:35 pm, 30th November 2015
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend David Rutley, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Lee on securing this important and timely debate.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the change in America’s foreign policy was rapid. The first page of the Bush Administration’s 2002 national security strategy said:

“America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.”

Weak and failing states have arguably become the single biggest global threat to international order, and a disproportionate number are located in and around the middle east. In the wake of the horrific attacks on Paris—Friday 13 November will be a date that lives in infamy for the French people—and the destruction of the Russian passenger airliner in Egypt, Islamic State now universally threatens former cold war enemies, Russia and NATO countries alike.

It might sound surprising now, but before the Arab spring uprising in 2011, neither Syria nor Yemen were areas of concern on the Fund for Peace’s fragile state index. That illustrates both how rapidly states can deteriorate and the extent to which brutal insurgency can embed itself in the power vacuum that remains when states such as Syria fail, as we have seen with the rise of ISIL. Terror groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda thrive in areas where weak or failed states lack either the will or the ability to confront and defeat them.

The Government have rightly chosen to focus more work on helping fragile and failing states, tackling instability and helping people affected by conflict. That is not just the right thing to do for those people in their countries, but is a way of keeping our country safe, secure and prosperous. That is why our commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid is so vital. It is directly in the international community’s interest and in our own interest to prevent these states from failing and to prevent the breeding grounds for such terror groups from forming in the first instance. If achievable, prevention is better, easier and cheaper than cure.

Equally, it would be entirely wrong and short-sighted to assume that established states in the middle east and conventional welfare are now in some way irrelevant and must be dismissed in the face of combating ISIL. About a fifth of the world’s petroleum supply passes through the strait of Hormuz, a 34-mile wide naval choke point between Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Few locations in the world rivalled the strait’s strategic importance for international trade and prosperity or its tactical vulnerability. As recently as 2011, Iran threatened to close the strait, embarking on military exercises in international waters in the region. It was only through the timely joint intervention of the Royal Navy, the US navy and the French navy, as well as the sheer amount of naval hardware in the area, that the situation was prevented from escalating further, preventing a global oil crisis.

This year, and in clear violation of a United Nations Security Council ban on ballistic missile tests, Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile. Such missiles are inherently capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran and the P5+1 have been participating in intensive talks about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme for the past few years to reach a negotiated and permanent nuclear agreement. The joint comprehensive plan of action, signed in Vienna on 14 July, was built on a foundation of verification. For that foundation of verification to be successful, access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors monitoring nuclear and military sites in Iran must be automatic. Iran cannot be allowed to stonewall requests for access to suspect sites.

The world we face today is inherently more dangerous and uncertain than even five years ago. To combat the growing level and number of threats, as a country we must utilise and leverage our extensive network of soft power to prevent fragile states from failing. The UK is second only to the United States in the amount of money provided to international development and we should at every opportunity encourage our international allies to meet their commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development. I have no doubt that that will make the world a safer place.

Ultimately, the potency of soft power is contingent on the existence, ability and will to deploy hard power when necessary. Had we not intervened in Iraq or taken action against ISIL’s advance at the request of the democratically elected Government of Iraq, it is possible that the Iraqi Government would have failed in their efforts to push back ISIL, and the situation in the region would now be significantly worse, with more people subject to ISIL’s brutality.

Let us not forget that ISIL burns prisoners of war alive, pushes gay people off buildings, and makes sexual slaves of 12-year-old girls. It beheads aid workers, and publicly tortures religious prisoners and journalists. It is ideologically committed to religious and ethnic genocide, and glories in death, violence and barbarity. If we who can do not stand up to them for those who cannot, what do we stand for?


House of Commons – Topical Questions: Isil, 23 November 2015


Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon
At a time when it is clear that our nuclear defence is key, will the Minister update us on the progress that the MOD is making in delivering our nuclear-powered Astute submarines?

Philip Dunne Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Defence Procurement)
Yes, as I have already said, I was delighted last Thursday to announce, in Barrow, the £1.3 billion contract to complete the build of the fifth Astute-class submarine. We will save money for the taxpayer and deliver the submarine ahead of the schedule of the previous one, and we are on track.


House of Commons – Topical Questions: Service Personnel (Ukraine), 25 February 2015


Bob Stewart, Conservative, Beckenham
As a follow-up to what my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth said about the 1994 agreement between Russia, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States, under which the sovereignty of Ukraine was guaranteed in return for getting rid of the one third of the Russian nuclear arsenal that it had on its soil, may I suggest that there is an oblique lesson for us now as we think about whether we should replace the independent nuclear deterrent and whether we need to keep it?

Michael Fallon, The Secretary of State for Defence
So far as the 1994 agreement is concerned, it is for all parties to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but that has not happened in this Russian-backed aggression and the movement of heavy weapons and artillery from Russia across the border into eastern Ukraine. So far as the nuclear deterrent is concerned, the House debated the matter a few weeks ago and recorded one of the largest majorities in recent years in favour of building the successor submarines.