Tunisia

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 14 July 2015.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 11:30, 14 July 2015

What assessment he has made of the security situation in Tunisia; and what support his Department is providing to British citizens affected by the recent terrorist attack in that country.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The House will be aware that all the victims of the terrible tragedy in Tunisia have now been repatriated. Every family of a victim has a dedicated UK police family liaison officer—[Interruption.] I am sorry if Mr Skinner does not feel these issues are important, but I would be grateful if he would do the House the courtesy of listening to this important message. Every British national injured in the attack is back in the United Kingdom. Our embassy team arrived in Sousse within hours of the attack and further teams were deployed in the following days. The London crisis operation centre moved into operation mode and worked on a 24/7 basis from 26 June until 1 July and the FCO remained in crisis mode to assist with the departure of tourists.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I commend the Prime Minister’s response to my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, saying that a committee would be set up to look after the interests of the survivors and the bereaved families for the long term. That is sensible and it is the right approach. In light of BBC reports of chaos in the security infrastructure in Tunis and the region, what support are we able to give them to augment their security infrastructure?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initial comments, and I will be participating in that committee to make sure we do all we can to support all those caught up in that terrible tragedy—not just the families of the victims, but the injured and those who witnessed what happened. We have been working with the Tunisian authorities to investigate the attack and the wider threat from terrorist groups. The threat intelligence picture has led us to believe that a further terrorist attack is highly likely, and I stress to the House that the

Sousse attacker was not working alone, but was part of an organised group, most likely trained in Libya. I am glad we are standing by Tunisia as best we can. We must look after the security of our citizens, and may I thank you, Mr Speaker, for receiving the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament, who I know will wish to come to this country to express his condolences for what happened to the Britons in Tunisia?

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking the Minister for his inspirational service to the Government in working with the families of those affected by last month’s tragedy. It is brilliant to hear that each family will have a dedicated liaison officer to see them through the coming years. Can he confirm that that will be along the lines of the groups set up to support the victims of 7 July 2005?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. It is important that the support that this country and the Government provide is not confined to the time of the event itself but continues well into the future. I pay tribute to the Home Office and the work the police do—the important work of the family liaison officers. This work will not be needed simply over these few weeks; it will be needed for months and years, as the families come to terms with this terrible tragedy.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The funeral of my constituent Claire Windass, who was killed on holiday in Tunisia, will take place tomorrow, and I am sure the whole House will want to send our thoughts and prayers to Claire’s family at this very difficult time. Can the Minister say a little more about the practical assistance that the UK Government are offering the Tunisian authorities in investigating this horrific terrorist attack?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

All in the House pay a huge tribute to the families of the fallen victims. This was a terrible disaster for both Tunisia and Britain. The numbers climbed in the first hours from five to six, then eight, then 12, then 30. Then it was not just 30 in number; they became names, individuals, parts of families, as the hon. Lady has outlined. We must stand by these people in their years of need. She rightly points out that Tunisia needs support. It is the country where the Arab spring began; it is where Bouazizi set himself alight and ignited the Arab spring. We must not allow that country to slide back into extremism, so we have teams working in a variety of areas, from airport security to the police to collecting intelligence, which is the crucial ingredient in understanding what is happening behind the scenes in the mosques, as well as next door in Libya.

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng Conservative, Spelthorne

With respect to the appalling tragedy in Tunisia, will the Minister give the House an assurance that our response will be part of a wider package across the region from Egypt to Libya, where there is a great lack of stability? Are the Government working across the piece to ensure that terrorist outrages such as these are minimised?

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, which the House needs to consider. The person and the group that were involved in that terrible killing were trained by an ISIS operation, Ansar al-Sharia, which has now chosen to fly the black flag in Libya. We are seeing the same thing happening in Algeria with Boko Haram, and in northern Sinai with Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Terrorist groups all across the northern Maghreb are joining forces with ISIS, and this country and the international community need to do more to tackle this extremism.