Backbench Business - Middle Eastbackbench Business

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:58 pm on 30th November 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stephen Phillips Stephen Phillips Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 8:58 pm, 30th November 2015

I do agree, and in fact it affects stability not just in the middle east but across other oil-producing regions of the world. We now have two Foreign Ministers on the Front Bench, although not the Minister with responsibility for South America, but he will know of the risk in Venezuela.

I have only touched the tip of the iceberg—I could go on and on, and would be quite willing to do so were the time limit a little longer—but the point is that the world is sitting on a powder keg, much of which borders Europe, and all the fuses across the region seem to have been lit. If ever there was a time for a coherent strategy and foreign policy designed to defuse tensions—from this country, the United States and all our other allies—frankly this is it.

Where though, I tentatively asked the Minister, is that foreign policy? Where is the 30-year strategy that both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell think is necessary? The crisis of confidence caused by an ill-advised and unjustifiable adventure in Iraq in the last decade has led to what the London School of Economics diplomacy commission—possibly the most distinguished body of former diplomats in existence—has termed a crisis of confidence on the part of the United Kingdom. Nowhere is that more apparent than in relation to the middle east, where we have, as my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi made clear, an historic role. Of course, there remains a great deal of respect and affection for this country, our values and our ability to help ensure stability in the region.

Three themes need to underpin British foreign policy. First, we and our allies need to speak with one voice. The United States is in a presidential election year, but the initial isolationism that characterised the early years of the Obama White House, even if not the State Department, has caused lasting damage to the security of the entire region. Today, we heard from the middle east Minister, but his colleagues in the Foreign Office have a broader remit, and the responsibility of the Government, bilaterally and within the United Nations, must be to ensure that we act in concert with our allies and that our message on all issues is clear. Without that clarity from the west—on Israel/Palestine, the rise of ISIL/Daesh and the issue of pervasive sectarianism—we risk creating divides that can be exploited by extremists.

Secondly, we need to make it clear to every regime in the middle east that minorities are to be respected and properly included as part of a political settlement. Excluding minorities from the political process serves only to create a breeding ground for extremist ideology of whatever nature, from the rise of ISIL/Daesh to the type of Shi’a militancy represented by Hezbollah or the various militias operating in the south of Iraq.

Thirdly, we need to be real and recognise realistic approaches and solutions, rather than merely mouthing platitudes about a perfection that cannot be achieved. In the immediate term, we might well have to recognise, if not embrace, the fact that the Vienna peace talks might recognise some of the more moderate Islamist parties as part of the immediate solution in Syria. We might not desire it, we might not like it, but we might have to live with it. The priority, at present, is dealing with ISIL/Daesh, and that cannot come without some compromise on what happens after its eventual defeat.

In the longer term, we might need to abjure our own misconceived notion that we can plant western-style democracies in a region with no history of secular democracy in the way we recognise it. What we want does not matter. The new imperialism of the past two decades has in part fuelled the situation we now face. It is time to recognise that and the fact that we do not know best what the peoples of the middle east want. That is a question for them, not for us.

No one would have foretold the chaos and threat posed by the situation in the middle east even two or three years ago, but that chaos is real, as is the threat it poses to us in this country. Strength in our beliefs and values is part of the answer, but the policy of this country and our allies must recognise that we are currently failing our own citizens as well as the peoples of the region. It is time for a change—a change that makes it clear that we are invested in a realistic future for the middle east. It is that message, which I know he recognises, that the Minister has to take away tonight and which needs to go out loud and clear from this House.