Counter-Daesh Update

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:34 pm on 7th November 2017.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 2:34 pm, 7th November 2017

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. I will come to his remarks regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in a moment, but let me first address the formal purpose of this statement: the Government’s quarterly update on the fight against Daesh. We are all agreed in this House that Daesh is nothing but an evil death cult and that it must be wiped off the face of the earth. We therefore warmly welcome the recent, hard-fought successes against it in both Syria and Iraq, with its vision of a caliphate stretching across both countries now lying in absolute ruins. But while that specific danger evaporates before our eyes, we know all too well that the wider threat that Daesh poses remains, as it ceases to operate as a conventional military force, seeking to occupy territory and towns, and retreats to the role of a well-armed, well-trained and fanatical network of terrorist cells that seeks to indoctrinate others, and to inflict indiscriminate, mass casualties in Iraq, Syria and far, far beyond. We therefore must not let our guard down. The fight against Daesh has not been won; it is simply switching to a new phase.

I therefore have a number of questions that I hope the Foreign Secretary will address. First, will he correct his junior colleague, the Minister for Africa, who said recently that the only way to deal with British citizens who have gone to fight for Daesh is

“in almost every case, to kill them”?

That, of course, sends a very unfortunate signal to groups in Syria and beyond who are currently holding in detention British citizens captured on the battlefield. Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear today that it remains the Government’s policy that those individuals should be returned to this country to face trial for their crimes, rather than simply being executed by their captors? He might also advise the Minister for Africa that in positions of responsibility in the Foreign Office, you have to engage your brain and think about the consequences of your words before opening your mouth.

Secondly, the Foreign Secretary will have noted last week the first US drone strikes targeting Daesh, rather than al-Shabaab, inside Somalia. Will he guarantee the House that if the UK is asked to participate in the opening of that new front against Daesh, authorising such action will be the subject of a proper parliamentary debate and vote?

Thirdly, as Daesh increasingly ceases to be a military player in the Syrian civil war, will the Foreign Secretary tell us the Government’s current strategy in Syria? What are we now seeking to achieve, in both a military and diplomatic sense, from our engagement there? Specifically, will he tell us whether the Government intend to continue channelling funds to Syrian opposition groups? Will he give us a cast-iron guarantee that none of the £200 million that has already been channelled to those groups over the past three years has ended up in the hands of the al-Nusra Front or other jihadist groups?

Finally, as attention turns to Daesh’s last remaining stronghold, in Bukamal, the Foreign Secretary will be aware of the risks as Russian and Iranian-backed forces approach the town from one side, and the Syrian democratic forces approach it from the other. Will he tell the House what steps Britain is taking to ensure the battle to liberate Bukamal from Daesh, both from the air and on the ground, does not inadvertently lead to clashes between the two liberating armies?

Turning now to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, we appreciate the Foreign Secretary’s clarification, we welcome the phone call he made this morning to his Iranian counterpart and we all hope that no lasting damage is done to Nazanin as a result of his blunder. However, I hope that he will now take the opportunity to apologise to this woman’s family, to her friends, to her employers, to my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, and to all those others in this House and beyond who have been working so hard to obtain this young mother’s release, for the distress and anguish that his foolish words have caused to them and to this woman in recent days? We are all bound to ask: how many more times does this need to happen? How many more times does the Foreign Secretary have to insult our international partners and damage our diplomatic relations, and now imperil the interests of British nationals abroad? What will it take before the Prime Minister says, “Enough is enough”? If the truth is that she cannot, because she does not have the strength or authority to sack him, how about the Foreign Secretary himself shows a bit of personal responsibility and admits that a job like this, where your words hold gravity and your actions have consequences, is simply not the job for him?