Yemen

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 20th November 2017.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 4:26 pm, 20th November 2017

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, a large part of which I would not disagree with.

May I start by passing on the good wishes of all of us on the Government Benches to Emily Thornberry? We trust that all is well with her child. Secondly, I recognise what the hon. Gentleman said about the first world war battle. We all saw tweeted pictures of the tanks yesterday, which brought a glad smile to many hearts, so I thank him for reminding the House of that.

The hon. Gentleman was right to recognise, first, the frustrations in terms of the conflict. The actions to bring it to an end are not solely within the power of the UK Government; we have to work with partners to achieve that. I set out what we have been seeking to do ever since it became clear that the conflict would require political negotiation, and not a military solution, to bring the parties together and find an answer to something that has already taken too many lives.

This is very much about two sides. There is an awful lot of concentration on the Saudis and on the coalition, but very little attention is paid to the activities of the Houthis and their supporters, and to those who have been involved in human rights abuses on their side. It does take two sides.

The efforts that the United Kingdom has made, at the UN, through our ambassador in Yemen and through our work with the Quad and the Quint to try to bring this to an end have been significant, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that our frustration is that this has not yet produced the end of the conflict, which is the only thing that will resolve the humanitarian issues we are talking about. I do not in any way quibble with the concerns that have been raised by agencies. I am in touch with the World Food Programme and others who have warned, as has Mark Lowcock of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, of the severity of the problems to be faced if the restrictions are not eased.

I would challenge the hon. Gentleman and put a different complexion on his comments about what happens if the representations that we are continuing to make on the political solution do not work. We are pressing on these representations. We do not know what the answer will be, but we are making very clear the seriousness of the situation, as have other parties, and we expect and trust that there will be a change—there has to be.

I also challenge the hon. Gentleman in relation to international humanitarian law, which he says prevents starvation of civilians as a means or method of warfare. That is quite correct. The publicly made statement by the Saudis on their intent was that it is not to cause starvation but to ensure that missiles do not enter Yemen. To that extent, the solution still lies in the remarks I made in my statement. It is about a combination of two things. First, there is the support that those who wish to prevent missiles entering Yemen need in order to protect themselves, and that comes through the work being done by the UN and the coalition to try to secure the entry ports to make sure that there are no threats in the same way that there was to the airport in Riyadh. At the same time, it is vital to make sure that there is humanitarian access. We believe that concentrating on both those things will relieve the humanitarian situation while securing the safety of those who wish to protect their own people. We will continue to do that in addition to the work that we are continuing to do on the political negotiations that are the only solution to the conflict.