Uk Relations: Saudi Arabia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:49 pm on 7th March 2018.

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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) 12:49 pm, 7th March 2018

I thank the right hon. Lady for her words. She started well by talking about wanting to welcome a relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Should she actually occupy my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s position, she might want to review some of the personal comments that she made after that and wonder how that would constitute a decent start to the relationship that she wants to see.

Let me get to the substance and deal with one or two of the right hon. Lady’s questions. First, there is not indiscriminate bombing of civilians, as has been alleged. It is vital that we make sure that, in dealing with the military aspects of the conflict, which was not started by Saudi Arabia, we are able to see that, in terms of international humanitarian law, there is only the targeting of legitimate military targets. The United Kingdom has been as helpful as possible in trying to make sure that the training for that is appropriate. When there have been allegations of civilian casualties, those cases have been dealt with, monitored and investigated in a manner completely different from that in respect of Houthi activity, which I noticed the right hon. Lady did not seek to condemn in any way at all.

On the humanitarian issues, as I indicated, there is not a blockade or restriction of goods coming in. It is important that commercial food and fuel gets in. It is equally important that those who have had missiles targeted at them after those missiles have been smuggled into Yemen are able to protect themselves. We have worked hard to try to ensure that there is protection for Saudi Arabia from missiles coming in and, in doing so, to give Saudi Arabia the confidence to allow more ships to come in to deal with the humanitarian issues. That seems to me to be a constructive way to deal with both sides of the issues, rather than the straightforward condemnation that we heard from the right hon. Lady.

In respect of the current reforms in Saudi Arabia and those going forward, the right hon. Lady reduces them to de minimis by saying that it is all about women driving. As I indicated to Sir Vince Cable, who I have to say asked a rather more serious set of questions, the issue of women’s progress is not simply about driving; it is about a whole series of other reforms. Driving has a totemic importance for many people in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but should not be taken as the sole thing that is changing.

There has been no silence from the United Kingdom on Yemen. We have been very clear about the fact that there is no military solution, which is why we have been working so hard for a diplomatic solution, why we welcome the newly appointed UN envoy, whom the right hon. Lady did not mention, and why we are doing everything we can to try to make sure that there is a diplomatic base. All our evidence is that ceasefires work when there is some relationship on the ground that makes them plausible and feasible. Because of the activity of the Houthis, those who support them and those who direct weapons at Saudi Arabia, it is not possible for there to be a ceasefire with any sense of purpose or sense that it would actually work. What we must do—[Interruption.]