Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th May 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 12:00 am, 15th May 2018

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Gaza, where peaceful protests are being exploited by extremists. I urge Israel to show restraint in the use of live fire, and I take this opportunity to repeat the UK’s commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the shared capital.

My other priority is to preserve the gains made through the Iran nuclear deal. I am working closely with my French and German counterparts and will see them in Brussels later today.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

My constituent Tofla Ndele, a British citizen, was arrested when visiting family members in Congo last September. There has been no explanation for his arrest, and no charges have been levelled against him. I was grateful to the Secretary of State for raising the subject with the Congolese Foreign Minister in March. What progress has been made since then in securing Mr Ndele’s release?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

UK officials have visited Mr Ndele regularly since his detention in September last year, most recently in March. They have lobbied for improvements in the conditions of his detention, and recently secured the first visit from a family member since his arrest. My hon. Friend the Minister for Africa raised the matter with the Congolese Foreign Minister in April.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I recently held a community engagement event with the Tunisian ambassador to the United Kingdom. Can the Minister confirm that security co-operation between the UK and Tunisia is now excellent, given that TUI and Thomas Cook have resumed flights to Tunisia?

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)

Yes. Tunisia has worked extremely hard at reviewing and improving its security. We are in constant contact with the Tunisian authorities, and we hope that many British tourists will visit the country this summer and beyond.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

May I begin by thanking the Foreign Secretary for leading our cross-party efforts over the last two weeks to destroy the Prime Minister’s “customs partnership” proposal? I trust that he finished off the job earlier this morning. Unfortunately, however, that leaves us with his own crazy Mad Max—I mean max fac—proposal. May I ask him a very simple yes or no question, which has already been asked several times by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee? Does he believe that cameras are physical infrastructure?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising this matter, because it may provide her with an opportunity to elucidate the Labour party’s policy on the customs union for the benefit of the nation. I seem to remember that at the last general election, Labour Members campaigned on a platform to come out of the customs union. Now they say that they want to stay in “a” customs union—a customs partnership. Their policy is absolutely clouded in obscurity. If the right hon. Lady wishes to part those clouds of confusion, this is her moment.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary

We are quite willing to exchange places with those on the other side of the House. All we would ask of them is that they call a general election.

I do not think that that constituted even an attempt to answer the question that I asked. Like the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary seems to be unable and unwilling to state the blindingly obvious. So much for plain-speaking, bluff authenticity.

Let me try another key question about the max fac proposal. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm—[Interruption.] He does need to listen, otherwise he will not understand the question and will be unable to answer it. Can he confirm that if the technology on which his proposal relies takes five years to become fully functional, the UK will be obliged to remain part of the customs union, and to be bound by single market rules, until at least 2023?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The right hon. Lady had an opportunity to be clear about what Labour wants to do. Conservative Members have been absolutely clear. The Prime Minister has said it time and time again: we are coming out of the single market, we are taking back control of our borders, our laws and our money, and we are coming out of the customs union. In her Mansion House speech, she gave plenty of indications of how we will deal with the problems that the right hon. Lady has described.

Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon

Residents of North Devon regularly raise with me their concerns about the continuing illegal international trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Will my right hon. Friend please update the House on how we are tackling that?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I can tell the House that this is a subject that arouses the grave concern of the entire British people. The illegal wildlife trade is currently worth about £1.7 billion, and it is of course associated with many other criminal activities. That is why, in October, we are holding a global summit in London on that very matter, which I think will attract the interest of the world.[This section has been corrected on 16 May 2018, column 3MC — read correction]

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

If a British citizen from England or Wales dies abroad there is a further post-mortem when the body returns to the UK, but those from Scotland, such as my late constituent Craig Mallon who died in 2012, are not entitled to another post-mortem and the one conducted by the other country—in this case Spain—seems to be accepted. This year it will be six years since Craig Mallon died—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. What we need from the hon. Gentleman is a sentence with a question mark at the end. I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, of whom I am very fond, but we are very short of time. Blurt it out, man.

Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Craig Mallon died six years ago, after just one post-mortem; his mother died recently, broken-hearted. Will the Minister meet me to discuss that case?

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Last year I visited St Lucia as part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation, meeting representatives from St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. Britain’s vision post Brexit and its implications for the Commonwealth family of nations was a topic of discussion. Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that following the successful Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, we will make every effort to strengthen our economic and diplomatic ties with those island nations?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I certainly can, and I can tell my hon. Friend that at the Commonwealth summit I was able, as she may recall, to announce the opening of 10 new UK delegations, many of them in the Caribbean or the Pacific.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

Yet again we are witnessing appalling violence and loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza: 58 dead and 2,271 injured, over half of them wounded by live ammunition. This must end under international law and human rights must be upheld, so what immediate steps will the Foreign Secretary take to ensure that the horrors seen in Gaza yesterday never happen again?

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)

Ever since it became clear that these protests were going to continue and the risk of confrontation was very real, we have been at pains to work with both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government to minimise and reduce the tension. It is a matter of horror and regret to us that yesterday’s events happened; we will continue to urge restraint on all responsible and seek the peace agreement that is so urgently needed.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow

Would my right hon. Friend like to take this opportunity to congratulate the former Prime Minister of Malaysia on his re-election after an interval, and pass on the best wishes of the British people to the Malaysian people during this important transition?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend for his thoughts. The recent election in Malaysia was historic: the outcome, while a surprise, represents a genuine victory for democracy and is a testament to the Malaysian people. Our relationship with Malaysia is of course both deep and long-lasting, and I look forward to working closely with the new Prime Minister and his Government on many of our shared interests.

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence)

While I greatly welcome the fact that democratic and peaceful elections have been held in Iraq, the results and outcome are far from certain. Will the Foreign Secretary give his assessment of the future stability and security—and future direction—of Iraq?

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)

We are pleased that the elections have passed off as peacefully as they have. We look forward to working with the new Government, and the reconstruction and stability situation, which has been encouraged by recent conferences in Kuwait and other places, should help the future of Iraq.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets supplied by Iran is now estimated at 150,000. Does the Minister share my concern at Iran’s malign influence in the region, and what recent discussions has he had with his Israeli counterparts about the threat posed by Hezbollah?

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)

We are in regular contact with the state of Israel about threats to it. Hezbollah’s increased weaponry is part of that, and the supply of weapons to Hezbollah contravenes UN resolutions. That threat to Israel is very real.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice)

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he still believes in, and has to abide by, Cabinet collective responsibility?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

After years of kleptomaniac behaviour by the Kirchner husband and wife team in Argentina, President Mauricio Macri is struggling to get the Argentinian economy back on course. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to helping Argentina and President Macri with the International Monetary Fund and other organisations?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about Argentina. I will be going there at the end of the month to pursue the current improvement in relations taking place between our two countries.

Photo of Joan Ryan Joan Ryan Labour, Enfield North

President Erdoğan of Turkey, who is currently visiting this country, has called snap elections for 24 June. Those elections will be held under a state of emergency, severely curtailing the freedoms of expression, assembly and association and the right to take part in public affairs. They will also introduce an executive presidency with wide-ranging powers that many see as an attack on democracy. What is the Government’s view?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I can tell the right hon. Lady that we had a conference with our Turkish friends only the other day and that, although the relationship between the UK and Turkey is very strong, as she knows, we took every opportunity to raise our concerns about human rights and the repression of the media.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The stated position of all British Governments for a long time has been support for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the heightened violence on the Israeli-Gaza border and the casualties coming from it now make that possibility look even more remote?

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

When the Prime Minister meets President Erdoğan later today, will she raise with him the Turkish military invasion of Afrin, the numerous civilian deaths and the persecution of the Kurds, who have so often stood side by side with the United Kingdom in resisting ISIS?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I can certainly reassure the hon. and learned Lady that the Prime Minister will be raising the very difficult situation in the north of Syria.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

What assessment have the Government made of the human rights and political situation in Burundi at the moment?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin 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)

We are very concerned about the situation in Burundi. There is a referendum there this week and, as my hon. Friend will know, Her Majesty’s Government continue to send messages about the need to respect the Arusha peace accords and to respect democracy in Burundi.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

This Christian Aid week, the charity is campaigning to highlight inflexibility in the approach to internally displaced peoples. Will the Minister, along with officials from his Department and the Department for International Development, agree to meet representatives of Christian Aid to see how best we can address that growing situation?

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)

I am very happy to do that. The situation of internally displaced people is very important to the UK, and we are working with others on the possibility of a UN high-level panel later this year. I would be very happy to meet Christian Aid once again.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the Zimbabwean Government understand the importance of proper reparations for UK citizens who have been the victims of serious crimes committed allegedly by associates of the present and previous Governments of Zimbabwe?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin 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)

As we call on the Zimbabwean Government to hold free and fair elections this year, we are also making representations to them. I have personally made representations on behalf of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent to the Zimbabwean Foreign Minister.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South

The Foreign Office website says that the European single market is key to Europe’s and the UK’s place in the global economy. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with that?

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I think that whatever the website used to say about the single market, it will shortly no longer apply to the UK.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The UNESCO world heritage site of Socotra has reportedly become the latest front in the war in Yemen, with Saudi troops landing there in response to the United Arab Emirates apparently occupying the island. What is the Minister going to do to protect that unique and special environment and its people?

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)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, but I would advise the House to be a little cautious about some of the reports coming out in relation to Socotra. I spoke just this week to the Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and the circumstances on the allegations being made are not particularly clear at present, but I can reassure the hon. Lady that we will be able to make a further statement about that in due course.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

The Bahraini criminal court has today locked up and taken citizenship from 115 people in a mass trial, of whom 53 have been given life sentences. Will the Minister look again at the co-operation between this Government and the Bahraini authorities, which only gives credence to their farcical regime?

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)

As was indicated earlier, the relationship with Bahrain recognises the pressures brought about on that Government, but the challenges that they are trying to meet in relation to human rights and other matters will continue to be part of our dialogue. We will continue to raise difficult issues publicly and privately with the Government of Bahrain.