Situation in the Gulf

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:06 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 5:06 pm, 22nd July 2019

First of all, those on the Government Benches wholeheartedly endorse what the shadow Minister said about the shadow Foreign Secretary, whom we wish every success in having a rapid recovery after her unfortunate bicycle accident. I also thank him for his generous comments about my time as Foreign Secretary—without any sting in the tail. I particularly want to thank him for carefully comparing me to my predecessor after 5 o’clock, which was when the leadership contest for the Conservative party closed, because it might not have helped me if people thought that he thought I was a better Foreign Secretary. I also add my thanks for the brilliant service to British diplomacy of my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Duncan, who was an outstanding Foreign Office Minister. He will be greatly missed inside King Charles Street—but not for long if tomorrow’s result is the upset that I am hoping for!

Let me turn to the substance of what the shadow Minister said. On the detention of Grace 1 by the Gibraltar authorities, I want to be absolutely clear that the United Kingdom did not endorse that detention by the Gibraltarian authorities because of a request by the US. We did it because it was transiting oil through the waters of a British overseas territory in contravention of EU sanctions against Syria. We have been absolutely clear that our issue was with the destination of that oil, which was President Assad’s regime, because a fundamental objective of British foreign policy has been to ensure that we redraw the international red lines against the use of chemical weapons, which Assad has so tragically broken.

That is also why we have sought to de-escalate the situation by making it clear to the Iranians that, whatever our disagreements with that regime, we would support the release of the tanker if we could receive guarantees that that oil was not going to Syria. We made that offer in public as well as in private, so that they would know we were absolutely serious.

There has been a huge amount of work since the detention happened on 4 July and, on the security side, the Ministry of Defence has been extremely active: officials have been posted at the Department for Transport, HMS Duncan has been dispatched, the threat level has been raised to level 3 and the activity of HMS Montrose has been enhanced. In recent days HMS Montrose has done 17 transits with 30 vessels, including 16 flying the red ensign; the Wildcat helicopters have flown for 26 hours; and the FCO has been doing a huge amount to try to de-escalate the situation, including calls to my Iranian counterpart, my US counterpart Mike Pompeo and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. I also met the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the French Foreign Minister, among many others, at the Foreign Affairs Council on 15 July.

A lot of things have been happening but, on the substantive point raised by Fabian Hamilton, it is important if we are to de-escalate the situation that we do not conflate what happened in Gibraltar and what happened to the Stena Impero with the joint comprehensive plan of action and our approach to the Iran nuclear deal, which is different from the approach taken by the Trump Administration.

On most foreign policy issues we are absolutely at one with the United States, which we consider to be our closest ally. Indeed, the alliance with the United States has been the foundation of global peace and prosperity since the second world war. We have a difference of opinion on this issue, but we are absolutely clear that, when it comes to freedom of navigation, there can be no compromise, which is why the solution we propose to the House this afternoon is one that brings in a much broader alliance of countries, including countries that, like us, have a different approach to the Iran nuclear deal.

The Iranians must understand that there will be no compromise on freedom of navigation in the strait of Hormuz, which is essential to the global economy and to global freedom of navigation. This country will not blink in that respect.