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Turkish Incursion into Northern Syria

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Ellwood and thank him for raising this issue in the House. I can tell him, and all Members, that on 9 October, following the US announcement that it would withdraw its troops from the region, Turkey launched a military operation in north-east Syria. Turkish troops have pushed into northern-Syrian towns and villages, clashing with Kurdish fighters over a stretch of 125 miles. The UN estimates that at least 160,000 people have been displaced in less than a week.

From the outset, the UK Government have warned Turkey against taking this military action. As we feared, it has seriously undermined the stability and security of the region. It risks worsening the humanitarian crisis and increasing the suffering of millions of refugees, and it also undermines the international effort that should be focused on defeating Daesh. On Thursday 10 October, I spoke to the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and expressed the UK’s grave concerns. On Saturday 12 October, the Prime Minister spoke to President Erdoğan to reinforce those concerns and urge restraint. I addressed the issue at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Saturday. Yesterday, the EU released a statement, which we joined, condemning Turkey’s unilateral military action and calling on it to withdraw its forces.

The UK Government take their arms export control responsibilities very seriously. In this case, we will of course keep our defence exports to Turkey under careful and continual review. I can tell the House that no further export licences to Turkey for items that might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review. Yesterday, as Members will know, the US signed an Executive order to impose limited sanctions on Turkey, including against senior members of Turkey’s Government. The EU considered this and, on balance, decided against sanctions at this stage; however, we will keep the position under careful review.

As we condemn this military intervention, it is only right that we also recognise some of the legitimate concerns that Turkey has—