Middle East: Security

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:37 pm on 7th January 2020.

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Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace The Secretary of State for Defence 3:37 pm, 7th January 2020

I note that the Leader of the Opposition sent the Prime Minister a letter in which he posed three questions, none of which he has just posed from the Dispatch Box. I find that rather interesting. I am afraid that instead of a serious interrogation about we would de-escalate this situation in the middle east and how we would ensure that British citizens and British allies were secure, we heard the usual tripe—“This is about Trump, this is about America”—and all the other anti-American, anti-imperialist guff.

The Leader of the Opposition asked where the Prime Minister was. Well, funnily enough, the Prime Minister is running the country, something that the right hon. Gentleman will fail ever to do as a result of the general election. This Prime Minister actually believes in Cabinet government, and in letting the members of the Cabinet who are responsible for the policy come to the House to be able to answer questions about a matter relating to that policy. Indeed, the Prime Minister felt that it was appropriate for me, as a Secretary of State for Defence who currently has a significant number of assets in the region—in Iraq—and who is charged with the duty of defending this country, to attend and to answer the questions in his place.

Perhaps I can answer some of the few questions that were asked by the Leader of the Opposition. First, it is for the United States to answer in detail the question of whether it views the intelligence on the basis of which it made its decision to be illegal or not. On the basis of the information and intelligence that I have seen, what I can say is that it is clear that there was a case for self-defence to be made in respect of an individual who had come to Iraq to co-ordinate murder and attacks on US citizens. That begs the question of what the Leader of the Opposition would have done if that individual had come to Iraq or anywhere else to plot the murder of British soldiers and diplomats. Perhaps, as he recommended with al-Baghdadi of ISIS, he would seek to have him arrested at that time.

It is of course the case that this Government are engaged in a full diplomatic effort at all levels to de-escalate the tensions that have grown in the region, not only at the United Nations but in leader-to-leader, Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary discussions and using all other levers that we have. More broadly than just in the region, we are seeking efforts to ensure that Iran does not retaliate in any way that would escalate the situation and that our friends and allies do not escalate the situation either. The call that this Government are making is to ensure that we pause, that we focus on the safety of the peoples of that region and that we seek a way out for Iran and for its neighbours. The first way we can do that, which this Government are determined to try to do, is to ensure that the destabilising activity that has been going on in the region is ceased, so that we can all progress to find the solution that we desperately want to the conflict. In the meantime, the Government will get on and ensure that they keep people safe in the region, and we will do everything we can to protect them and their lives.