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Northern Syria: Turkish Incursion - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State 2:52 pm, 15th October 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in another place on the Turkish incursion into northern Syria:

“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 now 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 and, 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. It also undermines the international effort that should be focused on defeating Daesh.

I can tell the House that, on Thursday 10 October, I spoke to 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 also addressed the issue at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Saturday and, yesterday, the EU released a statement, which we joined, condemning Turkey’s unilateral military action and calling on it to withdraw its forces.

The United Kingdom Government take their arms export control responsibilities very seriously and, in this case, of course, we will keep our defence exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review. I can tell the House that no further export licences to Turkey for items which might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct the review.

Yesterday, as honourable 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.

It is only right that, as we condemn this military intervention, we also recognise some of the legitimate concerns that Turkey has in relation to the 3.6 million refugees that it has taken from Syria and its concerns around the threat to its security from the PKK at its southern border with Syria.

For decades, Turkey has been a staunch ally in NATO, one of the largest contributors of military personnel. But with close partners, we must at times be candid and clear. This is not the action we expected from an ally. It is reckless and counterproductive and plays straight into the hands of Russia and the Assad regime. The UK Government call on Turkey to exercise maximum restraint and bring an end to this unilateral military action”.