[Martin Caton in the Chair] — backbench business — Yemen

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:31 am on 24th February 2015.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 10:31 am, 24th February 2015

My hon. Friend is very experienced in these matters, and he makes an important and powerful point. Yemen has been an enormous incubator of terrorist groups; sadly, the potential for civil war in the country is also enormous. Working with our allies to ensure that we can return and work with the Yemenis themselves is therefore a priority. However, we must remember that we need a Government in Yemen to work with, and at the moment there is not one. There is a President, as such, and the President himself continues in that office. Nevertheless, there is confusion as to the direction we are going in, which is why we are calling upon the Houthis and others to recognise the UN resolution we are working towards implementing, and to come back to the table, in order to provide the political basis from which peaceful dialogue can take place.

Without key reforms, the future Government of Yemen will struggle to manage not only terrorism but the country’s finances in the face of low oil prices and a burgeoning salary bill—issues we discussed earlier. International support remains crucial if Yemen is to avoid economic disaster. As has been reiterated across Westminster Hall today, we must remain engaged in what is going on in Yemen.

It is also important that Yemen avoid humanitarian disaster. I pay tribute to the work of Mr Thomas, the Opposition spokesman, while he was at the Department for International Development; he brings a lot of expertise to this debate. With some 16 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian aid, Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is second in scale only to Syria’s. However, there is a real risk that humanitarian needs will increase in the coming weeks and months if the economy deteriorates or the conflict intensifies. The UN appeal is only 60% funded, and it is crucial that the international community maintain or even increase its support to Yemen at this time.

My hon. Friends know that we have provided £185 million in aid to Yemen during the past three years through DFID programmes. We are currently able to continue to deliver the vast majority of those programmes, particularly our humanitarian and nutrition programmes, although we are keeping in close touch with our partners as events develop.

The international response to recent events has been strong and united. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2201, which was led by the UK and Jordan. It deplored the unilateral actions taken by the Houthis and urged them to engage in good faith in the UN-brokered political negotiations, to withdraw their forces from Government institutions and to release safely those who remain under house arrest. Regrettably, the EU, GCC and US missions have also had to suspend their operations due to the deteriorating security situation.

The future of the Yemen state is more uncertain than ever. The current political crisis has re-energised those groups in the south who long to return to the days of an independent South Yemen. The UK and the UNSC remain in support of the unity, sovereignty and independence of Yemen. There are secessionist sentiments in parts of the south, and we support calls for a new state structure that would give greater autonomy to the south of Yemen, as agreed in the National Dialogue Conference. However, the future structure of the state is ultimately a question for the Yemeni people.

Despite the huge challenges Yemen is facing today, I think there is a solution to get Yemen back on the right path. This includes, first, the immediate end to violence and intimidation, particularly in the oil-rich province of Marib, and the release of the remaining Cabinet members under house arrest. I am pleased that President Hadi is now safe and well and free from house arrest.

Secondly, there should be a swift, peaceful political transition. We urge all parties, particularly the Houthis, to implement the GCCI, the NDC outcomes and the peace and national partnership agreement that they signed originally in 2014. All parties should engage in good faith in the UN-brokered negotiations.

Thirdly and finally, there should be a new Executive to take urgent steps to improve the economic and humanitarian situation. The political road map must now become a reality. I assure hon. Members that despite the temporary suspension of our embassy operations in the capital, Britain will continue do what it can to help Yemen achieve a better future for all.