Yemen: Political and Humanitarian Situation

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:09 pm on 5th July 2017.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 5:09 pm, 5th July 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate Stephen Doughty on securing this debate. He has shown himself to be a voice of authority on this matter over the past few years, so I commend him not just for securing the debate but for all the work that he has done and will continue to do.

What we have heard about this afternoon is nothing short of the weaponisation of food and medicine. Our role in that surely should shame us all. I have heard nothing to disagree with on what people would like to see from the UK Government to help to ease the humanitarian situation. I am not sure whether I can call Stephen Twigg the Chair of the International Development Committee, or whether I should call him the former or prospective Chair, but I echo his comments. He said that he would like to see an independent United Nations inquiry. We can of course support that.

I come back to our role in this matter—and, more fundamentally, our role with Saudi Arabia, which I make no apologies for focusing on. It seems to me that we weave quite a tangled web. I cannot understand why Michael Gove, when he was Justice Secretary last year, was able to withdraw from a contract with the Saudi Arabian Government over prisons co-operation because of human rights concerns, yet we cannot take real action on our role in the Saudi command structure. What exactly are UK operatives doing in that command structure? A joint Select Committee published a report demanding to know exactly that, but all the Government have done is tell us what they are not doing. That strikes me as something particularly dark that needs to be addressed.

I question the need for such involvement with Saudi Arabia. I understand that we need some form of relationship, and that our relationship is important in terms of the intelligence it gives us—that is sometimes overblown, but it is important none the less—but the optics of a Prime Minister rushing off to Saudi Arabia post-Brexit to secure a trade deal leave rather a bad taste in the mouth. The Government seriously need to revisit their entire relationship as far as arms sales and wider trade deals are concerned.

That relationship cuts to the heart of our entire involvement in the Arab world and middle east politics. It sullies and sours our reputation and our ability to get things done. It is quite obvious that America wishes to step back from its responsibilities around the world as far as humanitarian aid is concerned. That provides us with an opportunity—one that we would perhaps not wish to have—to get in there and lead from the front, but the Government seem awfully shy to do so.

This conflict clearly will not end any time soon, and this issue will dog the Government during this Parliament, however long that may last. As long as the debate is led by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth and other right hon. and hon. Members who have tenaciously worked away at this issue for many years, the Government will not get off the hook.