Ethiopia: Humanitarian and Political Situation — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 19th January 2022.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 3:41 pm, 19th January 2022

I was hoping that flattery would get me somewhere—but anyway.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Robertson for securing this debate and I pay tribute to him for all his work as the long-standing chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Ethiopia and Djibouti. I thank him for his level-headed speech and his wise counsel on this matter. Like Chris Law, I remember—I might have been following him around, probably on a different track—running for the world at a certain point in the mid-1980s, when passions were aroused. It is a pleasure that this debate has been sponsored by the Bob Geldof of Westminster and, as I say, I thank my hon. Friend for his leadership on this issue.

I am also grateful to other right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions today. I will try to respond to as many of the points that have been raised as possible. Although the hon. Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) are no longer present, I will try to answer their questions too. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate.

Jim Shannon mentioned ongoing conversations this week on matters that normally fall without my portfolio. He is correct that I am the Minister for Europe. The Minister for Africa would have very much liked to participate in this debate, but she is currently travelling in the region on ministerial duties, so it is my pleasure to respond to the hon. Gentleman and others on behalf of the Government.

The situation in Ethiopia remains of great concern. As a couple of hon. Members have said, there have been some welcome signs of progress over recent weeks, including the December withdrawal of Tigrayan forces back to their own region, and Prime Minister Abiy’s recent decision to release high-profile political prisoners and begin a process of national dialogue. There is a window of opportunity to begin peace talks and bring about a peaceful end to this conflict, which I know my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa is stressing during her visit to the region this week. I hope that visit will demonstrate the UK Government’s commitment to ending this crisis and working hard with our partners in the region.

Although the developments that I have mentioned are tentative steps towards de-escalation, they are still encouraging. However, we know that, as right hon. and hon. Members have said, fighting and atrocities continue to take place, and the conflict continues to take its toll on civilians.