Afghanistan: FCDO Update

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Monday 6th September 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
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With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the UK’s international response to the situation in Afghanistan.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out, over the last three weeks, through a shared effort right across Government and our armed forces, we have delivered the largest and most complex evacuation in living memory. Between 15 and 29 August, the UK evacuated over 15,000 people from Afghanistan. That includes more than 8,000 British nationals; close to 5,000 Afghans who loyally served the UK, along with their dependants; and about 500 special cases of particularly vulnerable Afghans, including Chevening scholars, journalists, human rights defenders, campaigners for women’s rights, judges and many others.

Of course, the work to get people out did not start on 15 August. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advised British nationals to leave the country in April and again on 6 August; we estimate that about 500 did so. At the same time, the Government launched the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme for interpreters and other Afghan staff, getting more than 1,900 out before the airlift began on 15 August. As the security situation deteriorated, we accelerated that process throughout July and early August. In total, since April, we have helped more than 17,000 people to leave.

I place on record my thanks, and I pay tribute to the herculean efforts of our troops, our diplomats and our civil servants, who have done an incredible job in the toughest of conditions. As we remember their efforts, we also remember those in the UK armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan trying to make that country a better place for the Afghan people.

Now that the evacuation has ended, we have moved into a new phase. We stand by our commitment to support those who have worked for us and to take all remaining eligible cases. Securing their safe passage out of the country is an immediate priority. We are working through our diplomatic channels to that end, and of course the Taliban have given assurances that they will provide safe passage for foreign nationals and those eligible Afghans who wish to leave. On 30 August, the UN Security Council passed resolution 2593, driven by the UK alongside the US and France, affirming the international community’s expectation and requirement that the Taliban should follow through on the assurances that they have given.

Last week, I visited Qatar and Pakistan. In Qatar, I met the Emir and the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed, to discuss safe passage alongside the international community’s wider approach to dealing with the Taliban. We discussed ongoing efforts to re-establish flights at Kabul airport, where Qatari technical staff are working on the ground, and to see how we can co-operate in handling the organisation of future flights. I also announced our new non-resident chargé d’affaires for Afghanistan, Martin Longden, who is now working out of Doha.

In Pakistan, I met Prime Minister Khan and Foreign Minister Qureshi to discuss safe passage via third countries and the importance of holding the Taliban to their commitments. I also announced that we are sending £30 million in support to Afghanistan’s neighbours. This will provide life-saving support for refugees, including shelters, household necessities, sanitation and other hygiene facilities.

I dispatched last week a new rapid deployment team to the region, with an extra 22 staff in total. They will reinforce our embassy teams and high commission teams in neighbouring countries, processing British nationals or eligible Afghans who are seeking to leave via third countries. We want to do that as fast as we possibly can once they can leave, subject to the necessary security checks.

I also spoke to the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan earlier today and the Foreign Minister of Tajikistan last week. Our Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad, visited Tajikistan last week and will return to the region shortly.

I turn to the wider international strategy. The international community is adjusting, and must adjust, to the new reality in Afghanistan and is recalibrating its approach. The UK is playing a leading role. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister convened G7 leaders on 24 August to discuss a shared response to the situation. That followed a G7 Foreign Ministers meeting, and we are building a global coalition around four key priorities set out in a UK G7 paper that we have shared with those partners.

First, we must prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven or harbour for terrorists. Secondly, we must prevent a humanitarian disaster and support refugees, wherever possible, in the region. The UK has allocated £286 million in aid for Afghanistan this year. We are supporting Afghanistan’s neighbours, as I have set out, and the Home Secretary has set out our resettlement scheme, so we are leading by example, which enables us to encourage others to step up in what will inevitably have to be an international team effort.

Thirdly, we must preserve regional stability, which risks being shattered by the combination of renewed terrorist threat and an exodus of refugees. Fourthly, we must hold the Taliban and other factions to account for their conduct, including and in particular on human rights and on their treatment of women and girls. I am taking that forward through our bilateral partners; we have a G7+ meeting later this week, and the UK is also pressing for further discussions among the permanent members of the UN Security Council. We plan to host an event at the UN General Assembly later this month, as the Prime Minister indicated.

We will not recognise the Taliban, but we will engage, and we will carefully calibrate our actions to the choices that they make and the actions that they take. Given our strategic priorities—the ones that I have specified—we must also set some credible tests to hold the Taliban to the undertakings that they have made on safe passage, on terrorism, on humanitarian access, and on a more inclusive Government. We stand ready to use all the levers at our disposal—political, economic and diplomatic—in that effort. We continue to galvanise the international community and bring together the widest possible group of influential countries to deliver on those strategic priorities, and to exercise the maximum moderating influence on the Taliban that we possibly can. I commend this statement to the House.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)
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These have been a painful and sobering few weeks. Had it not been for the heroic efforts of the armed forces as well as the brave diplomats and civil servants involved in Operation Pitting, many more lives would have been lost and many more people left behind. They reminded us what courage looks like. I want to put on record my thanks to them and to all those who have served in Afghanistan over the last two decades, and also to add my condolences to the families of all those killed in the horrific bombing at Kabul airport.

If more lives are not to be lost, we need some urgent clarity today. What, specifically, is the advice to people trying to leave? Should they stay put and be hunted by the Taliban, or should they make their way to a border and risk being turned back?

Could the Foreign Secretary take care of some basic issues? The Home Office phone number provided for Afghans asks people to hold on for hours, and it is still chargeable. That is pretty easy to fix. Could he have a word with the Home Secretary and get it dealt with? He was not able to tell us how many British nationals are still there, but I imagine he must know by now, so can he tell us? We know that only one security guard from the embassy got out, so what is his plan for the rest? I did a quick check before I left my office today; there are still hundreds of unanswered emails from MPs, and many of them raised that question with the Prime Minister this afternoon. How many staff are now working on this in the Foreign Office, and why has it not been dealt with? If those Members are to get an answer by this evening, can the Foreign Secretary assure us that it will be a real answer and not just a holding response?

Can we have some clarity about who is actually eligible, especially under the ARAP scheme—it is welcome that the Secretary of State for Defence has stayed for the statement—because without clarity about who is eligible, people cannot risk heading to the border? It would be useful to have a much tighter idea of who the eligible people are, particularly the special cases. What is the assurance about safe passage that the Foreign Secretary believes that he has from the Taliban? Does it apply to all those with documentation, or just to the British nationals?

I understand that the technical problems at the airport have now been overcome, and that is welcome, but can the Foreign Secretary tell us a bit more about the diplomatic progress that has been made? How, for example, does he intend to square the circle to comply with the Taliban’s refusal to allow a foreign military presence, while also ensuring that those technicians from Turkey or Qatar, or whichever other country is chosen to oversee that operation, can be safeguarded? I very much support his view that it would be wrong to recognise the Taliban as a legitimate Government, but that presents a practical challenge to the countries that are considering stepping in to oversee the airport in respect of how guarantees can be upheld.

May I just say to the Foreign Secretary that the co-ordination between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, despite some very hard-working civil servants on the ground who are working round the clock, is still appalling? My office is in touch with a small number of Afghan workers, for example, who have been attached to intelligence and to MI6 in recent years. They are being treated as special cases under ARAP, and many of them have been waiting for months. I want to place on record my thanks to the Secretary of State of Defence, and also to the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who have made themselves available to many of us at all hours and at short notice to assist with some of these cases. Their personal intervention has made a difference, although that is no substitute for a system.

Could the Foreign Secretary also clarify some comments that he made to the Select Committee? He suggested that those who had been cleared to travel as part of Operation Pitting would now have to undergo security checks before being accepted on to ARAP. Were those checks not initially done, or is he now reneging on his promise? I have to say that both those scenarios concern us greatly. These are practical issues that are within the Foreign Secretary’s gift, and the fact that they have still not been dealt with sends a strong message that he has been more focused in recent days on keeping his job than on actually doing it. I want him to prove us wrong, because a lot rides on this, including the lives of many Afghans who assisted us.

Will the Foreign Secretary say a bit more about how the UK is going to get aid into Afghanistan to those who need it? I have been in touch with aid workers on the ground, many of whom are female and who have been banned from working by the Taliban. Those aid agencies are understandably saying that they will not operate with those conditions in place, but that means that they are not operating at all. On the refugee crisis, I say to him gently that countries in the region are not hugely impressed by the Home Secretary’s decision to cap the number of refugees that the UK will accept at 5,000 when they are dealing with a far greater refugee crisis. A bit of generosity from the UK would go a long way to helping to resolve the issues at the borders.

These are immediate concerns, but we are also concerned that for a generation of young Afghans, the future that they had expected is unravelling in front of their eyes. Can the Foreign Secretary say something about how the rights of the LGBT+ community will be upheld, as well as those of religious minorities? Can he outline the measures that he intends to take to set conditions for the Taliban regime, particularly that the situation of women and girls will be the cornerstone of any future engagement?

Our intelligence has been downgraded, our diplomats and troops are no longer on the ground and the Prime Minister appeared to say in his statement just now that the risk posed to the UK was unknown. The Foreign Secretary has suggested in a media interview that we would rely on open-source intelligence. Could he say some more about that, and about the possibility that we might be in a position where we are sharing intelligence with countries such as China and Russia? Given the significant national security implications of that, the House has a right to understand the Government’s strategy on it, if there is one. This has been nothing short of a disaster, so I ask him now to turn with humility to the world and to start to repair some of those broken relationships, trashed alliances and broken promises that have reduced us to a position where we are reliant on the Taliban for permission to safeguard our own citizens and negotiating with China and Russia in our own interests? In the cold, hard light of what has unfolded over this summer, surely it is time for him to rethink his approach to the way that Britain engages with the rest of the world.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank the hon. Lady for what she said about the efforts of our UK forces and the cross-Whitehall teams who have delivered the biggest evacuation in living memory. She asked for specific advice, but she will understand that I am a bit reticent about giving personal advice generically. However, the travel advice that the FCDO is putting out is very clear. It has been changed to reflect the situation on the ground, and it is the right point of reference for constituents and for hon. Members around the House.

The hon. Lady asked about phone calls into the FCDO crisis centre. Since 11 August, it has handled more than 44,000 calls and we have surged 45 members of FCDO staff and 35 staff from other Departments. Since 19 August, we have answered well over 90%—93%—of the total number received, and on every day since 24 August, our call handlers have answered more than 94% of the calls that were made. Just to give the hon. Lady a sense of this, since 20 August the average wait times have been less than a minute.

The hon. Lady also asked about correspondence. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, we will have replied to all MPs’ emails received by 30 August asking for an update by today. That will signpost them to the specific advice relevant to the particular case that they are raising. We will also respond to all the other emails that we have received from members of the public. She also made the point, as have other Labour Members, about putting them all in together, but these are different cases. The eligibility for nationality is different from the resettlement scheme, which is different from ARAP, so it is right that they are triaged to the proper decision maker. That is the point of the exercise that we are engaged in.

The hon. Lady asked about the details of the ARAP scheme. They have been published, so the details are there—[Interruption.] If she is concerned about any particular aspects of it, she should of course approach the relevant Minister. She asked about safe passage and—[Interruption.] We cannot answer her questions in the abstract to give effect to the circumstances of the cases she is referring to. She asked about safe passage. The Taliban have given us an assurance that those nationals and those who worked for us and want to leave will be allowed to leave, but like a range of other commitments they have made, we will have to hold them to that. These will form one of the early tests for the Taliban, and they will be judged by what they do rather than by what they say. The hon. Lady talks about influence, and that was the reason that we passed the United Nations Security Council resolution—we led this with the French and the Americans—that reiterated, affirmed and applied the international community’s imprimatur on that demand of the Taliban. We will now have to see whether they can pass that test.

Kabul airport is not up and running yet, but there are ongoing efforts to deal with not only its operational and technical capacity but its security conditions. For most cases, whether British nationals, ARAP or special cases under the resettlement scheme, it would be most straightforward if we can safely see Kabul airport up and running. If not, we will have to look at third-country routes out, but of course many third countries in the region are very nervous. We have had conversations with all of them, which is why I was in Qatar and Pakistan, to look at the practical arrangements for delivery.

Of course we will make sure that we check the eligibility of those who want to come to the UK, so that seats on planes go to those we want to come, those who are eligible to come and those we need to come, and we will also make sure that the security checks are in place so that we avoid the wrong kind of people coming to the UK.

The hon. Lady asked how we can ensure that the aid going into Afghanistan gets to where it needs to go. As I announced last week, we have provided £30 million for neighbouring countries to deal with refugees in the region precisely because it is better for refugees to be dealt with closer to their home, but also because we recognise the burden that will be placed on the region.

On aid more generally and the rest of the £286 million, this is another of the early tests for the Taliban. If they want to avoid the collapse of Afghanistan’s social and economic fabric and if they want aid to continue flowing, they will need to provide a safe operating environment for the UN and other agencies. I spoke to the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy, Jean Arnault, about that.

We have further meetings this week with the G7+, and I will have further conversations—I am sure I will be travelling to the region. The UK has issued a G7 paper setting out the key priorities, from counter-terrorism to the humanitarian lifeline, and it has been very well received. Working with our partners, we now have to operationalise that paper.

The hon. Lady asked about non-G7 partners. The reality is that, if we want to influence the Taliban in the most effective way possible, we need a broader caucus, particularly with regional countries that have a relationship with the Taliban, to exercise the maximum moderating influence, and that is just what we are doing.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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I too am grateful for advance sight of the statement.

The impression we have been given of ministerial communications with Members of this House on constituency cases is not as rosy as has been put forward by Ministers. I constructively suggest that there needs to be a proper review of how adequate things actually were, because our experience is that communications were not as good as we have been told.

I am glad to see that the new resettlement scheme is now moving, but I would like to unpack what 20,000 people over the coming years actually means. It is a good line, but I fear it will not stand analysis. Does it mean that the scheme will close if 20,000 Afghans apply and are processed in the first few months of next year? In that case the scheme is wholly inadequate. Or does it mean there is an annual quota? How long do the UK Government think vulnerable Afghans should wait while the Taliban hunt them down? In that case the scheme is similarly inadequate. We would like to see the scheme expanded and we would like much more clarity, which I understand is coming for the devolved Administrations and local government, particularly on how family reunion will be counted within those numbers—that is a crucial point for Afghans who are already here and those who are concerned.

On the Foreign Secretary’s line about safe and legal routes to this country, in the name of policy coherence surely now is the time for the UK Government to pause the Nationality and Borders Bill because it would penalise many Afghans arriving by other routes. Afghanistan is in chaos, and they will not be able to form an orderly queue in the way one might like. Surely, in the name of policy coherence, one part of the UK Government should not be penalising Afghans arriving here while another part of the UK Government is trying to save them and keep them safe.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks; he asks perfectly reasonable questions. On the correspondence, I have already set out for the House how we are dealing with that. I just say to him that we had, of course, a surge of cases and indeed requests for updates in the final days of the evacuation. At that time, rightly, we took the decision, and I took the decision, that our focus ought to be on getting as many people as we possibly could out of Afghanistan, on to flights and back home to safety. That is how we have achieved that remarkable figure of more than 15,000 in the space of just a couple of weeks, but of course we want to make sure that colleagues in this House are updated and signposted to the right advice, and that those who have emailed or called directly get the advice they need.

The hon. Gentleman asked a range of questions on the resettlement scheme. Those are probably more for the Home Secretary than for me, but let me tell him that the plan is for 5,000 to be resettled this year, with 20,000 over the course of the next few years. That comes on top of the ARAP scheme. I believe we are right not only to lead by example in the way I have described and, on aid, to provide the £30 million to the neighbouring countries so that we can support them in taking those refugees, but to use that leadership by example to corral and cajole other countries to step up. We are not going to be able to take all of the refugees or those wishing to leave Afghanistan. We do our bit, but we also then call on others and use the example we have set to cajole and encourage others to do the same. Further details on the scheme will be set out by the Home Secretary.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether we would strip out the legislative checks that are applying more broadly. I do not think that is the right thing to do and I do not think our constituents would want us to do it, as we are, in a good-hearted way, making sure that this country is taking in not just our nationals, but those fleeing Afghanistan because they have worked for us or for other reasons. Our constituents will want to see us take a responsible approach and have the checks in place to make sure that that system is not abused.

Andrew Murrison Portrait Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
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Congratulations to all involved in Operation Pitting, including my right hon. Friend. It seems unlikely that the Taliban are going to continue to co-operate on the safe passage of Afghans to the UK—in order to safeguard those individuals from the Taliban—so the focus will shift, sadly, to refugee camps in countries surrounding Afghanistan. What read-across does he see between this situation and the highly successful Syrian resettlement programme? In particular, what measures has he discussed with the UN to triage people, so that we take from among the most vulnerable, as we do with the Syrian programme? Has he engaged with other countries, as we engage with Turkey, for example, in trying to ensure that we take those who are most vulnerable and relocate them back to the UK, to locations such as Wiltshire, where my constituency has done its part in helping people from that particularly challenged part of the world?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to his time as a Foreign Office Minister. He is right; we are already consulting the UN. The Prime Minister has spoken to UN Secretary-General. I have spoken to his special envoy for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault,, to talk through these issues and make sure that we get the eligibility and co-ordination right. My right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) is also right to refer to the Syrian precedent. We want to learn the lessons from it, and there was much that was a success there. Of course, the circumstances in Afghanistan are different, and the Home Secretary will set out further details in due course, once we have completed that. It will feed in all of the conversations we are having, not just with the UN, but with allies, including Turkey and other countries around the region.

Harriet Harman Portrait Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab)
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I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. May I ask him about the number of requests the Government have already had in respect of Afghan citizens who do not qualify for the ARAP scheme as they did not work directly for us, but who want and need to flee here from Afghanistan and have already asked? I know that the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is not yet open, but he must already know how many have, through Members of this House or other organisations, already asked to come here because of the Taliban. Can he tell us how many have done so? How will the Government decide who is going to get into the 5,000 cap? The criteria for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme are yet to be announced, but we know that it is for those who are highly vulnerable to the Taliban because of what they have done in support of the values we and the previous regime were committed to, in particular, women and girls, equality, democracy and human rights. There are bound to be so many more than 5,000, so how will the Government in practice decide between those who will be the lucky 5,000 and be allowed to come here, and those who, although meeting the criteria, will, because of the 5,000 cap, be refused and face a terrible fate at the hands of the Taliban? The reality is that the unless the Government increase the 5,000 cap, the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme is going to end up as a lottery of life and death.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I know how passionate the right hon. and learned Lady is about this issue and how assiduous she has been on it. It is difficult to give a precise number of the applications and claims, not least because there is some duplication in the multiple emails and correspondence we have had. She is right to say—frankly, this would be true even if we doubled or tripled the quota—that the number of people who flee Afghanistan is going to outstrip what the UK would be able to take alone. That means that we need to look very carefully at the criteria, as the Home Secretary and I are doing across Government, to make sure that we prioritise the most vulnerable and those with a particular link to the UK, as well as co-ordinating with the United Nations. Further details will be set out by the Home Secretary.

As I mentioned earlier, the UK is doing our bit, alongside the aid we are providing, including to support third countries that take refugees. The UK will not be able to deal with the demand alone—of course we would not do so—but by taking action and showing leadership, we will help to corral and cajole other countries to follow suit. That is how we will have a comprehensive and effective response to the Afghanistan situation.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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The Taliban want cash, international recognition and propaganda coups. I am gravely concerned by the international direction of travel towards recognising them, so will my right hon. Friend reassure me that we are doing all we can to prevent other partner countries from doing so and from giving them any cash? Will he consider using the conflict centre to set up an international mechanism for atrocity management, to make sure that we know exactly what is happening on the ground, that we are monitoring it and that we can reveal the Taliban for who they truly are, internationally and around the world?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My hon. Friend is right about holding the Taliban to account, particularly in relation to human rights and the approach they take to women and girls. Getting access on the ground is the main challenge, which is why we need to have humanitarian access, first, to provide that lifeline, but also to give us the information that my hon. Friend described.

On recognition, we will not recognise the Taliban—in fact, the UK Government do not recognise Governments as distinct from states. We are encouraging our allies and partners in the region to do as we have done, which is set some early tests for engagement with the Taliban on safe passage, on a permissive environment for humanitarian groups operating on the ground in Afghanistan and on the Taliban’s commitment never to allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorism. If the Taliban follow through on those things and show that they can be a constructive partner—albeit at a level of expectation different from that we would have in respect of more like-minded countries—we can see what that can develop into. It is important to engage without bestowing legitimacy on the Taliban regime.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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The Foreign Secretary said in his opening remarks that we must prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a haven for terrorist groups, and of course we all agree with that. Did the Foreign Secretary agree with what the Prime Minister said to the House earlier, when he talked about the Taliban cracking down on terrorism? Is that a credible statement from our Prime Minister?

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Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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There is clearly a difference between the Taliban and groups such as ISIS-K and al-Qaeda. Indeed, there is a suspicion—I would not say more than that—that part of the intention of the ISIS-K attack at Abbey Gate was to target the Taliban. Clearly, if the Taliban want to be an effective Administration of some sort and to avoid all the disastrous mistakes made previously, they will have to live up to the assurances they have made to avoid Afghanistan becoming a harbour or safe haven for terrorism. I share the right hon. Lady’s measure of scepticism, but it is right for the international community to hold the Taliban to their commitments, as we did with the UN Security Council resolution last week, and to test what the level of engagement can produce in terms of constructive results.

Crispin Blunt Portrait Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
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I welcome the inclusion in the Prime Minister’s statement of sexuality as an identified risk for Afghans who need to be rescued. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a direction on the issue early in the crisis, and in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee I will report how things went thereafter. I am afraid it was unsatisfactory.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that unlimited objectives—as we set ourselves in Afghanistan when this exercise began—with only limited means will always run the risk of failure? Does he agree that the failure in this case has done awful damage to our values and reinforced the appeal of our enemies? Will he confirm that the Chicago doctrine, which is one of the roots of this situation, alongside a wilful ignorance of history, will have no part in our values and his understanding of how global Britain will operate in future?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know that he has already raised LGBT rights in relation to the vulnerability of Afghans and the resettlement scheme. I have discussed that directly with the Home Secretary. I understand its importance and we want to make sure that, with the details of the resettlement scheme, we cover all of those who are particularly at risk, and that group clearly is particularly at risk. He asked about interventionism more generally. I think he will see in the integrated review not just a strategic policy for the United Kingdom for the 21st century on tech, on trade, and on the UK as a force for good, but a rigorous approach to reconcile ends with means, and he is right to say that there are lessons for that over 20 years in Afghanistan.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Anum Qaisar-Javed (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
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I welcome the news that, last week, the Foreign Secretary visited Pakistan, a key player in the region. However, does he accept that it is simply unacceptable that he did not call Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, in the six months before the Taliban takeover given the UK’s overwhelming interests in the region at a time of crisis?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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We have an excellent relationship with Pakistan. The hon. Lady is right that, on my visit, I saw Prime Minister Khan and Foreign Minister Qureshi. The Minister of State, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad, had visited Pakistan in June. All of us—the Prime Minister, through me, and right the way down—made sure that we were in constant contact. The bilateral relationship as well as the country’s relevance and importance on Afghanistan is something very dear to our hearts and we discussed it at length when I was there.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
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I sincerely thank the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence for their help in evacuating several Kensington-related families. I still have British nationals with Afghan dependant minor children and spouses in Afghanistan. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to urge the Home Office to publish the details of the Afghanistan resettlement scheme as quickly as possible so that these families know where they stand?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank her for paying tribute to the cross-Whitehall teams that worked so assiduously under immense pressure. Of course, cases like the one that she describes could be eligible under the nationality criteria, depending on the nature of the dependants, or separately under the resettlement scheme. The particular circumstances will be relevant and important, but, of course, we will make sure that the full details of the resettlement scheme are published shortly.

Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
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The Government say that the number of British nationals left in Afghanistan is in the low hundreds, but in my constituency alone, I have 11 constituents stuck, including an 18-month-old baby, many of whom witnessed horror at Kabul Airport and, fearing the Taliban, they are now petrified and in hiding. When I contact the Foreign Office about these cases, all I get is cut-and-paste responses. What will the Foreign Secretary do to guarantee their security. Will he give his word that these British nationals will get home safely?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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Of course we will do everything we conceivably can. One reason why we did not get everyone out was that some were afraid; the conditions on the ground were objectively very challenging. None the less, we are committed, both through our efforts with third countries and also in seeing when and how Kabul Airport can be reopened, to make sure that, as well as the resettlement scheme, we do everything that we can for her cases, in relation to the UK nationals, the qualified independents, the Afghans who worked for us and the other special cases. I am very happy to continue to support her in that endeavour.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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What succour will the Foreign Secretary give to the resistance in the Panjshir?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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We are watching the developments on the ground very carefully, but it is fair to say that the Taliban are in control of the vast majority of Afghanistan. I do not think it is the right thing at the moment to start supporting other groups, notwithstanding our previous role. I say to my right hon. Friend, with an understanding of his passion and knowledge of the issue, that we have to adjust to the new reality on the ground.

Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP)
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I have to say that my blood ran rather cold when the Foreign Secretary suggested that the Home Secretary would have anything to do with helping refugees. However, there are Members around the House who have been supporting Afghan nationals to try to get them out of Afghanistan—people who have now burned their documents, deleted electronic records, and have even seen their internet profile and footprint deleted by organisations for which they used to work. Can we have a categoric, cast-iron assurance from the Secretary of State today that no one entitled to support to leave when the routes are open will ever be turned away for the absence of a piece of paper or an electronic record?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I do not think that the Home Secretary or I—both the children of refugees—need to be lectured on this subject by him in the terms and tone that he used. We will do everything we can to get those who are eligible home, but we are not going to dispense with the basic checks—he calls them “a piece of paper”—that we need to ensure that we keep this country safe from those who are not eligible and would put our safety at risk.

Ruth Edwards Portrait Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) (Con)
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The Taliban’s values may not have changed, but their use of technology has. What assessment have the Government made of the ways in which the Taliban may be using technologies such as social media to track opponents and spread disinformation, and how can we work with our allies and social media companies to counter this?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I am not going to go into too much of the operational detail, but it is fair to say that the new iteration of the Taliban are a more sophisticated operator in many ways—with regard not just to the comms that they are engaged in, but their ability to use technology. That could, at least at one level, have a positive effect, but it also creates new risks and threats, which we will monitor carefully with our allies.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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I pay tribute to everyone who worked on the airlift from 15 August.

We had 18 months’ notice that this situation would come about, but I have to say to the Foreign Secretary that the organisation here—for us, raising cases on behalf of our constituents—was nothing short of chaotic, with different phone numbers, a lack of information and a lack of feedback. We still do not know whether anything that we wrote and passed in on behalf of our constituents had any effect whatever. The Foreign Secretary has said that the work to get people to safety started long before 15 August and that 500 UK nationals got out. That does not sound like many. What of those people we had an obligation to in Afghanistan—the Afghanistan nationals who worked with our Government? How many of them did we get out before 15 August?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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The hon. Gentleman issues a fair challenge, but I am afraid that there is an equally fair and reasonable answer. We have standing evacuation plans in place for all high-risk embassies. As I have made clear before, although we considered all eventualities, our central assessment was that there would be a slow deterioration in security from the end of August, after NATO troops were withdrawn. From April, in the run-up to our June G7 summit, I was focused on securing the US assurances to allow us to shift our embassy from the green zone to the airport.

The hon. Gentleman asked about what we were doing in the months that preceded the evacuation. From April, we sped up the relocation of former Afghan staff under the ARAP programme. In answer to his question, in that period from April onwards we relocated nearly 2,000 people. We changed our advice in April and again later on, so from April we have been very clear in advising British nationals to consider leaving Afghanistan. Our timing, by way of international comparator, was in sync with our NATO allies. I also point out that commercial flights were running until 14 August. No one—not even the Taliban, I think—had expected them to gain ground as rapidly as they did. I think that is the view among NATO allies. It was certainly also the view of regional partners when I was in the region, in Qatar and Pakistan, last week.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con)
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On the resettlement of the Afghan families—the British citizens and those with the right to remain here—how confident is my right hon. Friend that agreement will be reached with the Taliban and other Governments of neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, so that those needing to cross the border will not be prevented on the one side or turned away on the other? Will that include Iran, for those who have already crossed the border at Herat, and when does he expect the processes and resources will be in place so that we can update constituents?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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On my last update, although it is changing and very fluid, I think that all the borders have been closed with the exception of Iran’s. When I was in Pakistan, the border with Afghanistan had been closed, so let us be very clear: this is going to be a challenge. We want to make sure that we have arrangements in place so that the willingness and the ability to process British cases, whether they are nationals or ARAP-eligible cases, will be seen by these third countries as taking some of the burden off them. At the same time, it would be much more straightforward if the airport at Kabul could be made up and running, but there are not just technical capacity issues with that but the security situation on the ground. We are alive to all these risks. We are working all of them through, including with our allies, and that is why I was in the region last week.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
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About 10 days ago, I met Oxford’s Hazara community, one of whom described how they had paid exorbitant amounts of money to human traffickers for their family to get to the Pakistan border and then get over the border itself, but they had been turned away because they were not of the right tribe. Can the Foreign Secretary assure us that the Hazaras are considered a vulnerable group, because history, and the present, tells us that they are? When he talks about safe passage, is he specifically considering how people get to the border and over the border, not just what happens to them when they get to the border, because for many of them that is not a possibility?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right that ethnic groups—Hazaras and others—would be considered as part of the eligibility in the same way as LGBT people. Effectively we are looking at risk, which will depend on the individual but also the group, and she is right to raise ethnicity as a risk. In relation to getting to the edge of the Afghan border, that will require the Taliban to allow safe passage. I have explained to the House how we are working on that. We are also engaging with all the regional partners—this is why I was in Pakistan and why I spoke to the Uzbek Foreign Minister earlier today. We want to be clear that we have the capacity to process and give them the assurance to let those individuals across the border, and that we will take them directly back to the UK. I have deployed a team of 15 additional rapid deployment team experts to support that process in the region. But the crucial question at the moment is: will the Taliban offer safe passage and will those other countries in the region be willing to allow at least a measured and controlled opening of their borders?

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) mentioned Herat. There are 572 miles of western border between Iran and Afghanistan. Some 780,000 refugees from Afghanistan are in Iran, and perhaps two or three times that number unregistered. Is there any possibility that we can use exit routes via Herat or elsewhere in Afghanistan to get people to this country?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank my right hon. Friend. I know how much first-hand experience he has of these matters from his time in active service. Of course the relationship with the new Government of Iran remains one that will have to be tested, but I can tell him that both through the joint comprehensive plan of action and more broadly, I had a consistent and constructive dialogue with the previous Foreign Minister, and I will certainly remain open to continuing that with his successor. That would allow us to address these wider issues, which I think will be in Iran’s interests as well as obviously those of the UK and other countries.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
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As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability, I have been receiving concerns from people across the United Kingdom regarding the vulnerability of people with disabilities who are at risk. They cannot get to safety in Afghanistan and cannot get to the airport. This is particularly those who are part of ethnic minority groups or religious groups, such as Christians. Will the Foreign Secretary link with the all-party group to make sure that the resettlement programme is inclusive for the most vulnerable and that those with disabilities are never left behind?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank the hon. Lady for the work that she and the APPG are doing. She raises a really important point. It is a practical point, but one that will only exacerbate people’s fear and anxiety, particularly if they are disabled or from an ethnic minority, as she described. I urge her to send me and the Home Secretary any papers or recommendations that the APPG has.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Given the way in which the Taliban have taken a lot of NATO equipment to strengthen their hold on the country, how could we send aid in without the Taliban using or abusing it for their own purposes?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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We will not give aid to the Taliban. The Taliban have a choice and a set of decisions that they have to make about whether they want to preside over the wholesale economic and social collapse of the fabric of the country. If not, they will have to give certain assurances. I think that will particularly apply to the permissive environment we would need for aid agencies in order to continue our aid. Again, that falls within the category of early tests for the Taliban, which is why we will engage with them without recognising them.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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I also had constituents who could not get to the Baron Hotel as a result of illness and disability. On Saturday, it was reported that British citizens seeking to flee into Uzbekistan were not able to cross the border, while citizens of other states, such as Germany, were able to do so. What steps will the Government take to ensure that British nationals and Afghans eligible for support here are able to safely cross borders and get to safety?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I think what the hon. Lady says about the Germany case is not quite right. My understanding is that there was a previous German case that was allowed onward passage, but the border has been closed. I spoke to the Uzbek Foreign Minister earlier today, as I have been speaking with the Foreign Ministers around the region, to try, as we have done in Pakistan, to set up a workable system so that British nationals, Afghan workers and, indeed, other cases that we are willing to take—and we can give that undertaking—can be allowed into Uzbekistan for onward passage to the UK. We are doing everything we can to make sure that that is possible.

Angela Richardson Portrait Angela Richardson (Guildford) (Con)
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The positive impact of 20 years of education for millions of girls and young women in Afghanistan has changed countless lives for the better. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will be using every tool at their disposal to place pressure on the Taliban and protect the progress made on the rights of women and girls?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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British aid allowed 10 million more children to get access to a decent education over that last 20 years. Four out of 10 of them were young girls, who would have never seen a school otherwise. I think that is absolutely one of the crucial social gains that we need to try to consolidate and avoid being rolled back. Whenever I have spoken to any of my G7 partners, or partners in the region, there has been clarity that we need to work together to exercise the maximum moderating influence that we possibly can to make sure that those gains are not lost.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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In the last quarter of 2020, the Home Office was rejecting more than half of all asylum applications from Afghan nationals. Will the Foreign Secretary back up some of the language that he has used today and urge his colleague the Home Secretary to ensure that all Afghan appeals under review are assessed for suitability for a grant of asylum before they are listed and heard in court?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I would just say to the hon. Gentleman that I understand the passion with which he speaks. We have taken more than 17,000 people. Many of those are British nationals, but there are also Afghan nationals. We have allocated over the next few years that we will take 20,000, but we cannot take all of them, which is why it is right to check eligibility and to work with partners in the region and across the world to make sure that they can also bear the burden.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend might like to note that the Council of Europe will be debating Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. I wonder whether he has seen the pictures that appeared today of musical instruments that have been smashed by the Taliban, who have banned western music. I encourage him to take a special interest in girls and women, particularly those of the Afghan women’s orchestra, who are threatened by the Taliban at the moment.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting such cases and pay tribute to his work on the Council of Europe. We are clearly going to face challenging times and need to adjust our thinking to the new reality, but of course we will do everything we can to protect and preserve the gains in relation to girls’ education as well as wider social activity, including music.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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Earlier, the Prime Minister said to the House,

“tell them that this country and the western world were protected from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan throughout that period.”

The Foreign Secretary furthered that by saying:

“First, we must prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a haven…for terrorists.”

I agree entirely with both statements, but we are putting a lot of trust in the murderous, medieval Taliban. What do we do if the training camps and terror networks return?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern, which is probably the single biggest concern of hon. Members across the House. In the last analysis, we reserve the right to exercise the right of self-defence, as we always do. It is not quite right to say that we trust the Taliban or that we can trust the Taliban. We need to be willing to engage and set some early tests—of which this is one—and then monitor them carefully and judge them by what they do, not just what they say.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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Like every Member of this House, I have many constituents who are desperately concerned that they have friends and relatives at imminent risk of reprisals by the Taliban. For them, the crisis is now, not evenly spaced over five years. Will the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues therefore show some flexibility to ensure that, as part of the scheme being worked up, we can rescue those at the time of need?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I understand my right hon. Friend’s point. It is right to have the resettlement scheme over a number of years, because history tells us that we will be dealing with this challenge for some time. We have also catered for and addressed the immediate short term. We have got more than 17,000 people out, including about 500 special cases of Chevening scholars, female judges, female rights activists, journalists and many others. We are trying to get the right balance between a sustainable long-term strategy and dealing immediately with those fleeing persecution.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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Many of my constituents’ families are still facing difficulties in getting out, including the family of a 17-year-old constituent who made it to the visa application centre in Islamabad only to find that part of their family reunion paperwork had been lost by officials. Others are awaiting DNA tests and tuberculosis paperwork. What will the Foreign Secretary do to address the paperwork issue? Can I have a meeting urgently to discuss the other 85 cases and over 100 Afghans that my office is supporting?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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That is one of the reasons why I went to Islamabad, where I talked to the high commission team dealing with and supporting those applications and cases. We are trying to work through them as assiduously as we can. If the hon. Lady has examples of cases that she feels have not been handled properly, she should send them to me and I or Lord Ahmad will be happy to sit down with her.

Holly Mumby-Croft Portrait Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for the work that he is doing and that his team are continuing to do. I appreciate that it is incredibly difficult, but can he give any further detail on his assessment of the timeframe to help those British nationals still stuck in Kabul?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. The reality is that it will depend on two factors. The first is the ability to get Kabul up and running. That is in many ways the more straightforward, because by engaging with the Qataris in particular, we could not only get easier and more direct access out of the country but look at what we could do on eligibility pre-checks and such things.

If not, the alternative is third countries. I imagine that many of the third countries are anxious about a potential exodus, so we must approach them with a view to supporting them to take cases that would come to the UK. I cannot give my hon. Friend a definitive timeframe, but I was out in Qatar, which is helping on the airport, and in Pakistan, which of the neighbouring countries is probably the most likely destination for those leaving, precisely to work through those arrangements and to make clear what we will do to co-operate and co-ordinate.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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James Murray Portrait James Murray (Ealing North) (Lab/Co-op)
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As of this morning, I had received urgent, heartbreaking pleas from 289 constituents of mine about well over 1,500 of their loved ones desperate to get out of Afghanistan. My team and I have been doing everything we can to help, but we need the Government to respond and to be clear about what options people might have. Can the Secretary of State make it clear whether the response the Prime Minister promised today will include a specific response to the inquiries that I and other MPs have raised, and can he confirm when the eligibility for the Afghan citizens’ resettlement scheme will be published?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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We will do everything we can to support the hon. Member, and indeed hon. Members across the House. The thing to understand is that there are three separate ways of being eligible to come to the UK. We want to triage the cases, and point people in the direction of the right port of call and give them the right advice for each one of those three channels, rather than mixing them together, given that they do not have the same eligibility criteria.

Simon Jupp Portrait Simon Jupp (East Devon) (Con)
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Does the Foreign Secretary agree with me that it is strange to hear the Labour party criticise the Government for unnecessary withdrawal from Afghanistan when the shadow Foreign Secretary said that the mission had “outlived its usefulness” only in July?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. The truth is that throughout this crisis we have had a litany of critique without really very serious or credible suggestions for doing anything alternative. The reality is also—I want to recognise this—that beyond the Labour Front Bench there are hon. Members across the House who have very legitimate and genuine concerns, and we are doing everything we can to support those.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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Does the Foreign Secretary believe he would be more successful in his attempts to persuade the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to keep or indeed make sure that their borders are open to refugees if our country took more than a desultory 5,000 as a limit, and saw that as a minimum number of refugees we would take rather than a maximum?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I understand the point the hon. Gentleman makes, but I think there is no country proportionally doing more, if we take not only what we are doing on the resettlement scheme, but the 17,000 who have come back to the UK and the £30 million that I announced at the end of last week to support those third countries. I think it is right that we do our bit, but I have to say to him that I also think it is right, as a matter of policy and of moral responsibility, to try to allow refugees to be settled closer to their home so that in the future they may be able to return.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of China’s growing involvement in Afghanistan, the geopolitical consequences and the UK’s response to that?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I have spoken to my counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and I will speak to him again in the near future. There is a lot of talk about how China wants to rush in and fill the vacuum in Afghanistan, but I have to say that I am not entirely convinced that it does want to bear the entirety of the burden, whether it is the security and the terrorist burden or the financial burden of a country in such a precarious, fragile position. While we have many areas that are challenging with China, actually this is something where there are some commonalities of views and interests. I think in a situation such as this, whether it is China or other countries in the region, we need to try to work together, because we are much more likely, if we do so, to exercise maximum moderating influence on the Taliban, and that is what will yield results.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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With the Taliban takeover, many of my constituents who are Hazara Shi’a fear for their families’ safety. There is also a minority Uyghur community in Afghanistan who are in hiding, scared that they will be handed over to China. What steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to protect these minorities?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank the hon. Gentleman, who I think raises a very real issue. As I have already said to the House, we will make sure that vulnerability based on ethnicity will be considered in the resettlement scheme, and it is crucial—and I refer to the G7 paper the UK has put forward—that one of the things on which we will have to judge the Taliban and one of the early tests will be whether they are serious about being a more inclusive Government, and that will mean human rights obviously in relation to women but also their treatment of ethnic minorities.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
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When we designed the Syrian resettlement scheme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees played a crucial role as an independent and neutral party to identify those eligible for resettlement and then make the connections with the authorities of the countries willing to take them in, including the UK. What discussions have taken place between the Government and the UNHCR doing this work, and if it is my right hon. Friend’s view that the UNHCR is not going to be able to undertake that in this different situation, who does he feel is best placed to undertake that key role?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My hon. Friend raises a good point. The Prime Minister has spoken to the UN Secretary-General, including on this, and I spoke to Jean Arnault, the special representative on Afghanistan. Without giving all the details, I can say that of course the relationship with the UN will be one of the critical factors we consider in shaping the resettlement scheme.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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The Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill would see hundreds, possibly thousands, of Afghan asylum seekers arriving in this country in the months ahead and being prosecuted in criminal courts and imprisoned for up to four years. How can the Foreign Secretary possibly justify that proposal?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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We want to be a safe haven for those fleeing persecution, but we also want to encourage people to take legal and lawful routes, and that is why we have set them out. We do not want to encourage the kind of situation we see across the channel; we want to ensure that people come through the right channels. That is the right, balanced approach, and I think it is what our constituents would expect.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
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While the Taliban’s PR skills seem to have improved over the past 20 years, it is not yet clear that the new regime is any less evil or oppressive. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that there should not be any question of either Britain or our international partners recognising the Taliban Government until we can be sure they will meet their commitments on human rights, terrorism and humanitarian access?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My hon. Friend nails it: we do not intend to recognise the Taliban. The UK Government do not as a matter of practice recognise Governments, and the reason why is that that allows us to engage, and measure and calibrate our level of engagement, based on what the authorities do, not just what they say. The issues and tests that he identifies are the right ones, and we will be watching very carefully what the Taliban do in the weeks and months ahead. I would just say that while my scepticism runs quite deep, there was some evidence in the engagement we had on the ground in relation to the airport that it is possible to have a rational and constructive engagement and be able to test whether they will keep their word. That was an early test; the ones that my hon. Friend described will be the next ones we have to face.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Prime Minister spoke earlier about helping Afghan friends of this country, but having been approached by some concerned constituents and having corresponded with the Home Office, the MOD and the FCDO, it was extremely difficult to get any clarity about plans for the evacuation of British Council employees, former employees and their families. Eventually I was advised that even current British Council staff are not eligible for early relocation. Can the Foreign Secretary explain this very disappointing decision, and what plans are now being put in place to help these Afghan nationals who put their own and their families’ lives in danger by supporting the British Council over the past 20 years?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I do not think that is quite right: we have been willing to look at British Council cases, although of course this depends on the level of association. More generally, if the hon. Lady has particular examples where she thinks that that has not been done, she should write to me and I will look at them personally.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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Will the Foreign Secretary say a little more about his assessment of the characteristics of the Taliban, and does he agree that one feature they have demonstrated is extraordinary patience over 20 years, so that if, as some had called for, the occupation by allied forces had remained for longer the Taliban would simply have waited that extra time before making their move for power?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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It is difficult to assess and judge that with any precision, but one thing is clear: the Taliban have proved a very effective military force. The question is whether they can turn that into not just governing Afghanistan in a way that is more inclusive and moderate but demonstrate the technical skills and capacity to, for instance, set a budget or get the airport up and running. These bread and butter issues away from the polemics of whether the Taliban have had a wholesale Damascene conversion will be among the most important tests in the weeks ahead. The Taliban at a political level are currently engaged in the process of forming a Government, and we will be looking very carefully at the character and composition of what is announced in due course.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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What engagement will be undertaken with regional multi-state security collaborations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, whose members all have an interest in checking international terror groups based in Afghanistan?

--- Later in debate ---
Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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That is probably more the Home Secretary’s domain than mine, but we will of course want to assess very carefully with all our key partners and all the sources at our disposal the nature of the security threat, and we are monitoring that in real time.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

How careful are the Government going to be about not revealing very large numbers of names of people with a claim to come here to the Taliban until we know they will assist them in coming here rather than lock them up?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are going to have to test this; this is one of the early tests. The evidence from the period of the evacuation suggests, given the numbers we referred to—over 17,000 people, with a huge number of Afghan nationals, and the 500 cases of particularly vulnerable Afghans such as journalists, judges, Chevening scholars and women’s rights activists—that the Taliban are able to give an assurance and then keep to it. The question is whether we can build that into a steadier understanding to deal with the outstanding cases.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State has said that the Taliban have agreed for British nationals to leave Afghanistan. Does that include eligible immediate family members? Can he confirm what exit routes have been agreed with the Taliban and say more about the timescales—are we looking at days, weeks or months? Finally, can he also say more about the economic leverage the Government and our allies have over the Taliban?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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In terms of the eligibility of dependants, the Taliban have not gone into that level of granular detail, but if there is a clear case of a British national and immediate dependants we would expect to be able to include them, and so far through the evacuation that has been the case. The hon. Lady asked a series of other questions which are perfectly legitimate. We will have to see whether the Taliban are willing to allow safe passage. At present the challenge is that most third countries have locked their borders, so that challenge is coming externally, but for understandable reasons we are working and willing to engage not just with the Taliban but with all the countries in the region so that any of our cases that get to the border can be processed.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, may I thank the Foreign Secretary for all he has done and for today’s statement? I have a specific question. The Prime Minister has said that we are looking to set up a contact group or broader coalition. What is the timeline for setting up this contact group and what will be the specific criteria for membership—counter-terrorism, humanitarian, nation building? Also, will the format be based on P5 plus region and plus other countries from the middle east to get the money?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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The truth is that all the points my hon. Friend made are relevant considerations. Ideally, we would want the UN to co-ordinate as that would give it independence and objectivity. All the groups he described would need to be considered. Of course they do not all get on with each other, so this is also about the art of the possible, but I am following through on that this week. We are trying to establish a core of a P5 consensus although that is not entirely straightforward, and then we will want to consider all the different regional partners, which do not all have perfect relationships with each other. This is partly about the factors my hon. Friend described but it is also about the art of the possible. It is clear, however, that we need a much broader group to be more effective in exercising a moderating influence on the Taliban.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Did the right hon. Gentleman’s Department provide a risk and needs assessment to help the Home Secretary draw up the figure of 20,000 as the proper number of people to be resettled? What advice is it providing about identifying the 5,000 most in need to come in the first year? What advice is it providing to the Home Secretary about selecting the next 15,000? They need help, but not for a few years apparently. What support are they going to get in intervening years before they are allowed to come to the UK?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Of course, we are advising and working very closely with the Home Office on the new resettlement scheme and the eligibility criteria, in the way that the hon. Gentleman described. If we had just made a year 1 commitment, he would probably be saying, “But what about year 2, year 3 and year 4?” I think it is right that we look at both the short term and the medium term, and the Home Secretary will set out full details in due course.

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

People in Stroud were really distressed to see the footage of a baby being handed over to an American soldier at Kabul airport. We know that there are thousands of orphans stranded in Afghanistan, and they are at risk of radicalisation and abuse. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that children and orphans are a focus of UK support and say a little more about how we are achieving that?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

No one could fail to be moved by the heart-rending scenes at Kabul airport—the one my hon. Friend described and others. We will of course look at what we can do in relation to orphans and unaccompanied minors. The real challenge will be getting verifiable details about their parents—whether they are still alive or whether there are members of the wider family. In the first instance—this has been our experience more generally across the middle east and in war-torn countries—we want to try to see whether it is possible to reunite children with either their parents, if it is safe to do so, or wider members of their family.

Meg Hillier Portrait Dame Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As is the case for many MPs, many of my constituents who are British have family dependants in Afghanistan, and a number are saying that they want to go to a third country, such as Pakistan, to get them out. I am advising them to wait until they get advice from the Government, but is the Foreign Secretary having serious discussions with the Home Secretary about expediting cases that are already in the system, with the biometrics and paperwork already in place, to see whether we can get those people through quickly to avoid clogging up the infrastructure in those third countries?

--- Later in debate ---
Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Of course, if there is a stock of cases that are good to go because those checks have already been done, we want to make sure that we are ready for the first flights out of Kabul, or indeed the first access that we can get via a third country, so that is very much on my mind and the Home Secretary’s.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Over the past 20 years, and especially in the most recent weeks, we have been able to see and hear so much about what is going on in Afghanistan thanks to the bravery of many local journalists—especially women, who of course were not allowed even to work under the previous Taliban regime. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising them for their courageous work, and can he confirm that those who now feel at risk and need to leave the country are included in the category of special cases?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only are they included, but among the broadly 500 special cases that have been evacuated out of Afghanistan, there have been a significant number of journalists. Of course, we will continue to process those kinds of cases.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thanks to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), we are all cognisant of the fact that the Foreign Office was acutely aware of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan in July—22 July rings a particular bell. Despite that, the Foreign Secretary still proceeded to go on his holidays. When is he going to find a backbone and resign?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman referred to the risk report that the management board received in July. That is a standard monthly report that goes to senior officials. It did not contain any novel or new intelligence assessment. What the July document made clear was that our central planning assumption at the time was that the peace process in Afghanistan would probably run for a further six months. We followed all that advice while at the same time preparing our contingency plans for the evacuation.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Chris Law. Ah, not here. Brendan O’Hara.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

An easy mistake to make, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Spirit Aid, the charity founded by the Scottish actor David Hayman, currently has doctors, teachers and others, and their families, stranded in Afghanistan. On 25 August, 28 August and again on 3 September, I contacted the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. I have no idea whether those emails have even been opened. Will the Secretary of State commit to open the emails and read the names of the people on those lists? When will he be in a position to tell me and, more importantly, those terrified people in Afghanistan exactly where they stand?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I explained why there was a backlog of emails; it was partly due to the surge of new contact that we received in the narrowing window of the evacuation and the decision consciously to focus on the resource of getting people on to the flights. However, as has already been said before the House, we will make sure that we give a response to all the hon. Members’ emails that we have received by close of play today, with the relevant triaging and signposting to the specific Department that is processing that type of claim.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a constituent, a British national, who was left behind when the evacuations ended. The Foreign Office has point-blank refused to even take his contact details or name. He has since risked his life to get to the border, as instructed, but been refused entry to both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while watching other foreign nationals freely enter those countries. Will the Foreign Secretary please confirm why it has taken until today to speak to his counterparts in those countries and when he expects to get an agreement so that British nationals can enter those countries to return home?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am afraid that the hon. Lady is not quite right. Most of those countries have closed their borders. We have spoken to all of them, pressing for a third-country facility to get any UK nationals, or indeed other ARAP cases, out. They are obviously concerned about encouraging a flow of refugees. If she has had specific problems with a case, she should get in contact with me, and I or Lord Ahmad will reply and look personally at that case.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the last 20 years, Christianity has grown greatly in Afghanistan. More than 200 missionaries have come from different parts of the world to preach the gospel and have made that very clear. Many Afghans have accepted Christianity as their faith. The fall of Government means that those Christians across Afghanistan are under great threat. Never has there been a fear quite like it. What can be done to help Christians in Afghanistan at this time, to get them out and get them into the free world again?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Of course, those fleeing persecution or in fear for their life because of not just ethnicity but religious belief will be part of the considerations for the resettlement scheme. More broadly, providing some reassurance to those different communities in Afghanistan will be a critical first test for the Taliban. As the UN Security Council resolution that the United Kingdom pressed for makes clear, we will be holding the Taliban to those commitments and assurances that they have made.

Global Anti-corruption Sanctions

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Thursday 22nd July 2021

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
- Hansard - -

Today, the UK has imposed asset freezes and travel bans on five individuals under the Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regulations 2021.

This is the second set of designations under this regime since the regulations were laid in April 2021. The regime can be used to impose sanctions for serious corruption around the world. As set out in the regulations, the activities covered are bribery and misappropriation, plus a range of different kinds of involvement in such bribery or misappropriation.

These designations address cases of serious corruption which have deprived citizens of vital resources in Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

In Equatorial Guinea, the sanctions target the Vice-President, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, for his involvement in the misappropriation of state funds, corrupt contracting arrangements and soliciting bribes to fund a lavish lifestyle in various countries abroad. We have designated Nawfal Hammadi Al-Sultan, a former Iraqi governor, who misappropriated public funds intended for reconstruction efforts and to provide support for civilians, and improperly awarded contracts and other state property. We have designated Alex Nain Saab Moran and Alvaro Enrique Pulido Vargas, businessmen with links to the Maduro regime, for exploiting two of Venezuela's public programmes which were set up to supply poor Venezuelans with affordable foodstuffs and housing. They benefited from improperly awarded contracts, where promised goods were delivered at highly inflated prices. Finally, we have designated Kudakwashe Regimond Tagwirei, a Zimbabwean businessperson whose involvement in misappropriation was at the expense of the country’s macroeconomic stability.

These latest designations show the UK’s ongoing commitment to the fight against corruption. They send a powerful message to deter those involved in serious corruption around the world: you and your dirty money are not welcome in our country. We will continue to keep future designations under close review, guided by the purposes of the sanctions regime and the evidence.

[HCWS244]

Oral Answers to Questions

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Tuesday 20th July 2021

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the National Security Law on the people of Hong Kong.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
- Hansard - -

The national security law in Hong Kong is not being used for its original avowed purpose, which according to Beijing was to target

“a tiny number of criminals who…endanger national security”.

Instead, it is being used to stifle the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermine the joint declaration.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the continuing success of the new visa relief for holders of British national overseas status; it reflects the UK’s historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong in the face of the new national security law, which continues to be used to crack down on freedom of expression, as we have just seen from the recent closure of Apple Daily. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what steps he is taking to ensure that those Hongkongers will be welcomed to Britain and able to integrate into our local communities?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Hansard - -

I think that this is the most big-hearted offer that the UK has made since the Indian Ugandans fled Idi Amin. My hon. Friend is right that it is not just about offering safe haven; the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced a £43 million dedicated support package to ensure that BNOs can integrate and thrive in our country.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have watched as the situation has deteriorated in Hong Kong and as genocide is committed in Xinjiang. The Foreign Secretary has issued statements and introduced sanctions while clinging to the absurd prospect of boarding a plane to Beijing next year to participate in a public relations coup for the Chinese Government. He is asking the royal family and senior politicians to stand by while journalists are rounded up, pro-democracy protesters are arrested and 1 million Uyghurs are incarcerated in detention camps. In October, before he was overruled by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, he said that there comes a point where sport and politics cannot be separated. When is that point?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady knows that the participation of any national team in the Olympics is a matter for the British Olympic Association, which is required, as a matter of law under the International Olympic Committee regulations, to take those decisions independently. We have led the international response on Xinjiang, and also on Hong Kong. Of course, as we have said, we will consider the level of Government representation at the winter Olympics in due course.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While the Foreign Secretary continues to duck the question, the Chinese Government have raised the stakes. Yesterday, he admitted that China was responsible for the Microsoft Exchange hack, which saw businesses’ data stolen and hackers demanding millions of pounds in ransom. He said that the Chinese Government

“can expect to be held to account”.

He might want to have a word with the Treasury, because just two weeks ago, at Mansion House, the Chancellor said that it was time to realise

“the potential of a fast-growing financial services market with total assets worth £40 trillion”.

While the Foreign Secretary is imposing sanctions, the Chancellor is cashing cheques. How does the Foreign Secretary expect to be taken seriously in Beijing if he is not even taken seriously around his own Cabinet table?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady, but she is wrong on two counts. It was yesterday that the UK, along with our EU, NATO and US allies and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, publicly attributed the Microsoft Exchange server attacks to the Chinese; it was not then that they took place. She is also wrong in her characterisation of the Mansion House speech. Of course, we have made it clear right across Government that we will hold the Chinese Government to account on human rights, but also on cyber-attacks or other nefarious activities, while also seeking a constructive relationship.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he has taken to deploy personnel from the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative UK team of experts to Ethiopia.

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Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What diplomatic steps the Government are taking to support the distribution of covid-19 vaccines throughout the world.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Through our investment in the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, our finance for COVAX and our commitment of 100 million vaccine doses from surplus domestic supply, the UK is a global leader in our support for vaccinating the poorest around the world.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Lebanon has been hit by a succession of crises in recent months, not least the massive explosion in the port of Beirut last year, a deepening economic crisis, and rising political instability. Can the Foreign Secretary assure me that his Department is doing everything it can to support the people of Lebanon with their vaccine deployment so that Lebanese people do not have to endure shortages of covid-19 vaccines on top of the hardship that they are already enduring?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will recall that, last year, as that terrible disaster took place, we committed $2 million in extra support for medical equipment. In relation to vaccines, in March, Lebanon received its first doses from COVAX: 33,600 AZ vaccines. The UK, through our £90 million commitment, got the AstraZeneca vaccine at cost price to the world, and the vast majority of COVAX doses—some 98%—that will have reached Lebanon have been the AZ vaccine. That demonstrates the value that the UK is providing not just with the domestic roll-out but abroad as well.

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The UK has amassed one of the largest vaccine portfolios in the world. This has been hugely successful and has allowed all of us to get a jab. In which parts of the world does the Foreign Secretary envisage using our surplus to best effect?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the G7, by making it clear that we would donate 100 million doses from surplus domestic supply by the end of June 2022, we also leveraged 1 billion doses from other countries. We are committing 80% to COVAX, which will be distributed according to its criteria, and a further 20% on a strategic basis. Allocations will be announced in due course.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the employees of Wockhardt in my constituency of Clwyd South for the indispensable role they have played in our vaccine manufacturing process? It has allowed us not only to roll out doses swiftly and effectively in the UK, but to support countries across the rest of the world that have been badly hit by the covid pandemic.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend can be rightly very proud of the role his constituents have played. It is not only Wockhardt employees, but the wider AstraZeneca collaboration with Government and the £90 million of support that the Government put in for research and development and for getting capacity up that have meant that we not only have this world-beating domestic vaccine roll-out, but have supplied 98% of the vaccine to the poorest and most vulnerable countries around the world delivered by COVAX.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Less than 1% of sub-Saharan Africa has been fully vaccinated, leaving the Prime Minister’s claim that he would vaccinate the entire world hanging by a thread and his credibility in tatters. Having sneaked out cuts to the aid budget, which his Government have now made permanent, he has made the UK the third lowest donor in the G7, and in the middle of a pandemic, this Foreign Secretary has presided over the largest drop in humanitarian aid of any major donor country, apart from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It is clear that the Foreign Secretary’s claim that the UK’s reputation has not been diminished under his watch is unfounded in reality. What does he say in response to the damning comments last week of the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf? He said that this Government’s cuts will have

“a negative impact on millions of people in less wealthy nations”.

If this Government have a conscience, they will want to know how many lives have and will be lost as a result of these cuts. I urge him to publish the impact assessments immediately so that more lives can be saved, but will he do it?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

What I would say to the hon. Lady is that Labour promised it would hit 0.7% in 1974. That was the year in which I was born. Labour has never once hit 0.7%. It only twice hit 0.5%, so we will take no lectures from the Labour party when we are the third biggest G7 donor when it comes to aid.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When he plans to make a decision on whether the UK will support the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

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Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The UK has led international efforts to press China to grant urgent and unfettered access to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Foreign Secretary concerned about the deliberate erosion of trust in America’s electoral system—in particular, what is playing out in Arizona—and what lessons should be learned here, where, as in America, there is no evidence of electoral fraud on anything other than a minuscule scale? Does he really think the Elections Bill is going to help or hinder our democracy?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We obviously follow attacks on any democracy—particularly, as we have talked about, through misinformation or cyber-crime—very carefully. Ultimately, we work in collaboration with partners such as the US and we will take our lead from them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let us go to the Chair of the Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mr Speaker, thank you very much for calling me. The line from Kent is pretty terrible, I am afraid, but that is a complaint for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Today, on Eid al-Adha, will the Foreign Secretary join me in welcoming the number of Muslim communities in the UK who have come from abroad to make their lives here, but will he also reach out to Muslim communities around the world and ask them to stand with the people of Xinjiang, who this year will not be celebrating—as, indeed, they have not been celebrating for many years—under the rule of the Chinese Communist party and the authoritarian dictatorship that it has caused?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. We celebrate the role of all communities and all religions in this country: they make Britain what it is. He is absolutely right to say—I regularly raise it with my colleagues and opposite numbers overseas—that particularly in Muslim-majority countries it seems there is not quite as much concern as in the UK and other western, non-Muslim-majority countries about human rights abuses. This is an actor-agnostic issue; it is merely about treatment—persecution—based on religion, creed or ethnicity. We call on all countries to uphold those basic values, but particularly those most directly affected with the victims in Xinjiang.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week, the Government finally gave the EU ambassador the legal recognition they so arrogantly denied him earlier this year, and last month we saw the Government’s needlessly antagonistic approach towards our European partners overshadow the G7 summit and consequently hamper international efforts to tackle pressing global challenges. Does the Foreign Secretary now accept that this was a mistake that has undermined our relationship with Europe, and will he commit to treating our European partners as equals to ensure that we can work together on common concerns such as security, freedom of speech, covid and climate change?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Particularly after the Harry Dunn case, and what we learned about the risk of finding gaps in immunity—including long-standing gaps that date back to the last Labour Government—I will make no apologies for being very careful with EU representation, which falls somewhere between a normal international organisation and a sovereign Government’s mission. We must ensure that privileges and immunities are tailored to their functional need, and that we do not find ourselves with a gap. That means that we can hold people to account for ordinary crimes, as the public would expect. Frankly, given the various voices from the Labour Front Bench who have raised the case of Harry Dunn, I am utterly surprised that the hon. Lady would not expect us to take such a rigorous approach.

Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have been in correspondence with the Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas with respect to a complex constituency case. What help can FCDO officials give to constituents who have favourable court orders in both this country and another jurisdiction to repatriate a child to the UK, but who face constant battles and hurdles to do so?

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Earlier this month the FCDO published its human rights and democracy report, which lists in total 31 human rights priority countries. The UK Government currently grant licences to sell arms to 23 out of those 31 countries. How can the granting of those licences be reconciled with any meaningful commitment on the part of the UK Government to improve the human rights of those who live in those countries?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We take our responsibilities on those issues very seriously. We have one of the most stringent export control regimes in the world, and we regularly review it. At the same time, with our introduction for the first time ever in this country of an autonomous human rights sanction regime, the so-called Sergei Magnitsky sanctions regime, we have shown that from Xinjiang to the murder of Khashoggi and the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, we will not hesitate to hold those who violate serious fundamental rights to account.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister for Middle East and North Africa indicated earlier that the Government have yet to consider joining the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, because they are awaiting further information. Why are the Government not showing more initiative in working with the US to drive that? Our chief negotiator in Northern Ireland held a similar initiative, the International Fund for Ireland, to be the great unsung hero of the peace process. Does the Minister agree that the middle east need be no different?

--- Later in debate ---
Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Foreign Office is funding projects exploring why modern slavery is taking place in Malaysian factories. The Foreign Secretary need not look far; he can just ask the Health Secretary, because the Department of Health and Social Care has purchased more than 760 million rubber gloves for the NHS from Malaysian factories accused of using slave labour during the pandemic. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me—perhaps this time I will get an answer, unlike when I have asked a number of his colleagues this question—why, if the Foreign Office views this as a serious problem, his colleagues in the Department of Huealth and Social Care do not?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We scrutinise very carefully any allegations—the hon. Gentleman has called them allegations—of human rights abuses. I can tell him about the supply of rubber gloves from Malaysia. At the peak of the pandemic, when we were seeking personal protective equipment for our NHS staff on the frontline, in care homes, we of course looked at all possible suppliers, including Malaysia, which is one of the biggest global suppliers of rubber gloves.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the G7 summit, with its focus on vaccinations and their global roll-out, does my hon. Friend agree that the challenges of antimicrobial resistance are at least as great and therefore need a similar focus in terms of research, manufacturing and distribution?

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This month marks six years since the joint comprehensive plan of action nuclear deal was signed, yet Iran has faced no consequences for its flagrant violations of the deal. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Iran has failed to live up to its nuclear commitments, and will he confirm that nothing is off the table, including the reimposition of sanctions?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the continued systemic non-compliance by Iran with its JCPOA commitments. Of course, Iran is still subject to wide-ranging sanctions. We strongly urge Iran to halt all its activities in violation of the JCPOA and, in line with the new US position, come back to the table and make sure that we can conclude a return to the JCPOA. I would just say that we do not believe that those negotiations can remain open-ended forever.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Eid Mubarak to Muslims celebrating both in Luton South and around the world, but for those living in Palestine, their Eid al-Adha celebrations will not be peaceful or safe. Does the Secretary of State agree that attempts to get a meaningful peace process back up and running are made harder by the building of settlements and the eviction of Palestinians, which entrench division and are illegal under international law?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I totally agree with the hon. Lady. I have been out to both Israel and the west bank twice. We are a stalwart supporter of Israel, but we also, not least because of our principled approach to international law, make it clear, whether on the evictions, the demolitions in Jerusalem or the broader question of settlement building, that they are not just contrary to international law but entirely counterproductive to the peace set-up we need to see for a durable two-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart  (Hastings and Rye)  (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best possible investments the UK can make with its aid budget is in the education of girls globally? Will he outline the steps he is taking to further that aim at the Global Partnership for Education next week? [Interruption.]

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Labour Members are talking about cuts. We have just made the biggest ever donation to the Global Partnership for Education, a 15% increase on last time. As a result, at the G7 we corralled one of the biggest G7 sets of donations—close to $3 billion. We are hosting, with our Kenyan friends, the Global Education summit in the next few days. The point is that, through the leadership of our official development assistance contribution and our diplomatic leadership, we are bringing the world together in pursuit of two targets: 40 million more girls receiving 12 years quality education, and 20 million more girls literate by the age of 10.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is cheering to see the new US Administration repairing relations that the previous President damaged. Will we take a leaf out of our closest ally’s book and recognise the 2 million dead under the Ottoman empire from 1915 to 1923 as Armenian genocide, as Biden and dozens of other states worldwide have done? Can we also commit to playing our part to resolve current disputes with Azerbaijan?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Our position on the Armenian genocide is unchanged, but certainly in relation to the other disputes the hon. Lady mentioned, we of course work with the international community to try to alleviate the plight of those on all sides who are suffering.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The situation in Tigray is truly horrifying, and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia sparked fears of further mass atrocities by saying that the “weeds” of Tigray will be crushed. What steps is the UK taking to urgently de-escalate the conflict, and map out Ethiopian and Eritrean forces perpetrating atrocities so that they can be held accountable? Will the new conflict centre look at what further steps, such as Magnitsky sanctions, can be taken to alleviate the crisis?

Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report 2020

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Written Statements
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
- Hansard - -

I have today laid before Parliament a copy of the 2020 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) report on human rights and democracy (CP No. 458).

The report analyses human rights developments overseas in 2020 and illustrates how the Government work to promote and defend human rights globally.

The report assesses the situation in 31 countries, which the FCDO has designated as its human rights priority countries. These are Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

This is the first human rights report published by the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It therefore reflects the importance and strength of diplomacy and development working side-by-side to defend human rights and democracy. The report highlights our leadership on promoting media freedom, gender equality, girls’ education and LGBT+ rights, our work to eradicate modern slavery, our partnerships with human rights defenders, and our commitment to deliver change for those who are abused, targeted, or killed for their religion or beliefs.

[HCWS159]

Myanmar

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Monday 21st June 2021

(1 year ago)

Written Statements
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Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
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The UK condemns the coup in Myanmar in the strongest possible terms and we continue to stand with the people of Myanmar as they face increased levels of intimidation, violence, suppression, and arbitrary detention from the military regime.

The UK has been at the forefront of the international response, most recently securing a statement on Myanmar in the G7 Leader’s communiqué on 13 June. We also secured a G7 commitment to prevent flow of arms to Myanmar, a commitment which was echoed in the UN General Assembly resolution of 18 June.

Today we are announcing further measures to target the military and its financial interests.

Sanctions

The UK has worked in close collaboration with partners to implement effective and targeted sanctions. On 29 April we laid new Myanmar (Sanctions) Regulations 2021, to give us broader powers to target the Myanmar military and its business interests.

Today, the UK is announcing its sixth tranche of sanctions since the coup and the second under our new regulations. New designations will target Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE) and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise (MPE), two state-owned entities in Myanmar’s extractive sector, which generate millions of pounds in revenue for the junta. We are also designating the State Administration Council (SAC), the junta’s governing body, to send a clear message to the regime that we oppose the coup and associated human rights violations.

These designations build on the UK’s continued efforts to target the military’s economic infrastructure and revenue streams used to finance brutal human rights violations and repression of the civilian population. On 17 May we announced the designation of Myanmar Gems Enterprise under our new regulations. We have also listed Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation, two military conglomerates under our Global Human Rights regime.

Trade review

Since February we have conducted an extensive series of engagements with UK businesses and trade bodies conducting business within Myanmar, and have undertaken due diligence on the operations of the Department for International Trade (DIT) and our partners in the country.

We will retain our suspension on trade promotion and are reiterating that UK businesses should not enter into relationships that benefit the military and must remain compliant with the UK sanctions regime. Further, we expect British businesses to adhere to and work with suppliers who comply with standards of responsible business conduct, including respecting human rights.

Through this review we have determined that no sector can be classified as completely free from military associations and that some, such as the extractive industries, have a particularly high level of association. Sectors in which DIT has historically offered trade support do not fall into this category of high-level exposure.

Equally, we recognise that the complete withdrawal of all international businesses from Myanmar would deepen the collapse of the economy, risk increasing regional instability, and above all negatively impact the most vulnerable in society.

The overseas business risk guidance, published today, provides further clarity on issues raised by businesses throughout the trade review process, recognising the complex and unique challenges organisations face in these circumstances. In particular, we have made it clear that UK businesses procuring natural resources from Myanmar must do enhanced due diligence on their supply chain. DIT and embassy staff in Yangon remain available to assist UK businesses in remaining compliant with their obligations.

[HCWS106]

Oral Answers to Questions

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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What assessment he has made of the potential effect of reductions in the UK aid budget on UK humanitarian work overseas.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
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The UK will spend £10 billion in official development assistance in 2021, making us the third highest bilateral humanitarian donor country based on the OECD data.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis
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Let me start by saying that I understand full well that this is a policy imposed by an unintelligent Treasury edict. Nevertheless, it has, potentially, the fatal consequences of a medium-sized war. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa could not tell us whether the 60% cut to Yemen meant more or less than 260,000 deaths of women and children as a result. On Ethiopia, where the UN told us that 350,000 faced imminent starvation, the Minister for Africa—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge)—yesterday could not tell the House the size of the cut in our aid. I understand from impeccable sources that we propose to cut that aid by £58 million—more than half. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm the size of that cut and tell the House what we intend to do to reduce the hundreds of thousands of deaths arising from our policy?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I do not accept the proposition that he has put forward. As a global leader in ODA—and we continue to be a global leader in ODA—we stretch to put as much in as we possibly can. Of course, we have temporary financial exceptional circumstances, but we will get back to 0.7% as soon as we can. He raised, in particular, the issue of Yemen. We have committed at least £87 million in 2021—that is more than £1 billion since the conflict began. He asked about the firm statistics. They are sent out in the normal way through Development Tracker and the final returns that are made annually.

Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week, the Prime Minister casually dismissed protests against billions of pounds-worth of aid cuts as “lefty propaganda”. Analysis by Save the Children estimates that at least 3 million people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance right now will not receive it because of this Government’s decision. Can the Foreign Secretary not see that this is not about left or right? It is about right and wrong. Does he recognise that this is not propaganda? This is about life and death for the most vulnerable people, so will he now U-turn on this decision before it is too late for them?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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What I recognise is that we remain the third largest donor in the G7, based on GNI. What I recognise is that we have made the biggest ever donation to the Global Partnership for Education, pursuing our goal of 40 million girls receiving 12 years of education. As a result of that, we raised at the G7 billions of pounds from other partners towards that goal. What I recognise is that we have doubled bilateral spending on international climate finance and we secured, through our donation of 100 million surplus vaccines, a contribution of a billion more by the middle of next year, which means that we will be able to vaccinate the world not at the end of 2024, which is the current trajectory, but by the mid-point of next year. That is what global Britain is about. That is what we achieved at the G7.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes [V]
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Two aspects of the recent integrated review that jumped out at me were the explicit wish to integrate diplomacy and development and the so-called Indo-Pacific tilt, which stated the desire to see the UK’s ODA more effective in the region. As a member of the Defence Committee, I am always interested to know how one can make the so-called region that is home to three of the five largest states in the world, and which is named after the first and third largest oceans on the planet, any sort of effective domain for UK foreign policy, so can the Foreign Secretary, while his Government cut aid to many of the poorest in the world, advise the House which areas or countries of the Indo-Pacific they will be prioritising to maintain their investment with this new-style of integrated development and diplomacy?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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As I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), the final figures, as has historically always been the case, come out not just through DevTracker, but in the international development statistics.

Let me give the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) the example that I think he is searching for. At the weekend, we made a £430 million contribution to the Global Partnership for Education—a 15% increase on last year that will affect many of the countries and regions that he describes. Above all, we used not just our aid spend, but our diplomatic convening power, to get others to make billions of pounds’ worth of contributions. Not only will that encourage 40 million more girls back into education, but it will help to deliver our second goal of getting 20 million more girls literate by the age of 10.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell [V]
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The real question is: do this Tory Government even care? At a time when the poorest nations of the world need support, humanity and compassion, this UK Tory Government are turning their back. Even one of their own Back Benchers has admitted that these cuts will kill. The other G7 countries have stepped up their aid budget; the UK is the only one to cut it. It is utterly shameful. Do you know what I really want to know, Mr Speaker? I want to know how the Foreign Secretary and his Tory Government sleep at night, knowing that they have the blood on their hands of some of the poorest people in the world.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I think that that was pretty unsavoury from the hon. Lady, but I will tell her how we sleep at night. We sleep at night because we are the third biggest ODA budget contributor in the G7. We sleep at night because we have just made the biggest global commitment on girls’ education ever, of any Government ever in the UK. We sleep at night because we are doubling the average annual spend on international climate finance. We sleep at night because we led the way with the 100 million doses that we are providing from excess surplus because of the money that we spent on the AstraZeneca vaccine: of the doses that the poorest countries have so far received via COVAX, 95% have come from AZ. In relation to humanitarian spend, bilaterally, we are the third biggest as well. We continue to be a global leader, but I think that our constituents would be asking some pretty serious questions if, at a time when we face the biggest contraction in our economy for 300 years, we were not also making or finding savings from the international as well as the domestic budget.

Preet Kaur Gill Portrait Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)
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COVAX aimed to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccine to countries around the world in 2021. Six months in, less than 5% of that total has been shipped. To rapidly vaccinate health workers and older people in low-income countries, we must address global shortages with a global plan to increase production of vaccines and equitable access. Instead, what we got this weekend from a Prime Minister who has been in perennial retreat from the world stage was a commitment to 5 million doses by the end of September, and a vague commitment to more at some point over the next 12 months. Does the Secretary of State agree that cutting the aid budget while most of his counterparts were increasing theirs made it harder for the Prime Minister to play a leadership role at the G7, and that the cuts are a key reason for the Prime Minister’s abject failure to deliver a comprehensive strategy that accelerates global vaccine access so that we can achieve at least 70% coverage in all countries and end the pandemic as quickly as possible?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I am afraid that the hon. Lady is just mistaken and clearly did not pay attention to what the G7 agreed. We agreed 100 million doses on the UK’s part by the middle of next year. That was not some kind of loose commitment; it was a very clear one, and comes on top of the 1 billion doses that we secured through our financial commitment to COVAX. As a result of our commitment, we have now raised the ability, through the G7 and the other contributions, to secure 1 billion extra doses, so there are new doses. What that will mean in practice is that rather than the world being vaccinated by 2024, as in the current trajectory, it will happen by the middle of next year. I would have thought that if the hon. Lady really cared about the issue, she would recognise that that is a massive step forward.

Chris Law Portrait Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is apparent that no matter how many examples we give of why the aid cuts should be reversed, the Foreign Secretary is either unwilling or unable to answer, so let us try this another way.

It is estimated that these cuts will result in the deaths of more than 1 million children throughout the world—1 million more than already die as a result of being the poorest and most vulnerable. Many of us have children of our own and would never neglect their fundamental needs, yet with no consent and with widespread opposition both inside and outside this Parliament, this Government are determined to inflict death and suffering on those with no voice. Thinking of those children, will the Foreign Secretary finally commit to reversing the decision, or is he willing to let the ink dry on the death sentences on these innocent lives?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I have to say that using language like that reflects more on the hon. Gentleman than on the approach of the Government or any Ministers. Of course we take seriously the financial predicament we are in and the difficult choices we have made, but we remain the third biggest G7 donor, and I have given the House the positive effects that we will achieve with our £10 billion. Of course, if we were right at the bottom and donating only £1 billion a year, and we increased it by 20%, according to his moral paradigm we would be doing better than if we were giving £10 billion this year. That is a totally clueless approach to take.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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I welcome the G7’s call for unimpeded access for aid workers to the Tigray region of Ethiopia, as a potentially catastrophic man-made famine is unfolding. The UN estimates that more than 350,000 people are currently living in famine conditions and that 2 million are just one step away. There are reports of crops being destroyed, farmers being prevented from cultivating land and food aid being stolen. Endemic sexual violence means that women and girls are staying in hiding, unable to seek the little food that is available. How much humanitarian aid is the FCDO providing to support this response, and how much of it has already been distributed? What action is the FCDO taking to secure and safeguard the distribution of emergency food aid to communities in Tigray, and what steps is it taking to work with partners to prevent a catastrophic famine?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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The hon. Lady, like me, cares passionately about that appalling situation. I can tell her that we have provided £22 million of badly needed support to the people in Tigray. At the G7, under the UK presidency, we issued a statement on 2 April and on 5 May expressing deep concern. Following my visit in January and my conversation with Prime Minister Abiy, humanitarian access went from consent to notification, but we know that humanitarian workers still cannot reach the places they need to reach. We need to work on that, and we need to get Eritrean forces to withdraw. In relation to accountability for some of the appalling human rights abuses we have seen, we certainly support the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her planned investigations in conjunction with the Ethiopian human rights commission.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
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What recent assessment he has made of Iran’s compliance with the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action nuclear agreement.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con)
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What discussions he has had with his Iranian counterpart in the last six months.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
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Iran is systematically in non-compliance with the joint comprehensive plan of action—the JCPOA—and, working with our European partners and with the United States, China and Russia, we expect and require a return to full compliance.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith
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The UN’s nuclear watchdog has warned that Iran is now producing uranium at levels that “only countries making bombs” are reaching, after successfully enriching to 60% purity. Given that this knowledge cannot be unlearned, does my right hon. Friend share my concern that Iran’s nuclear activities already extend far beyond the outdated JCPOA? What steps will he be taking to address not only Iran’s nuclear belligerence but its support for terrorism and the ballistic missile programme?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just the stockpile of enriched uranium, which is 16 times the permitted limit, but the operation of the centrifuges and the production of uranium metal that are of deep concern. All sides agree that Iran must return to full compliance, and there has been some progress in the talks in Vienna, but a successful outcome is far from guaranteed. Those talks cannot continue to be open-ended; we need to see a return to full compliance. My hon. Friend is also right to refer to the need for “longer and stronger”, as it is dubbed, to ensure not just that we have permanent guarantees in relation to the nuclear issue but that we address the destabilising activity that Iran sponsors. I have just got back from Iraq, where we can see at first hand the support for the Shi’a militias and what that means in practice.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I first pay tribute to the work of the HALO Trust, a British charity and the largest de-mining organisation working in Afghanistan? Tragically, 10 of its team were killed in an ISIS attack a week ago. James Cowan, the CEO, has vowed to continue their important work, and I hope that the Government will encourage the Afghan Government to improve local security so that the HALO Trust can continue that important work.

In the 1970s, we attempted to sell 100 Chieftain tanks to Iran. We took the money—£400 million—but following Iranian revolution, the tanks were of course never delivered. We need to repay that debt, because it is starting to interfere with other bilateral issues. I invite my right hon. Friend to speak to Tony Blinken, because this is to do with legacy sanctions and we need to resolve the issue.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I pay tribute not just to the work of the HALO Trust—I extend my condolences for the loss of life—but to all the non-governmental organisation workers on the frontline who take extraordinary risks to do incredible work.

On the International Military Services debt to which my right hon. Friend referred, we have always said that we are committed to resolving that issue. I shall not say more at this point because legal discussions are ongoing and I do not want to prejudice them.

Fabian Hamilton Portrait Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I join the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) in sending our thoughts and best wishes to the victims of the terrible attack on the HALO Trust staff in Afghanistan. Ten people were murdered and many more injured, and I am sure the whole House would want to send best wishes and sympathies.

The proposed plan to increase the UK’s stockpile of nuclear warheads has made it abundantly clear that the Government have ditched multilateralism and embraced unilateralism. Such a reckless move is out of step with all our allies and will have a big impact on our ability to participate in nuclear non-proliferation agreements such as the JCPOA with Iran. What impact does the Foreign Secretary think the proposed increase in warheads will have on our international standing, given that we appear to have abandoned our obligations under article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Will he recommit to those obligations today?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the maintenance of a minimum credible deterrence has zero impact on the JCPOA talks and is entirely consistent with our non-proliferation obligations.

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of strengthening co-ordination between foreign policy and overseas aid.

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Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Since the last oral questions I have visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to discuss how to reinforce the ceasefire. I also visited Saudi Arabia and saw at first hand the changes under Saudi Vision 2030, including greater rights for women, which we have been very much supporting; visited Iraq to support free and fair elections in October; and, of course, joined the Prime Minister in Carbis Bay for the G7 summit, which under his presidency delivered groundbreaking pledges on international vaccines, decisive action on climate change and G7 commitments to get 40 million more girls into 12 years of quality education.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Nepal is in a deep covid crisis, with thousands of people dying each week because of the lack of oxygen supply and ventilators, and the severe lack of vaccines. Without urgent help from the UK Government, more lives will be lost. Can the Secretary of State outline what additional support the UK Government are providing following the visit last month by medical advisers to Nepal?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am very concerned about the situation in Nepal. The UK announced very recently an additional support package, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman to set out the full details, so that he has all of that to hand.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the workers serving so bravely in the HALO Trust in Afghanistan. He knows as well as I do that many other people are serving the Afghan community, and indeed the international community, by seeking to assist women and girls in education, to help farmers, and to fight the corruption in various institutions—and, indeed, the drugs business that has blighted so many lives.

Can the Secretary of State, today at the Dispatch Box, redouble his commitment to the Afghan National Defence and Security Force and to supporting all those institutions that made such a difference in protecting the Afghan population, and that really are the legacy of the British Army and many other armies’ continuous operations in Afghanistan over much of the last 20 years? Will he ensure that the sacrifice of all those who fought in Afghanistan, and all those who have given so much to rebuilding it, will not go to waste in aid cuts that are so unnecessary?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is right to point to the precarious situation in Afghanistan. We had long, detailed talks not just with the United States at Carbis Bay but with other allies. We had the NATO summit as well, which has been an opportunity to reinforce the need to stand by those who have stood by us in the way that my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee described, and to ensure that we encourage a political dialogue to avoid the spectre, or the risk, of civil war and that we bank not just the security gains from all the blood, sweat and tears that have been spent in Afghanistan, but a more inclusive Government.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I associate myself with the tributes paid to the brave workers of the HALO Trust and put on record our unequivocal condemnation of the targeting of a BBC journalist outside Parliament yesterday. Press freedom is under attack around the world; we must defend it here.

Yesterday, NATO recognised China as a systemic challenge to our security and the values that underpin it for the first time. While we welcome the reference to forced labour in the G7 communiqué, the failure to agree concrete measures in relation to Xinjiang was a missed opportunity to send a clear message that the world stands against genocide and anyone who seeks to profit from it. Can the Secretary of State assure us that he and the Prime Minister supported the stronger language and tougher measures that President Biden made it clear were needed, and that, despite the failure of the G7 to agree them, he will continue to do so?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I agree with much of what the hon. Lady said. Of course, she will know that there are varied views at the G7, including among our European partners, about quite how robust to be with China on some of these issues. She will know, because of the stance that the United Kingdom has taken in the Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, the United Nations and other forums, and indeed from the statements that we have put out and the sanctions that we have imposed in relation to Xinjiang, how importantly we take the issue, but the reality is that in relation to China, on this and many other issues, we need to be able to carry a broader group of like-minded countries with us. That is why the Prime Minister invited India, South Korea and Australia to join the G7 as guests, and why it is important to engage with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the way that we have been doing.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

While I welcome that, if we want to carry a broader group of like-minded countries with us we need to lead by example. Does the Secretary of State regret whipping his MPs to support preferential trade deals with countries that commit genocide? Can he tell us why, last week, his Government turned down almost every single recommendation made by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to get tough with China over forced labour in Xinjiang, and why the Minister for Exports, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), told parliamentarians last week:

“China offers more opportunity for the UK economy than perhaps any other market”?

The sheer incoherence of that approach is what, time and again, causes the Government to come up short. It gives us the absurd spectacle of Ministers standing up for human rights in the morning and then defending trade deals with countries that commit genocide in the afternoon. Will he please get a grip on that across Government, because who in the world could rely on a Government who cannot even rely on themselves?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I think the hon. Lady is a bit confused. Can she name a single country with which the United Kingdom under this Government is engaged on FTA negotiations that has committed anything close to genocide? Of course it is unthinkable; of course we would not do it. [Interruption.] Incorrect. What we have done—[Interruption.] She is chuntering from a sedentary position because she knows what she is saying is bereft of substance. We have imposed—we led the way in imposing—sanctions on Xinjiang. We have raised it at the G7 level. It is absolutely inconceivable that the UK would do a trade deal with any country that has engaged in genocide. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is chuntering again. It is absolute nonsense.

It is right, though, to say that we want a constructive and positive relationship, where that is possible, with China across the piece. In areas such as climate change, the hon. Lady talks a good game but does not seem to understand the elbow grease that needs to go into it. We need to have a conversation with China, because it is the biggest emitter and the biggest investor in renewable technologies, but we have demonstrated time and again that we never shrink from standing up for our values. She talks a good game; we do the business.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can we have less chuntering, as well?

Chris Grayling Portrait Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend knows my concern about the impact of deforestation around the world. At the moment I am particularly concerned about what is happening in Brazil, where, far from giving greater protection to the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian Government appear to be moving in a direction that will allow greater deforestation. Please will he take every step possible to put pressure on the Brazilian Government to ensure that that does not happen, and that protections for the Amazon are increased, not reduced?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. On the positive side, we welcome President Bolsonaro’s commitment to reach zero illegal deforestation by 2030, and we are working with the Brazilian Government to address some of the underlying factors that fuel deforestation, including trying to get sustainable production of agricultural commodities—an issue not just in Brazil but around the world. Through international finance programmes, we have committed £259 million to help protect the Amazon, which has already enabled clearance of 430,000 acres to be avoided.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are fully aware that my constituent, Mr Anoosheh Ashoori, has been detained as hostage in Iran because of his British citizenship, with declining health and no contact with his family. Does the Secretary of State agree that Anoosheh should receive the benefit of every tool the Government have to secure his release, including diplomatic protection? If he does, will he update us on Anoosheh’s diplomatic status, and confirm whether dual nationals being held in Iran were discussed at the G7 summit?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I have had long conversations with the families of Anoosheh Ashoori and all the other dual nationals who have been detained. Nothing is more moving or heartbreaking in this job than seeing the situation of dual nationals in Iran and, indeed, of nationals and dual nationals around the world, and I have been intensively engaged in trying to resolve this. With other issues, it was something I discussed with our US friends at Carbis Bay. I am doing absolutely everything I can to secure the release and return home of all our detained dual nationals in Iran and, indeed, around the world.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his whole team on delivering such a successful G7 summit in Carbis Bay. I welcome the generous contribution to the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education. May I ask for an assurance that as our economy recovers, we will revert to 0.7% of GNP for overseas development assistance, and that our contribution represents merely the foundation of our ambition to ensure that every child in the world gets 12 years of quality education?

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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I suspect he will not, but come on, Foreign Secretary.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am glad that the folk of Chesham and Amersham managed to have a rare sighting of a Lib Dem. I went to school in Amersham, and I can tell the hon. Lady that I do not think that they will be that daft come election day.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a successful G7 conference in Conservative Cornwall. During my time at the Royal College of Defence Studies, I led a seminar on the South China sea, and through my interest in fisheries I have gained knowledge on the UN convention on the law of the sea. Could he tell me what his Department is doing to encourage a code of conduct for the area that reflects UNCLOS?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I started life as a maritime lawyer, so I can geek on UNCLOS with the best of them. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s expertise in this area. We welcome the negotiations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a code of conduct relating to UNCLOS. What is really important is that that reflects and is faithful to the international obligations in one of the world’s most widely ratified international treaties that is widely regarded as reflective of custom in international law. A code of conduct should not be used by China to unpick the obligations under UNCLOS.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can I just say that I am very disappointed that lots of Members have not got in? Those who asked questions and those who responded to them should consider others because, unfortunately, I am now ending questions and suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Hong Kong: Six-monthly Report

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Thursday 10th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Written Statements
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Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
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The latest six-monthly report on the implementation of the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong was published today. It covers the period from 1 July to 31 December 2020. The report has been placed in the Library of the House. A copy is available on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office website at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ foreign-commonwealth-development-office. I commend the report to the House.

[HCWS85]

Belarus: Interception of Aircraft

Dominic Raab Excerpts
Monday 24th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on what measures he has taken to respond to the interception of a civilian aircraft by a Belarusian fighter and the detention of a journalist.

Dominic Raab Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Yesterday afternoon, a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk. There were more than 100 passengers on board, including the prominent independent Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich. The Belarusian authorities claim that this was in relation to an alleged bomb threat, but we have seen no evidence to support that claim. What we have seen is that Belarus scrambled a MiG fighter, forced the plane to divert to Minsk and then used the emergency landing as an opportunity to arrest a prominent journalist.

We understand that Mr Protasevich was detained on spurious charges, including involvement in riots, organisation of actions that violate public order and incitement of hatred and discord. The UK calls for his immediate release and the release of all other political prisoners in Belarus. We are urgently seeking full details of precisely what took place in relation to flight FR4978, but the scenario as reported is a shocking assault on civil aviation and on international law. It represents a danger to civilian flights everywhere, and it is an egregious and extraordinary departure from the international law and international practice that guides international civil aviation under the Chicago convention.

The international community as a whole has a shared interest and a joint stake in ensuring that civilian aircraft can fly safely and without harassment. That is why we are calling for the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to convene urgently to address thoroughly and rigorously this incident. The regime in Minsk must provide a full explanation for what appears to be a serious violation of international law. Mr Lukashenko’s regime must be held to account for such reckless and dangerous behaviour.

For our part, we have summoned the Belarusian ambassador, and the Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas is conveying our condemnation of these acts as we speak. We are working with our international partners to explore every potential diplomatic option at ICAO, the UN Security Council, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the G7. Beyond the diplomatic track, we are actively considering and co-ordinating with our allies on further sanctions on those responsible for this outlandish conduct.

To ensure the safety of air passengers, I have also worked with the Transport Secretary to issue a notice to all UK airlines to cease overflights of Belarusian airspace and to suspend the operating permit of the Belarusian airline BELAVIA with immediate effect. That is, of course, the only airline that flies regularly between the UK and Belarus. But in order to be sure, and as a precautionary measure, the UK Civil Aviation Authority will be instructed not to issue any further ad hoc permits to any other carriers flying between the UK and Belarus.

We continue to support civil society and media freedoms in Belarus. We provided more than £1 million in 2020, and in this financial year we are providing an additional £1.8 million. I know the whole House will join me in condemning unequivocally this reprehensible action under the Lukashenko regime. The UK will stand firm in protecting freedom of the media, upholding international law and maintaining the safety of international civil aviation.

Tom Tugendhat Portrait Tom Tugendhat
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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.

I welcome very much my right hon. Friend’s statement. What he has described, quite correctly, as an outlandish attack is the first time we have seen air piracy in Europe for many years. This attack was a hijacking that turned into a kidnapping, and is a serious violation of the human rights not just of Roman Protasevich, who has been held by the Belarusian authorities, but of every passenger and member of the crew on that airliner. This is a direct threat not just to those who may be dissidents to regimes such as Belarus, but to all of us who are at risk of overflying such a state.

I welcome enormously my right hon. Friend’s decision to suspend travel to Belarus and stop overflights. He is absolutely right to do so, and he joins the Chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committees of Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the European Union, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Spain and the United States in calling for that. Will he go one step further and call for a suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the Yamal energy pipeline, which flows through Belarus? That is where the money that supports that tyrannous regime comes from. Will he also join European partners and friends, and NATO allies such as the United States, in reinforcing that this was an attack not just on a civilian airliner flying between two EU capitals, but on one flying between two NATO capitals? That includes us, and it is vital to the security of the UK people that we stand strongly against it. Otherwise, everyone flying to Thailand, Australia and many other destinations will have to wonder not only what they may have done to offend a regime they are flying over but what somebody else on the aircraft—somebody they have never met before—has done. Any of these regimes could be inspired, like Lukashenko’s, to force a civilian aircraft out of the sky with threats of violence.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his support for the actions that we have taken today. He is absolutely right about the threat posed to all of us as users of civil aviation and, indeed, to the international community at large, not least given that the ICAO regime is one of the most well-supported international instruments dealing with a common good that we have in the international community. He is right about the ICAO, and the UK has led the calls for an urgent meeting of the council.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s action among parliamentarians around the world. He rightly raised overflights, and he will have seen and noted the decisions that we have taken today. He also raised sanctions, and we will urgently consider further possibilities with our partners. The right thing to do is to co-ordinate to maximise our approach. He will know that we have already imposed targeted sanctions on 99 individuals and entities since the election in August 2020 and we very much led the way at that time. He also mentioned Nord Stream and other possibilities. We will consider and consult with our partners and see what further action they are willing to take.

Finally, I agree with much of my hon. Friend’s characterisation: on the face of it, the Lukashenko regime engaged in a particularly calculating and cynical ploy to force a civilian flight to land under the threat of a MiG fighter and under the hoax of a bomb alert, behaviour that is as dangerous as it is deceitful, and a flagrant violation of international law.

Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)
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After yesterday’s acts of modern piracy, it is clear that Lukashenko must now be recognised as an international threat—a danger not just to his own people but to the citizens of other countries. For a state to hijack a civilian airliner flying between two NATO allies in order to arrest a journalist is an assault on the freedom of the air and on freedom of speech. Unless the consequences are swift, robust and co-ordinated, it will create an extraordinarily dangerous precedent that will put journalists, dissidents and activists from the UK or anywhere else at risk every time they board a plane. I therefore very much welcome what the Foreign Secretary said today and, in particular, that he has summoned the ambassador and demanded the release of Roman Protasevich and other political prisoners. Those in the Belarusian pro-democracy movement are owed our solidarity and support as they fight for the right to determine their own future through free and fair elections.

I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary’s response when the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) asked about working with allies in NATO and the EU and through ICAO to ban flights through Belarusian airspace, to suspend Belarus from ICAO and, in particular, to block BELAVIA from operating in and out of the UK and to suspend direct flights.

I was interested to hear the Foreign Secretary say he was considering how best to ramp up economic pressure on the regime. In the space of 12 months, the Lukashenko regime has stolen an election, employed brutal repression against its own people and hijacked a civilian airliner, yet fewer Belarusian entities are sanctioned now than were in 2012. Will the Foreign Secretary now bring forward sanctions against state-owned enterprises, some of which continue to have UK subsidiaries, such as BNK (UK)? What steps will he take to stop the Belarusian Government using the London stock exchange to raise finance and sustain Lukashenko’s grip on power? Will he ensure that the UK is no longer a soft touch for corrupt elites from Belarus or elsewhere seeking to store their funds and assets, and will he consider targeted sanctions against individuals such as Mikhail Gutseriyev?

Given the apparent presence of Belarusian KGB agents on the flight, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what assessment he has made of the threat to Belarusians in exile and what can be done to disrupt any Belarusian agents who may be operating in the UK, Europe and NATO allied countries?

Some of these things are easy, and others are much more difficult, but all of them are necessary to stand up for our values and to defend our national interest. If the Foreign Secretary chooses to take a stand on this matter, he can count on our support.

--- Later in debate ---
Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the measures that we have taken today. It is important that, so far as possible, subject to all the scrutiny, accountability and challenge expected, we show a united front in the face of such appalling acts by appalling regimes, of which the Lukashenko regime is one. I agree with her characterisation, as I did with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). The Lukashenko regime has done something that threatens not only the Belarusian people but attacks a common good, most notably by endangering a key tenet of the international system of civil aviation. That threat accrues to us all, and we must stand up against it.

The hon. Lady mentions sanctions. I am not sure that her numbers were quite right. For clarity, we have sanctioned 99 individuals and entities. That mix includes those sanctioned under the country-specific sanctions regime and the extra individuals that we sanctioned as a result of the global human rights sanctions regime that I introduced. On top of that, she will know that we have extended the Magnitsky sanctions regime to cover corruption and embezzlement and improprieties of that nature. She mentioned a couple of names. She will understand that we are evidence-based, but if she has evidence or thinks that there are individuals who should be designated, I encourage her to let us have that information.

Finally, the hon. Lady raises an important point. Clearly, there is now a threat not just to dissidents and journalists in Belarus who have the temerity to stand up to the regime, but to those who do so around the world. Through our global Media Freedom Coalition, in which we work very closely with the Canadians, and a whole range of other mechanisms internationally, it is important that we stand up for those freedoms and those individuals wherever they may be.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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The outrageous kidnapping of Mr Pratasevich has rightly received unqualified condemnation from across the House, but he is only the most recent in a despicably long list of opposition politicians and journalists who have been arrested or disappeared as part of Alexander Lukashenko’s latest appalling crackdown on legitimate opposition. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what action he and the Government are taking to secure the release of all political prisoners in Belarus?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I know, because of my hon. Friend’s background, how particularly personal it is for him when he sees journalists arrested, detained or otherwise mistreated around the world. I agree with much of what he suggests, as I made clear in my opening answer. We are pouring in millions of pounds to support civil society and journalists in Belarus. From day one we have called for the release of all political prisoners. We did that when we first triggered the Moscow mechanism as part of the OSCE, and we continue to engage with leading democratic figures, including Mrs Tikhanovskaya.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I warmly congratulate the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee on bringing this urgent issue to the House, and I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcements about the overfly and the flights of Belavia. There has been a clear breach of articles 3 and 4 of the Chicago convention, and it is almost unimaginable that we have seen over the weekend a state hijacking of a civilian aircraft going between two EU and NATO capitals. This cannot stand.

We must work with our international allies. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the European Council is meeting this evening. Will he commit to engaging with it and to mirror its agreed response, which obviously has not happened yet? Will he express further solidarity by giving practical aid to Belarusian activists, journalists and agitators and by making it easier for these brave individuals to claim asylum in the UK? What assessment has his Department made of Russian involvement in this action? It seems inconceivable that this could have been a unilateral act by Minsk. There was surely some Russian involvement. Will there be consequences for the Russian state as well as the Belarusian state when things are decided?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the statement and the measures. He referred to breaches of the Chicago convention, and I agree that they are striking and shocking. He also asked what co-ordination we are engaged in with our EU partners. Notwithstanding our departure from the EU, this is a very good example of the key foreign policy issues on which we will want to co-ordinate very carefully with it. We have done that before. He will recall that, after the rigged election, we led the way, but co-ordinated closely with our European partners, when we imposed Magnitsky sanctions.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about Russian involvement. We do not have any clear details on that. I will be careful what I say at this point. As he says, it is difficult to believe that this kind of action could have been taken without at least the acquiescence of the authorities in Moscow, but, as I say, that is unclear as yet.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement because the events yesterday, as others have said, were effectively the state hijacking of a commercial passenger plane. This is just another episode in Lukashenko’s campaign to silence opposition to his regime, both within and beyond the Belarusian borders. There is no room for such behaviour anywhere in the world, let alone in Europe.

My right hon. Friend has set out the immediate action that he is taking, but what is he doing to support a peaceful transition to a democratically elected head of state in Belarus? When will he meet Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader in Belarus?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I commend my right hon. Friend for raising the issue so tenaciously, as she always does. I have had positive discussion with opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whom I spoke to in February. The Europe Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), has also spoken to her. We will continue that engagement, which is very important. We make the case for free and fair elections as soon as possible according to international standards. We certainly support, as we did at the outset, not just the Moscow mechanism, but the implementation of Professor Benedek’s recommendations on the need for elections and his findings in relation to human rights abuses.

My right hon. Friend asks the key question, which is how we can go from sanctions supporting civil society to encouraging some form of democratic transition. I have to say that the Lukashenko regime looks very dug in. It has the protective umbrella from Moscow and I think that what we saw over the weekend was a symptom and a sign of it. I think it incumbent on the international community to keep up the very robust pressure as far as we can, increase it wherever we can and use every mechanism at our disposal. The key difference from what we have seen previously is that the actions of the Lukashenko regime are targeted not just at its own people, but at attacking an international common good that is reflected in the Chicago convention. That gives us at least the ability, with our allies, to work to apply pressure in that forum. We will continue to do that.

Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is not surprising that the Lukashenko regime operates with a belief in its impunity, but this state piracy is most definitely a new step that requires a response that is seen to be proportionate. In that context, could the Foreign Secretary return to the question of the Belarus state’s use of subsidiary companies operating in the United Kingdom and whether we can apply pressure on them to prevent the state from having access to resources that come through this country of ours? In doing so, can we co-ordinate with our European Union allies? That is something that the Belarusian opposition most certainly wants to see: tough action against a leader who has lost all credibility and legitimacy.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman’s instincts. I am not sure that it is correct that there are businesses taking advantage, but I reassure him that amid the panoply of measures that we are now considering, we will look very carefully at what further pressure we can apply. That will include any further tightening of restrictions on access to the UK or other financial markets for what we see passing through London.

John Howell Portrait John Howell (Henley) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Today I issued a media statement on behalf of the entire UK delegation to the Council of Europe condemning the actions of the Belarusian Government and of President Lukashenko. We call for the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich and all political prisoners in the country. Some of us have already befriended such prisoners to provide them with hope and comfort. Is it not time to consider that an international warrant should be issued for the arrest of President Lukashenko on charges of terrorism?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

To mount a case of that nature, we would need quite specific and clear evidence; of course, that is for the Crown Prosecution Service and other law enforcement authorities to consider. I commend my hon. Friend: among the international bodies that we must press to hold the Lukashenko regime to account, I did not mention the Council of Europe, but although Belarus is not a party to it, it is an important European forum for us to apply pressure among the wider European international community. I commend him and the UK delegation for all the work that they are doing.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I begin by joining those who are welcoming the Foreign Secretary’s statement and the actions taken so far? From the violent crackdowns on protestors last summer, to the terrible repression of journalists, which of course has now escalated to state-sponsored air piracy that has put civilians at risk, it is clear that the Belarusian authorities have no regard for democracy, human rights or the rule of law. They act with impunity because they know Russia has their back. Although we would all love to believe that this will be the last we hear of this, we all know that that is unlikely. The UK hosts the G7 soon, which is an opportunity to raise the issue of the events in Belarus and co-ordinate further international action, so will the Foreign Secretary consider putting Belarus on the agenda of the G7?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We are already doing it, but the hon. Lady is right to say that the G7, amid the other forums, is where something like this should be considered, not least because of the attack on the international system, via the Chicago convention, and ICAO.

Liam Fox Portrait Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is not just a state-sponsored hijack of a civilian aircraft going between two NATO capitals; we know from the Belarus media that it was ordered by Lukashenko himself. This is an international crime that requires the strongest response, and although I welcome the stopping of overflight and a UK lead on this, increasingly both Belarus and Russia do not care what the international community thinks. Therefore, all our allies need to act in synchrony, including some of the weakest links, or tyrannies all over the world will see that air passengers are increasingly put at risk.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I agree with my right hon. Friend’s instincts. I was in Estonia and then Oslo recently, precisely because of the importance among our Nordic and Baltic partners—key NATO allies—of strengthening and reinforcing the stance they take in relation both to Russia and to the emanation of those threats that we have seen in Ukraine and now in Belarus.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome this statement on what was clearly an act of piracy by an illegitimate Government that puts them firmly in the rogue nations bracket. Does the Foreign Secretary share my concern that this now becomes a tactic that these rogue nations may use again, unless there is a firm response? No air crew could ignore a threat of a bomb or some other threat to their aircraft, and would have to divert to the nearest airfield. This is putting at risk not only this flight, but potentially many more and the safety of their passengers, unless we can come down much harder on the perpetrators.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, which is why we have taken the actions we need to take in relation to flights to and from the UK, and why we have called for an urgent meeting of the ICAO Council to address these issues in the most appropriate forum. However, let us face it: this also represents a threat to international security. That is why we have raised the issue in the United Nations Security Council.

Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Gagan Mohindra (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) for the excellent work he is doing in the Council of Europe. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Lukashenko must accept that his recent actions are a step too far and that the only way forward for Belarus is for the dictator to halt his campaign of oppression, release political prisoners and hold free and fair elections with international observers?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I agree with that list. Ultimately, it is difficult to see how Belarus, under the Lukashenko regime, can take any steps out of its pariah status unless those things happen, including free and fair elections, which would inevitably lead to a change of leadership.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The European Federation of Journalists has called this kidnapping from a civilian airline an

“act of air piracy and state terrorism.”

It is difficult to disagree. As we know, basic freedoms and human rights are being eroded in Belarus, where 29 journalists are now detained. Along with having the most robust and effective sanctions targeting this rogue regime, what action will the Foreign Secretary be taking to investigate the possible involvement of other states in this criminal incident?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that sanctions are a part of the strategic approach, but not the only aspect that we need to look at. We will, of course, look carefully at the involvement of anyone else, although gleaning evidential standards of information is often very difficult. As I mentioned before, we are supporting civil society in Belarus with an additional £1.5 million programme of support over the next two years. In March this year, we allocated a further almost £2 million of support for the media in Belarus. We need to use every lever at our disposal not just to put pressure on the regime, but to try to glean the answers to some of the questions that she rightly raises.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I underline what the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee said about the dangers of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in this context? When adopting this aerial adaptation from the Putin playbook of how to deal with dissidents, Lukashenko was clearly expecting an outcry, but already we are hearing suggestions that we must not be too harsh against Belarus, otherwise we will be driving him further into the Russian embrace. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that no such argument of appeasement will be accepted by him and his fellow Ministers?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I can give my right hon. Friend exactly that assurance. The fact is that Lukashenko is already ensconced in the embrace of Moscow. The question is how we can prise the leadership away from that. It must be a mixture of the pressure for which my right hon. Friend and the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee rightly call, and a willingness to have the door of diplomacy left ajar should more pragmatic voices within that regime be willing to take positive steps forward. Ultimately, those steps must end in free and fair elections; that is what the OSCE investigations have called for and that is what the UK will stand for.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We can all agree that the most robust international response to this shocking act of aviation piracy is essential, otherwise Lukashenko’s methods could embolden other despots in the view that democratic nations lack the will to back up their outrage with meaningful action. As well as the co-ordinated international action against Belarus that the Secretary of State has spoken about today, what other support does he think can be offered to protect and assist human rights defenders in Belarus?

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Lady asks a timely question. In reality, we have a number of levers, but let us not pretend that they are a silver bullet. We have provided and are continuing to provide support for civil society, media freedoms and media organisations. We apply the Magnitsky human rights sanctions, so there is pressure, and we hold to account those who persecute protestors, political figures or journalists. We raise the matter in every international forum we can—from the Human Rights Council to the United Nations Security Council—and we will use our presidency of the G7 to keep the flame of freedom burning for those poor souls who are in detention, whether they are journalists or political figures.

Nusrat Ghani Portrait Ms Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my constituency neighbour, the Chair the Foreign Affairs Committee, on securing this urgent question. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s very swift statements on how to respond to this hijacking, but I want to push him a little bit further. I am anxious that the tactics used recently will encourage other curious countries. What confidence can the Foreign Secretary give to journalists, activists or other individuals who are sanctioned for spurious reasons, in case their lives may now be under threat; what work can be done to strengthen western allies to ensure that their safety is met?

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker—piracy has been mentioned a few times and as the previous Maritime Minister, I cannot let this point go. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the tactics that have played out may encourage countries such as China, which claims sovereignty over the whole South China sea? A third of the world’s maritime trade crosses through those waters, and if China could claim the right to intercept any ship or any plane crossing over the South China sea—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I allowed the hon. Lady a little latitude, but I think it is a bit much to take complete control of the debate; we want short questions.