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United Arab Emirates

Volume 542: debated on Monday 26 March 2012

1. What plans he has to co-operate with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates on defence issues. (101596)

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the two British service personnel who were killed today in Afghanistan. Their next of kin are being informed. Our thoughts, as ever, are with their families, for whom this will be a deeply personal tragedy. Details of the incident are still emerging, but it appears that a member of the Afghan national army opened fire at the entrance gate of the British headquarters in Lashkar Gah city, killing the two British service personnel. The assailant was killed by return fire. The Ministry of Defence will issue further statements as the details of the incident become clearer. I am sure that the House will also wish to join me in paying tribute to Captain Rupert Bowers from 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on 21 March.

The United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates enjoy a strong relationship, as is enshrined in the defence co-operation accord signed in 1996, which sets a wide scope for security co-operation, including in planning. I visited the UAE two weeks ago for meetings with UAE Ministers and defence chiefs. We discussed ways to further enhance our co-operation, including through equipment sales and associated industrial collaboration and technology transfer. I look forward to maintaining a productive dialogue as we take those proposals forward with the UAE over the coming months.

May I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s tribute to the brave service personnel who lost their lives today and previously?

The UAE is a key strategic ally and has been for a very long time. Given the tensions in the region, notably with Iran, what is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that our Eurofighters and other key arms are provided to the UAE so that it is defended properly?

As I said, I visited the UAE two weeks ago. It has indicated that it requires fighters. However, it rightly looks to set its requirements for military equipment in the context of a wider collaboration with its friends and allies. The UK is looking to put together an attractive package of industrial, technological and defence support with the UAE. We hope that the Typhoon will be part of that.

May I associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State about the recent deaths of the three brave soldiers? They do what they do not only to keep our country safe, but to defend those who cannot defend themselves in Afghanistan.

Our relationship with the United Arab Emirates is incredibly important, as the Secretary of State said. After the importance of the Typhoon jet in Libya, will he ensure that the UAE understands that it is a superior aircraft to the Rafale, the French model? Will he do everything that he can to support the Typhoon in the fighter modernisation programme of the UAE?

I assure my hon. Friend that it is clear from the discussions that I have had in the UAE that the UAE air force chiefs are well aware of the capabilities of the Typhoon. I am sure that they are also well aware of the capabilities of the Rafale. We have had Typhoons in the UAE twice over the past few months. There will be further work with the UAE so that it can understand the capabilities of the Typhoon in detail as part of their evaluation of the options open to them.

The Secretary of State spoke for the whole House in extending condolences to the families of those who fell in the service of their country in Afghanistan. We are grateful to him.

Should we be increasing our arms sales to any part of the Arab world, when people are crying out for democracy and we are critical of arms sales to Syria? It is shaming that as Bahrainis are tortured, killed and repressed, we have resumed arms sales to that country. Should we not try exporting a bit more democracy and a bit less weaponry?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. The United Kingdom’s intention is always to get that balance right. The UAE is a strong and reliable ally and partner. It fought alongside us in Libya and is working alongside us in Afghanistan. In an increasingly fragile security situation in the Gulf, it is a significant ally of the United Kingdom. We always seek to balance the concerns that he has set out against the United Kingdom’s security concerns when making such judgments.