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North Africa

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 23 January 2020

North Africa is an important region for the United Kingdom. To advance trade in this area, I have in the last four months alone visited Morocco twice and Algeria once, and led trade discussions at the UK-Tunisia bilateral forum, and the Government have laid transition texts of the Morocco and Tunisian association agreements in Parliament. Taking advantage of the UK-Africa summit this week, I signed a memorandum of understanding to explore opportunities in more detail with Morocco and spoke to the Algeria British Business Council. My hon. Friend is right to see enormous opportunities in north Africa, and we will use the coming months to develop those.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. One of the countries he referred to was Tunisia. Will he join me in welcoming the new trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Tunisia, which was signed recently, and which will see 7,723 tonnes of Tunisian olive oil available to the British economy duty-free? Will he meet me and the respective UK and Tunisian ambassadors to explore further trading opportunities?

My hon. Friend is right to see the enormous opportunities. It was my pleasure to lead the trade discussions in the UK-Tunisia bilateral forum last September, and I would be absolutely delighted to meet the ambassadors with my hon. Friends to see what more trade we can do between our two countries.

In its decision issued in March 2019, the High Court of England and Wales confirmed that the territory of Western Sahara is separate from Morocco under international law. It ruled that the UK Government were acting unlawfully by failing to distinguish between the territory of Morocco and the occupied territory of Western Sahara. Yet the trade agreement between the UK and the Kingdom of Morocco purports to apply to the territory of Western Sahara, despite the total lack of consent from the Sahrawi people. Will the Secretary of State explain why that is the case? Given that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process to ratify the agreement is now under way, is it her intention to hold a debate to discuss why the Government are proceeding to ratify a treaty that the High Court has ruled illegal?

We had discussions about this subject with representatives of the Moroccan Government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, when I visited Morocco two weeks ago, and indeed it was raised by my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa when he was with me there last October. The United Kingdom has taken the consistent position that the matter needs to be resolved diplomatically and sensitively with ongoing discussions.