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Yemen

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2021

What recent assessment the Government has made of the (a) political and (b) humanitarian situation in Yemen. (910981)

What recent discussions he has had with the US Secretary of State on that Administration’s proposed designation of Houthis as a terror group. (910987)

The UK remains deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We welcome the positive steps towards implementation of the Riyadh agreement, including the formation of a new inclusive Yemeni Cabinet. We condemn in the strongest terms the Houthi attack on Aden airport, which killed over 25 civilians, and we call on the Houthis to cease such attacks and demonstrate a renewed commitment to the political process.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary warned in September, Yemen has never looked more likely to slide into famine. We are using our £214 million in aid funding to help around 500,000 vulnerable people each month and to enrol 25,000 children into malnutrition prevention programmes. While we share the US concerns about the Houthis’ continual attacks on civilians in Yemen and cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia, we do not intend to proscribe the Houthis at this time, but we will keep this under regular review.

The crisis in Yemen is of great concern to all of us, and it is perfectly clear that Iran is exploiting the conflict for its own ends. Reports of Iran sending advanced unmanned aerial vehicles to the Houthis will no doubt only inflame tensions further. Does the Minister agree that until Iranian aspirations for regional dominance are curtailed, this conflict and many others will continue and more lives will sadly be lost?

We must see an end to Iran’s destabilising influence in Yemen, which has stoked further conflict. We have raised this issue directly with the Iranian Government. Iran’s provision of weapons to the Houthis is in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2216 and the UN Security Council embargo on the export of weapons by Iran. We remain deeply concerned at Iran’s political, financial and military support to a number of militant and proscribed groups in the region, and we will continue working with international partners to dissuade Iran from proliferation and wider destabilising actions.

Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, has clearly stated that the US’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group will push Yemen into a famine on a scale not seen for 40 years and that only a reversal of the US decision will fix this, so could I ask the Minister what the UK Government are doing to avert this catastrophe and get the US Administration to change their mind?

Following President Trump’s Administration’s decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation, we have requested that the US put in place comprehensive exemptions to limit the humanitarian impact and the impact on commercial imports and the UN peace effort. Our priority is to support the UN peace effort, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will engage with the incoming US Administration on this and a number of other important bilateral issues.

Salford is home to one of the UK’s oldest Yemeni communities, as well as charities providing humanitarian relief to the region, and they fear that the US designation will have a devastating impact, as humanitarian access and the ability of food supplies and other goods to reach Yemeni civilians will be severely obstructed. I welcome the comments that the Minister has just made, but will he go one step further? Will he contact President-elect Biden and ask him to revoke the designation when he starts in office?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will no doubt engage at the earliest opportunity with the incoming Administration in the White House. I have made it clear that we have already requested the US to put in place comprehensive exemptions to facilitate humanitarian support. We will continue to work both bilaterally with the US and internationally through the UN and others to protect the people suffering in Yemen, to prevent famine where we can and to work with all parties involved to bring this extended conflict to a conclusion.

As we have heard, from today President Trump and Mike Pompeo have designated the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation. That will make peace in Yemen more difficult to achieve and could now lead to the starvation of more than 1 million people, yet our Government have said and done little, and even abstained at the United Nations Security Council. Why have the Government failed to condemn this obviously dangerous step? Will they now join us in calling on Joe Biden to reverse this decision as quickly as possible?

The idea that the UK has not been active on this issue is self-evidently nonsense. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have discussed the issue with each other, and with the international community through the UN. We have provided significant amounts of humanitarian support to Yemen. We have lobbied to ensure that humanitarian access remains. This is a genuine global tragedy, and I am incredibly proud of the work that the UK Government have done, both on their own and in conjunction with the international community, to bring this terrible, terrible conflict to a conclusion.