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Topical Questions

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2024

On the question of Britain’s priorities in Ukraine, Gaza and across the world, the Government are delivering. At the Munich security conference, the G20 in Brazil and the United Nations, the Foreign Secretary has argued for standing by Ukraine as the invasion enters its third year. On Gaza, we are pressing with partners for a humanitarian pause and increased aid flows to Palestinian civilians. We have expanded the blue belt, defended shipping in the Red sea and launched an innovative development partnership with Qatar. The international development White Paper is being implemented across Government and has been widely welcomed around the world.

Following recent events in Ukraine, what steps have been taken to speed up the process of releasing funds from the sale of Chelsea football club to support all victims of the war in Ukraine, wherever they are in the world?

The hon. Lady is quite right that releasing those funds is taking far too long. There are significant complications addressing the release, which involve the European Union and Portugal, as well as Britian. I can tell her, however, that there is renewed energy in the Foreign Office to try to bring this matter to a head as swiftly as possible.

T2. The International Atomic Energy Agency has recently made an assessment that enough uranium has been enriched in Iran to produce three atomic warheads. If that is true, what is the Government’s consideration regarding snapping back sanctions on Iran? (901956)

These enrichment levels have no credible civilian justification. We are working with partners to ensure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon, are prepared to use all diplomatic options, including triggering UN snapback if necessary, and will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

Next month is the anniversary of a full year of unmitigated horror in Sudan. On Friday, the Security Council called for an immediate Ramadan ceasefire, and I know that our excellent diplomats and the Minister were pivotal in that resolution. The African Union, the Arab League and Members across this House echo that call, but the violence has not stopped. If the warring parties continue to refuse to listen, how can the Government work with partners to step up the pressure?

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise the appalling position in Sudan, which to some extent has been masked by other terrible events in the world. She will be pleased to hear that, thanks to British leadership at the United Nations, a new Security Council resolution was passed, I believe, last Friday. We are seeking to bring together all the different parties to try to make progress, so that the next round of talks, possibly in Jeddah, will be more successful than the last. Britain condemns any arming of either party inside Sudan. We are seeking also, through the work of our diplomatic mission in Khartoum, currently based in Addis, to help build civil society so that a political track can emerge.

T3. As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to four key Latin American markets, I have seen at first hand the work that His Majesty’s Government and the UK private sector are doing to help with the responsible extraction of key minerals such as lithium. With the drive to net zero accelerating, those minerals will only become more important, and competition is increasing. What diplomatic steps is the Department taking to strengthen the UK’s security and its economic relations with countries in Latin America? (901957)

We are grateful for the outstanding work of our well-respected trade envoy—my hon. Friend does amazing work. Trade and security are two central tenets of the UK’s relationship with Latin America. Joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership creates huge opportunities for businesses in Latin America and in the UK, and as my hon. Friend is aware, sustainable and reliable supply chains for critical minerals—including lithium—are key. I look forward to meeting the Bolivian vice-president this afternoon.

T4. State-hood is the inalienable right of Palestinian people and not in the gift of any neighbour, so does the Minister agree that no country has the right to veto the UK’s recognition of a Palestinian state? (901958)

The British Government have always made it clear that they will recognise the Palestinian state when they think the time is right and such recognition would be helpful.

T5. The Belarusian company Alutech has somehow managed to circumvent sanctions and set up in the UK, in direct competition with its business partner, Dewsbury-based Alunet, whose turnover has been halved from £30 million to £15 million and has shed jobs as a result of that unfair competition. Will the Minister agree to meet with me and directors of Alunet to discuss how we can resolve this terrible situation? (901959)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. As he knows, some of our officials have met representatives of the company concerned, and we are continuing to take action to close gaps between our Russian and Belarusian sanctions—we keep them under constant review. I would be very happy to meet with my hon. Friend to discuss the Belarusian sanctions further.

T8. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have been clear that we must be bolder, seizing hundreds of billions of pounds of frozen Russian assets to support the Ukraine war effort, and that we must get hold of the interest on those assets. In February, the Prime Minister said,“And then, with the G7, we must find lawful ways to seize the assets themselves and get those funds to Ukraine too.”Can the Minister update the House on progress within the G7? (901964)

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. We are making progress, but he is also right to point out that what we do needs to be lawful. That is the key thing, and that is what we are working on.

T6. Would the Minister for development and Africa please update the House on his recent visit to Ethiopia? (901961)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I was recently in Ethiopia, and was able to visit Tigray and the edge of the most food-insecure area, where—as the House will know—starvation and food shortage is rising alarmingly. The situation is as if a football was being kicked at a plate glass window; we have the power to alter its trajectory, but if we do not, it will smash that window. That is why Britain is setting up a pledging conference—working closely with the United Nations—and a contact group on Ethiopia. In the next financial year, we are increasing our bilateral funding very significantly.

While the world looks the other way, Sudan is suffering from a catastrophe, with 8 million people displaced, 15 million with no healthcare whatsoever, and 24 million going hungry. What little aid there is is not getting in, and all aid across the conflict lines has been suspended since last December. What efforts is the Minister making to advocate for additional crossing points for aid to get in to Chad and South Sudan and across the conflict line, and will he attend the aid conference in Paris next month?

Yes, I do expect to attend that conference. I speak regularly to counterparts in the African Union, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and spoke last night to Tom Perriello, the new US special envoy for Sudan. We work very closely with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Troika. We understand that the violence in Darfur bears all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing and are funding an open-source organisation, the Centre for Information Resilience, to keep account of those events, so that there can be no impunity in that respect either.

T7. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in order to see Palestinian self-determination, we need an end to human rights abuses, antisemitism and the glorification of violence, and we need Palestinians free from Hamas? (901963)

We certainly agree with my hon. Friend’s last point about a Palestine free from Hamas. There is no place for Hamas in the future Government of Palestine. On the point he makes about how we proceed further, the Government are absolutely clear that there is no place in our society, or anywhere else for that matter, for Islamophobia or antisemitism.

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz is the only person to have been granted a special mission status certificate by the Foreign Office since the beginning of last year, in effect protecting him from arrest for his part in suspected breaches of international law. According to reports, Israel did not grant Gantz’s delegation official status, so can the Minister explain why the UK Government still chose to provide diplomatic cover for this individual?

Whatever the position of the Israeli Government, let me assure the hon. Member that Benny Gantz was received in this country. He was seen by the Foreign Secretary, and his visit was most welcome.

The Minister will know that European security continues to be underpinned by the USA, which funds the vast majority of the NATO budget. Could I please ask him what is being done to coerce more of our NATO allies to meet their 2% commitment, and does he agree that European nations must shoulder more of the burden for our own security, for good strategic reasons?

I do agree that we must put our money where our mouth is, but as we survey the landscape of European and Atlantic security on the 75th anniversary of NATO, we see—with the accession of Finland and Sweden—that NATO is in very good order indeed.

I acknowledge what the Minister of State said about sanctioning certain west bank settlers, although four seems a very low number to me. Has he raised the activities of those settlers with his opposite number in the Israeli Government?

The British Government have certainly raised those activities with the Israeli Government. That is why we have asked that they should be arrested, prosecuted and punished for those activities. On those who may or may not be subject to a sanctions regime, we keep that fully under review, but the hon. Member will understand why I think it is best not to discuss that across the Floor of the House.

Has any Foreign Office Minister, official or embassy member had any discussions with our American allies over the dysfunctional extradition treaty since the disgraceful end of the Sacoolas case?

My right hon. Friend asks an extremely good question. He and I have co-operated on this matter many times in the past. If he would be so good as to table a question on this matter, I will make sure that he immediately gets a full answer to that question.

When Jeffrey Sachs, a UN adviser—from a Jewish American family, incidentally—says on camera:

“Israel has deliberately starved the people of Gaza… I am not using an exaggeration. I’m talking literally starving a population. Israel is a criminal, is in non stop war crime status, now I believe in genocidal status, and it is without shame, without remorse, without truth, without insight into what it’s doing”,

and adds:

“This is a murderous gang in government right now. These are zealots”,

does that not give the UK Government pause to reflect on the funding of UNRWA, and to call for a ceasefire and the recognition of Palestine, which 138 of 193 UN member states have done, rather than see it wiped off the map?

I think almost nothing that the hon. Gentleman has just said could possibly be deemed helpful in trying to bring the two sides together, achieve a pause, get the hostages out, get aid in and achieve a sustainable ceasefire. Therefore, I am afraid I am unable to offer any reassurance on any of the points he made.

Last week, 287 children aged between five and 12 were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria. That comes on top of 8,000 Christians who were killed for their faith last year. What are we doing about it?

My right hon. Friend is right about these appalling events, and the high commission in Abuja has raised these matters. Our hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who is responsible for freedom of religion or belief, regularly focuses on what is happening in Nigeria and makes representations, which also ensures that the Foreign Office is kept up to the mark in pursuing it.

Canada is to resume funding for UNRWA having received UN reports. Has the UK Government received such reports, are they being reviewed, and when will that review be concluded and decisions be made?

We are asking that we have an interim report on both the key reports as soon as possible, and we will look at those reports as soon as they arrive and make our decisions accordingly. During the course of these questions I have adumbrated both those who are supporting the same position as the UK and those who are restoring funding immediately. The hon. Gentleman will want to bear in mind that Britain has fully funded UNRWA for its share up until the next financial year.

Haiti is on the edge of collapse, and only 100 nautical miles away are the Turks and Caicos islands, for whose national security the UK has responsibility. Will the Foreign Office fulfil its role by requesting of the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office that we deploy HMS Trent with its defensive capabilities, deploy Royal Marine fast boats, provide assets monitoring in the sea lane, and increase the policing footprint in TCI? Too often we have acted too slowly, which in the past that has resulted in threats to remove TCI from our overseas family. Please can we act now?

I assure my hon. Friend that I was recently in TCI and I understand the situation there. We have seen a rise in the number of people making the dangerous journey by sea from Haiti to TCI. We have put in place 13 serious crime investigators and seven firearms, officers, and we are working with the Home Office and the MOD in building capability and capacity in this important situation.

I listened carefully, as I always do, to what the Minister said regarding calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but it is now time to step up. It requires all warring parties to stop the rockets, the bombs and the bullets—exactly right—and for the hostages to be released. Surely it would send a very strong signal if the UK Government now called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. He will have heard the five key priorities that the British Government have put on the table, and I am grateful to him for his agreement. Cross-party support is extremely helpful in driving forward an imperative about which Britain feels very strongly.

Will His Majesty’s Government make the strongest possible diplomatic protest against the draconian new national security laws being imposed on the good people of Hong Kong, and does the Minister accept that Britain still has a moral responsibility to the people of Hong Kong, who have been loyal to this country for so many years?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and we continue to raise our concerns about breaches of the Sino-British joint declaration that we see, and about this new layer of legislation coming through. We consider that that continues to be in breach, and we continue to ask for those laws to be removed.

Does the Minister agree that the alleged detention, beating and humiliation of 49 Palestinian medics at the Nasser Hospital last month needs to be investigated by the International Criminal Court—yes or no?

This session ends with the same question with which it started, and as I set out, we believe there must be accountability and we have made that clear to the Israeli authorities.