Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:27 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Ceidwadwyr 5:27, 5 Mawrth 2024

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I refer the House to my registered interests as president of Conservative Friends of Israel and director of the UK Abraham Accords Group.

Some three months ago, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary said:

“If we leave Hamas in charge of even a part of Gaza, there will never be a two-state solution because you can’t expect Israel to live next to a group of people that want to do October 7 all over again”.

I would be grateful if he can confirm that this continues to be his position and that of His Majesty’s Government. In asking my questions, I would like him, if possible, to comment on the deeply worrying FCDO seminar that took place last Wednesday, 28 February—“Israel/Gaza: What Next for Hamas?”—with 100 people, including speakers who were clearly at odds with government policy.

Of the five points that are paramount in achieving regional peace, I will highlight three. First, no ceasefire can be achieved until all hostages are released. Like other noble Lords, especially the Foreign Secretary and my noble friend Lord Ahmad, I have spent time with the families of hostages both in Israel and here in the UK. We recoil in horror at the witnesses’ testimony about those held hostage, especially the plight of the young women of the tunnels, who are subject to unspeakable horrors as sex slaves—they must all come home. Having returned from two recent visits to the region—one to the UAE and Bahrain and the other to Israel—it seems to me that the Abraham accords represent a beacon of hope; they have shown promise, but their full potential remains untapped.

Less than one month before 7 October, on 14 September, I initiated a debate on the third anniversary of the Abraham accords. I asked His Majesty’s Government what role they were playing in the accords:

“What proactive steps are we taking”?—[Official Report, 14/9/23; col. GC 215.]

What conversations are we having with Arab states? I asked how many officials in the FCDO were engaged in the Abraham accords activities. I say to my noble friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East that we really have to do better.

On 15 January, I paid tribute to the Kingdom of Bahrain for playing an important role in the coalition against the Houthis in the Red Sea. The security and stability of the Red Sea are vital for the UK and all our global allies. Last weekend, the UK-registered carrier the “Rubymar” was sunk off the coast of Yemen by Houthi terrorists who have vowed to continue to target UK shipping. The Houthis’ deputy foreign minister, Hussein al-Ezzi, said:

“Yemen will continue to sink more British ships, and any repercussions or other damages will be added to Britain’s bill”.

A very short distance from Yemen’s violent and chaotic coast lies Somaliland. Somaliland has 850 kilometres of Red Sea coastline with no piracy; this can be attributed to the pro-western democracy that is Somaliland. On 1 January, Ethiopia, a key partner of the UK, signed an MoU with Somaliland, in which Ethiopia formally recognises Somaliland in return for it giving Ethiopia naval and commercial access to the Red Sea. This has been ratified by the Ethiopian parliament and other prominent African nations are seriously discussing this. I urge my noble friend the Foreign Secretary to look at these positive developments with a sense of urgency.

The energy that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has put into the areas of foreign policy in Ukraine, the Middle East and beyond has been abundantly clear. It is a dangerous world, as we have all heard, being made more dangerous every day by the actions of the regime of Tehran and its proxies—whether Hamas, Hezbollah or the Houthis. But there appears to be an opportunity for the UK to play a significant role in the Horn of Africa. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has a unique role, after hosting the global Somali conference in 2014. The UK is also the penholder at the UN on Somalia and Somaliland and is therefore perfectly positioned to take the lead.

Putting Somalia back together has not worked. The world has changed and has moved on since our “one Somalia” policy, born in 1961. It is time our policy changes too. I hope my noble friend the Foreign Secretary will find the time to recognise and uphold Somaliland’s contributions to regional stability and security, ensuring that its vital role is not overlooked or undervalued.