James Cleverly, Minister of State for Europe and North America, answers MPs’ questions to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Ukraine: British Diplomatic Support
1. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of British diplomatic support for Ukraine. (900619)
2. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of British diplomatic support for Ukraine. (900620)
20. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of British diplomatic support for Ukraine. (900639)
The UK has been steadfast in its diplomatic support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister travelled to Kyiv on 17 June to meet once again with President Zelensky. They discussed the situation on the ground, and the Prime Minister announced a major training programme for the Ukrainian armed forces to help sustain them in their heroic defence of their people and their homeland. The United Kingdom will continue to strengthen the hand of our Ukrainian friends to finish the war on terms that President Zelensky has laid out.
I commend the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and the entire team for all their work on diplomacy in Ukraine. We can all be very proud of it. I was pleased to see that the leaders discussed ending the blockade of grain in the south. Will the Minister update the House on how those discussions went?
The House, and indeed the whole world, should be under no illusion: it is Russia that is blocking Ukraine’s grain exports in an attempt to cripple Ukraine’s economy and use hunger as political leverage. We support the United Nations’ efforts to negotiate a safe corridor for exports by sea and we are engaging internationally to call on Russia to end the blockade. Only Russia can lift the blockade. Ukraine’s ports are vital for global food supplies, and we will keep supplying the weapons that Ukraine needs to bring the war to a successful conclusion.
Last Sunday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours meeting a Ukrainian family who have moved to the Worth valley in my constituency under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. They are so incredibly grateful for the work that the Government are doing, but they did reiterate that we cannot rest until full Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity is restored in Ukraine and until Putin fails. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on recent conversations that he has had with global allies on how we can take a co-operative approach with international partners to ensure that that happens?
I thank my hon. Friend and his community for hosting Ukrainian refugees. Praise is due in every corner of the House for our constituents doing just that. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Departments, as well as officials at every level, are engaging with our international friends and allies on this issue. It will be raised at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the G7, the G20 and the NATO meeting in Madrid. I also assure him that the UK will not rest in its support of the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people, and we will not rest in advocating on their behalf with the international community.
What resources is the Department making available to assist Ukraine with prisoner of war swaps?
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will reassert the position that the Ukrainian Government have confirmed. Foreign nationals fighting as members of their armed forces must be treated as prisoners of war—that includes the British nationals captured by the Russian forces—and all prisoners of war should be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law, including the Geneva convention. We will of course continue liaising with the Ukrainian Government on the treatment of prisoners of war and any negotiations they might have with Russian forces on the issue.
I thank the Minister for the responses he has given to hon. Members. We as a House of Commons stand united with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. May I ask the Minister sincerely what assistance the British Government and NATO allies are giving to the people and Government of Ukraine to tackle Russian disinformation?
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. When I speak to my Ukrainian counterpart and others facing direct or indirect Russian aggression, they often bring up disinformation and cyber-attacks. This is a theatre of war, and the integrated review, which was published last year, recognises that. I assure him that we will continue working closely with our friends and allies to counter disinformation and to help them defend themselves against cyber-attack as well as physical attack.
All our hearts and support are with the people of Ukraine, but the conflict is having a significant impact worldwide. Particularly affected are people in east Africa, where grain shortages have coincided with the most dangerous drought in 40 years, cuts to aid and covid-19. Save the Children and Oxfam report that one person is dying of hunger every 48 seconds in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Will the Minister commit to front-loading future resilience funding to bring forward funds now to prevent a famine?
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point. As I said in my earlier answer, Vladimir Putin is using hunger in the global south as a weapon of war and as a point of leverage. It should be noted that the 25 million tonnes of grain currently stuck in Ukraine is equivalent to the yearly consumption of the least developed countries in the world. She is absolutely right to be focused on this issue. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that we will prioritise our humanitarian response in future funding for the Department, but I can assure her and the House that it will remain a priority for the Government.
It is very clear that Putin is indeed the using the starvation of the world’s poorest people as a tool of war. As we seek to fight back against Putin and use all diplomatic powers, does the Minister agree that it would be easier to build a coalition against Putin across the developing world in particular, and of course morally right, if we reversed the cuts to international aid or kept them?
The hon. Gentleman is conflating two fundamentally different issues. The world should be clear that it is Vladimir Putin alone who is creating these problems with his blockade of grain exports from Ukraine. He could turn on the tap of food to the global south tomorrow, and we demand that he does. We will continue to work with our international partners, including the United Nations, to try to facilitate those grain exports, but the world should be clear that it is down to him and that the Russian blockade of the Black sea and Sea of Azov ports is creating that hunger. He should be held accountable for it.
I agree with much of what the Minister has had to say. The shadow Foreign Secretary and I met a delegation of Ukrainian MPs last week and heard at first hand the devastating impact Russia’s illegal actions are having on civilians across Ukraine. May I bring the Minister back to a point I have raised with him a number of times? We need to stay the course in our support for Ukraine, and the whole world needs to stay the course with Ukraine. That will involve substantial costs. Will he look again at not only freezing Russian assets but their seizure and repurposing to ensure that we can support humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine?
The hon. Gentleman and I often disagree—that is the nature of being in different parties—but on this issue he is absolutely right that there is a unanimity of voice across the House. I can assure him that we are looking at the issue he raises on seizures and repurposing the value of those seizures. Nothing is off the table. The pain and suffering being inflicted on the Ukrainian people by Putin and his faction must be paid for, and paid for by them.
I echo the comments that Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office staff and the diplomatic core worldwide do a great job under difficult circumstances, but they are being undermined by talk of politically motivated appointments at home, job losses across the civil service as a whole, and the cut to the 0.7% commitment on aid, a manifesto commitment now betrayed. Surely now is the time to reverse all that talk and actually support civil servants doing tough jobs in tough times?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the praise he gives to our civil servants both here in the UK and across the world. He is absolutely right: they are doing a fantastic job. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my ministerial colleagues across Government Departments liaise with them regularly. They are highly focused, highly motivated and absolutely determined to help deliver the UK’s Government priority, which is to support the Ukrainian people and support the people across the world who are being impacted by the food shortages Vladimir Putin is creating. They are doing so in a way that makes me and the whole House proud. I have no doubt that they will continue to do so.
3. If she will make representations to her Iranian counterpart on the case of Iranian diplomat, Asadollah Assadi. (900621)
The UK condemns in the strongest terms the targeting of civilians and regularly raises this issue with the Government of Iran. We welcome the fact that those responsible for the plot against the conference in Paris in 2018 have been held to account. The Belgian courts have convicted four individuals, including Asadollah Assadi, who received a 20-year sentence. We continue to work with the international community to ensure that all countries, including Iran, abide by international rules and norms.
I am trying to hide my disappointment in the answer. Asadollah Assadi orchestrated a planned terrorist attack in mainland Europe that would have resulted in mass casualties, including five Members of the British Parliament, including me. At the Munich security conference earlier this year, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, met his Belgian and Swedish counterparts for private talks, which included seeking a petition for the release of Assadi and others through prisoner swaps. It would have been ironic if those of us who oppose the joint comprehensive plan of action had been victims, as the terrorists were using resources that came from the sanctions. May I ask the Secretary of State again to meet with her Iranian counterpart to make it clear that any future JCPOA must ensure human rights in Iran and must ensure that terrorism activities are relinquished across the region, including those aimed at mainland Europe?
I am not able to speculate on the context of bilateral talks between Iran and other countries. The UK’s position is absolutely clear: the behaviour of Iran in a whole number of areas is unacceptable. We raise this regularly, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has raised our concerns about the Iranian Government’s behaviour on numerous occasions. We will ensure that we continue to call on the Iranian Government to abide by international rules and laws and to respect human rights at every level, including the right of criticism on the international stage.
I recently took over as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Latvia, and it was a pleasure to meet my opposite number from the Latvian Parliament, Rihards Kols, last week to discuss the importance of our future work together. Does the Minister agree that, now more than ever, it is important that we strengthen even further our long-standing relationship with countries such as Latvia that share a common set of values and principles with the UK?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking up his position. The UK enjoys close diplomatic, security and economic relations with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I recently went to Estonia, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also been to the region and taken part in the three seas initiative that co-ordinates a number of workstreams in the Baltic and other parts of eastern Europe.
Will the Minister please update the House on the cases of the British citizens Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof, who are still in Evin prison in Iran?
I can assure the House that the UK Government remain completely committed to securing the full release of British dual nationals held in Iran. That passion has not been diminished. I assure the right hon. Lady and the House that we will continue to work on this with as much alacrity and passion as ever we have.