Speaking in a debate on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Nadhim Zahawi backs UK efforts to address the situation. He also backs UK support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition as without the Saudi coalition groups such as ISIL would have gained a footing in Yemen.
I see that the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is on the Front Bench. I welcome the Government’s commitment to addressing the humanitarian situation in the Yemen, which has made the UK the fourth largest donor this financial year by committing £100 million to provide food, clean water, and medical supplies. However, those emergency supplies do nothing to abate the arguably more serious, yet still intertwined, threat to the humanitarian situation: the war crimes and human rights abuses of which the evidence speaks volumes. Such evidence has implicated all parties involved in the conflict in abuses of human rights.
Let me be clear. Even if you are a legitimate Government in exile struggling to reclaim your country from aggressors, or a foreign state charged with assisting in that recovery, and even if you have the backing of the United Nations itself, you are never exonerated from the duty to uphold human rights. Human rights abuses are always unacceptable, illegal and totally barbaric, and they must be called out and stopped. I am of course completely in favour of an independent UN-led investigation into the accusations of human rights abuses made against the Saudi-led coalition—one that can support Saudi Arabia’s own investigations—but to say that we should withdraw our support for the coalition until such investigations have gone ahead would be, quite frankly, ludicrous.
Sir Simon Mayall, a former middle east adviser in the Ministry of Defence, said when giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee that it was likely that without Saudi intervention, groups such as ISIL would have gained a similar footing in Yemen as they have had in Syria and Iraq. The Houthis would also have been able to expand throughout Yemen far more freely. Indeed, we would have seen an Iranian-backed militia having huge influence over the security of the vital Bab el-Mandeb shipping strait. With more Houthi territory under poor and unstable government, the opportunities for al-Qaeda to gain territory would have been greater still, adding to the substantial Yemeni regions it already possesses.
It could not be clearer that without Saudi military aid the situation would be far worse. Time and time again, Saudi Arabia has proved a crucial ally of the United Kingdom. We have worked together in Iraq and Syria, and in providing relief for Syrian refugees. The regional stability in the middle east that our close connection with Saudi Arabia has engendered is also of particular note. I ask the whole House to recall the first Gulf war and the location from which the then military coalition launched its offensive against Saddam Hussein’s illegal occupation of Kuwait. No Member of this House would disagree that it was illegal and that the offensive needed to happen. Saudi Arabia hosted the US-led coalition that liberated the country. It is staggeringly obvious that we would be less safe without our ties to Saudi Arabia, and so would the Yemeni people.
In the limited time remaining, I want to turn to the future, because the only way to resolve or alleviate the crisis is by reaching a political solution. In this conflict, and in so many across the middle east, the sectarian divide plays a huge part in the political process. Whether Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Lebanon, the Shi’ite tradition of Islam, spiritually led by Iran, and the Sunni tradition, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both need to learn to reconcile with one another. From my background in Baghdad, I know that Sunnis and Shi’as can exist harmoniously and that religious divides need not be exploited as they have been across the middle east. I hope with all my heart that such a future awaits the people of Yemen.