On Monday, I spoke in the Commons debate on the Queen’s Speech about the need to band together as we move into the deeper stages of the Brexit negotiations. I had also intended to talk about my hopes for the direction of foreign policy more generally, particularly with regards to countering Daesh and obtaining a political solution to the conflict in Syria, but the volume of MPs who wanted to contribute in the debate meant the Speaker had to shorten the time each MP was allowed to speak. I was therefore unable to deliver the second half of my speech.
Here is the transcript of the full speech I had intended to make.
Before I begin, Mr Speaker, I would like to welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister for Europe and the Americas back to their positions on the front bench, and the newly appointed Ministers for the Middle East, for Africa, and for Asia and the Pacific.
I welcome that most of the legislation in the gracious speech was devoted to equipping our country for its departure from the EU and for the forging of a new place for it in the world.
I am proud that the Government is fully committed to delivering on the will of the British people so that our laws will now be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
We can no longer doubt the instructions given to us by the electorate.
The Secretary of State 52% voting to leave the EU last June and over 85% voting for Brexit parties at the election.
There are of course lessons that we, on this side of the House, urgently need to learn from the outcome of this election but one thing I hope we can all take away from this is a commonality of purpose on the part of all members across the House who were elected to this place on a manifesto pledging to make Brexit a success.
And we must deliver on this, because with two successive mandates for leaving the EU in under a year of one another, the damage that would be done to the reputation of elected politicians if we were seen to have undermined the electorate’s wishes would be severe.
It’s no secret that the current parliamentary arithmetic is one I did not want to see in wake of the General Election but the Conservatives are the largest party by a considerable margin.
However much the Leader of the Opposition defied expectations on June 8th, and however much he might preach this to crowds at Glastonbury, he did not win, and he is in no position to form a Government.
It falls to the Prime Minister and her team to take to the negotiating table and make Brexit a success.
Given the parliament the people have chosen for us, I refer once again to the commonality of purpose I spoke of earlier.
If we are to make Brexit work for all our citizens, whether they voted for the Conservatives, for Labour, or for any other party, we need to show a united front in this House and give the Brexit team the backing they need.
Now, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not at all saying that members across the House should desist from offering the Government constructive criticism at this most vital of times.
But a Parliament that offers opposition for opposition’s sake, rather than well intentioned advice, is one that would undermine our position in the eyes of our interlocutors and harm the negotiations.
If members will not take it from me, then I invite them to listen to comments made by the former EU Commissioner and ardent remainer, Lord Hill, before the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last parliament.
He said the best chance we have in these negotiations is if we show a united front and band together around the Prime Minister.
So I put it to this House, Mr Speaker; do Honourable and Rt Honourable members care more about opposing the Prime Minister and her team, whatever they do, rather than pull together to ensure a successful Brexit deal?
For me, the priority will always be a successful Brexit, and I hope as many colleagues as possible will join me in refraining from undermining the negotiations in the hope of short-term political point scoring.
I would now like to turn to foreign policy more widely, Mr Speaker.
I was privileged to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the last parliament and I hope to be reelected to serve once again in this parliament.
Under the chairmanship of my Hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, whose chairmanship I will be supporting again, we undertook a substantial number of inquiries given the comparative shortness of the last parliament and our recommendations were warmly received by the Government.
With consensus and commonality of purpose being the presiding theme of the first part of my speech, I hope all members will welcome progress made in ousting Daesh from Mosul in recent weeks.
The taking of central Mosul from Daesh will be a symbolic victory for the Iraqi forces, because it was from here, in the al- Nuri Mosque, that Daesh’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-declared the so-called caliphate for which Daesh have been fighting and killing ever since.
That same Mosque was blown up by Daesh only 5 days ago.
Nothing could be more telling of the desperation and panic that is clearly filling Daesh’s ranks, and of their own realisation that their days are well and truly numbered.
I therefore welcome the clear commitment in the gracious speech to continue the UK’s leading role in international military action to destroy Daesh.
But as Daesh’s desperation grows, so too does their ruthlessness with innocent civilians living under their rule.
In the Battle of Mosul alone, many accounts of the civilian death toll exceed 8000, and it is an unavoidable fact that the true human cost of Daesh’s wrath, as well as the wider Syrian civil war, will probably never be known.
The only thing we can do for the dead now is to ensure that as many warmongering actors across the Syrian conflict, be they from Assad’s regime, from Daesh, or another grouping, are brought to justice.
Humanitarian assistance remains a vital lifeline to those whose lives have been irreversibly changed by conflict, including those who have recently been liberated from Daesh’s occupation.
This is why I give my full backing to maintaining our commitment to spending 0.7% of national income on international development.
But humanitarian assistance, during and in wake of conflict, means little if conflict is constantly allowed to re-emerge.
Lessons must be learnt from previous UK involvement in conflict, like that of Libya, where there was a dangerous lack of planning on the Government’s part on how to ensure stability and security once the regime had been brought down.
In Libya, there was a catastrophic inability of the international community to provide the military resources to secure the Gadaffi regime’s weaponry and prevent it falling into the hands of terrorists.
There was a similar inability to provide the necessary support for a political reconstruction in Libya, one that would deliver stable government and maintain a new democratic order.
We all hope for an eventual political solution, devoid of Assad, that will bring peace to Syria, but there is little point to such an objective if a new Syria is not given the support it needs to rebuild.
I hope, therefore, that the Government has taken and will take significant notice of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on Libya – where many of these recommendations are detailed further – as we make more progress in helping bring peace to Syria and resolving conflict throughout the Middle East and the world.