Emily Thornberry – 2019 Speech on Iran

Below is the text of the speech made by Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 25 September 2019.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement.

We have been summoned back here due to the unlawful actions of the Prime Minister, attempting to avoid debate on one vital issue, but it is important that we debate other vital issues, including the threat of war with Iran. First, Mr Speaker, may I take the opportunity of this discussion of vital issues in the middle east to apologise publicly to my Liberal Democrat colleagues for my crass throwaway “Taliban” remark in an interview last week? I am sorry for what I said. I believe that our politics is better when we are honest and apologise for our mistakes—a lesson that our country’s Prime Minister, Her Majesty’s Prime Minister, would be well placed to learn.

I do not have a scintilla of doubt that Iran was responsible for the drone attacks in Saudi Arabia and the attacks on oil tankers in Hormuz. I totally agree with the Foreign Secretary that Iran’s actions are utterly unacceptable and must be condemned by all sides. Sadly, this was all too predictable, because just like during the tanker wars in the 1980s, there is a reckless and ruthless logic being applied by the Iranian hard-line theocrats who are now in the ascendancy in Iran, and it is this: “If you stop our oil supplies, we’re going to stop yours.”

That development has been inevitable since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran. There are absolutely no excuses for what Iran has done, but there is also no excuse for the Trump Administration wilfully wrecking the nuclear deal, destroying the chances of progress on other issues, and handing power back to the Khamenei hard-liners, who have always wanted to reverse the Rouhani Government’s attempt to engage with the west. What are we left with now? With a Trump Administration agitating for war and Iranian hard-liners actively trying to provoke it—war with a country that is nine times the size of Syria and has three times Syria’s pre-war population. That leaves us with a choice to make as a world and, even more important, a choice to make as a country and as a Parliament.

In an era when we can no longer rely on the United States to provide any global leadership on matters of peace and war, or anything to do with the middle east, we need the EU and the UN to step up, to do our job and to demand that, after working so hard to negotiate the nuclear deal, we will not let it be thrown away and allow the spiral into war to continue. As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, real security does not come from belligerent posturing or reckless military interventions; it comes from international co-operation and diplomacy. Let me add that it does not come from what successive Governments have done by committing to military intervention with no planning for what comes next, creating chaos in the aftermath and opening up ungoverned spaces in which the evil of jihadist death cults thrives.

If war with Iran is where the world is headed and we cannot stop it, we have a choice to make as a country, and we should have a choice to make in this Parliament. That choice is whether our country is involved and the lives of our servicepeople are put at risk as a result of a power struggle between Tehran and Riyadh, as a result of a power struggle between Khamenei and Rouhani, and as a result of a power-crazed president in the White House who wants to start wars rather than end them. In that climate, there is only one thing we should be doing now, and that is working to de-escalate the tension with Iran, getting the nuclear deal back on track, and using that as the foundation, which it promised to be, of addressing all the other concerns that we have about Iran, not least its continued detention of Nazanin and other dual British nationals.

Instead, at this crucial moment, we have a Prime Minister openly talking about sending troops to Saudi Arabia, in an apparent bid to please Donald Trump. As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, have we learned nothing? On a day when we are also rightly focused on the powers of Parliament and the abuse of power by the Government, let me close by asking the Foreign Secretary one simple but vital question. Will he guarantee that, before any decision to join Donald Trump in military action against Iran and to put British servicepeople in harm’s way, this House will be asked to approve that action and given the chance to save our country from the disaster that war with Iran would be?