Foreign AffairsSpeeches

James Cleverly – 2021 Statement on Yemen

The statement made by James Cleverly, the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, in the House of Commons on 8 February 2021.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) for asking a question on this important matter. The ongoing conflict and humanitarian situation in Yemen remain a challenge for the international community. The new Houthi offensive in Marib has only made our efforts to bring peace and stability even more difficult. Nevertheless, we continue to work with the international community to find a peaceful resolution, with an emphasis on the political process.

The UK is playing a leading role in responding to the crisis in Yemen through both our humanitarian response and our diplomatic influence. We actively support the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, in his work to reach a political solution, and we pay tribute to his tireless efforts to bring about peace. The UK has pledged over £1 billion in aid to the humanitarian response since the conflict began.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have regular calls with partners on Yemen. Recently, the Foreign Secretary spoke to Secretary Blinken in the new United States Administration and to the Saudi Foreign Minister. Last month, I spoke with the Yemeni Foreign Minister to offer my condolences after the attacks at Aden airport. The UK has also used its role as the penholder at the UN Security Council to help move the Yemen peace process forward, working with our partners and allies at the United Nations to ensure that Yemen continues to be a top priority for the international community.

We welcome the recent statement by President Biden to instigate a review of US foreign policy towards Yemen. Our ambassador in Washington has already spoken with the new US envoy to Yemen. I also welcome reports that the US may reverse the previous Administration’s designation of the Houthis as foreign terrorist fighters. The UK has engaged closely with the US Administration on that very matter.

However, we cannot—we must not—ignore the Houthi actions. Those include the use of children and sexual violence as tools of war, the persecution of religious minorities and attacks on civilians. On 30 December, the Houthis attacked Aden airport, killing 27 civilians and injuring more than 100 others. We must address the Houthi sense of impunity, to make the peace process meaningful, and that must extend to other actors in the region, notably Iran. I note the US decision to pause its arms exports while it reviews its policy towards Yemen. I reassure the House that the Government take their own export responsibilities extremely seriously and assess all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria.

The political settlement is the only way to bring about long-term peace and stability in Yemen and to address the worsening humanitarian situation. The Government remain committed to bringing an end to the conflict.

Mr Ellwood

Last week, President Biden gave his first foreign policy speech, reversing many of the isolationist policies of his predecessor and seeking to re-engage with like-minded allies in order to revisit major global hotspots neglected by the west. The complex civil war in Yemen, now entering its seventh year, was named specifically. Today, it is the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the world. The US President has appointed a new envoy, as we have just heard, and will end support for the offensive operations and connected arms sales, seeking to establish the conditions for a ceasefire and fresh peace talks.

The war in Yemen is complicated. The country never properly stabilised following unification in 1990, and President Hadi has struggled to handle corruption, unemployment, tribal disputes and, most critically, separatist and extremist agendas pursued by the Houthis and al-Qaeda respectively. The Houthi advance into the capital in 2014 led to UN Security Council resolutions that legitimised a Saudi-led military coalition to support President Hadi. Despite many rounds of talks—some of which I was involved with, as a Minister—six years on, we are no closer to peace. Indeed, the conflict has spilled out into a wider proxy war.

The US reset is to be welcomed, and this poses our first big test of what global Britain means in practice. In that spirit, I encourage the UK to fully align ourselves with our closest security ally by ending arms exports connected to the war and to reverse the cuts to our overseas aid budget. I recommend that, as the UN Security Council penholder on Yemen, the UK offers to host a UN summit that looks at political options for peace and that the UK is willing to commit British forces to any UN stabilisation effort that may be required once a political settlement is reached. This is a real opportunity for Yemen to end the war. I hope the Minister can confirm today Britain’s resolve to play a leading role.

James Cleverly

I thank my right hon. Friend for his thoughtful contribution and the work he did as Minister on this portfolio. I can absolutely confirm that the United Kingdom’s desire to bring about a peaceful settlement in Yemen is unwavering. We will continue to work with our international partners—both the United States and regional partners—to bring that about.

My right hon. Friend made a number of specific points. The UK has—indeed, I have on a regular basis—spoken with the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and we fully support his work. We will look at ways to bring together the various parties around the negotiating table. I note my right hon. Friend’s idea about a UK-hosted summit. He will understand that I cannot commit to something like that at the moment, but I welcome his thoughtful contribution. Similarly, he will completely understand that it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about what a military intervention might look like. The Saudi-led coalition was mandated at the UN Security Council; as he said, this is something he worked on during his tenure. We also note that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a legitimate right to defend itself against attacks, and we completely condemn the attacks both within Yemen, at Aden airport, and cross-border, into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.