11th March 2019

Andrew Mitchell commends UK humanitarian efforts in Syria and neighbouring countries.

I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend’s important statement today. In a bleak situation, British humanitarian leadership and the expertise of DFID shines out. The House will want to pay tribute, too, to the extraordinary bravery of many British and international humanitarians who so stoutly put themselves in harm’s way to help their fellow human beings.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that Britain has given more help to those suffering in this dire humanitarian situation, both inside Syria and in the countries around it, than the rest of the European Union added together? Will he again pay tribute to the quite extraordinary generosity of the surrounding countries—particularly Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon—in taking in so many people who have been driven out, often under gunfire, from Syria? Will he put pressure on other humanitarian donors and wealthy countries who are in a position to help—and sometimes, indeed, contractually bound to help—to boost their support and follow Britain’s international leadership on this matter by putting their money, too, where their mouths are?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his usual perceptive comments. He knows a great deal about the background to this. He asks first about the courage of aid workers. Bearing in mind the dreadful circumstances of yesterday’s air crash in Ethiopia, and recognising the number of aid and humanitarian workers who were on that plane from the UN and the World Food Programme, it is appropriate to recognise that those who are in conflict areas, and even those who are travelling around the region following what they believe is the right thing to do to assist humanity, are taking risks. We grieve for those who lost their lives. I am quite sure that I speak for the whole House in putting on record our sadness at yesterday’s events.

In relation to the extent of aid, I absolutely agree—the £2.81 billion has been an extraordinary contribution. Last year in Brussels, we made the third largest pledge of £750 million, and the £2.81 billion that has been spent by the United Kingdom is indeed, I believe, a stronger sum than that provided by the European Union altogether over this period. But our support also goes through the EU, and some of its funding is very significant and important to us.

In relation to urging others, later this week there is a conference in Brussels that, all things being equal, parliamentary business being dealt with and whipping being sensible, I am very keen to go to. I hope that will be the case. These international conferences do provide the opportunity for us to work with others. As the House will know, I keep in regular contact with other significant donors in the areas—those in the Gulf, European colleagues and the like. I am quite sure that, just as with Yemen, states have recognised their needs and responsibilities. The Brussels conference, I hope, will be an indication from all states, following the United Kingdom’s example, that this is a conflict not to turn away from even though it has lasted so long.