Britain should encourage Europe to further engage Arab issues
At the time of writing, we await the vote that decides who will be chairman of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee. One of the reasons I decided to stand to be the next chairman of the committee is the urgent need to scrutinise government over our relations with the 22 members of the Arab League.
Parliament needs to spend greater effort in questioning how our country’s relations with key Arab allies are focusing on attempts to take on the terrible threat emanating from the Islamic State (ISIS) both in Iraq and Libya.
We see in the region many other serious trouble spots, including the escalating war in Yemen and the terrible ongoing suffering engulfing Syria. Years on from the start of the civil war in Syria the death toll is believed to be at least 210,060, nearly half of them civilians, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said the real figure is probably much higher.
This shows the real and vital importance of good foreign policy, as well as the need for nations to use all the levers open to them in an attempt to prevent other countries descending into violence.
The Arab nations are our immediate neighbours, and we need to engage much more effectively with our allies to ensure that we are working together and are seen to be working together by the people of the countries we represent.
The position of chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is voted on by all members of Parliament — all 650 of them. I have spent the weeks after the general election highlighting to colleagues from all political parties my strong interest in the Arab world, sharing with them reports I have written during official parliamentary delegations to Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Oman as well as the United Arab Emirates and other leading Arab states.
Certainly if I am elected chairman, I will discuss with the committee at the earliest opportunity which reports we will want to undertake as a country and for the members to present to the government for its response.
The role of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is extremely important as the government has a formal obligation to respond to Select Committee reports and enquiries. As chairman, I would be seeking to encourage my colleagues on the committee to focus to a large degree on seeking to help our government resolve some of the ongoing tension and conflicts while at the same time ensuring we seek to maximise British mutual goodwill and trust between our country and the Arab world.
While Britain will not be able to act alone, it can lead and influence others to take a real interest in a vital region of the world. It is to the advantage of no one that the Middle East is in turmoil, and sadly things may get worse before they get better. But we must prevent the spread of ISIS and the cruel deaths it generates wherever its members or its ideas travel.