More focus needed on Yemen crisis: UK MP

Friday 25/03/2016

London - “There are very strong ties and there always have been, between this country [the United Kingdom] and Kuwait. I think, the desire, both on our part and on the part of the Kuwaiti parliamentarians, was to strengthen not only the bilateral relationship between us and Kuwait but also the ties that bind our parliaments,” British MP Stephen Phillips said following a visit to Kuwait.
Britain has a history of sending parliamentary delegations to liaise with foreign parliamentarians to build intra-parliamentary rela­tions and strengthen bilateral ties. This is a practice that British MPs particularly pursue with Arab and Gulf parliaments, given the crises facing the region, from the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) to conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen.
Phillips, a lawyer by trade, said he has become increasingly inter­ested in the Middle East, given the impact the region has on the wider world. Although not a member of the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham in Lincolnshire said he has sought to raise issues such as the Yemen conflict or the deteriorating security situation in Libya in the House of Commons and the media to shed light on them.
“I raised Yemen with a number of [Kuwaiti] government min­isters… I’m not sure I’ve been particularly outspoken in relation to backing one side or another or taking a particular position, but I think the humanitarian situation is so dire and became, as we heard from the UN, as bad as in Syria in just five months, that it’s some­thing that clearly the region needs to be focused on,” Phillips said.
Kuwait is part of the Gulf coali­tion, led by Saudi Arabia, that is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in defence of Yemen’s internationally recog­nised government led by Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Peace talks to resolve the conflict have been taking place in Kuwait, although few believe a resolution is immi­nent.
“I think it’s very difficult,” Phil­lips said. “I think the eyes of the world are elsewhere. Everybody is focused on Syria and one conse­quence of this is the number of displaced people in Yemen and the situation which those who remain are facing. It is simply not on the agenda either of the media or the governments in the region or in Europe and the US and until that changes and there is a desire to bring what is essentially a proxy war to an end, we are not going to see the situation improve.”
Libya is another crisis that Phillips is watching, given mount­ing fears of the rise of ISIS in the war-torn North African state. With the eyes of the world firmly fixed on tackling ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Libya looks to become a future battlefield in the fight against ter­rorism.
US President Barack Obama accused British Prime Minister David Cameron of mishandling the post-revolution situation in Libya and has accused Britain, along with Gulf states such as Kuwait, of being in effect “free riders” on US foreign policy muscle.
“Britain obviously played a key role in the removal of the [Qaddafi] regime. As with all such opera­tions, what comes afterward is more important,” Phillips said. “I don’t agree with the view ex­pressed by Obama that the prime minister took his eye off the ball. I know from my dealings with him and with foreign office ministers that it was something on which the UK was focused on… [but] I can see with hindsight that more could have been done to prepare the country for a peaceful transition to democracy.”
The parliamentarian reiterated criticism he had previously made of US disengagement from the Middle East. “I think that much of the foreign policy that has been pursued by the Obama White House has been to disengage from the Middle East — for perfectly understandable reasons given the US’s previous involvement in the region,” he said.
“This has created difficulties. It’s created a vacuum that others have been unable to fill in terms of influ­ence and indeed military hardware and I think the consequence of an isolationist foreign policy… has been to make the Middle East a less stable place than otherwise it might have been.”
Still, he backed the United King­dom’s overall engagement in the Middle East and said he intended to continue being active on Middle East issues.
“I think personally, particularly if we and the US and Europe, work in partnership with Middle East governments in trying to deliver not our version of our culture but try to deliver better democratic accountability of governments to people in the Middle East, then I think there is a very bright future for all of us,” Phillips said. “It’s partly that which drives me to think that these ties, like the ties between the British parliament and the Kuwaiti parliament, are very important going forward.”