Today following events in Tunisia, where 18 innocent Briton have been murdered and many more seriously injured in the biggest terrorist attack on our citizens since 7/7, I responded to the Prime Minister’s Statement in the House of Commons on this and recent European Council meetings. Below is my response:
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.
The House meets today in dark times. At least 18 innocent Britons have been murdered and many more have been seriously injured in the biggest terrorist attack on our citizens since the horror of 7/7. Every one of us in this House extends our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those killed and injured. Our thoughts are with them at this terrible time. We cannot begin to understand what they must have been going through as they saw on the news pictures from the beach where their families were on holiday showing sun loungers being used as stretchers and bloodstained beach towels turned into makeshift shrouds.
The families of those killed now face the painful process of helping in the identification of their loved ones and bringing them home. The relatives of the injured will be worried sick and desperate to bring them home as soon as possible. Others are still searching for any information about what has happened to their relatives.
The Prime Minister was right to convene Cobra immediately, and I thank him for updating the House on all the work being co-ordinated through the daily Cobra meetings. I add our thanks to Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, the British police teams, the Red Cross experts and other British officials who are working on this, as well as to all those—from hotel staff and local officials to the travel reps and other holidaymakers—who are supporting those who have been caught up in this.
As we know from 7/7, support will be needed for the bereaved and injured—not just in the immediate aftermath, but for months and years to come. Can I therefore ask the Prime Minister to establish a dedicated taskforce that reports to a Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating across Departments and agencies to provide that support? It is right that the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for the middle east, have travelled to Tunisia today. I make particular mention of the Minister, who has stepped into this immensely difficult situation highly effectively, clearly drawing on the experience of his own family loss and demonstrating great personal empathy with those who are suffering. We thank him for his work.
There are close ties, going back decades, between Tunisia and the UK. The Prime Minister will have our full support in helping Tunisia tackle the scale of the terrorist problem that now confronts it. We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister, the French President, the German Chancellor and the Belgian Prime Minister have agreed to work together to help Tunisia strengthen its security. Can the Prime Minister say more about what actions are being considered by our Government and internationally to help the Tunisians respond to the economic problems that this terrorist atrocity will inevitably cause, given the country’s reliance on tourism?
While we make preparations for commemorating the 10th anniversary of 7/7, the death toll in Syria and Iraq continues relentlessly to rise. This week alone, there have been deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait, Syria and France, as the Prime Minister said. People are
concerned about how difficult it is to combat this widespread threat. Can he tell us more about the international efforts to tackle the spread of terrorism? The issue is about sharing intelligence, the use of the internet and social media, cutting off finance, control of borders and co-ordinated military support to those fighting ISIL on the ground. Given the contribution that Britain’s armed forces are making in helping the efforts to fight ISIL in Iraq, has the international community been asked to provide further assistance?
The Prime Minister has rightly recognised that the violence stems from an extremist ideology, which hijacks the religion of Islam. He is right that we must be resolute in standing up for the values of peace, democracy, freedom of speech and equality for women, rejecting and confronting those who go along with these extremist narratives. Is he satisfied that the Government are doing everything they can to back up and empower those at the forefront of the challenge within their communities—particularly families, teachers, religious leaders and community groups?
The Prime Minister said that, in addition to the new statutory duty on public bodies to identify and tackle radicalism, he intends to go further in the weeks ahead. Will he outline what actions are under consideration and whether he is working with the Muslim communities on that?
Turning to last week’s European Council, obviously the biggest issue is Greece. It is in everyone’s interest that an agreement is reached. This matter is of huge importance to us even though we are not in the eurozone, because, whatever the cause, if Europe’s economy is hit, Britain will be hit too. Obviously, the Chancellor will say more about that shortly.
On migration, instability in north Africa and the middle east is a growing factor that is driving desperate migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe. I ask the Prime Minister to confirm that the capacity and mandate of our action in the Mediterranean will not be diminished with the replacement of HMS Bulwark by HMS Enterprise.
We back the action against people trafficking to which the Prime Minister referred. Does he agree that EU action is needed to help southern European countries cope with those who are arriving, including support for a swift and robust asylum assessment, and help from other countries for those who are certified as refugees? Does he agree that Britain ought to offer to help some of those who are certified as refugees, just as we have done for vulnerable refugees from Syria, and just as we have done over the decades and, indeed, centuries, when we have provided sanctuary to refugees who have fled persecution and allowed them to make their future here with us?
On Britain’s negotiations with Europe, will the Prime Minister confirm that there is no prospect of any treaty changes being ratified before people vote in our referendum? Of course the negotiations are sensitive, but it is evident that even the people he is negotiating with are not entirely clear what he is negotiating for, and nor are the British people he is negotiating on behalf of. He referred to the announcement at the summit that there will be technical negotiations until December. What steps will he take to keep Parliament and the British people informed? There is an expectation in this country of high levels of transparency. It is not feasible for the British people to feel that they are in the dark.
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Finally, we are an island, but whether it is the terrorism in Tunisia, Syria, Kuwait or France, whether it is the refugees in the Mediterranean, whether it is the economy in Greece, or whether it is the radicalisation of young people here at home, this week’s terrible events remind us emphatically once again that we are all interconnected.