MIL OSI – Source: British Parliament News – Migration and ISIL in Libya pose security threats for UK
In February and March 2015, the Committee undertook a short inquiry following up its work earlier in the Parliament on British foreign policy and the ‘Arab Spring’. The Committee visited Egypt and Tunisia in February 2015, and took oral evidence from Tobias Ellwood MP, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa region, on 3 March 2015. On the basis of the visit and the oral evidence session with the Minister, the Committee wrote to the Foreign Secretary setting out its observations, including matters for the attention of the Committee’s successors in the next Parliament. Today it is publishing that letter as an Annex to its Twelfth Report.
Chairman of the Committee, Sir Richard Ottaway, says,
“The General Election is almost upon us and Parliament is just about to dissolve. So we have swiftly published this list of findings for the FCO to consider in their approach to the Arab and North African Region. This also acts as a memorandum for the Foreign Affairs Committee to work on when it is reconstituted after the election.”
The Committee welcomed the fact that the UK had weathered the volatile political changes in Egypt and had emerged with a strong bilateral relationship, based on common interests in trade and security. However, the Committee also stressed the need to press the issue of Human Rights with the Egyptian authorities and said it is vital that Ministers raise human rights issues during trade delegations.
The Committee again found a strong bilateral relationship and an optimistic outlook among its interlocutors. It welcomed increased FCO resources in Tunisia and suggested that a ministerial visit be made a priority of the next government. While recognising that security in Tunisia was relatively good, it expressed concern about the reported numbers of Tunisians fighting in Iraq and Syria and asked the FCO to carefully monitor any threat from returning fighters to the British tourist presence in Tunisia.
Unlike 2012, the Committee was unable to visit Libya, but it held talks with the FCO’s Libya team in Tunisia, and other ambassadors to Libya. It observed that the international community has a special responsibility to help Libya repair itself and welcomed the UN-organised talks. It expressed serious concern that chaos in Libya has allowed ISIL to establish itself there, as well as allowing large migration flows through and from Libya to Europe, both of which are a potential security threat.
The FCO’s Arab Partnership
The Committee has again stressed the importance of FCO analysis and expertise on the Middle East and North Africa, which had deteriorated in the FCO prior to 2011. The Minister has assured the Committee that that there has been an improvement in this area, that language skills have been upgraded and that experienced Ambassadors are returning to the region with established networks later in their careers, indicating that the FCO is cultivating a depth of experience in the region. The Committee hopes that its successors, after reforming post-election, will continue to monitor the net increase or decrease to the FCO’s spending in the region.