The Middle East: Time for New Realism Contents

Chapter 3: Current policy and current illusions

38.In this Chapter, we assess current British policy since the events known as the Arab spring, where hopes have been largely confounded, the confusion over Syria, sales of arms and the repercussions of Britain’s exit from the EU (Brexit). We begin by examining British interests in the region.

British interests in the Middle East

39.The Middle East matters for British security and commercial interests. For Mr Crompton, the UK’s “national security interests draw us towards more engagement … as do our commercial interests”.25

40.The region’s insecurity reverberates in the UK. According to the UN’s Arab Human Development Report 2016, the Middle East is home to only 5% of the world’s population but, in 2014, accounted for 45% of the world’s terrorist attacks, 68.5% of its battle-related deaths and 57.5% of its refugees.26 Moreover, as Mr Haid Haid, Associate Fellow, Chatham House, put it: “what happens in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East”.27

41.The terrorist threat that has emanated from the region has been the key recent domestic security priority. Since 2011, Mr Crompton explained, the “global centre of Islamic jihad” has shifted to the Middle East with over “800 Britons who have gone to fight”.28 The ability of Da’esh to export its terrorism to Europe, and to inspire terrorist attacks was displayed by the events, among others, in Paris (November 2015), Brussels (March 2016), Nice (July 2016) and London (March 2017). Refugees are one of the more pressing security and humanitarian crises facing Europe. Ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, as well as economic hardship, has driven large-scale displacement of refugees seeking safety in Europe. According to UNHCR, in 2015 and the first months of 2016, almost 1.2 million refugees and migrants reached European shores.29

42.Energy supplies and power sources are undergoing extensive upheaval with the use of hydrocarbons being questioned. As the oil market is global, and as the gas market is becoming so, its stability has a direct impact on global economic prosperity and growth. The interest for the UK in Middle East energy remains in securing stability of global oil supplies through the Gulf and securing its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies.

43.Dr Haass said that the US—and we add the UK—has “a stake in the economic vitality of the world which continues to be heavily reliant on Middle East oil”.30 As Dr Fattouh explained, in 2015, the Middle East accounted “for more than 47% of the world’s proved oil reserves” and produced around a third of the world’s total production. Spare capacity has, until recently, been concentrated in Saudi Arabia, allowing the country to act as a crucial swing producer able to stabilise prices and fill the gap at times of supply disruptions.31 As Dr Fattouh said, disruptive events in the region, leading to disruptions to oil supplies could “result in higher and more volatile global oil prices and a scramble for barrels by importing countries, with potential adverse consequences on the global economy and consumer welfare”.32

44.Mr Stewart Williams, Vice-President, Wood Mackenzie, explained that the UK’s reliance on Middle East natural gas was likely to grow. “About half of our gas is now imported”, of which “nearly a third comes from Qatari” sources, he explained. The UK, he said, will become “more and more reliant” on LNG imports.33

45.British commercial interests in the region are sizeable. Mr Abdeslam El-Idrissi, Director of Trade Services, Arab British Chamber of Commerce informed us that in 2015, trade in goods and services between the UK and the Arab world “clocked in at £18.9 billion” with the GCC countries accounting for about £16 billion. In 2015, Mr El-Idrissi told us, the UK exported more goods and services to the Arab world than it did to China—“the difference was over £1 billion”—and more to the Arab World than to India and Brazil combined.34 Dr Carole Nakhle, Energy Economist, Crystol Energy, told us that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) come within the UK’s top 15 trade partners.35 Mr Crompton noted that the Gulf countries were the UK’s “sixth largest market in the world”.36

Figure 2: The UK’s key economic partners in the Middle East

Image showing key economic partners in the middle east along with some trade statistics

Source: Department for International Trade, ‘Country Profiles’: [accessed 24 April 2017]

46.Above all, the Middle East dominates the UK defence export market and is the largest regional importer of British defence services and equipment. In 2015, the UK’s defence exports to the Middle East constituted over 60% of the UK’s £7.7 billion defence export market. The Gulf, in particular, remains an important regional market.37

Figure 3: Estimated total UK defence exports (based on orders and contracts signed) 2006–2015

Pie chart showing estimated total Uk defence exports from 2006-2015 broken down by continent

Source: UK Trade & Investment and Defence & Security Organisation, UK Defence and Security Export Statistics for 2015 (26 July 2016): [accessed 28 March 2017]

47.As well as trade, there is the major role played by capital investment from the region, particularly the Gulf, into the British economy. Middle East investment in the UK is very significant, for example, cumulative investment by the Qatari state in the UK is £30 billion including investments in Harrods, The Shard, Sainsbury’s, BAA and the London Stock Exchange to name but a few.38 Mr Crompton pointed to the Shard and the Emirates Stadium as examples which demonstrated that London had been a “hugely attractive investment destination … for the last 50 years”.39 Since the UK relies on capital inflows to counterbalance its large and persistent trade deficit, investment flows from the region are a key prop of Britain’s continued economic health.

48.Finally, the UK has humanitarian obligations: there has been a significant human cost to the violence of the region; rising numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons; and sectarian conflicts have resulted in the perpetration of violence against minorities, such as the Yazidis and especially Christians. The recent attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt (Palm Sunday) are part of a string of attacks against Christians in the region. The Financial Times notes that over the “past century, their share of the population in the near east has dropped by two-thirds to less than 5%”, while much of the outflow has been migration:

“Iraq, the land of Abraham, was all but emptied of Christians after the US-led invasion in 2003. Assyrian Christians, painted as complicit in the subsequent occupation and caught in the crossfire of the resulting ethno-sectarian war between Shia and Sunni Muslims, saw their numbers plummet from about 1.2m to around 300,000. When the Iraqi precursor of Isis used Syria’s similarly sectarian conflict to regroup and storm back across the border to capture Mosul in June 2014, this historic city in north Iraq lost its last Christians—about 35,000—as the jihadis daubed the letter N for Nazarenes on Christian homes in a Nazi-like purge”.40

49.The risks stemming from the Middle East to our own commercial interests and security necessitate the UK’s continued engagement. The UK does not have the luxury, as the US does, of reducing its exposure to, or engagement with, this neighbouring region.

50.The UK should be active in insisting on the human rights obligations of countries in the MENA region to protect the rights of Christians and other minorities.

Disarray of British policy

51.There are contradictions present in British policy. For Ms Rebecca Crozier, Middle East and North Africa Programme Manager, International Alert, it was “not always clear that the UK has a clear strategic plan for the region”. International agencies could sometimes feel that they were “working in the dark”.41 Mr Tim Holmes, Regional Director, Middle East, Oxfam, agreed that there can be “multiple UK Government objectives that do not always move in the same direction”.42

52.Mr Crompton and Dr Mansour were more sympathetic. The challenge to being strategic, Mr Crompton explained, was that “inevitably” the UK was “trying to deal with the crises of the day”.43 “Transitions are messy” said Dr Mansour, making it “really hard to assert some sort of strategic foresight”.44

53.We consider three key contradictions in UK policy: the response to the Arab spring; the UK’s position on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria; and arms sales.

Response to the Arab spring

54.It is necessary, said Mr Crompton, to “promote the sort of sustainable political and economic reform in the region that will prevent a repeat of the events of 2011”.45 But behind the rhetoric, in its response to the Arab spring, the UK has pursued an inconsistent and varied approach.

Box 1: The Dilemma of Egypt

Egypt encapsulates the difficulty of reconciling the UK’s policies of democracy promotion and allying with authoritarian strong-men. British (and US) policy towards Egypt has vacillated, first welcoming the fall of President Hosni Mubarak (February 2011) and supporting the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian people, grudgingly accepting the election of the Muslim Brotherhood (June 2012), watching, unable to exert influence as the Brotherhood moved in an increasingly undemocratic direction, and finally, accepting the seizure of power by the military leader Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the imprisonment of the former President Mohammed Morsi (July 2013).

In Egypt, according to Dr Christopher Davidson, Reader in Middle East Politics, Durham University, the UK supported “both waves of counter-revolution”: First, the Muslim Brotherhood and then “the coming into the open … of the military deep state”.46

President Sisi has taken a firm line against political opponents as well as clamping down on the media, and has not yet been able to deliver economic security to his people. He reduced some subsidies on fuel and electricity but few other steps of reform have been taken. The regime remains propped up by foreign subsidies, the US and Gulf partners, which have valued Sunni Egypt as a counterbalance to Shiite Iran and as a bolster of security.47 The Saudis have their own challenge to pursue this policy due to reduced oil revenues.

Egypt, said the Minister, Mr Stewart, raises the question that “almost regardless of what we think of these governments, what can we do about them?”48

Economic conditions are worsening, tourism has declined due to terrorist attacks and unemployment amongst young people is at over 30%.49 There are some economic hopes of the revenues from the offshore gas supply fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. But the full development of these lies in the future.

Egypt’s precarious economic context has been fuelling the embryonic growth of insurgencies. Northern Sinai, a marginalised and impoverished part of the country, has witnessed the growth of Wilayat Sinai, a local insurgency with economic as well as ideological roots, and affiliated to Da’esh. The response by the Sisi government—extra-judicial killing and repression—are only fuelling further discontent.50

55.There are two points of view about the UK’s approach. Critics argue that the UK’s policy of aligning with existing elites has discouraged the prospects for reform. The organisation Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) said the UK’s continued military support for some Gulf state allies has signalled that “human rights violations will not affect those security arrangements”. This has “empowered them to continue pursuing repressive strategies”. ADHRB said the UK had “prioritised a narrow conception of stability” that has threatened the “long-term stability of the region”.51 Dr Davidson noted that Britain played a “supportive role” in Bahrain “ensuring the longevity of that regime despite significant popular protests”.52

56.The UN Arab Human Development Report 2016 also judges that events since 2011 have proved that employing a

“predominantly security-based approach … without addressing the root causes of discontent may achieve temporary stability and ward off cycles of protest, but does not reduce the possibilities of their recurrence—it may lead to the accumulation of these demands and their re-emergence more violently.”53

57.Critics argue further that the UK’s current approach has damaged UK standing in the region. Dr Davidson said that the UK’s “supposed support of democracy … would be strongly challenged by many people in many of these states”.54 Mr Antoun Issa, Senior Editor, the Middle East Institute, argued that a “large source of anti-Americanism (and anti-UK sentiment as an extension) stems from a region-wide perception that Western powers underwrite the regional autocratic order”.55 Mr Oliver McTernan, Director, Forward Thinking, told us that the “common accusation” from political and youth organisations was that Western countries “have reverted back to giving interests priority over values”.56 Dr Davidson said images of a British Prime Minister meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia were seen by “average people” as “the old guard still in it together”.57

58.The counter argument is that sustained British engagement has influenced the positions of these governments. The Secretary of State for International Trade, the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP, made the case with regards to Saudi Arabia:

“The more engaged we are, the better. The alternative, disengagement, would mean that we would not be able to have some of the influence that we seek to bring”.58

Mr Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, Amnesty International (AI), had cautious positive words about UK involvement in Bahrain: the UK Government has been involved in financing the training of human rights mechanisms, which “is a good thing, and we think the UK are playing an important role”. However, the repression that is simultaneously taking place threatens to undermine that progress, he noted.59 Dr Al-Hamli also advocated patience and continued engagement: “Open political discussion is happening in Bahrain and Kuwait. People in the region are moving forward … but this takes time. Everything cannot change all of a sudden”.60

59.The UK has been muddled in its response to the Arab Spring. In the Gulf states, it has continued to favour the stability offered by hereditary family rulers, and undergirded a system of authoritarianism. By contrast, in Egypt and in Syria, British policy has, at times, sided with the revolutionary movements against the old regimes.

60.As political authority is in turmoil in the Middle East, the UK has a practical interest in the stability of key states with whom the UK has shared interests, including counter-terrorism and the security of oil supplies through the Gulf.

61.Whether the UK’s engagement has been in the best interests of those countries depends on a fine judgement of whether it is the conservation of power, or reform, or a mixture of both, which provides the most stability and least dangerous future.

Syria: the position of President Bashar al-Assad

62.International policy on Syria, since the start of the civil war in 2011, has been characterised by a range of debates about how to respond to President Bashar al-Assad’s repression of what began as nonviolent protests, about the wisdom of arming or training the opposition fighters and the consequences of acting versus not acting, to name but three. The UK’s (and the international community’s) position on President Bashar al-Assad’s role in the future of Syria is the most recent example of confusion.

63.The Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, speaking to us in January 2017, set out a position that oscillated during the course of one evidence session. He dismissed the possibility of a deal with the Russians and President Assad. Such a position would be seen “as a great betrayal of the people of Syria who have opposed Assad. It would be seen as a betrayal of the moderate armed opposition that we have supported and it would have grave repercussions”.61

64.The Foreign Secretary reflected further that the UK had “been wedded for a long time to the mantra that Assad must go”, but without being “able at any stage to make that happen”.62 He also conceded while it has been the “long-standing position of the Government that Assad must go”, the UK has to face the “reality that things have changed” and the UK had “to think about what is best for the Syrian people”.63 The “horror of the dilemma” is that it is by no means clear that “Syria would be in a better place” with the end of the Assad regime, he feared.64

65.The Foreign Secretary’s comments point to the unpalatable choices facing the UK and the stalled progress of the current approach. It is necessary, he said, to “be realistic about the way the landscape has changed” and to “think afresh about how we handle this”. There are, as the Foreign Secretary candidly recognises, “no good options”.65

66.On Tuesday 4 April, a chemical attack struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province, an area controlled by an alliance of rebel groups. The World Health Organisation said that victims, the near 100 fatalities, displayed symptoms of a nerve agent. On Thursday 6 April, the US administration launched a cruise missile attack which hit the air base in Syria, from which it has been alleged the chemical attack was launched. There has been broad international support for the US retaliation, except for the Russians who insist that the attack was not launched by the Assad regime. It remains unclear if the US administration, or international community, is willing to take any further steps to facilitate the removal of President Assad.

67.We endorse the military action by the US as justified and proportionate given that the Syrian regime has reneged on its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and given the evident Russian determination to block any action in the UN Security Council.

68.British confusion and disarray in Syria is a reflection of the contradictions in international policy on President Bashar al-Assad, which must be rethought. The objective of displacing Assad, as a prerequisite of any settlement, with the current means and policy, has proved unachievable. Despite the chemical attack and the recent escalation of military conflict Assad, with Russian support, remains in power.

69.There are no good options available in Syria but the recent chemical attack, the urgency of the humanitarian crisis, with the potential to destabilise the EU and countries of the Middle East with refugees, requires the UK, and international community, to redouble its efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.

Arms sales and military involvement

70.We consider British military involvement in the Middle East in Chapter 9 but here we focus on the question of arms sales. Arms sales, which are a considerable commercial interest, a significant source of jobs in the UK, and a plank of British foreign policy in the Middle East, can cut across our wider interests in stability, our humanitarian responsibilities and our obligations under international law. Those conflicts of interests have become glaring in the case of the war waged in Yemen.

71.The conflict in Yemen escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, against the Houthi rebels, who are aligned with the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and supported (weapons, money and training) by the Iranians.66 The war has been conducted by both sides—the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels—with serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) documented by the UN and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).67 So far, 10,000 civilians have died as a result of the hostilities in Yemen.68 A report prepared for the UN Security Council (UNSC) by a Panel of Experts on Yemen (January 2016) found that 60% of civilian deaths and injuries were caused by air-launched explosive weapons—in other words, highly likely by the Saudi-led coalition. The Panel documented that:

“the coalition had conducted air strikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses”.69

72.Since the war in Yemen began in April 2015 and December 2015, UK arms exports licences to Saudi Arabia exceeded £1.7 billion in value for combat aircraft, and over £1 billion for air-delivered bombs.70 In the first year of the Yemen campaign (March 2015–March 2016), the UK granted export licences for around £3.3 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia.71

73.At the start of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen, the then Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, giving evidence to House of Commons Committees, set out specific areas of UK support. The UK was supporting the “Saudi air force” with “enhanced support–spare parts, maintenance, technical advice [and] resupply”. The UK would, he said, “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”. Further support was detailed to the Commons by the FCO, which explained that the UK had also accelerated the delivery of Paveway laser-guided bombs; increased training in targeting and weapon use; and provided liaison officers in Saudi headquarters.72

74.UK arms exports are covered by the obligations within the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which entered into force in December 2014, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports (December 2008) and the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria (Consolidated Criteria). Articles 6 and 7 of the ATT and Criteria 2 and 6 of the Consolidated Criteria require that export licences are not granted where there is a clear risk that items may be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL or internal repression.73 The UK is also a party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (May 2008), which prohibits the use, development or transfer of cluster munitions, and these prohibitions are contained in UK domestic law.74 We note the UK sold 500 BL755 cluster munitions under a government-to-government agreement signed in 1986, with a final delivery made in 1989.

75.Witnesses criticised the UK’s arms licensing policy to Saudi Arabia questioning its compatibility with international obligations, and its lack of strategic acuity.

76.Mr Luther posed a clear test: “there can be arms sales to the region” but the “big issue is where international obligations are violated”, which Amnesty International believed to be the case.75 Mr Holmes agreed that the UK “signed up to the arms trade treaty so they need to comply with its terms”. The UK, said Mr Holmes, was one of the governments driving the ATT but “when they are put to the test they crumble”, which in turn sets a “precedent”.76

77.Witnesses pointed to the implications for the UK’s own development priorities. ADHRB believed that UK support for the coalitions had “likely extended the conflict and deepened UK complicity in a humanitarian catastrophe”.77 Mr Holmes said the UK should consider when “activity against civilians is contributing to violent extremism and future fragility”.78

78.The conflict in Yemen has jeopardised UK development work in the region. The current conflict forced the Department for International Development (DfID) to suspend its development programme in Yemen—£247.8 million in aid between 2011 and 2014.79 Two years after the intervention, the UN has warned that Yemen is on the brink of a famine, with children paying the heaviest price.80 The collapse of the state has given Da’esh and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula greater scope in which to operate. The International Crisis Group has described them as the “biggest winners of the failed political transition and civil war”.81

79.There could be possible legal implications of the UK’s arms licensing policy. Mr Luther said there was “overwhelming evidence” that the Saudi-led coalition has violated international humanitarian law, and “committed, in some cases, what could be war crimes”. The UK was at risk of “being complicit in war crimes”.82 Mr Holmes believed it “particularly damaging” when the UK is “seen as putting commercial interests above its international legal obligations”.83

80.There have been many calls for the UK to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. A joint report by the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, published in September 2016, recommended that, in order to guard against the risk that UK arms sales might be used in contravention of international law, the Government should “suspend sales of arms which could be used in Yemen to Saudi Arabia, until the independent, UN-led investigation has come to its conclusions and then review the situation again”.84

81.ADHRB, in its evidence to our inquiry, agreed that the UK should “suspend its arms sales to the kingdom until the Saudi government takes documented steps towards improving its military conduct”.85

82.The Government has not yielded, expressing confidence in the robustness of its own processes and policies, pointing to three in particular. First, the UK’s own internal procedures for arms licensing. The Rt Hon Baroness Anelay of St Johns DBE, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, FCO, pointed to the Consolidated Criteria which are applied to every single application of the arms export licence.86 Mr Crompton had a “team which works almost 24/7 analysing incidents of concern”, reporting to ministers who “scrutinise them through a formal review process”. So far, he said “ministers have concluded that we are in compliance.”87

83.The Foreign Secretary explained the UK’s risk-based approach: “there has to be a clear risk that there will be a serious breach of international humanitarian law”. The Government had

“received sufficient assurances from the Saudis about the incidents that have taken place so far to think that we are still narrowly on the right side of that threshold”.88

(The question of the UK’s adherence to the procedures of the Consolidated Criteria is being addressed in a judicial review, initiated by the Campaign against the Arms Trade, which was heard in early February. The judgement had not been delivered at the time of going to press.89)

84.Second, the UK, the Government informed us, was engaging in bilateral diplomacy. Lady Anelay explained to the House that ministers were holding meetings with the Saudi and Yemeni leaders to express their concerns.90 Mr Crompton said the UK had been involved “in a very intense dialogue with the Saudis and other members of the coalition”.91

85.Third, the UK was acting to improve the adherence of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners to international law. The UK, Mr Crompton told us, was providing “enormous levels of training” which included ensuring that “aspects of international humanitarian law are probably factored into the targeting processes” and that there are “processes for investigating accidents”. There have been, Mr Crompton said, “big improvements in those areas”.92 It was the UK’s relationship with the Saudis, said Mr Tobias Ellwood MP, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, FCO which had allowed the UK to “nurture them” into to creating an “analysis team to scrutinise what is actually happening”.93

86.The UK’s sales of arms, which are being used against civilians in Yemen, are generating a considerable degree of public concern. The UK’s position of relying on assurances by the Saudis and Saudi-led review processes is not an adequate way of implementing the obligations for a risk-based assessment set out in the Arms Trade Treaty.

87.We recognise the importance of arms sales to the UK economy and the Gulf. Arms sales, however, must take place with regard for international obligations.

88.The Government must demonstrate that its private diplomacy is working. If not, it should speak out clearly at the UN, within the Human Rights Council, condemning violations, intentional or not, in clear terms. Finally, as a last resort, we recommend that the UK should send a political signal, for instance, by suspending some key export licences, where there is a risk that they could be used in violation of international humanitarian law in Yemen.

89.More broadly, UK sales of arms to countries of the region that might use those arms to commit human rights violations is a troubling aspect of British policy. After Brexit, as the Government seeks to deepen its security and trade relations with the Gulf states, the UK’s dependence on arms exports is likely to increase as will the consequences of those sales. The sharpness of these dilemmas will increase pressures for a reconsideration of the way the UK applies its own export guidelines.

90.As part of its post-Brexit foreign policy, the Government should commit to reviewing how Government departments and ministers meet the criteria for arms exports. Decision-making procedures must be more transparent and demonstrate unequivocal adherence to international law. Such a review would send a clear political signal that UK foreign policy under the new Government will not be business as usual.

EU dimension and Brexit

91.The most significant factor affecting the development of the UK’s foreign policy has been its decision to leave the EU. We now turn to the consequences for UK policy in the Middle East.

92.Brexit will have a limited impact on bilateral state relations in this region. Sir Derek Plumbly, former British Ambassador to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and former UN Special Co-ordinator for Lebanon, explained that Arab governments “tend instinctively to look beyond the EU to national governments”.94 This is particularly so as the EU is not an effective security actor. Gulf states, said Mr Crompton, are “not particularly interested in the EU”. Their “principal interest is in whether people can help them with their security”.95

93.Brexit has also been welcomed by partners in the region. Mr El-Idrissi informed us that the Prime Minister meeting with GCC ministers in December was “a phenomenal move, and it was agreed that a strategic partnership group would start from that point”.96 The Minister, Mr Stewart, pointed out that the Jordanian ambassador is “very bullish” and “frequently says publicly that he does not think that Britain leaving the European Union will have any impact on Britain’s influence or relationship with Jordan”.97

94.On the other hand, Brexit could weaken the UK’s influence. Ms Jane Kinninmont, Deputy Head, Middle East and North Africa, Chatham House, explained that Gulf countries will see that the “UK needs new friends or renewed relationships with old friends” and consider British policy to be “more malleable and susceptible to influence”.98 A shared EU common position, said Sir Derek Plumbly, “provides you with a certain amount of protection” and the UK could be “more vulnerable to retaliation if the audience do not like what they are hearing”.99

95.There will be virtually no impact on military power projection. The EU does not have its own autonomous military capacity and European member states act via NATO (as in 2011 in Libya) or within international coalitions (e.g. the 2014 Global Coalition against Da’esh which included Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the UK).

96.Exerting influence on EU Middle East policy will inevitably be a matter of working closely with Paris and Berlin, as well as other European capitals. Mr Daniel Levy, President, US-Middle East Project, explained that the “European centre of gravity” in foreign affairs is France, Germany and the UK.100 The reality, said the Rt Hon Jack Straw, former Foreign Secretary (2001–06) has always been that foreign policy at the EU level requires “France, Germany and the United Kingdom [to] agree to it” and that “will be so in the future.101 The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme conducted in the format of the E3 (Britain, France and Germany) + 3 (US, China and Russia) illustrates this point.

97.The Quartet on Israel/Palestine does not fit into the same logic. 102 Here the UK is represented by the EU; and following Brexit, the UK will not have a place in the Quartet. At this stage the FCO did “not yet know quite how that will work”.103 Nevertheless, none of our witnesses were particularly concerned. The Quartet, said Sir Derek Plumbly, had not been very effective to “put it mildly”.104 Mr Levy was “relatively scathing” about the Quartet, which “has always had a lot more going for it in theory than in practice”.105

98.The main consequences of Brexit in the MENA will be in commercial, trade and development policy. The EU, said Sir Derek Plumbly, has “collective leverage” and tools such as “diplomatic outreach, the possibility of sanctions and the ability to give or deny market access.”106 In areas of development policy, particularly in North Africa, where the EU is a generous actor, the UK will have less leverage. As Mr Crompton acknowledged, the UK funds are “modest compared with the money that the EU spends across North Africa” and the UK’s “ability to leverage that could be less than before”.107

99.The UK participates in EU development programmes, administered by the European Commission, via its contributions to the core EU budget. The UK currently provides some 15% of the EU’s Global Europe budget heading, which was nearly €9 billion in 2015.108 There are further specific programmes, set up for a limited period to deal with a particular crisis or challenge, such as the €3 billion Refugee Facility for Turkey, which are also managed by the European Commission.

100.The UK’s capacity to participate in these development programmes could be affected by Brexit.109 In areas of EU competence such as development and trade policy, the UK would have “no formal say forming the collective EU position”.110 The UK would be able to contribute its views but it would not have an official position, unless the necessary arrangements are put in place.

101.The EU’s large aid budget provides economies of scale. The Government’s own Balance of Competences exercise (2013) judged that:

“The EU’s global reach is greater than that of any of the Member States acting individually … The EU’s geographical focus for its aid programmes is broadly aligned with that of the UK, particularly with regard to aid to Commonwealth countries, and the EU’s wider geographical coverage means the UK can channel aid through it to reach countries that the UK could not reach alone”.111

102.There are, however, disadvantages to channelling funding through the EU. Policy-making at the EU level can sometimes result in compromise positions.112 Mr Crompton thought Brexit might be “slightly liberating”, in the sense that UK diplomats spent “an awful lot of time negotiating EU positions that we do not always agree with”.113 The Minister, Mr Stewart, explained that after Brexit the UK would move from a “common EU position towards one in which Britain would determine bilaterally what its interests were … and work out how much money we would wish to put in”.114

103.The UK has been a hinge-power between the EU and US, exerting some influence on both sides, often bringing both closer. Post-Brexit, the UK’s ability to leverage the EU influence on the US, and leverage the US position in the EU, may no longer be there. “It is now more difficult for Britain to have influence in as many places” said Mr Danahar, because previously as a member of the EU “it could be seen to be bringing Europe along”.115 For Mr Straw the more the UK was able to “develop a common approach with France and Germany, the stronger our voice will be in Washington”.116 France, in particular, will be one of the UK’s most important allies: France is one of the EU’s most capable military actors; a large contributor to EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy missions; one of the few EU countries, able to act swiftly and decisively and capable of projecting globally (for instance in Mali, 2013); spending close to 2% of its GDP on defence and possessing an extensive diplomatic network in the Middle East and Africa.

104.The significance of Brexit on the Middle East is, on balance, less than elsewhere. Policy in the region relies on bilateral relationships and security commitments. Nevertheless, the UK will need to work closely with the main European powers in order to craft a policy that covers the entire region, securing UK access to countries where it is not historically represented and continued cooperation with EU development instruments.

105.After Brexit, ensuring that the UK has strong bilateral relations with key European partners will be critical. France, in particular, as one of Europe’s most effective diplomatic and military powers, and a country with a historic role in the region, is likely to be the UK’s most important partner in the MENA.

106.In the sphere of development policy, both UK and EU policy could be diminished by Brexit: the EU’s large aid budget and global reach provides the UK with economies of scale, and European Commission programmes will be bereft of one of its largest contributors. There is a mutual benefit to close cooperation. We urge the UK Government to ensure that arrangements are put in place to ensure that the UK and EU continue to work closely on development policy in the MENA.

25 Q 20 (Neil Crompton)

26 UN Development Programme, Arab Human Development Report 2016: Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality, 29 November 2016, p 176: [accessed 20 April 2017]

27 Q 132 (Haid Haid)

28 Q 20 (Neil Crompton)

29 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ‘Europe Situation’: [accessed 20 April 2017]

30 Q 55 (Richard Haass)

31 Written evidence from Bassam Fattouh (MID0011)

32 Written evidence from Bassam Fattouh (MID0011)

33 Q 150 (Stewart Williams)

34 Q 165 (Abdeslam El-Idrissi)

35 Q 150 (Carole Nakhle)

36 Q 20 (Neil Crompton)

37 UK Trade & Investment and Defence & Security Organisation, UK Defence and Security Export Statistics for 2015 (26 July 2016): [accessed 28 March 2017]

38 Department for International Trade, ‘Country Profiles’: [accessed 29 March 2017]

39 Q 27 (Neil Crompton)

40 ‘A bloody Easter for Christians in the Middle East’, Financial Times, 14 April 2017: [accessed 18 April 2017]

41 Q 102 (Rebecca Crozier)

42 Q 102 (Tim Holmes)

43 Q 20 (Neil Crompton)

44 Q 17 (Renad Mansour)

45 Q 20 (Neil Crompton)

46 Q 30 (Christopher Davidson)

47 Peter Hessler, ‘Egypt’s Failed Revolution’, The New Yorker, 2 January 2017: [accessed 14 March 2017]

48 Q 202 (Rory Stewart MP)

49 Adel Abdel Ghafar, ‘Youth unemployment in Egypt: A ticking time bomb’, Brookings Institution, 28 July 2016: [accessed 26 April 2017]

50 ‘Egypt: Terrorism and now civil disobedience in northern Sinai’, The Arab Digest, February 2017

51 Written evidence from Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) (MID0007)

52 Q 30 (Christopher Davidson)

53 UN Development Programme, Arab Human Development Report 2016: Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality (December 2016): [accessed 26 April 2017]

54 Q 30 (Christopher Davidson)

55 Written evidence from Antoun Issa (MID0003)

56 Q 89 (Oliver McTernan)

57 Q 33 (Christopher Davidson)

58 Q 212 (Rt Hon Liam Fox MP)

59 Q 101 (Philip Luther)

60 Q 76 (Ahmed Al-Hamli)

61 Q 143 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)

62 Q 144 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)

63 Q 147 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)

64 Q 144 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)

65 Q 144 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)

66 ‘Iranian support seen as crucial for Yemen’s Houthis’, Reuters, 15 December 2014: [accessed 24 April 2017

67 See for example, United Nations, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary General, 20 April 2016: and International Committee of the Red Cross, International humanitarian law and the challenge of contemporary armed conflicts, October 2015: [accessed 24 April 2017]

68 ‘Yemen civil war: 10,000 civilians killed and 40,00 injured in conflict, UN reveals’, The Independent, 17 January 2017: [accessed 27 April 2017]

69 UN Security Council, Final report of the Panel on Experts on Yemen established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2140 (2014), S/2016/73 (26 January 2016): [accessed 27 April 2017]

70 Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen (First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, Session 2016–17, HC 679)

72 Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen (First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, Session 2016–17, HC 679)

73 UN Arms Trade Treaty, 24 December 2014:, HC Deb, 25 March 2014, col 9WS [Commons written ministerial statement] and Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP , of 8 December 2008 defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment (OJ 335/99, 13 December 2008)

74 Convention on Cluster Munitions, 20 May 2008:$file/ccm77_english.pdf [accessed 28 March 2017]

75 Q 102 (Philip Luther)

76 Q 104 (Tim Holmes)

77 Written evidence from Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) (MID0007)

78 Q 104 (Tim Holmes)

79 Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen (First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, Session 2016–17, HC 679)

80 UNICEF, ‘Yemen: UNICEF vaccination campaign reaches five million children’, 9 March 2017: [accessed 28 March 2017]

81 International Crisis Group, Yemen’s al-Qaeda: Expanding the Base, 2 February 2017: [accessed 24 April 2017]

82 Q 104 (Philip Luther)

83 Q 104 (Tim Holmes)

84 Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, The use of UK-manufactured arms in Yemen (First Joint Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Committees, Session 2016–17, HC 679)

85 Written evidence from Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) (MID0007). Other countries have taken that step. The US, under the Obama administration, suspended some arms sales—cluster bombs and precision guided munitions—although the Trump administration has since retracted that decision. In 2016, the Netherlands suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

86 HL Deb, 13 October 2016, col 2009

87 Q 24 (Neil Crompton)

88 Q 146 (Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP)

89 Campaign against the Arms Trade, ‘Saudi Arabia: legal challenge’, 13 February 2017: [accessed 21 April 2017]

90 HL Deb, 13 October 2016, col 2009

91 Q 23 (Neil Crompton)

92 Q 23 (Neil Crompton)

93 Q 193 (Tobias Ellwood MP)

94 Q 5 (Sir Derek Plumbly)

95 Q 29 (Neil Crompton)

96 Q 167 (Abdeslam El-Idrissi)

97 Q 198 (Rory Stewart MP)

98 Q 46 (Jane Kinninmont)

99 Q 5 (Sir Derek Plumbly)

100 Q 173 (Daniel Levy)

101 Q 100 (Rt Hon Jack Straw)

102 Established in 2002 and consisting of the United Nations, the EU, US and Russia, the Quartet’s primary mandate is to mediate the Middle East Peace Process.

103 Q 29 (Neil Crompton)

104 Q 5 (Sir Derek Plumbly)

105 Q 174 (Daniel Levy)

106 Q 5 (Sir Derek Plumbly)

107 Q 29 (Neil Crompton). We consider a post-Brexit trade strategy for the region in Chapter 8.

108 European Commission, ‘EU Annual Budget’: [accessed 28 March 2017]

109 Q 200 (Rory Stewart MP)

110 Jane Kinninmont, ‘A Post-Brexit Britain Would Double Down on Middle East Alliances’, Chatham House, 13 June 2016: [accessed 10 April 2017]

111 HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union: Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid Report, July 2013: [accessed 27 March 2017]

112 HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union: Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid Report, July 2013: [accessed 27 March 2017]

113 Q 29 (Neil Crompton)

114 Q 200 (Rory Stewart MP)

115 Q 69 (Paul Danahar)

116 Q 96 (Rt Hon Jack Straw)

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