New Forest East


Dr Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State is a personal friend of mine, so I do not mean this in any way to reflect on her abilities, but I am surprised that a statement with so much military content is not being made by a Defence Minister and that we do not appear to have a Defence Minister present on the Front Bench. She will forgive me if I ask some defence-oriented questions.

First, can the Secretary of State confirm that the vast majority of the large number of RAF sorties have been in Iraq, rather than Syria, because there were few forces on the ground in Syria, other than the Kurds, whom we felt we could support?

Secondly, does she recognise that the opposition in Syria, with the exception of the Kurds, has been dominated from beginning to end by Islamists, although they are not all from Daesh?

Finally, will she acknowledge that we need a realistic strategy whereby we get away from demanding a political settlement when, in reality, our only allies in Syria – the Kurds – are now being attacked by a fellow member of NATO, namely Turkey?

[The Secretary of State for International Development (Penny Mordaunt): I will do my best to answer the defence matters raised by my right hon. Friend. The key Departments involved in our efforts take it in turns to deliver an update to the House. No disrespect is meant to him or to the House by there not being a Defence Minister at the Dispatch Box. As the Government’s humanitarian lead, I am taking this opportunity to focus on the humanitarian atrocities that have been committed.

I can confirm to my right hon. Friend that the vast majority of airstrikes have been in Iraq – 1,362 airstrikes have taken place – which is largely due to the nature of the campaign. The campaign has differed at different stages, from having a named target when an aircraft takes off to carrying out more opportunist surveillance and not having a target as the aircraft gets airborne – that is how the campaign unfolded, as opposed to the factor he mentioned.

We remain concerned that Afrin is indirectly diverting resource away from the main effort against Daesh, and I confirm that we still believe that a political settlement is the only way forward.]