Liam Fox speaks in Commons debate over the Ukraine, Middle East, North Africa and Security

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con):

A number of things about ISIS are clear: it is well funded; it is very well organised; and it has a comprehensive, complex and sophisticated communications strategy. None of those things happened overnight, and it is legitimate for us to ask why we did not pick up on some of those trends earlier. Did we know about ISIS? Were we aware that ISIS is, in the Prime Minister’s words, the greatest threat to us in a generation? If we were aware, why did we not act sooner? If we did not know, we need to ask questions of our intelligence and diplomatic services, but they are questions for another time.

We also know clearly the sort of threats that ISIS poses. We have seen the humanitarian threat to those unfortunate enough to fall within the territory it controls and the barbaric ways in which people have been treated. We are clear about the threat of destabilisation to the region and the fact that ISIS potentially threatens an all-out religious war in one of the world’s most unstable regions. We are also aware that it could become the university of jihad if it is allowed to establish a caliphate, and that will be exported to countries such as the United Kingdom. It is also clear that we in the

west must accept the failures in our foreign policy, not least with Iraq where we have indulged and over-tolerated the Maliki Government when it was clear that they were failing in their promise and their duty to establish a Government of national unity.

The question is what do we do to deal with ISIS in the immediate future and then in the longer term. As has been said, we need to deal with it financially. It is difficult to stop oil being sold on the black market, but we must try and try harder with our allies who might be able to exert some leverage. We need to stop the flow of finances through the international banking system and ensure that ransoms are not paid. Paying a ransom is financing jihad, and we must not do that no matter how difficult that is. We must stop the double dealing of some of the countries and groups in the region that are making it extremely difficult for ourselves and our allies to bring this matter to a successful conclusion.

Then there is the question of whether we should involve ourselves in military action. As I and many others have said before, there are a number of questions that we need to answer before we can get involved in military action: what does a good outcome look like; are we able to engineer a good outcome; do we have to be part of such engineering; and how much future liability do we want to hold as a consequence?

What is clear is that our allies in the region simply do not have all the military capabilities they require to deal with ISIS on the ground. They do not have the ability to make the strategic air attacks that will deal with command and control and the ISIS supply lines. If it comes to a ground counter-offensive, they will require close air support. There is no point in us trying to will the outcome without being prepared to will the means. I was very impressed, as I always am, by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), spoke about a battle of ideas. We must understand that this battle, like all battles, is one of ideology, and we must be careful about the western liberal tendency to allow wishful thinking to overtake critical analysis.

We need to understand one thing, which is that there are people out there who hate us. They do that not because of what we do or where we intervene but because of who we are and what we stand for—our values, our system of Government and our belief in basic rights.

All conflicts are battles of ideology. That is particularly true of those who return from the region having been involved in jihad in support of ISIS. When the Home Secretary winds up the debate, I hope she will make it clear that in this country we have no place for the concept that someone can take a sabbatical from civilisation and then apologise and come back as though nothing has happened. There has to be a price for those who take up arms against their own country by proxy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border made an interesting point about resourcing our security services. It is worth mentioning that we spend on GCHQ, the security services and Secret Intelligence Service in a year what we spend every six days on the national health service. As a country, we must think about our priorities and just how high up that level of priority the security of our people is. Supposedly, that is the first duty of Government.

Sir Nicholas Soames

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that the tragedy of that is that those services are some of the most important to this country and feature so very largely in some of our most important relationships?

Dr Fox:

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Sometimes it is tempting for Governments to spend on things that we can see rather than on things that we cannot see, but those things may not be of equal importance when it comes to the well-being of our country.

Mr Straw:

Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept that the welcome decision by both parties to have a larger aid programme cannot be a substitute for money spent on the more difficult areas of intelligence and diplomacy? As our aid programme increases so too must our diplomatic programme.

Dr Fox:

I would go further and say that our national security and the need for hard power in a hard world should, in a time of financial constraints, take precedence over our aid programme.

I was involved in an interesting discussion at a meeting in Paris. I asked why it was that during the cold war we were willing to use the term “better” when it came to our values. For example, we would say that democracy was better than totalitarian rule, free markets were better than command economies and freedom was better than oppression. But when it comes to debates about Islamic fundamentalism, we are not willing to use the word “better”. I believe that religious tolerance is better than enforced orthodoxy, and that equal rights for women are better than women being second-class citizens. When I raised that point, I was told, “Well, nowadays, we can’t really say ‘better’. Things are just different.” If we believe that our values are different and not better, why should we believe, let alone convince anyone else, that they should follow what we have? We in the west are what we are not by accident but because of the value path that we have chosen to take. All the battles that we will face are to do with ideology, belief and values. It is not the capability of the west—of this country or the United States—that has been called into question; it is our will to in will not only fail to shape the era of globalisation but diminish ourselves in the longer term.