European Council and Woolwich incident: Prime Minister’s statement
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Prime Minister gave a statement to the House of Commons on the recent European Council and to update on the events in Woolwich.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the recent European Council and also update the House on the dreadful events in Woolwich.
The European Council was called specifically to discuss energy policy and tax evasion.
We also discussed the situation in Syria, prior to the lifting of the arms embargo which was agreed at the Foreign Affairs Council last week.
On energy policy, we agreed to continue our efforts to complete the single market in energy so we drive competition between suppliers and force prices down.
We also put down a marker to get rid of unnecessary regulation in making the most of indigenous resources such as shale gas.
Europe has three quarters as much shale as the United States…
…yet while the Americans are drilling 10,000 wells a year, we here in Europe are drilling fewer than 100.
We must extract shale in a safe and sustainable manner - but we have got to do more to ensure that old rules designed for different technologies do not hold us back today.
On tax – to crack down on tax evasion you need proper exchange of tax information.
In Europe this has been stalled for decades because of the selfish actions of a minority of countries.
I made tackling tax evasion a headline priority for our G8.
This has enabled us to ramp up the pressure and make real progress.
So at the European Council, we agreed that there should be…
…a new international standard of automatic information exchange between tax authorities…
…and proper information on who really owns and controls each and every company.
On Syria, the situation continues to deteriorate.
There is a humanitarian crisis – so Britain is leading the way with humanitarian support.
We need diplomatic pressure to force all sides to come to the table - and in recent weeks I have held talks with Presidents Putin and Obama to help try and bring that about.
But we have to be clear, unless we do more to support the official Opposition, the humanitarian crisis will continue and the political transition will not happen and the extremists will flourish.
That is why it is right to lift the EU arms embargo on the Syrian Opposition.
There needs to be a clear sense that Assad can not fight his way to victory, nor use the talks to buy more time to slaughter Syrians in their homes and streets.
I regret to say that the EU arms embargo has served the extremists on both sides.
It didn’t stop Assad massacring his people.
It didn’t stop the Russians sending him arms.
And it didn’t stop Islamist extremists getting their hand on weapons either.
It just sent a signal that for all its words, the EU had no real ability to support the responsible opposition that could be the basis of an inclusive transition.
That is why the Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Minister secured agreement to lift the arms embargo in Brussels last week.
Mr Speaker, let’s be clear about the Syrian National Coalition.
They have declared their support for democracy, human rights and an inclusive future for all minorities.
And we – not just in Britain but across the EU – have recognised them as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.
The EU has agreed a common framework for those who, in the future, may decide to supply them with military equipment.
And there are clear safeguards to ensure that any such equipment would only be supplied for the protection of civilians, and in accordance with international law.
This does not mean that we in the UK have made any decision to send arms – but we do now have the flexibility to respond if the situation continues to deteriorate.
But with 80,000 killed…
…5 million fled from their homes….
…rising extremism and major regional instability…
…those who argue for inaction must realise that it has its consequences too.
Mr Speaker, let me turn to the events in Woolwich.
I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Drummer Lee Rigby.
What happened on the streets of Woolwich shocked and sickened us all.
It was a despicable attack on a British soldier who stood for our country and our way of life.
And it was a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.
There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror…
…and I welcome the spontaneous condemnation of this attack from Mosques and Muslim community organisations across our country.
We will not be cowed by terror.
And terrorists who seek to divide us will only make us stronger and more united in our resolve to defeat them.
Mr Speaker, let me update the House on the latest developments in the investigation…
…the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee…
…and the next steps in our ongoing efforts to fight extremism in all its forms.
While the criminal investigation is on-going, there remains a limit on what I can say.
Two men, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo have been charged with the murder of of Drummer Lee Rigby.
Both are appearing in court today.
There have now been 10 further arrests as part of the ongoing investigation…
…two women have been released without charge…
…and eight men have been released on bail.
The Police and Security Services will not rest until we have brought all of those responsible to justice.
And I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the work of our Police and Security Services for all they do to keep us safe from violent extremists.
Already this year, there have been three major counter-terror trials in which 18 people were found guilty and sentenced to a total of 150 years in prison.
Much more of the work of our security services has necessarily gone unreported.
They are Britain’s silent heroes and the whole country owes them an enormous debt of gratitude.
Role of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC)
Mr Speaker, it is important that we learn the lessons of what happened in Woolwich.
This government strengthened the Intelligence and Security Committee and gave it additional powers to investigate the activities of the intelligence agencies.
I have agreed with my Rt Hon Friend the Member for Kensington this morning this his committee will investigate…
….how the suspects were radicalised…
…what we knew about them…
…whether any more could have been done to stop them…
…and the lessons to learn.
And the Committee hopes to conclude its work around the end of the year.
Next steps in fighting extremism
Mr Speaker, to tackle the threat of extremism we must understand its root causes.
Those who carried out this callous and abhorrent crime sought to justify their actions by an extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justify violence.
We must confront this ideology in all its forms.
Since coming into government we have made sure the Prevent Strategy focuses on all forms of extremism – not just violent extremism.
We have closed down more websites and intervened to help many more people vulnerable to radicalisation.
Since 2011 the Home Secretary has excluded more preachers of hate from this country than ever before through our Prevent work.
5,700 items of terrorist material have been taken down from the internet and almost 1,000 more items blocked where they are hosted overseas.
But it is clear we need to do more.
When young men born and bred in this country, are radicalised and turned into brutal killers…
…we have to ask some tough questions about what is happening in our country.
It is as if for some young people there is a conveyor belt to radicalisation that has poisoned their minds with sick and perverted ideas.
We need to dismantle this process at every stage.
In schools, colleges, universities, on the internet, in our prisons – wherever it is taking place.
So this morning I chaired the first meeting of the government’s new Task Force on tackling extremism and radicalisation.
I want the Task Force to ask serious questions about…
…whether the rules on charities are too lax and allow extremists to prosper…
…whether we are doing enough to disrupt groups that incite hatred, violence or criminal damage…
…whether we are doing enough to deal with radicalisation in our university campuses, on the internet and in our prisons.
…whether we need to do more with informal education centres like madrasahs to prevent radicalisation…
…and whether we do enough to help Mosques expel extremists and recruit Imams who understand Britain.
We will also look at new ways to support communities as they come together and take a united stand against all forms of extremism.
Just as we will not stand for those who pervert Islam to preach extremism…
…neither will we stand for groups like the English Defence league who try to demonise Islam and stoke up anti-Muslim hatred by bringing disorder and violence to our towns and cities.
Mr Speaker, let’s be clear, the responsibility for this horrific murder lies with those that committed it.
But we should do all we can to tackle the poisonous ideology that is perverting young minds.
This is not just a job for the security services and the police.
It is work for us all.
And I commend this Statement to the House.