It is with great sadness that I have to tell the House that we now know at least 18 British nationals have been killed, with more injured and the death toll is likely to rise still further.
Mr Speaker these were innocent British holidaymakers, people who had saved up for a special time away with their friends and family, and who suddenly became the victims of the most brutal terrorist attack against British people for many years.
I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all those who have lost loved ones.
And I know the whole country will want to share in a moment of remembrance.
So following the act of remembrance we have just held in this House, we will have a national minute’s silence on Friday at 12 noon, one week on from the moment of the attack. In due course, in consultation with the families, we will also announce plans for a fitting memorial to the victims of this horrific attack.
Mr Speaker, this morning I chaired the fourth daily meeting of the government’s emergency COBR committee. So let me take the House through 3 things.
First, the latest on what we believe happened in Tunisia, and also in the separate attacks in Kuwait and France.
Second, the immediate steps we have been taking to help the British victims and their families.
And third, how we will work with our allies to defeat this evil in our world.
Mr Speaker, the events of last Friday are horribly familiar to anyone following them in the media. A radicalised university student armed with a Kalashnikov began massacring innocent tourists on the beach at Port El Kantaoui. He continued his attack into the Imperial Marhaba hotel and onto the streets, where he was shot dead by Tunisian police.
While we believe he was the sole gunman, it is thought that he may have been part of an ISIL-inspired network, and the Tunisian security forces are investigating possible accomplices who may have supported this sickening attack.
Mr Speaker, on the same day in Kuwait, a suicide bomber killed 27 and injured more than 200 in an attack on the Imam Sadiq Mosque near Kuwait City. In ISIL-affiliated group based in Saudi Arabia has claimed it was behind the attack. In Syria, ISIL executed 120 people in their homes in Kobane. And in south-eastern France, a man was murdered and 2 were injured in an explosion.
While all these attacks were clearly driven by the same underlying perverted ideology, there is no evidence to date that they were directly co-ordinated.
Mr Speaker, our first priority has been to help the British victims and their families. This has meant helping onsite, assisting the wounded; bringing home those who lost their lives; ensuring holidaymakers still in Tunisia who want to come home are helped to do so, and gathering further evidence of what happened.
A team of consular staff were onsite in Sousse within hours, and by Saturday they were complemented by additional teams of consular staff, police and Red Cross experts. We now have over 50 people on the ground helping British victims and their families.
To help the wounded, we have already sent a team of military medical liaison officers to assist with medical evacuations.
And a C17 has just landed in Sousse to bring home some of the seriously injured. It is right that we also do everything we can to bring home those who lost their lives as quickly as possible.
We have been helping the Tunisians with what is, in some cases, a very difficult identification process.
The Royal Air Force will arrange directly the repatriation of all deceased British nationals whose families wish us to do so - as soon as the identification processes are complete. While 60 family liaison officers back here in Britain are continuing to support the relatives of those killed and injured.
We are working with the tour operators to ensure those who want to come home can do so – and more than 20 special flights have already brought hundreds home. And since Friday evening over 380 counter terrorism and local officers have been at British airports to meet and support travellers returning home from Tunisia – including helping to gather evidence of what happened.
As Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said yesterday, the national policing response is likely to be one of the largest counter terrorism deployments in a decade.
Mr Speaker, yesterday afternoon I visited the Foreign Office Crisis Centre to see first-hand the work of our teams are doing to co-ordinate our efforts at home and abroad.
And as I speak, my Hon Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Office Minister, the Member for Bournemouth East, are out in Sousse in person, doing everything they can to help the British victims and their families – and talking to the Tunisian authorities about ways in which we can help to strengthen their security.
I have been speaking to President Essebsi over the weekend and want to put on record my thanks for the assistance of the Tunisian authorities throughout this horrific ordeal.
Mr Speaker, the Foreign Office has updated their travel advice which continues to make clear the high threat from terrorism in the country, just as it did before Friday’s events. But they are not moving to the position of advising against all but essential travel to this part of Tunisia, and so they are not advising against visiting the popular coastal resorts.
This was agreed by the COBR emergency committee and will be kept under close review.
Mr Speaker, these are difficult judgements.
Nowhere is without risk from Islamist extremist terrorists, and of course we take into account the capability of the country in question, and their ability to counter this threat. Here in the UK the threat level remains at severe, meaning a terrorist attack is highly likely – but until we have defeated this threat, we must resolve as a country to carry on living our lives alongside it.
Of course making those judgements means taking sensible precautions, and where there is a specific threat we will always take action immediately.
But we will not give up our way of life or cower in the face of terrorism.
Mr Speaker, these terrorists tried to strike at places of hope. In a country with a flourishing tourist industry that is on the road to democracy and a mosque in Kuwait that dared to bring Sunnis and Shias together.
But the Tunisians and Kuwaitis will not have that hope taken away from them. They will not be cowed by terror. And we will stand with them.
Defeating this terrorist threat
Mr Speaker, defeating this terrorist threat requires us to do 3 things.
First, we must give our police and security services the tools they need to root out this poison. We have already increased funding for our police and intelligence services this year and legislated to give them stronger powers to seize passports and prevent travel. And over the next 2 days, our security forces and emergency services will conduct a major training exercise in London to test and refine the UK’s preparedness for dealing with a serious terrorist attack.
But we must also do more to make sure the powers we give our security services keep pace with changes in technology. ISIL’s methods of murder may be barbaric, but its methods of recruitment, propaganda and communication use the latest technology.
So we must step up our own efforts to support our agencies in tracking vital online communications, and we will be bringing forward a draft Bill to achieve this.
Mr Speaker, we must also work with our international partners to improve our counter-terrorism co-operation.
I spoke to President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Michel of Belgium over the weekend and we agreed to work together to help Tunisia strengthen its security.
Our ambassadors met with the Tunisian authorities yesterday to put that into action, including by strengthening the protective security arrangements at coastal resorts.
Second, we must deal with this security threat at source – whether that is ISIL in Iraq and Syria or other extremist groups around the world. British aircraft are already delivering the second largest number of airstrikes over Iraq and our airborne intelligence and surveillance assets are assisting other countries with their operations over Syria.
We are working with our UN, EU and American partners to support the formation of a Government of National Accord in Libya. And we will continue to do all we can to support national governments in strengthening weak political institutions and dealing with the ungoverned spaces where terrorists thrive.
And as I’ve said in this House many times before, if we need to act to neutralise an imminent threat to the UK, we will always do so.
Third, we must take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds. The people who do these things do it in the name of a twisted and perverted ideology which hijacks the Islamic faith and holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary. Mr Speaker, we must confront this evil with everything we have. We must be stronger at standing up for our values.
And we must be more intolerant of intolerance – taking on anyone whose views condone the extremist narrative or create the conditions for it to flourish.
On Wednesday a new statutory duty will come in to force requiring all public bodies - from schools to prisons to local councils - to take steps to identify and tackle radicalisation. In the weeks ahead we will go further.
We will stand in solidarity with all those outraged by this event – not least the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country and around the world.
For this is not the war between Islam and the West that ISIL want people to believe. It is a generational struggle between a minority of extremists who want hatred to flourish, and the rest of us who want freedom to prosper. And together we will prevail.
Mr Speaker, let me turn to the European Council. This discussed 3 issues which strongly affect our national interest.
On the situation in Greece, I chaired a contingency meeting in Downing Street earlier today and the Chancellor will be making a statement straight after this.
So let me deal with the other 2: the need for a comprehensive approach to the migration crisis, and the beginning of the UK renegotiation process.
On migration, the right course of action is to combine saving lives with tackling the root causes of this problem. That means breaking the business model of the smugglers – by breaking the link between getting in a boat and getting a chance to arrive and settle in Europe.
It means gathering intelligence to disrupt the smuggling gangs and using our aid budget to help alleviate the poverty and failure of governance that so often drives these people from their homes in the first place.
Britain has already played a leading role in all of this, keeping its promises on aid and saving over 4,000 lives in the Mediterranean.
By contrast, Mr Speaker, focusing primarily on setting up a relocation scheme for migrants who have already arrived in Europe, we believe, could be counterproductive, because instead of breaking the smugglers’ business model, it makes their offer more attractive.
Others in the EU have decided to go ahead with this relocation scheme, but because of our opt-out from justice and home affairs matters, we won’t be joining them.
We will, however, enhance our plans to resettle the most vulnerable refugees from outside the EU – most notably from Syrian refugee camps, in line with the announcement I made in Bratislava earlier this month.
Reform, renegotiation and referendum
Finally, on the UK’s relationship with the European Union, we have a clear plan of reform, renegotiation and referendum.
And at this Council I set out the case for substantive reform in 4 areas: sovereignty, fairness, immigration and competitiveness.
First on sovereignty, Britain will not support being part of an ever-closer union or being dragged into a state called Europe.
That may be for others, but it will never be for Britain, and it is time to recognise that specifically.
We want national parliaments to be able to work together to have more power, not less.
Second on fairness. As the eurozone integrates further, the EU has got to be flexible enough to make sure the interests of both those inside and outside the eurozone are fairly balanced. Put simply, the single currency is not for all but the single market and the European Union as a whole must work for all.
Third on immigration, we need to tackle the welfare incentives that attract so many people from across the EU to seek work in Britain.
And finally, alongside all these, we need to make the EU a source of growth, jobs, innovation and success rather than stagnation. That means signing trade deals and completing the single market – such as in digital, where the Council made progress towards a roaming agreement that could cut the cost of mobile phone bills for businesses and tourists alike.
At this meeting, my priority was to kick off the technical work on all of these issues and the specific reforms that we want in each area. The Council agreed that such a process will get underway, and we will return to the issue at the meeting in December.
Mr Speaker, these talks will take tenacity and patience. Not all the issues will be easily solved. But just as in the last Parliament we showed that change could happen, when we cut the EU budget for the first time in its history, so in this Parliament we will fix the problems which have frustrated the British people for so long.
We will put the common market back at the heart of our membership; get off the treadmill to ever-closer union; address the issue of migration to Britain from the rest of the EU and protect Britain’s place in the single market for the long term.
It will not be the status quo.
It will be a membership rooted in our national interest.
And a European Union that is better for Britain and better for Europe too.
And I commend this Statement to the House.