Prime Minister's statement on Ukraine and Gaza

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Prime Minister updated the House of Commons on the flight MH17 disaster, Ukraine and Gaza.

Mr Speaker this is the first time the House has met since the tragic loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last Thursday and it is right to make a statement about this and the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza.

Mr Speaker, flight MH17 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a surface to air missile over Eastern Ukraine.

All 298 people on board were killed. This includes 10 of our own citizens. As many as 80 children.

And victims from 9 other countries, including 193 Dutch citizens. It also includes members of an Australian family who had lost relatives on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 earlier this year.

From Adelaide to Amsterdam, from Kuala Lumpur to Newcastle we are seeing heart-wrenching scenes of grief as communities come together to remember their loved ones.

And I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and families of everyone affected.

Mr Speaker, alongside sympathy for the victims, there is also anger.

There is anger that this could happen at all.

There is anger that the murder of innocent men, women and children has been compounded by sickening reports of looting of victims’ possessions and interference with the evidence.

And there is rightly anger that a conflict that could have been curtailed by Moscow has instead been fomented by Moscow.

Mr Speaker, this has to change now.

In the last few days I have spoken with Presidents Obama and Hollande, Chancellor Merkel, and the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Poland and Australia.

We are all agreed on what must happen.

First, those with influence on the separatists must ensure that they allow the bodies of the victims to be repatriated and provide uninhibited access to the crash site to enable a proper international investigation of what happened to flight MH17.

Second, President Putin must use his influence to end the conflict in Ukraine by halting supplies and training for the separatists.

Third, we must establish proper long-term relationships between Ukraine and Russia, between Ukraine and the European Union; and above all between Russia and the European Union, NATO and the wider West.

Let me take each of these points in turn.

Mr Speaker, the first priority remains ensuring proper access to the crash site to repatriate the bodies and investigate what happened.

The UK has sent air accident investigators and a police led victim identification team to help with the international effort.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Emergency Situations has now searched an area of 32 square kilometres around the crash site and recovered 272 bodies.

The work has been made more difficult by the presence of armed separatists.

The bodies sitting on a refrigerated train have still not been allowed to leave.

And the pictures of victims’ personal belongings being gone through are a further sickening violation of this already tragic scene.

It is welcome that international experts have been able to visit the site - but this shouldn’t have taken 4 days, and even now they are still not getting the unimpeded access they need.

I spoke to President Putin last night and made it clear that there can be no more bluster or obfuscation.

We expect him to help right now by using his influence with the pro-Russian separatists to secure full access for international investigators and to support the repatriation of the bodies, by handing them over to the appropriate authorities and ensuring they are treated with dignity.

Mr Speaker, families want information and answers.

We must make sure we get them.

The UK and Australia have tabled a joint Resolution at the United Nations Security Council demanding proper access in support of a credible international investigation.

And we expect this Resolution to be voted on this evening.

Second, I also made clear to President Putin that we expect Russia to end its support for the separatists and their attempts to further destabilise Ukraine.

No one is saying that President Putin intended flight MH17 to be shot down.

It is unlikely that even the separatists wanted this to happen.

But we should be absolutely clear about what caused this terrible tragedy to happen.

The context for this tragedy is Russia’s attempt to destabilise a sovereign state, violate its territorial integrity and arm and train thuggish militias.

Over the past month there has been an increasing amount of heavy weaponry crossing the border from Russia to separatist fighters in Ukraine.

And there is evidence that Russia has been providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in South West Russia – including training on air defence systems.

Seconds before flight MH17 dropped out of contact, a surface-to-air missile launch was detected from a separatist-controlled area in south-eastern Ukraine. According to expert analysis, an SA-11 is the most likely missile type.

In an intercepted conversation, a known separatist leader was overheard claiming that a separatist faction had downed an aircraft. Another separatist leader claimed on Twitter to have shot down an aircraft at about the same time.

While a video on social media over the weekend showed an SA-11 missile system missing at least one missile travelling back towards Russia.

Those who argue that the Ukrainians could be responsible need to explain this.

There is no evidence that Ukrainian forces have fired a single surface to air missile during the conflict and no Ukrainian air defence systems appear to have been within range of the crash.

By contrast pro-Russian separatist fighters have downed more than a dozen Ukrainian aircraft over the past few months, including 2 transport aircraft.

So Mr Speaker, the picture is becoming clearer and the weight of evidence is pointing in one direction: MH17 was shot down by a SA-11 missile fired by separatists.

Third, Mr Speaker, this is a defining moment for Russia.

The world is watching. And President Putin faces a clear choice in how he decides to respond to this appalling tragedy.

I hope that he will use this moment to find a path out of this festering and dangerous crisis by ending Russia’s support for the separatists.

But if he does not change his approach to Ukraine in this way then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia.

Those of us in Europe should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries.

We should not shrink from standing up for the principles that govern conduct between independent nations in Europe – and which ultimately keep the peace on our continent.

For too long there has been reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in Eastern Ukraine.

It is time to make our power, influence and resources felt.

Over the weekend I agreed with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande that we should push our partners in the European Union to consider a new range of hard-hitting economic sanctions against Russia.

We should take the first step at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels tomorrow.

And if Russia does not change course, then we must be clear that Europe must keep increasing pressure.

Russia cannot expect to continue enjoying access to European markets, European capital, European knowledge and technical expertise while she fuels conflict in one of Europe’s neighbours.

Mr Speaker, we must do what is necessary to stand up to Russia and put an end to the conflict in Ukraine before any more innocent lives are lost.

Read more about the UK government response to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 disaster.

Mr Speaker, let me now turn to the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza.

This crisis was triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets on Israeli cities, indiscriminately targeting civilians in contravention of all humanitarian law and norms.

In the last fortnight, Hamas has fired 1,850 rockets at Israeli cities.

This unprecedented barrage continues to this moment, with Hamas rejecting all proposals for a ceasefire, including those put forward by the Egyptian government.

I have been clear throughout this crisis that Israel has the right to defend itself.

Those criticising Israel’s response must ask themselves how they would expect their own government to react if hundreds of rockets were raining down on British cities today.

But I share the grave concern of many in the international community about the heavy toll of civilian casualties.

The figures are very disturbing.

Over 500 have now reportedly been killed in Gaza, and over 3,000 injured.

The UN estimates that over 83,000 have been displaced so far.

Israel has also faced loss of life, with 18 soldiers and 2 civilians killed, including 13 soldiers yesterday alone.

I spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu again about this crisis last night.

I repeated our recognition of Israel’s right to take proportionate action to defend itself, and our condemnation of Hamas’ refusal to end their rocket attacks, despite all international efforts to broker a ceasefire.

But I urged him to do everything to avoid civilian casualties, to exercise restraint and to help find ways to bring this situation to an end.

Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear that Israel had been ready to accept each of these ceasefire proposals and had unilaterally implemented a temporary ceasefire in the hope that Hamas would follow suit.

My Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary has spoken to President Abbas to welcome his support for a ceasefire and underline our wish to see the Palestinian Authority back in Gaza.

The United Nations Security Council met in a special session last night and issued a call for an immediate ceasefire.

The Council expressed serious concern about rising casualties and called for respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians.

Mr Speaker, we strongly endorse that call.

It is vital that Hamas recognises the need to enter serious negotiations to end this crisis.

In particular, we urge Hamas to engage with the ceasefire proposals put forward by the Egyptian government.

It is only by securing a ceasefire that the space can be created to address the underlying issues and return to the long and painstaking task of building the lasting and secure peace that we all want to see.

And I commend this statement to the House.