At Christmas, as we gather around the crib for the nativity service we are asked, like the shepherds and wise men over 2,000 years ago, to follow the bright star to Bethlehem. Yet, throughout 2015, the eyes of the world appear to have been fixed just over 100 miles further east, to Syria and the civil war that has devastated that country, and contributed to the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
It was appropriate then that at the start of Christmas week, the United Nations Security Council should unanimously pass a motion, agreeing a peace plan for Syria. This motion calls for “credible, inclusive and nonsectarian governance" within six months and “free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution,” within 18 months. This plan, supported by both Russia and the USA, offers the prospect for a new government for Syria based on democratic elections. This initiative, coupled with the determination of the members of the United Nations Security council to persue any means at their disposal to defeat the ISIS terrorist forces in Syria and Iraq, marks another significant step forward in the journey towards peace in that land. Our contribution to that effort is already having greater impact, following the vote in the House of Commons earlier this month to support the use of tactical airstrikes against ISIS military targets in Syria. We are also one of the most significant international providers of humanitairan aid in that region.
I hope that in 2016 we will see further progress in the campaign to end the war in Syria and Iraq, dismantle the ISIS regime, and end the migrant crisis in Europe. The lesson from this year has to be that real change is only possible if we are prepared to confront the root causes of problems. The ISIS attacks in Paris, and the plight of refugees from the Middle East camped in the ‘jungle’ outside of Calais, remind us that these are not just the concerns of people in far away lands.
As we gather with friends and family for Christmas this year we must also remember all of those who will be working, and away from their loved ones. In particular, we think of members of our armed forces oversees, and the emergency services. I would also like to thank the volunteers at organisations like the Folkestone Churches Winter Shelter who will be on duty over the Christmas period. On Monday morning this week, I also visited the postmen and women at the Royal Mail sorting offices in Folkestone, Hythe and New Romney to thank them for all of their hard work making sure that all of the cards and presents are safely delivered.
Along with my wife Sarah, and our children Claudia and Hugo, I would like to send you our best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.