This week the House of Commons returns following the Christmas recess, and will complete its debates on the final stages of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. This means the Bill will be sent to the House of Lords at the end of the week for approval in good time before we leave the EU at the end of January. On Wednesday the Prime Minister Boris Johnson will also meet the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in London to discuss the timetable for the negotiations on our future trading relationship; which will need to be completed by the end of this year. All of this underlines the progress that has been made since the general election last month. We now have certainty that we will be leaving the EU on 31st January, based on the withdrawal agreement that was negotiated by Boris Johnson last summer. This not only gives clarity but allows individuals and businesses to start to make their own plans for the future.
Since the start of the year there has been growing concern at the situation in Australia with the devastation being caused by the wildfires, which have already claimed the lives of more than twenty people, and it is feared hundreds of millions of animals as well. These fires are amongst the worst in living memory, and whilst taking place a long way from our shores, are a natural disaster which should concern the whole world. I hope that the UK government will be ready to offer any support we can should it be requested, either now or in the coming weeks and months. Looking closer to home I would like to thank the bravery and hard work of our local crews in tackling the severe fire in Wear Bay Crescent, Folkestone over New Year.
The assassination of the Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, on 3rd January, as a result of a drone strike ordered by the American President Donald Trump, has led to growing international concern about the rising military tension in that part of the middle east. Qasem Soleimani was effectively the second in command of the Iranian regime, and central to Iran’s operations in countries like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. He and the people he led have done much to spread terror and instability, as well as to target western military and diplomatic bases in the region. The Iranian government has stated that there will be ‘severe revenge’ in response to Qasem Soleimani death, and it is to be expected that they would respond in this way. President Trump has also made clear that he will react with great force to any attacks on American personnel. As difficult as this situation is, we need to try and find a diplomatic solution that allows both sides to step back from the brink. I support the call made by Boris Johnson, along with the leaders of France and Germany, that we need to ‘deescalate tensions in the region.’ Terror cannot go unchecked as it merely encourages even worse atrocities to be committed. However, a general escalation of military conflict would a disaster for all.