The lives of millions of people could be transformed overnight if the UK Government recognises Somaliland as an independent nation, Sir Gavin Williamson has said.
The Tory former cabinet minister will seek to table his Republic of Somaliland (Recognition) Bill on Tuesday, with the aim to challenge the diplomatic inertia that has kept the East African nation unrecognised on the international stage for decades.
Somaliland, a self-declared independent state in the north-western part of Somalia, has been seeking recognition since it broke away from the rest of the country in 1991.
No foreign power recognises Somaliland’s sovereignty, but it is self-governing with an independent government and democratic elections.
Speaking to the PA news agency about his Bill, Sir Gavin criticised the UK Government’s approach to Somalia and Somaliland, saying: “When I was defence secretary, I had the privilege of visiting Somalia and going to Mogadishu, but I also had the opportunity to visit Hargeisa in Somaliland. I saw the distinct contrast between the two.
“You saw the chaos, the insecurity of Somalia, and then going to Somaliland, you saw a country that you could fly in and out, you could get a taxi down into the city centre, you could walk around, you could speak to people, it was very relaxed, it was very normal.
“Yet, we recognised one country that was chaotic, that didn’t have the rule of law and we didn’t recognise a country that had stability, that actually had elections, that had children, whether they were boys or girls, going to school.
“There seemed to be a British government foreign policy here, and a reality that was very far away from it. It was that reality that really drove me in my belief that quite simply, the British Government was wrong in terms of its approach to the two countries.”
Sir Gavin outlined the potential benefits of recognition, both for Somaliland and the broader international community: “With this one small act of recognition, you could literally transform the living standards and prospects of 5.7 million people overnight.
The South Staffordshire MP added: “Also, it’s very important for British security. It is also important for world trade… in terms of its strategic position near the Gulf of Aden.
“It’s important that we encourage countries that espouse the same values as ourselves and not reward countries that don’t.”
Asked why the de facto state nestled in the Horn of Africa has not been recognised by the international community, Sir Gavin pointed to “a paralysis within diplomacy”.
He explained: “It is almost about preserving the status quo without recognising the reality on the ground.
“Britain has historically and still is today both involved in Somaliland and Somalia but is also the UN pen-holder for Somalia and Somaliland. And I think it’s our duty and responsibility to actually start having a discussion as to how this paralysis can be dealt with.
“Just pretending it isn’t a problem, just pretending it’s not happening, doesn’t actually make the challenge go away.”
Sir Gavin will present his Bill via the 10-minute rule motion procedure, which will allow him 10 minutes to outline his proposals.
The Bill is unlikely to make further progress in its current form due to a lack of parliamentary time to debate Bills tabled by backbench MPs.