Speech: Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting press conference: 28 November 2015


War Hero
Prime Minister David Cameron

The Commonwealth is a unique organisation that represents 53 countries, a third of the world’s population and one billion people under the age of 25.

This is an important network for Britain enabling us to promote our values and interests around the world – and to strengthen our prosperity and security.

Here in Malta we’ve focused on 3 big challenges: countering extremism, tackling climate change and fighting corruption.

Countries across the Commonwealth share a similar threat from extremism.

We need to expose this extremism for what it is – a belief system that divides our communities and glorifies violence.

And we need to actively encourage reforming and moderate Muslim voices to speak up and challenge the extremists.

This is something I discussed with Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan yesterday and I spoke about it at the Commonwealth summit today.

Here at this summit, we have committed to do more to counter the extremists’ propaganda on the internet and to share expertise on practical prevention.

And the UK will invest £5 million to set up a dedicated team within the Commonwealth to help countries to do more.

Second, we have discussed how together we can tackle corruption.

I want to see the Commonwealth play a leading role in the fight against corruption and I brought 10 countries together here this morning to discuss how we can step up our efforts.

Corruption wrecks economies. It prevents development. It corrodes our societies.

It can even foment terrorism as people give up hope in good and honest government providing the things they need like public services and access to justice.

There’s so much more that can be done.

Following the money. Returning stolen assets. Using transparency to prevent corruption in the first place.

And that’s why I will host a summit next May in London to agree what more we will do to fight this cancer at the heart of so many of the problems we face around the world today.

Finally, we also discussed climate change ahead of the talks that will start on Monday in Paris.

The UK is putting its full weight behind efforts to secure an ambitious deal – not just by cutting our emissions at home but by providing support overseas to those who need it, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

Yesterday, the UN Secretary General praised Britain for the role we have played so far and our commitment to provide almost $9 billion in climate finance over the next 5 years.

I have announced here in Malta a new package of support for small island developing states – who account for nearly half of the Commonwealth’s membership.

It is vital they see the benefit of a global deal – and that they sign up to it.

Britain is helping to make that happen.

So this summit has addressed important issues – and this is what the Commonwealth needs to do more of.

It must stand up for human rights around the world – including LGBT rights. And I made that clear in my contribution this morning.

And it must do more to hold countries to account when they fail to live up to their responsibilities as Commonwealth members.

That’s why I urged all members to send a strong and consistent message to the Maldives on the need for political dialogue and the release of political prisoners.

What’s been going on there is unacceptable.

We have seen though, on the other hand, what the Commonwealth can help to achieve if you just look how far Sri Lanka has come since we met there 2 years ago.

That country is now on the path to reconciliation and I met President Sirisena yesterday to make clear that the UK would step up its efforts to help his reforms.

The Commonwealth can be a force for good around the world.

And I am delighted that Baroness Scotland will take over as Secretary General next year.

I believe she is the right person to steer the Commonwealth through reform and to ensure it rises to the challenges I’ve mentioned today and to the other challenges we face in our world.

Thank you very much and I’m happy to take some questions.


Prime Minister, on the Commonwealth you’ve listed a lot of the UK’s contributions, are you suggesting that the Commonwealth still underperforms as some of its critics say it does, given everything you’ve said about its importance?

On the Syria vote, can you just tell us what message in particular the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary are going to be sending out on your behalf to Labour party members when they talk to them and are you hoping that your Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary are going to be able to be unofficial whips and give you an idea by the end of the weekend whether you’ve got enough votes to be sure of victory?

Finally, do you still have full confidence in Grant Shapps and in Lord Feldman?

Prime Minister David Cameron

Well first of all on the Commonwealth, look it is a consensus organisation but that doesn’t mean it can’t step up and make strong arguments and take strong action when those arguments and that action is needed and I think we’re seeing that now with the Maldives, for instance, and what is happening there is unacceptable and a very clear message needs to be sent out. And I think there’s an opportunity with the Secretary General, to say that when it comes to fighting extremism, when it comes to tackling corruption, when it comes to standing up for the Commonwealth values of democracy and the rule of law, this organisation can be a force for good. It’s strength of course is the fact it spans the globe, that it includes a third of humanity and I’m confident it can be even more relevant in the years to come than it is today.

On Syria, I think the message is very clear. We need to take carefully thought through and effective action to tackle ISIL. ISIL is the threat. That is the threat we face in our country, that is why we’re contemplating this action and I think it was good to be able to make the arguments in Parliament last week. I think a lot of people found those arguments compelling but people want to know that when it comes to our military strategy it is ISIL that’s being targeted and not anybody else. When it comes to our military contribution, this is about helping our allies and other countries from the air, it’s not about UK ground troops. It’s also about having a whole strategy, we don’t believe we can solve this problem through some extra military action alone, we need to bring the full force of our political strategy, our diplomatic strategy and of course the vital reconstruction work that we would do after the war in Syria is over. So all those points will be made in the discussions we’ll be having with members of Parliament right across the House of Commons and I hope that when the choice comes, people will indicate that this is the right thing for Britain to do. It is and we should do it.

Finally on Grant Shapps, there’ll be a statement made later on today about that issue. Look, what I think is important in the tragic case that took place is that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly, the Conservative party has an investigation underway and that investigation has the contribution and the oversight of the senior legal representative from Clifford Chance and that’s the right thing to do.


Prime Minister, is the disarray in the Labour party going to delay the vote in the House of Commons and on the Mark Clarke allegations, the parents of the young man who died have called for Grant Shapps and indeed the current Chairman to go. Baroness Warsi says a warning she issued about Mr Clarke was ignored, it’s reported you wrote letters to him, has there been some sort of cover up here and what are you personally going to do about it?

Prime Minister David Cameron

Okay, first of all on Syria. Look, I’m not responsible for what’s happening in the Labour party. All I would say to members of Parliament is, whatever party is, look at the arguments, listen to the arguments that have been put forward before thinking about how to vote on this issue. Because I think there’s a compelling case that taking military action alongside our allies can help to address the threat of ISIL. It’s been working in Iraq where we’ve shrunken the territory of ISIL and it can work too in Syria. But I’m not arguing that a military only strategy will succeed, I’m not arguing that these things can be entirely dealt with from the air, I’m arguing that these steps forward, as part of a strategy, can help to degrade and eventually to destroy ISIL which is not just a threat to our country but to countries all across the world.

On the issue of Elliot Johnson, I feel deeply for his parents. It is an appalling loss to suffer and that’s why it’s so important here is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there need to be and there is a proper inquiry to ask all the questions, to interview all the people who have come forward, that will take place. There’s an independent lawyer from Clifford Chance who will oversee that process and make sure that it reaches clear conclusions from the evidence that comes through. As I say, on the issue of Grant Shapps, there’s a statement later today.


Elliot Johnson’s parents say they hold the Conservative party responsible for their son’s suicide, what is your message to Mr Johnson’s parents.

Prime Minister David Cameron

What I’d say is, that it is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it’s not something that any parent should have to go through and I feel for them deeply. What the Conservative party must do and what it is doing and what I’ve ensured is happening is there’s a proper investigation into this issue, into, you know, the allegations that were made, who they were made to and all the rest of it. And that’s why these interviews need to progress, that’s why it’s being overseen by a lawyer from Clifford Chance and we’ll act obviously on the findings of that inquiry. And as I say, specifically about Grant Shapps, there’ll be a statement made later.


On Ken Livingstone’s comments, he apparently said today that British troops have been discredited by Iraq and Afghanistan. I was wondering what your opinion was on those comments.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Well I have the highest possible regard for British armed services. I know as Prime Minister their bravery, their courage, their professionalism and the person who frankly seems to be letting himself down right now is Ken Livingstone with the remarks that he makes. He shouldn’t question the brilliance of our forces, they’ve proved that time and again and I know they’ll go on proving it in the future.


Mr. Cameron, you’re speaking a lot about military action against ISIL in Syria. ISIL also has a presence in Libya, what do you plan to do with regards to that position in Libya. Also, if ISIL is defeated, let’s focus on Syria for now, what is the next step, bearing in mind what happened after the Libya revolution – it’s in a more chaotic situation that it was before.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Well I think in a way your 2 questions are absolutely right and they’re linked. What is required in Libya is a unity government in Libya that the international community can work with, and we’re working very hard to try and bring that about because there’s no doubt that extremist groups, whether it’s ISIL or in the past groups like Al Qaeda or currently in other parts of our world – Boko Haram or Al Shabaab – they take advantage of ungoverned space and situations like the one you refer to. So the answer in Libya is to have a partner with whom we can work to make sure that we prevent the threat of terrorism.

In terms of Syria, you ask about the next steps. I think the right approach here is to have a strategy that includes all of the necessary elements. So my argument is, yes there is military action that’s being taken over the skies of Syria, that can help and Britain should be part of that action because of the extra resources and abilities we can bring and also we shouldn’t be outsourcing the protection of our own people to our allies, we should be part of it. You asked what follows, well what needs to happen so badly in Syria is for there to be a transition to a government that can represent all of the country. It’s badly needed in Syria, we need a government over time that can stand up for Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Christian, Druze and others and while we don’t have that government there’s always going to the problem that Assad is something of a recruiting sergeant for ISIL because to the dreadful acts he’s carried out on his own people. But my argument in the House of Commons is that we can’t wait for that political solution, we have to start acting now to keep our country, our people and indeed others in Europe safe, but we should – at the same time, we should be doing everything we can to try and build that political process and diplomatic solution which has made good progress because of the Vienna talks that the British Foreign Secretary is involved in so we’ll do all of those things together.

Can I though, through you, thank the people of Malta and the Maltese government for their hospitality for the brilliant way they’ve put on his Commonwealth conference which I think has been a very successful conference and extremely well chaired by your Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat.

Thank you very much.

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