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Anglo-American Relations

Volume 624: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2017

6. What recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on strengthening the diplomatic relationship between the UK and the US. (909513)

11. What recent discussions he has had with his US counterpart on strengthening the diplomatic relationship between the UK and the US. (909518)

I had a series of excellent meetings last week at the White House, the State Department and elsewhere with Secretary of State Tillerson, Vice-President Pence and others. We discussed areas of common interest and shared objectives on Syria, Russia, NATO, global free trade and other questions.

There are 212,000 Americans living in the UK and 715,000 Brits living in America. Americans, when visiting the UK, spend more than visitors from any other nation. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this shows that the special relationship is very much alive?

This is a long-standing extraordinary relationship that goes from strength to strength. Hon. Members may know that last year exports to the United States rose by 20%. It is the absolute determination of the new US Administration to do a free trade deal that will take those trade figures even further forward.

Visiting the Cabinet War Rooms this morning with youngsters was a timely reminder that the US is one of our closest allies and that a strong relationship between the two countries remains vital. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it must be a key part of our new geopolitical role outside the EU?

I passionately agree with that. It is the function of the UK to be the intermediary between our European friends and partners and the United States, and to campaign for the things that matter deeply to us all: the transatlantic defence alliance that has kept the peace in our continent for the past 70 years, and, of course, global free trade, which is of huge value to all of us.

Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to praise the democracy of the United States? Its independent judiciary has rejected President Trump’s plans to bring in bans on refugees, while at the same time Congress has seen sense and not approved his proposals to abolish Obamacare.

It is not for me to intrude into the domestic politics of the United States, except to say that I think many people around the world who criticise and attack the United States and who are viscerally anti-American in their attitudes will look at the balance of power represented by that decision and see that this is a mature democratic system in which we can confide our trust.

But what damage is done by fantastical and ridiculous outbursts like those levelled at GCHQ by President Trump? Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that our invaluable intelligence relationship with the United States is not compromised by the current incumbent of the White House?

The damage done by such remarks can be likened to that of a gnat against a rhinoceros or an elephant. They will not make any difference to a fundamental relationship that is, as I say, of great international importance. As for the assertion that there was some sort of collusion by GCHQ to bug the presidential candidate, I think that has been accurately described as absurd and ridiculous.

May I just bring the Foreign Secretary down to earth? The core element of the Anglo-American relationship is based on “Five Eyes” and intelligence. President Trump’s allegation, repeated from Fox News, was not like a gnat at a rhinoceros; it was deeply damaging, and I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary told the House exactly what comments he made to the President or senior members of the White House to refute that.

I must respectfully disagree with my hon. Friend’s characterisation of the episode. I believe that it has done no lasting damage to our relationship, and certainly not to the special relationship or to intelligence sharing, which will of course carry on between our countries. As I say, that relationship is of huge value to the security of the west. As for the allegations themselves, let me repeat that they are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.

Let me welcome the Secretary of State back from his trip to Washington. More than ever, it is vital that Britain uses, in his words, our “extraordinary relationship” to ensure that America makes the right decisions on the world stage. The Secretary of State has consistently told us that we should be optimistic about the outcome. Indeed, two days ago, he told us: “They have an agenda very close to ours. The U.S. is back.” With that in mind, will he tell us specifically what impact he believes today’s presidential energy independence Executive order will have on the Paris climate change agreement? During his trip to Washington, what representations did he make about that Executive order?

The right hon. Lady will know that the UK Government have played a leading role in securing the Paris agreement on climate change. The United States remains a supporter of that. In the course of my conversations with the US Secretary of State on that issue, I received some encouragement—I do not want to exaggerate the outcome of the conversations—that, as in so many other dossiers, the US is moving from the position we saw during the campaign, when some remarks came across as being perhaps out of line with UK Government thinking, into a position that is much more closely aligned with our thinking, even on climate change.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I am not sure that he really understands that by lifting curbs on power plant emissions, today’s Executive order will make it practically impossible for the US to hit the targets that were agreed in Paris. The right hon. Gentleman says that he received some encouragement, but to be honest one wonders whether he raised the issue in Washington and was just ignored, or did not raise the issue at all. One thing is certainly clear—

I am very glad to hear that the Secretary of State raised the issue, but it is such a shame that we have so little influence on the United States that today an Executive order is being signed—

It is unfair to call the Secretary of State a gnat against a rhino, and I would obviously never suggest such a thing. If the Secretary of State claims to have influence, he needs to start showing us some evidence of it. He needs to learn that the only way he will get listened to by Trump is if he is prepared to stand up and challenge him. I ask him to begin today by condemning the Executive order and telling the Trump Administration that we will not stand by in silence while they wreck the Paris climate change agreement.

With great respect, I must say that I think the right hon. Lady is again being far too pessimistic. We were told by the US presidential candidate that NATO was obsolete; we now hear that he is 100% behind NATO. We were told that the JCPOA, the joint comprehensive plan of action on Iran, was going to be junked; it is now pretty clear that America supports it. We were told that there was going to be a great love-in between the new US Administration and Russia; they are now very much more in line. As for climate change, I think the right hon. Lady is once again being too pessimistic. Let us wait and see. We have heard the mutterings of the right hon. Lady; let us see what the American Administration actually do. I think she will be pleasantly surprised, as she has been, if she were remotely intellectually honest, in all other respects.