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Leaving the EU: Foreign and Security Policy

Volume 631: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2017

9. What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on foreign and security policy co-operation after the UK has left the EU. (901948)

The Government published a paper on 12 September which sets out our vision for a future partnership with the EU on foreign policy, defence and development. I am pleased to say that in my discussions with our EU friends since then, that paper has had a very good reception.

The so-called future partnership paper on foreign and security policy published by the Brexit Department in September had plenty of positive things to say about the value of EU-UK co-operation. Will the Secretary of State therefore update the House on what progress, beyond the mighty fine warm words, has been made on the Brexit negotiations?

If, by that, the hon. Gentleman means progress on the foreign policy and defence policy side, I must remind the House that that is not at the absolute centre of the negotiations, but it is widely understood that the UK, contributing as we do 20% of European defence spending and 25% of European aid spending, will be there in a supportive way whatever the outcome of the negotiations. As the Prime Minister has rightly said, our commitment to the defence and the security of Europe is—I think this is the word that was particularly warmly received by our friends and partners—unconditional, as it always has been and always will be.

Foreign and security policy will remain as vital as ever when we leave the EU. Can my right hon. Friend confirm categorically that we will remain as committed as ever to European security after we leave the EU?

We certainly shall. My hon. Friend asks an important question. The answer cannot be repeated too often, and it needs to be heard particularly in the countries that emerged from beneath the shadow of Soviet domination. They need to hear that we are there for the long term, as we are there on the borders of Estonia. We are committed, above all, to NATO, which is the guarantor of peace and stability in our continent. The UK, let the House never forget, is the second biggest contributor to the NATO alliance.

22. EU funding has enabled an African Union peacekeeping force to play a vital role in helping to stabilise Somalia during its transition to democracy, but we cannot be complacent and it is essential for the Government to maintain some influence on EU policy in Somalia as we prepare to leave the European Union. What reassurances can the Foreign Secretary give us that this important issue will not be forgotten during the Brexit negotiations? (901961)

The hon. Gentleman will recall that, earlier this year, in May, we held the Somalia conference, working with our European friends and partners particularly to make sure that the Somali central Government in Mogadishu collaborate more closely with the federal member states on a new national security architecture for Somalia, so that the fight against al-Shabaab can be prosecuted more successfully. That is the work we are doing with our European friends and partners, and that will continue under any circumstances.

Is not that the point: we do not have to be inside the European Union to be concerned about and committed to European security, and we will remain as committed as ever even if we are outside the EU framework?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. I have compared the support that we will offer in the future to a flying buttress, as it were, outside the main body of the cathedral but supportive of that cathedral. That is how the UK will continue to be, on an unconditional basis.

Last week, Sir Simon McDonald told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that more civil servants—unelected bureaucrats, in the parlance of the Conservatives—would be sent to Brussels. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us how many of those officials will focus on foreign and security policy co-operation with the EU, how much it will cost and whether it will be part of the £40 billion settlement with the EU?

I can tell the House—I am sure that all Members will be pleased to hear this—that we will be beefing up our representation in Europe. We will have 50 more posts, at least, in other EU capitals, and they will strengthen and intensify some bilateral relationships that, in my view, have been allowed slightly to ossify under the EU arrangements that we have pursued over the last 45 years.

More Brussels bureaucrats with Brexit. Sir Simon McDonald did say that there was an initial Treasury pot—I will try to help the Foreign Secretary here—of £250 million. How much of that has the Foreign Secretary secured to go towards security policy co-operation—or has the Chancellor told him to “go whistle”?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my last answer, because I said that the increased diplomatic representation that we would make in the rest of Europe would be dispersed not just in Brussels, but around the rest of the capitals. Of course, each and every one of those individuals will be working on our common foreign and security objectives, and making the case, which I made in an earlier answer, that our support for European defence and security is unconditional.

It is now nearly 50 long years since the start of the troubles in Northern Ireland, and none of us who lived through that era ever wants to go back to it again. In February 2016, the Foreign Secretary gave his guarantee to BBC Northern Ireland that a vote for Brexit would leave arrangements on the Irish border, and I quote, “absolutely unchanged”. There were no caveats, and no “I hope that this will happen”; there was just an unequivocal commitment that nothing would change. Can the Foreign Secretary give us the same promises today?

I think, if I may say so, that the right hon. Lady is right to ask that question. I was recently in Dublin talking to all the political groups there, and there is no question but that the issue of the border is very live in Irish politics. I repeated exactly the pledge to which she refers: there can be no return to a hard border. There can be no hard border. That would be unthinkable, and it would be economic and political madness. I think everybody, on both sides of this House, understands the social, political and spiritual ramifications of allowing any such thing to happen. That is why it is so important that we get on to the second phase of the negotiations, that we get sufficient progress at the European Council in December and that we are able to debate these issues properly.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. No one will have missed the fact that, like on so many of his initial promises over Brexit, he has turned this from an unequivocal guarantee to an aspiration dependent on a successful deal—[Interruption.] I did listen to the right hon. Gentleman.

It seems to me that, like his jogging partner from The Sun, the right hon. Gentleman is now saying that it is up to the Irish to find a solution, but why should that be? It was his promise that border arrangements would not change, so it is up to him to make sure that that works. That is why I want to challenge the Foreign Secretary today. In September, he laid down four personal red lines for the Brexit negotiations. None of them related to the Irish land border, which is a crucial issue to 1.8 million of our own citizens and 4.8 million of our friends south of the border, so may I—

Order. We are immensely—indescribably —grateful to the shadow Foreign Secretary, but I think she is approaching her peroration, with a question mark at the end of it. I am happy to indulge Front Benchers to a degree, but I want to accommodate Back Benchers. I am determined to get to the bottom of the list today, and I shall do so.

Let me urge the Foreign Secretary to announce a fifth red line today by promising unequivocally what he promised last year—that Irish border arrangements will not change—and to say that if those arrangements do change, he will refuse to stay in the Government.

If I may say so, I think the right hon. Lady prepared her supplementary question before she heard my first answer. There can be no return to a hard border. We do not want a hard border north-south, or indeed east-west.