Skip to main content

United States: Human Rights and Diplomatic Relations

Volume 643: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2018

4. If he will discuss the human rights record of the US with President Trump during his 2018 visit to the UK. (906038)

14. If he will discuss the human rights record of the US with President Trump during his 2018 visit to the UK. (906048)

20. If he will discuss the human rights record of the US with President Trump during his 2018 visit to the UK. (906054)

The friendship between the United Kingdom and the United States is exceptionally close. I speak to Secretary Pompeo regularly. Of course, that does not mean that when we differ from our friends and partners in the United States, we are afraid to speak out, as the Prime Minister did in the matter of the separation of young children from their parents.

I must say that the Foreign Secretary is looking rather sprightly this morning after his overnight flight. I hope that the jet lag was not too severe.

When the Prime Minister was asked about Donald Trump's policy of ripping toddlers from their mothers and holding them in cages, she would merely say that it was “wrong” and

“not something that we agree with.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 325.]

May I ask the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the British people, if he can do better than that, and describe the genuine outrage that we as a country felt about this obscene policy?

I think that when the Prime Minister spoke, she spoke for me and for everyone else in the House, and, indeed, for the nation—and the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that no sooner had she spoken than the President signed an executive order repealing the policy.

United Nations human rights experts say that Trump’s policy of detaining children “may amount to torture”. They say:

“Detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”

In the light of that, does the Foreign Secretary believe that President Trump’s visit to the UK should go ahead?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the President has now repealed the policy, and I think it is still common ground on both sides of the House that it is important to welcome the Head of State and Government of our most important ally.

The Foreign Secretary should cancel this visit. We know that, as a self-confessed admirer of Donald Trump, he will not do so, but will he finally condemn the process of taking children away from their parents and putting them in cages? The language that we have heard so far does not condemn that action.

The Prime Minister condemned it, and she speaks for the Government and, indeed, for me. No sooner had she spoken than the President of the United States repealed the policy—thus demonstrating, I venture to suggest to the hon. Gentleman, the considerable and growing influence of the United Kingdom.

I could forgive the Foreign Secretary for feeling a wee bit jaded this morning, but these children are still being kept in cages. This is a major issue. How can he sit there and agree that this visit should still go ahead next week?

The President of the United States is the Head of State of our most important and one of our oldest allies, and it is absolutely vital. I think it is common ground among many people in this country that we should extend the hand of friendship to the office of the President of the United States of America.

Is it not time for the Government to question seriously whether the current President of the United States is a fit and proper person to be our greatest ally? This is someone who can only be described as a serial child abuser. Putting children into concentration camps is not acceptable. The President has not yet taken the children out of those camps: he is holding them hostage to force their parents to give up their claims to asylum, and he is also trying to abolish due process by having no courts and no judges to decide on them. How can this person be fit for a state visit?

With great respect, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answers that I have already given. The President of the United States has repealed the policy in question, and he remains the Head of State of our most important economic, military and security ally.

The President of the United States has called out the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council for what they are: a bunch of corrupt, nasty hypocrites. He has withdrawn from that council. Why do we not save $4 million a year by doing just the same?

Because we believe in human rights, and we believe that global Britain should stick up for human rights. Yes, I think the United States has a point when it disputes the validity of article 7—the perpetual reference to article 7—in the Human Rights Council’s proceedings. I can, however, tell my hon. Friend that only this week the United Kingdom secured a record number of positive votes for our motion on the vital importance of 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world.

I agree with the Foreign Secretary that sometimes being a friend of the United States means being a candid friend, but is it not the case that, when it comes to NATO, the OSCE and sharing intelligence information, the United States keeps Britain safe?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for a characteristically perceptive point. Yes, not only has the United States kept the UK safe, but in many ways it has kept the whole of our continent safe since the end of the second world war. That is a giant political fact that this House should recognise.

President Trump states that EU tariffs are disproportionately higher against American goods than American tariffs on EU products. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of those allegations?

The reality is that the US has more tariffs against EU products, but the EU’s tariffs are often significantly higher, particularly when it comes to motor vehicles. As the House will know, there is an EU tariff of 10% against US vehicles and a US tariff of 2.5% against EU vehicles.

The depth of our diplomatic relationship is shown by what we think not just about any current US President, but about its Congress, people and businesses. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that these links will serve us very well post-Brexit—not just in a trade sense, but in a security one?

My hon. Friend is completely right. It is vital for the House to remember that, every day in America, 1 million people go to work in UK-owned firms, and every day in this country, 1 million people go to work in American-owned firms. There is no other commercial relationship like it. America attracts about a fifth of our exports already, and that proportion is growing.

Since the Government have chosen to appease rather than to confront the Trump Administration, what success has the Foreign Secretary had in persuading President Trump and his Administration to adopt the open, rules-based trading system on which the future of our country depends and that he is trying to destroy?

Obviously, we dispute the President’s tariffs, and we have made that point very bluntly. On the other hand, there is clearly a problem with the dumping of Chinese steel, and we need to work together on that. That is the point we have been making to the President at the G7, and we will continue to make it when he makes on his visit on 13 July.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that President Trump’s commitment to the defence of Europe is evidenced by the fact that, since he came to office, he has increased the funding for US forces present in Europe by 40%? If it were not for the Americans, who else would be picking up the bill for the defence of Europe?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, because it is absolutely true that the United States remains by far the biggest payer into NATO. I detect a sentiment in the House that we are constantly at variance with the Administration of Donald Trump, but I am afraid that that simply is not the case. We happen to agree with the US Administration that it was right to bomb the chemical weapons facilities of the Assad regime, which the Obama Administration did not do. We agree that it is right to reach out to North Korea and try to stop that regime acquiring nuclear weapons. By the way, we agree that it is right that other European nations should pay more for their defence, and we encourage the President in his views.

The Foreign Secretary said that he is “increasingly admiring” of President Trump. Is that increasingly admiring of his policy of tariffs, or increasingly admiring of separating children from their parents?

As the hon. Gentleman may have observed, my point was about the President’s willingness, in defiance of the experts, to reach out to the leadership of North Korea and attempt to do a deal. If you talk at least to the South Koreans, Mr Speaker, you will find that they are very impressed with the way the President has changed the atmospherics and given even the North Korean regime space to build down its nuclear arsenal. I think he deserves credit for that.

The Foreign Secretary is trying to give us some context for his comments. He also thinks that the President would do a better job of negotiating Brexit than the Prime Minister. If the Foreign Secretary did not like President Trump’s policies and, say, described them as “crazy” and would not vote for them, does the Foreign Secretary think President Trump would say to him, “You’re fired”?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. Thankfully, President Trump’s writ does not run in this country. We run our own affairs, we make our points to the President of the United States, and we do so with vigour where we disagree. The Prime Minister and I disagree with what he has been doing over the separation of kids from their parents. It is right for the UK to speak out over that and we will.

May I first sympathise with the Foreign Secretary that, due to his emergency duties abroad, he was unable to join last night’s fight against Heathrow expansion? Four years ago, the Foreign Secretary was asked what was the biggest lesson he had learned—[Interruption.] Four years ago, he was asked what was the biggest lesson he had learned from his supposed hero Winston Churchill. His answer was:

“Never give in, never give in, never give in”.

For some reason, Churchill did not add, “Unless you can catch a plane to Kabul.” The Foreign Secretary clearly has a new hero, and we know who he is—the clue is in the hair. He said on 6 June that he is “increasingly admiring” of Donald Trump. He has begun to tell us some of the reasons why, but could he help those of us who are yet to be convinced by telling us three things about the current President that he increasingly admires?

I hesitate to say it, but I have anticipated the right hon. Lady’s question. I have pointed out, No.1, that it was admirable that Donald Trump’s Administration responded after the chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime supported by the Russians. It is a good thing that the United States is trying, and trying very hard, to solve the problem of a nuclear-armed North Korea. I admire at least the President’s efforts in that respect. It is also a good thing that the President is encouraging our European friends and partners to spend more on their own defence. We will certainly assist in that effort.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his attempt to answer that question, but even he surely knows in the depths of his soul that when we have a President such as Donald Trump who bans Muslims and supports Nazis, who stokes conflict and fuels climate change, and who abuses women and cages children, it is not a record to be admired, but a record to be abhorred. I simply ask the Foreign Secretary not just why he joked that a man like that should be in charge of our Brexit negotiations, but why he seriously thinks that he should have the honour in two weeks’ time of visiting Chequers, Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle, and of shaking hands with Her Majesty the Queen.

I have given several examples already of the ways in which our views coincide with those of the current American Administration. I have also said that, where our views differ, we are not afraid to say it. The fundamental point, on which the right hon. Lady and I are in complete agreement, is that it is right that the United Kingdom should welcome to this country the Head of State of our most important and most trusted ally. She is on record as saying that in the past. If she now dissents from that view, it would be surprising, and I would be interested to hear it from her own lips.

Order. I think the Foreign Secretary knows that the right hon. Lady has had her two questions, and therefore that it would not be legitimate to put a third on this occasion. There may be other occasions. We come now to Question 2 and we need to speed up.