[Relevant documents: Second Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, The future of UK diplomacy in Europe, HC 514, and the Government Response, HC 918; Fourth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, 2017 elections to the International Court of Justice, HC 860, and the Government Response, HC 1012; Sixth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Britain, HC 780, and the Government Response, HC 1236; Seventh Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Britain and the 2018 Commonwealth Summit, HC 831, and the Government Response, HC 1427; Eighth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Moscow’s Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK, HC 932, and the Government Response, HC 1488; and Tenth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Britain and the Western Balkans, HC 1013.]
Before we begin, in light of earlier comments during business questions and subsequent exchanges, I should say that the matters referred to in the Prime Minister’s statement on the Salisbury incident are not at this stage sub judice. Nevertheless, Members should exercise discretion and not say anything that may prejudice any future trial.
I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the Government’s aspiration to ensure the UK retains its influence and status as it prepares for departure from the EU; notes that for Global Britain to be more than a worthy aspiration the slogan must be backed by substance; further notes the threats to the international rules-based order posed, in particular, by the aggressive stance of the Russian Government; and therefore calls on the Government to publish by 31 October 2018 its assessment of the threats posed by Russia and other hostile states to the international rules-based order, and the Government’s strategy and resources for countering those threats.
It is a pleasure to rise to speak on this motion, which stands not only in my name but in the names of every other member of the Committee that I am privileged to chair. I am particularly privileged because we have such a wide range of views and yet such a harmonious existence; that is naturally down to their skill as politicians rather than mine as their convener. I am grateful they have kindly agreed to allow me to speak on this motion today.
We are here to talk about global Britain, and that is because—as the Clerk who will be expertly advising you throughout this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, will be able to tell you, having been such an expert Clerk of my Committee beforehand—the debate is about how Britain resets its relationships as we move away from the structures that have kept us propped up according to some, or stable according to others, for the past 40 or 50 years. The argument for this country is really about how we set ourselves in this new, turbulent world. The Committee has asked the Foreign Office that question and we have, I am afraid, been extremely disappointed by the answer; we have found a headline and a slogan, but that is largely it.
I should like to echo my hon. Friend’s thoughts. With the best will in the world, and despite the fact that the Foreign Office is full of remarkably intelligent people and very good Ministers, there seems to be a great paucity of thought on what global Britain will actually consist of post Brexit. It will be different from now.
I am grateful to my fellow Committee member for making that point; he is absolutely right. That is exactly why we have called this debate. We want to explore the depths of this question and to challenge and push the Government. It is no accident that the motion calls on the Government to publish their assessment. We want to ensure that the House has the ability to exercise power over the Executive and call on them to deliver what we ask for. In this case that is an assessment, and I will say more about that in a moment.
Let me touch on a few of the areas where we have found answers to be lacking. The former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon Fraser, told the Committee that there was a lot of “mushy thinking”, and Lord Owen, the former Foreign Secretary, has bemoaned the lack of consistency in what the Government are saying on the subject. He also said, in words that are now somewhat historical but that speak to the truth, that if he listened to the radio and heard the Foreign Secretary saying something that the Prime Minister would then contradict, he wanted to throw something at his radio. I think his radio has been saved by a recent change in appointments, and let us hope that the situation will be improved by some co-ordination. I hope that the Foreign Office will manifest the same change through improvements in its thinking.
The question of a global Britain is a wide one, and we have produced a series of reports to cover it. In our first chapter, we look at what the Government will do differently and how they will change their approach. A lot of that is to do with the reality of bilateralism in Europe and how Britain will work when we are no longer working through the structure of the European Council, Commission and Parliament. For example, we will have to increase the number of our diplomats around Europe who speak Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish and other languages. The bilateral missions will do the range of jobs that bilateral missions would otherwise normally do, but for various reasons have not needed to because the European Union has been our focus. We have looked into that question, but as yet we have not found the detail we would like to see. We have heard talk of money, true, and we have heard talk of languages, which again is good, but we have not heard talk of strategy, co-ordination or delivery.
We need to be clear-eyed here. We need an assessment of our place in the world, and we need to be clear-eyed about what we are going to do to maximise our position in the future. That involves understanding who we are and what we want. We have a real choice: either we choose to shape events or we will be shaped by them. Over many centuries, the people of the United Kingdom have got into the habit of being actors in this world, rather than being acted upon by it. I would like that to continue, but it will require co-ordination.
We have seen what happens without such co-ordination. We have seen the lack of co-ordination in some areas of eastern Europe as well as the expansion of Russian influence and the spread of corruption. We have seen the physical reality of that in the energy markets, with the Russian Government deliberately salami-slicing those markets in order to salami-slice alliances. That is why I have spoken out so strongly against the Nord Stream 2 project. But there is more: we have seen that happening there, but we are also seeing it happening in other parts of the world, as well as in our own alliance of NATO. In NATO, however, it is different. The truth is that NATO has not spent nearly enough on its own defence. Indeed, if every nation were to achieve the 2% target, rather than just a few, we would be talking about another $100 billion or so being made available for the defence of Europe. The fact that some nations are not willing to carry the burden of their own responsibility shames us all, because it weakens us all, so when we talk about global Britain we must be clear that we are actually talking about Britain in a network of alliances.
If I may, I would like to mention the late Senator John McCain. He was a friend to many in this House, and I see one of his good friends sitting here, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon). Senator McCain spoke out passionately for the transatlantic relationship because he fundamentally understood that the sovereignty of nations is not diminished by alliance but enhanced by it and that the freedoms of individuals are not hampered by co-operation but increased by it. That is the message that we must carry forward, and that is why I have been urging NATO to name its new headquarters after the late Senator. There would be no greater tribute to a great friend of the United Kingdom and Europe. I hope that we will see that change.
I echo the hon. Gentleman’s praise for the late Senator McCain. Given that the threats to the international rules-based system come not just from Russia but from other directions, does he agree that, even though we are leaving the European Union, we must ensure that we maintain the strongest and closest practical co-operation with our European neighbours? Does he also agree that imagination and flexibility will be required on both sides to find a means of doing that so that Europe can continue to speak with one voice even though we will no longer formally be part of the institutions?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, my fellow Committee Chair, for bringing that up, because he is absolutely right. The reality is that we have many people talking today as though isolation were a possibility or a desire, which is simply not true. The reality is that co-operation was what overcame the centuries of war preceding the building of the alliances that grew out of the disaster that ended in 1945. We need to see that continue.
Many people today do not believe in the devil—they do not believe that the evil of war will come back to Europe and do not believe in the dangers of the international system being undermined. They believe in many ways that rules are somehow optional, but the truth is that they are simply not. I can say that because I have seen myself the cost of believing that. I have been into middle-class homes Baghdad, in wealthy areas, where people lived in civilised society in the ’50s and ’60s. I have been to Kabul and seen family photos showing daughters going to university in miniskirts, but those people are now living with the reality of Islamic fundamentalism, barbarity and war. I can say clearly that just because someone does not believe in the devil does not mean that he does not exist and cannot return.
I do not think that that is a danger for us here, but the danger is only realised if we pretend it is not. If we remember that it is a possibility, and if we acknowledge the threats and the dangers that we can face, we can co-operate and ensure that they never happen. That is why our position on global Britain is not just about Britain; it is about all of us. I therefore welcome the work that Her Majesty’s Government do around the world, but I call upon everyone to act together. Defending the rule of law and defending the network of alliances that has made us happy and prosperous is essential to our future.
When I talk about the rule of law, I am of course talking about the international order and the rules-based system, but I am also talking about other rules. I am talking about governance, which is one area where the British could lead and in which the Foreign Office must be the strategic organising body for this country. Looking at the spread of aid dependency in some parts of the world, we can see that aid is not a solution in itself. I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent speech in Africa about trade and having a strategic approach that links development, trade and foreign policy, but I also want links with our Ministry of Justice and our Ministry of Defence to improve the security of individuals and links with our Treasury and our markets for loans.
If we want to see the alternative, it is very clear. It is situations such as the port in Sri Lanka that has indebted a nation so greatly that it has been left in hock to a power that has no interest at all in the development of that country. We are seeing that problem spread throughout Africa, too, because what other countries see as the rule of law is not. It is a new form of economic colonialism that threatens not only the UK’s interests but those of our partners and friends.
That is why I welcome the fact that the Royal Navy recently sailed through international waters unconcerned by the claims that others make on land that is truly not theirs. I will not go into detail on the nine-dash line in the South China sea, but we know that if we do not exercise such rights, and that if we are not willing to stand up for the rights of individual countries that are less able to defend themselves, we will wake up in the morning and find that those we thought would stand with us are no longer able to stand alone.
We hope this global Britain report will be built on not only by the work of our Committee but by Her Majesty’s Government and her diplomats around the world. It is about placing the United Kingdom in its rightful place, and placing our allies at its heart.
I will not go into the details of the Salisbury incident, which speak to so much of the evil we see today, nor will I go into many other areas of detail that would perhaps make it easy to punch out at particular incidents and at moments where we have made errors. Nor will I go into detail on the middle east, which my right hon. Friend the Minister knows so well and manages so expertly.
I will not go into the criticisms that one could certainly make about the operations in Yemen, which are fundamentally against the interests of the Saudi Government and people and of the Emirati Government and people, but I will touch on one thing: the reason why they are there, which is another malign influence we have a duty to face up to as global Britain. I will touch on it because it speaks to another essential part of British foreign policy.
What is global Britain for? The answer is simple: it is for all of us. It is for the people of these islands. It is for individuals here who find themselves seeking foreign goods and friendship, it is for individuals who find themselves trading abroad, and, should tragedy occur, it is for individuals in the most horrific situations such as the poor mother who was taken from her child and has been held in captivity for the best part of two years in a Tehran jail. Global Britain is for nothing if it is not to stand up for people like her, to resist the violence and repression of the mullahs, to partner with our allies in the region and to help them do a better job of standing up for the values that we hold so dear.
Our alliances must be based on the values we hold. They must be based on the interests of our islands, of course, but fundamentally they have to be in the interests of the people of this country. Foreign policy is not about foreigners; it is about us. It is about how we make ourselves happier, safer and more prosperous.
I will leave it there and welcome the contributions that I am sure will come from both sides of the House, but I will not be leaving the issue this afternoon. The Committee will be looking for the Foreign Office, under its new Foreign Secretary, to give us a strategic, overarching vision of Britain’s role abroad and of how to bring it together, co-ordinate it and deliver it in the interests of the people of these islands, our friends, our allies and our whole country.
It is a pleasure to follow my friend the Chairman of our Foreign Affairs Committee. As so often, I find that I agree with every word he said. Our Committee has produced a series of reports, to which he has referred. I have served on that Committee on and off for almost 20 years in this House, and it is very frustrating to serve on that Committee and experience a Foreign Secretary whom we know is not up to the job and is not taking seriously the issues that confront our country. I am referring not to the current Foreign Secretary, whose appointment I have welcomed very much, but to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson).
When I was first elected, in 1992, I served on the FAC in that Parliament, when the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, used the phrase that the United Kingdom was going to “punch above its weight”. What we have seen with the last Foreign Secretary was somebody who was flailing around but not hitting any target, and who was counterproductive in so many ways. I therefore believe that this is the time for a reset and a restart. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take seriously today’s motion, which has been signed by all members of the Committee—and we do not all agree on everything—and comes from many different points of view. It comes from members of the Labour, Conservative and Scottish National parties, and from leavers and remainers, who are united in the view that this Government need to take seriously the questions we are raising.
I do not want to speak for too long today. I could easily give a 40-minute speech, because there are so many issues—[Interruption.] I will not do that—
I know you won’t!
But I do want to say a few words about Russia. Given the challenges to the global international order that we face and the direct challenges to our country as a result of the criminal murder in our country by the Russian state, this is the worst possible time for our country to be leaving the European Union. We need partners, allies and international co-operation. I asked the Prime Minister about this yesterday and she confirmed how important it is that we continue to have security and defence co-operation with our EU neighbours and friends. That is not guaranteed if we get the no deal situation and we have no agreement—I will leave that there.
What is also clear is that we need to be serious about not only the crimes in Salisbury, but the 14 other suspicious deaths linked to Russia that have occurred in recent years. There has been a remarkable development this week, with the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs being written to by the Home Secretary in a letter that said:
“I can now formally confirm that the Government’s assurance work around the 14 cases is complete. The Police have confirmed that there is no basis on which to re-open any of the investigations. Clearly, should any new information become available, then the relevant police force will continue to monitor this position and take additional action as necessary”
That letter was written on 23 August. In the light of what we now know and the Prime Minister’s comprehensive and detailed statement yesterday, I call on the Government to revisit this issue, because there have been other murders and other deaths of Russian exiles in this country, over several years. I am not convinced and satisfied that they are not linked to the way the Russian state carried out an attack in our country in Salisbury this year. I therefore ask the Home Office to look again at that issue.
While we are talking about Russia, I wish to say something to my party and to my Front-Bench colleagues. In March, the spokesman for the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Seumas Milne, was quoted as saying to journalists that
“the government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t; however, also there’s a history in relation to WMD and intelligence which is problematic to put it mildly.”
When pressed on whether he thought that Russia was being framed for the events in Salisbury, he then said that
“if the material was from the Soviet period, the break-up of the Soviet state led to all sorts of military material ending up in random hands.”
Frankly, he was implying that the Russian state was not responsible. In the light of what we now know, we need an unequivocal, unambiguous, clear statement.
In my opinion, Mr Seumas Milne has been dissembling and attempting to divert attention from the real cause and the real culprits: the Putin regime in Moscow. Perhaps that should not come as any surprise, because this is the man who hosted President Putin at the Valdai forum in Sochi. This is the man who said in The Guardian on 4 March 2015, under the headline “The demonisation of Russia risks paving the way for war”, that the events in Ukraine were justifiable from the Russian perspective. He wrote:
“Russian covert military support for the rebels, on the other hand, is denounced as aggression and ‘hybrid warfare’”.
He criticised the fact that Putin was portrayed in the west as a “reckless land-grabber”, and he criticised attempts to challenge this as “interventionism and even neoconservatism”.
Frankly, all that goes against the whole basis of the historic Labour tradition of standing up to the aggression that came from the Soviet Union in the cold war period, our establishment of NATO under Clem Attlee’s Government, and the consistent support for our values and for the defence of our society by successive Labour Governments. I believe very strongly that the Labour party would be in a much better place, and that we would have much greater clarity on foreign affairs matters, if we had people working for our party leadership who actually believed in those Labour values.
I am interested in the fact that the hon. Gentleman quoted from that 2015 article. Is he aware that Seumas Milne wrote at least four articles in 2014 and 2015 that are highly instrumental and manipulative in their device? They all have a very similar message: “You may not like Russia, we all hate the United States, Ukraine is Nazi, but one thing we can all agree on is this central argument about the need for autonomy and federalisation.” That was exactly Russia’s political aim at the time. At best, he is a useful idiot, and at worst, he is something much worse.
I do not wish to go any further down that route, because I am getting signals from Mr Deputy Speaker about time. The hon. Gentleman can no doubt make his own speech when the time comes.
I want to conclude by focusing on one other area, which is what the United States Administration are doing to the global order. The Chairman of the Select Committee made reference to Senator John McCain. The suggestion has been made that the new NATO headquarters should be named after the senator. I met him when I was previously on the Foreign Affairs Committee and we were always given the greatest courtesy. He took us on a tour to the Statuary Hall to have an informal chat with him as well as a formal meeting. He was an outstanding internationalist—one did not have to agree with him on everything, but he was always polite, friendly, warm, interesting and engaged. What a tragedy it is today that the President of the United States and some of those around him are the opposite of that. They are challenging the international order, which the United States and the Labour Government established in 1945, with Eleanor Roosevelt playing an important role in the United Nations system and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In those days, we had co-operation to build a new peaceful world. Unfortunately, the demagogues, the populists, and the extremists—on the far left and the far right—are undermining that order. It is under serious threat and serious challenge and we in this country and we in my party must fight to defend it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes). He made a number of very thoughtful remarks, particularly in respect of his own party’s position on these important issues facing our country and indeed our world.
I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) for bringing this timely debate to the House. It is timely because recent events, most notably our impending departure from the European Union and the threat posed by Russia, require us as a nation to take stock of our place and our role in the world.
The confirmation yesterday from the Prime Minister that the suspects of the Salisbury poisonings were members of Russian military intelligence and that their actions were almost certainly approved at a state level will no doubt focus our minds today. This is a stark reminder that, although peace is what most British citizens have grown used to, there are countries out there that wish us harm and represent a very real danger to us.
I commend the tireless work of the Foreign Affairs Committee and its Chair in seeking to scrutinise the Foreign Office and its plans, or perhaps its perceived lack of them, for the future of British diplomacy. I look forward to our new Foreign Secretary bringing a fresh perspective. Perhaps the Minister can give us some more detail about the plans for global Britain today.
I want to use my time to make some positive remarks about Britain and our role in the world. The reality is that, whatever the future for British diplomacy and foreign relations, our achievements so far have been remarkable. We should not forget that this tiny island in the north Atlantic punches well above its weight on the international scene. We have some of the finest, most highly skilled armed forces who not only keep us safe, but are world leaders in providing aid in times of crises around the world.
Britain continues to command the respect of other nations. The international response to the Salisbury poisonings saw the biggest ever co-ordinated expulsion of Russian envoys by our allies. The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April was an example of Britain leading and securing agreement on a range of international challenges. We remain an international development superpower, too, with a world-leading and legally binding commitment to provide a percentage of our wealth to those most in need around the world. Our decision not just to be a leading aid donor, but to legislate for it, sets a powerful example and makes a statement about the country’s role on the world stage. France and Ireland have recently set out their intentions to follow Britain’s lead.
Despite an apparent consensus that our world is in crisis, the truth is that the world is safer, healthier, wealthier and smarter than it has ever been, and Britain has made a significant contribution to achieving that. It does not make the headlines, but since yesterday worldwide life expectancy went up by 9.5 hours, 137,000 people came out of extreme poverty, 305,000 people got safer water, 295,000 people got electricity and worldwide CO2 levels fell by 2,000 tonnes. The UK has often led the way in tackling these international problems through our international aid programme, through tackling extremism abroad, and through our world-leading climate change programme and clean growth policies. Beyond and including that, Scotland has a proud tradition of contributing to this international effort.
UK Aid has its joint headquarters in East Kilbride, where over 900 DFID staff administer our world-leading international aid project. They do so by supporting a range of Scottish charities, such as Edinburgh-based Mercy Corps, which works in more than 40 countries including in war-torn Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and in the horn of Africa helping farmers escape poverty. EMMS International, which is based in Edinburgh, is providing palliative care for people and their families in the most poverty stricken parts of the world. Outside the UK Aid framework, we have many examples of organisations doing great work abroad. In my constituency, the Rotarians are involved in some remarkable projects abroad. For example, Peter Croan from Galashiels Rotary club secured breast screening trailers for rural parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Scotland also benefits from being part of a truly global power. We have a seat at the top table of the UN Security Council, the G7 and the G20. Our businesses and citizens have access to the UK-wide embassy and consulate network—one of the largest in the world. I look forward to the Government setting out their vision for the future of Britain and our global role, but we should also recognise the significant role that the United Kingdom, and Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, has played in making the world a safer and healthier place.
During this global debate, we ought to welcome our visitors in the Gallery: the Royal Westminster Regiment, the Lorne Scots and the Australian Royal Victoria Regiment. It is a pleasure that this debate is going on in their presence and given their affiliation to the Fusiliers, who have a great history back in Lancashire.
I also welcome our guests in the Gallery, although their presence does give me some intellectual distress in my contribution to this debate, to which I come as somewhat of a novice, but because so many of my constituents are engaged in the defence of our nation and our allies.
It is clear that the international order established after the second world war has been an enduring structure—as the Chair of the Select Committee so eloquently put it earlier—but, with the obvious geopolitical changes including the population changes and economic changes of global powers, it is under strain. I want to touch on two elements that cause me concern, given the strain on the global world order that flow from them. These elements are technology and climate change—two topics on which I feel a bit more comfortable making contributions in this debate.
Many of us will have read in the press about unmanned aircraft and the use of drones, with some air forces in the world now having more unmanned aircraft than manned aircraft in use as commonplace weapons. With the adoption of artificial intelligence and machines processing huge amounts of data to make decisions better and quicker than humans can, the use of autonomous weapons should cause us concern in this debate. As we move from drones making decisions around navigation to self-protection and now into the execution of specific missions themselves—with or without the decision making of military personnel—this will evidently lead to an arms race between nations around the world. Indeed, here in the UK we are investing in autonomous defence weapons. I was pleased to see the future combat air strategy announced by the Defence Secretary before the summer recess, not least because many of my constituents will be involved in building the engines that will go into these semi-autonomous machines. We have had announcements on the Autonomous Warrior programme, for example, whereby there will be artificial intelligence programmes looking at how the different armed services use these types of technologies.
What are the new red lines—the new rules that apply to the use of autonomous machines around the world? The use of chemical weapons has been seen to be a red line, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision on the Government action in Douma, but what are the new red lines for drones, for online hacking, for disinformation, or for state interference in elections? Apparently, as I learned when I was hosting a book launch with the author Carl Miller for his new book, “The Death of the Gods”, anyone can hack into our wind turbines and set them on fire. What about state interference in our national infrastructure? What are the defence and reaction red lines in terms of the new rules that need to be established in an ageing world order? What resource are we giving not just to our military personnel but to our law enforcement personnel so that we have the capability and skills to be able to respond to this technological change in our security at home and abroad?
This is why I have been involved in the AI Global Governance Commission, which came out of the all-party parliamentary group on artificial intelligence, chaired by the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) and the noble Lord Clement-Jones: to work with a network of politicians from around the world who want to have this type of conversation. How do we regulate the use of artificial intelligence? What are the international standards? What are the rules that need to be established within the old institutions to deal with the new world in this technology space? I would welcome any thoughts from the Minister or the Chairman of the Select Committee about what more could be done to help that process.
We have seen over the summer many outcomes of a process of climate change. This is not just an environmental debate: there will be impacts in terms of climate change migration that will create security issues. I have recently seen a modelling of what the world will look like when the earth warms by 4°. I welcome the commitment in the Paris accord to a 1.5° limit, although I am distressed by the United States pulling out of that. In a world where we eventually reach 4° increases in our global temperature, the main areas of habitation for humans are essentially Canada, north Europe and Russia. The United States, southern and middle Europe, Asia and China become uninhabitable. What does that mean for our old institutions in a new world where suddenly, perhaps quite rapidly, we have the movement of people and the movement of power? Where is the ability to respond to these changes?
I hope that those two issues—technology and climate change—are part of this debate as well. It is not just about—I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes)—the maintenance of what we secured after the second world war and the maintenance of our relationships with the established institutions. It is also about making sure that Britain, with its research base and leading thinking in these spaces, contributes around the world to ensure that—
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Britain has played a world-leading role in setting global climate change standards, and that we would very much like that to carry on in future as we seek to achieve the aims of the Paris agreement and, moving forward, to strengthen other countries’ commitment to tackling the problems of climate change?
I agree entirely. That is why I raised the issues of climate change and technology: two areas where the United Kingdom really excels in its leadership in the world and in the contributions it has made. The UK also excels in its thinking and research, and in setting the tone around the world about what is acceptable. I was very proud that it was a Labour Government and the then Energy Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who brought in the first piece of legislation on climate change —the Climate Change Act 2008.
These types of issues often do not get debated enough in the context of domestic and international security, the role of defence, and the institutions that exist. I hope that because we have strengths in the areas of climate change and technology, the Minister will say that Britain’s contribution as a strong global player is on the agenda as we try to maintain security and peace at home and around the world.
It is a genuine privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), who spoke very eloquently; it was a pleasure to listen to him. I thank the Minister for being here to listen to us. Not every Minister is impressive, but this one undoubtedly is.
It is a privilege to be here with representatives of the two Canadian units and the Australian unit in the Gallery. My great-great-uncle was the last member of my family to represent my seat, the Isle of Wight, which I have the huge privilege to represent. He served in world war one with the Canadian Cavalry. In fact, he led the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in world war one, and at Vimy Ridge, which was remembered in France earlier this year, it was the Canadian Cavalry charge that halted the German advance and saved the splitting of the allied forces and possibly the war in March 1918. He was very proud of his service with the Canadian Cavalry. He was a Brit from the Isle of Wight, but he was associated with the brigade. It is a pleasure for me to be here with them.
I would like to talk briefly about two things. First, I shall ask, what is global Britain? Secondly, I shall make some points about the international order that relate to China, Iran and Russia. I do not wish to be too critical of the Minister, for whom I have high regard. Global Britain is a great phrase, but we really need to fill it out. I have some questions about it. What are we prioritising? Every time our Foreign Affairs Committee says, “What are you prioritising?” the answer is, “Everything.” Correct me if I am wrong, but the FCO does not have unlimited resources. Global Britain is about more than just opening half a dozen extra posts in Papua New Guinea. It has to amount to something. Is the priority trade? Is it aid? Is it security?
For the past 15 years, we have had a foreign policy that has been somewhat gesture politics, and much more in the world besides. In the past five years, foreign affairs, threats to Britain and our role in the world have become much more serious, urgent and pressing questions. There is a strong argument that our priority has to be trade and then security and aid. That is not to underestimate the importance of aid, but it is to say that we have vital national interests that we have to try to meet.
I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on trade out of poverty. Does my hon. Friend agree that trade, aid and global security are three legs of the same stool and that success in those three can be mutually reinforcing?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. My answer is that they can be, but not necessarily; it is dependent on how the money is spent. I will come to that a bit later. They are not separate—that is certainly true—but it is how we deal with them as a whole that is the issue.
The next question is, what role is there for the Anglosphere? We talk about deepening relationships with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. What does that mean in practice? Is there a role for a global NATO and a NATO that looks at not only physical force but threats to democracy from cyber-attacks and other organisations and criminal and state actors?
What should the structure of the FCO be after Brexit? I am quite a fan of the argument that the FCO should be a super-Ministry, with oversight and a stronger role in leading—[Interruption.] I am glad that the Minister has just signed up to that. With the Department for International Trade, the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister’s office, there are so many bits of government that are now involved in foreign affairs. We want coherence.
Above all, the critical thing we need to learn is how we integrate government better, not only here but at home, to deliver efficiently. I do not like Russia’s hybrid war, but it is an incredibly efficient use of power. I am not saying that that is our model, but efficiency and integration are important.
We need to rebalance our overseas spending. I do not believe that how the 0.7% is spent should be dictated by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. We should dictate how we spend that money. There is an argument to suggest that the BBC, which is part of the broader aid budget, should be entirely funded through DFID, as should all peacekeeping operations, which are fundamental elements of aid.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for intruding just for a moment. Does he agree that the establishment of truth and facts is one of the fundamentals in building fair societies and therefore that the BBC’s role is not simply informative, but fundamental to the democratic survival of our partners and allies?
Yes. One of the points I am coming to later—I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning it—is that we are at the moment in a global struggle with authoritarian states that wish to use cyber but also open societies to undermine thse open societies and the freedoms that we have. Therefore, to the see the BBC—the World Service, radio and TV—endlessly begging for money is, again, a luxury that we cannot afford. I believe that we should rebalance overseas spending, respecting aid, but redefining how that is done.
Do we have a grand strategy, or is grand strategy a thing of the past? It very much feels that we are simply muddling through with a foreign policy. We have stumbled into Brexit. I voted for Brexit, but we have stumbled into it. The European Union has treated this like the mother of all vicious divorces, while we have treated it as a flat-share partnership in which we are going our separate ways. I think that if we stumble into a global Brexit, it will not be particularly helpful to our future.
Those are just some of the questions. I will also be thinking about these themes, and writing about them, as I have today on ConservativeHome. I know that the Foreign Office and other parts of our Government are very focused on Brexit—in fact, politically, our political classes are obsessed by it to the diminishment of the domestic agenda, which I think is extremely serious in its own right—but more thinking on global Britain would not go amiss.
To come on to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the international order is under threat.
Does the Minister want me to give way, or is he getting a glass of water?
I am getting a glass of water.
I am so sorry, but one never knows.
Don’t worry, you’ll know when I want you to give way. [Laughter.]
The Minister was waving earlier, and I thought he was just being friendly and agreeing with me, as ever.
The international order is not being helped by President Trump, whose actions are deeply rash and foolish. However, the main structural threat to the international order comes from authoritarian states that are trying to break down the current system. As I have said, one of the key battles we face is how we will protect the future of open and free societies against states that want to undermine them. China is doing it gently, while Russia and Iran are doing so much more aggressively.
Although China is being more subtle, its aims are somewhat the same. It does not have Russia’s little green men, but it has little blue men pushing the maritime boundaries. It has claims in the south China sea, it has tried to change the law of the seas and it is building artificial islands. It is offering loans to Vanuatu and other Pacific states, and it is building up an unhealthy degree of influence in New Zealand and Australian politics, some of it corrupt. Against that, we need global as well as Atlantic and European alliances. That leads me to raise this question: NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—has been a force for good in our area, but does it need to be extended to have a global front?
The international order is not perfect, but it is worth defending, but one of the things that is changing and making it more difficult for the international order to work is the nature of warfare. Conventional warfare is becoming rare and forms of non-conventional warfare are becoming much more common. Indeed, one of my roles when I was serving in the military was to understand these new forms of unconventional war. This has put significant pressure on the norms of war. For example, in Syria, the Syrian war—now in its seventh year—is arguably the first in history in which hospitals and medical facilities are the primary and, indeed, the priority targets for the Syrian regime backed by the Russians. Yesterday, we talked a great deal in this House about bringing to justice people in Myanmar, but there is an embarrassing degree of silence in the western world about naming Russian regiments and Russian planes that are dropping bombs on hospitals.
Does my hon. Friend hope, as I do, that the International Criminal Court will eventually indict those responsible for what are, in effect, war crimes happening in Syria?
Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but there is no “in effect” about it. The words “war crime” are bandied about quite often, but dropping a bomb on a hospital—is it in chapter 35 of book 4 of the Geneva conventions?—is absolutely specifically forbidden. There can be no other interpretation, yet for the past year and a half it has become one of the key de facto means of war in Syria.
Let me now turn briefly to Russia because I want to suggest some ideas to the Minister. Since March, the Government have been sensible and robust in the measures they have taken, but I believe it might be useful for them to consider some additional ideas, which I have outlined in an article today, when dealing primarily with the Russian threat but also more generally with the subversive threat to the United Kingdom. First, we need to systematically expose what the Kremlin is doing, not on an ad hoc basis through the Foreign Affairs Committee or other Committees, but by setting up a small, permanent, multi-agency group whose role is to understand and expose those subversive activities.
In the 1970s and ’80s the United States had such a group. It was called the Active Measures Working Group and was reckoned to be extremely successful in investigating and exposing Russian—then Soviet—subversive activities. Such subversive activities were called “active measures” in those days, but they meant assassinations, propaganda, smears, blackmail and all those other forms of spy warfare, with occasional support for terrorist groups and so on. I believe we need such a group now. It does not have to be big, and it could be seconded from other Departments, but I believe we need something more than what is done on an ad hoc basis.
Secondly, we need to introduce a list of PR agents, reputation management firms and others who work as agents for Russian influence in the UK, either directly or via proxies or third parties. Thirdly, we must consider laws that introduce a health warning on broadcasters. A counter-propaganda Bill is currently going through Congress to do just that, and we should consider the same thing. Fourthly, as I have mentioned, we need properly to fund World Service TV and radio, and specifically the Russian service.
Fifthly, we need to look at our visa regime, which I know my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee are extremely concerned about. For Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other states from the former Soviet bloc, we make it very easy for oligarchs—basically kleptocrats—to come here, but very difficult for ordinary people. I believe we should make it much easier for ordinary Ruskies, and ordinary Ukrainians, Azerbaijanis and Kazakhstanis to come here if we judge them to be decent to do so, and much more difficult for the people who have stolen their money in the first place. We need to flip the system around.
Sixthly, the FCO needs to be more active in seeing Russian influence in the round. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) made, expertly as ever, a point about Nord Stream 2, which is not just a commercial venture; it is a critical piece of geopolitics that will affect Europe for years to come. We should have been much more active.
My hon. Friend is making an key point about that pipeline, but it is not just about that. When we see one of our important European partners invite a dictator to the wedding of the Foreign Minister, and we see them dancing together as though that dictator were some sort of champion of freedom and a partner of choice, and then at the end of the dance we see the Foreign Minister—the Foreign Minister of a NATO power and a European partner—curtsey to a murderous dictator, we must ask ourselves what is happening in our neighbourhood under our watch.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Our glorious Prime Minister might not be as good a dancer as Putin, but I would rather have her as our leader.
Seventhly, we should give Ofcom greater powers. The Latvian Government regularly highlight the negative content of Russian broadcasters based in London that spew propaganda into the Baltics. I do not believe that we should close such people down, or Russia Today or Sputnik, which churn out a regular diet of anti-western nonsense. However, we need to strengthen fines and rights of reply and ensure that Ofcom investigates those potential offences more quickly. Eighthly, we need to use financial and legal powers to hurt those people around Putin. I have talked to the Minister for Security, and I am aware that things are in the pipeline and happening, so watch this space.
Ninthly, we need to look at conventional deterrence. Russia’s political and financial dealings with the west are part of a multi-faceted strategy. We need to relearn the art of deterrence for both conventional weaponry and non-conventional conflict. It is better to be robust now than to encourage the sort of adventurism that we are now seeing—perhaps we should have been robust 10 years ago.
Tenthly, we need to understand the threat to our electoral system posed by cyber-infiltration and fake news. We have seen how divisive disputed elections can be in the United States. There is little doubt that the Russians had an extremely sophisticated operation, going back to 2014, to begin the process of manipulation, by using cyber-means to break into state boards of election, by backing people around Trump, by attacking Hillary Clinton and by understanding the Democrats’ strategy by stealing the information from their servers. That was not just a case of embarrassing the Clinton campaign; it was more sophisticated and far more malign.
Indeed, we have cyber-attacks and cyber-problems here. I should declare that I wrote a definition of Russian warfare for the Henry Jackson Society, which has about 440 brute force attacks on its website per month, many of them coming from Russian IP addresses. There are regular Russian attacks on Dr Andrew Foxall, its excellent Russia expert. We are seeing these attacks, probably from Russia, perhaps from other more sophisticated state actors, on think-tanks in the United Kingdom. As well as myself, the Henry Jackson Society has hosted, rather more importantly for Mr Putin, Bill Browder and the wonderful Marina Litvinenko. We should be wary of what the Russians and others are doing here and elsewhere. It is a global problem. In the new kind of political conflict we are facing from authoritarian states, hackers, assassins and trolls, as well as market manipulators and criminals, are perhaps more useful than conventional forms of warfare.
I will leave it there, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise if I have spoken for too long, but I would appreciate the Minister’s thoughts on both global Britain and some of those suggestions.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), although in this debate it is probably a misfortune, as his experience, knowledge and passion in these areas are pretty much unmatched in the House and certainly unmatched by me. Nevertheless, we will see how we get on in the next few minutes.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and the Foreign Affairs Committee on securing this important debate. I also welcome the Government’s aspirations to ensure that the UK retains its influence and status as we prepare to leave the EU. It is easy to be glib about the phrase “global Britain”, as a succession of individuals on the Government Benches try to shoehorn it in pretty much everywhere they can. It is important that that soundbite does not come to be perceived as not meaning anything, so the Committee has been right to push and prod at what the Government mean by “global Britain”. What is the practical vision, and what would its implementation look like? What are our priorities? What are we seeking to achieve? The United Kingdom has always known the concept of a global Britain. We have constantly taken a leading role in responding to global challenges and standing up for the rules-based international order. What matters is the substance sitting behind the phrase and how we ensure that it becomes not just a tagline but a credible position where our vision and values are put into action.
Once we leave the European Union, our interaction with the rest of the world will change. There is no point denying that in the last decades our influence has been amplified by the force multiplier advantage of EU membership. It is also true that, after exit day, we will gain more flexibility and agility to react. Our main challenge, and one of the big challenges for the Foreign Office, will be to combine that extra flexibility with a strong foreign policy capability that ensures we continue to be one of the major global players.
The resources the Foreign and Commonwealth Office allocates to its European network will be crucial to its ability to implement a coherent diplomatic strategy both in Europe and around the world, particularly post Brexit. I am pleased that the FCO has taken my hon. Friend’s Committee’s advice and started increasing its diplomatic presence in EU27 capitals, focusing, in the first instance, on Berlin and Paris, and prioritising political and economic staff and research analysts. The key thing as we move forward, however, is that the allocation of resources cannot come at the expense of existing networks in other parts of the world, both those that are already pretty well established and those we are seeking to establish.
We have networks around the world that are not fully developed simply because our Government and our citizens have for years been able to rely on other EU states’ existing networks. If we are truly to be global Britain, we cannot start hiving off or undermining our presence in one part of the world to build it up in another. I would be interested to hear from the Minister, therefore, how the very welcome additional funding of £90 million to support the Government’s global Britain ambitions is intended to be used.
Our strong diplomatic footprint does not just help us to promote a set of values founded on democracy and the rule of law; it helps to keep the citizens of our country safe. We have seen how a weakened rules-based international system can lead to episodes such as the Salisbury incident—vile actions commissioned by a rogue state that systematically makes a mockery of international rules and basic principles of decency, whether in Georgia, which I have banged on about quite a lot since I was elected because not many people seem to talk about it, Crimea or the middle east.
I remember as an honours year student at Dundee Law School doing my dissertation on how international institutions responded to 9/11 and conflicts that had come before it, and how often such very significant events expose weaknesses in the very international institutions we expect and demand to uphold the rules-based order. I will be honest: my dissertation was not very good—I found lots of other things at university on which to focus my time rather than the library—but I think the underlying point I was supposed to be investigating was right. We still see it today in how multilateral organisations respond to Russia, Syria and so on—there are plenty of other examples. Establishing and upholding accepted standards of the rules-based order must be a central tenet of what global Britain stands for, because countries such as Russia exploit instability.
To me, global Britain is about championing Britain’s place as a force for good in the world. It is about ensuring that we are an outward and forward-looking nation that seeks to build friendships and stands up for our values where they come under threat. Global Britain in action was the internationally co-ordinated expulsion of Russian envoys following Salisbury. Global Britain is the soft power and reach of over 5 million British citizens living overseas. It is the BBC World Service, and our phenomenal universities and research institutions, which export talent, friendships and contacts. It is being the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that meets both the defence target and the development target. Global Britain is not an empty soundbite; it is a definition of what our country must and needs to be as we face the challenges of today, as well as those that lie ahead.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) and to hear his positive case for a global Britain. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) for speaking with such passion about this extremely timely subject.
In Brexit, we are managing the most momentous political change of my lifetime. This period of renewal is taking place in an era when the effectiveness of international governance structures is being questioned, the power dynamics across the world are shifting fundamentally, and technology is altering the possibilities available to citizens of every country. Faith is withering in established international rules and institutions, many of which were drawn up in the aftermath of the second world war to lock in peace, as they struggle to reflect new realities such as mass migration and the movement of global capital. That is raising real questions about what it means to be a citizen, to whom Governments should extend assistance, to whom global companies should be accountable, and the very nature of the bonds and values that glue societies together. Meanwhile, as China and other nations grow in economic power, our certainty that international norms necessarily reflect universal values is being challenged.
Those trends are unnerving, but they also present an opportunity to a global Britain that is ambitious to carve a new place in the world: a place that proudly reflects who we are now, rather than what we might have been in some nostalgia-tinted past; a place that sees us regain confidence in the values we bring as a nation that upholds the rule of the law and individual freedom; and a place that encourages technological and scientific advance.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the values we hold as global Britain are also held by our European allies and neighbours?
Yes. I do not want this to descend into a Brexit debate. I was a floating voter during the referendum. I very much hope that having voted to leave the European Union, we are not seen as having an isolationist instinct, because my hon. Friend is right—we share a great number of values, and those relationships will be extremely important as we go forward in an increasingly uncertain world.
As well as being European values, does my hon. Friend not agree that they are global values?
I thank my hon. Friend for his point. The point I was making is that although we might assume that these are universal global values, we have seen in recent years that we cannot assume their universality. That is why we, as a nation, need to stand for something in the world. There is a debate to be had about those values, and it is important that the UK has a strong independent voice in that debate.
The challenge for us as politicians is to give those whom we represent both a sense of security and priority and a clear understanding that our engagement with the rest of the world has practical relevance to their lives. To echo what others have said today, though, if we do not act in the world, we will be acted upon. With that challenge in mind, I want briefly to share some thoughts on how we might begin this new journey.
First, I echo the view that my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling has expressed on a number of occasions: we want to see a much more prominent role given to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as we leave the EU. If we are to make the most of this period of momentous change, we require intense, sustained relationship building at all levels, and a strong narrative about our direction of travel.
The Department for International Development became an independent Department in 1997, as a key component of new Labour’s self-proclaimed ethical foreign policy. Overseas aid moneys previously distributed from the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office budgets were centralised, leaving less financial autonomy for both those major Departments of State.
With the aid budget now ring-fenced by law, in recent years we have seen DFID rushing to spend its budget before year-end on projects that have undermined the otherwise strong case for its broader work on disease prevention, disaster relief and security. Meanwhile, the FCO has struggled to sustain its existing network of operations, so while the FCO may have the grand trappings and the historical clout, it can at times feel rather hollow when it is DFID that has the cash. Brexit should provide us with the perfect opportunity to refocus our outward-facing Departments and infuse our international work with strategic intent.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely important point. Many of us would like to see greater co-ordination. While we recognise the skillsets that are particular to DFID, that does not take away from the co-ordination that could be so well done if experts such as the DFID permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, were able to work better with partners across Whitehall.
Certainly. The problem with the debate on aid is that it is so often perceived as a DFID-bashing exercise, and that is not what I intend my comments to be. They are a statement that, actually, the Foreign Office needs to take a strong leadership role so that DFID money is not frittered away on projects that have no strategic value to what we are trying to achieve in the world.
I am sorry to intervene again, but there is an important point here. We all complain about DFID, but the fact is that, as far as aid agencies go, DFID spends its money about as well as it can. There is a stronger argument to suggest that the £2 billion of public money spent by other Departments—including, sadly, the FCO and the Home Office—is potentially not as well spent. That is a separate argument about the overall balance in overseas spending.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I welcome the cross-departmental work that FCO and DFID Ministers are already doing in trying to move us towards that approach, although I would like that work to develop through the further integration of aid with our military, diplomatic and trade commitments, and I would like the FCO to be given the premier leadership role in that regard.
In withdrawing from the political, legal and diplomatic structures of the EU, we will, by definition, need to construct an entirely new approach to our global relationships. I would be keen to hear from the Minister what work is being done to set out a framework for engagement with European allies in future.
Party-to-party engagement can be vital in building political relationships that later bear fruit—something in which appointed civil servants inevitably face a level of restriction. Each major party already engages with counterparts in its European Parliament political grouping, and we have the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and bodies such as the International Democrat Union for broader international party engagement, but going forward, we will need to think much more carefully about how we use these bodies to our advantage.
Our German counterparts, particularly in the CDU, have been very wise in using the Stiftung model to advance their nation’s political and economic interests. Is there a post-Brexit case for a strong equivalent body here to ensure that key political relationships are kept warm whether a party is in government or in opposition? Too often, those relationships die when a particular politician moves on, and we need some kind of sustained involvement in those relationships.
In the face of rising popular discontent, the challenge for all nations will be how to reshape global institutions to reflect new realities and refresh their legitimacy in the eyes of the people we are elected to serve. The UK has a unique opportunity to be ahead of the curve on this and to help move the world towards global standards in trade and technology that would benefit British businesses and safeguard the interests of our citizens in the face of rapid, unpredictable technological advances. That will be much easier to do if we are able to define our future relationship with the EU in a way that leaves room for a truly independent trade policy.
That is not to suggest that free trade agreements are a panacea, and we should certainly avoid entering into substandard deals out of political imperative. However, free trade agreements can act as catalysts through which broader diplomatic and trade objectives can be fulfilled, making them particularly relevant to our global Britain ambition. Indeed, other nations have been aggressively using their own trade policies to advance broader economic and security interests.
The UK has not presided over its own independent trade policy for 40 years, and while urgency must be injected into the development of stronger trading links with the likes of America, India and China, negotiations will be complex and will require careful consideration of potential trade-offs. The Government therefore rightly see Australia and New Zealand as a good place to start. Neither economy is especially large, but both have valuable experience from which we can learn. New Zealand was the first country to strike an FTA with China, and each antipodean nation has suggested smarter ways in which we might work together—for example, in fulfilling the demands of the burgeoning far eastern middle classes for the safe, high-quality agricultural produce they sometimes find it difficult to source in the own countries. New Zealand and Australia are also looking to deepen their strategic alliances as Chinese power in the south Pacific grows.
Strong relationships on that front could also give fresh impetus to Australia and Singapore’s pioneering work at the World Trade Organisation on e-commerce and the dismantling of barriers to digital trade, allowing us to play a more active role in the development of global standards for the kinds of services that now account for nearly 80% of our economy. That could deliver tangible economic benefits to our own citizens.
We can also use the development of our independent trade policy to deepen ties with other natural allies, such as the US, working together to cement norms on financial and professional services regulation and strengthening our military and defence co-operation. The US and UK have already set up a working group to discuss stronger trading ties post Brexit, and the Department for International Trade and the FCO are investing more in personnel across the US, but to maximise opportunities for UK businesses we shall need much deeper engagement at state level. In that regard, I fear we are moving towards greater use of temporary contracts and less attractive salary packets, making it difficult to attract in-country staff of the right quality and with the right contacts. I would appreciate the Minister’s thoughts on the Government’s approach to recruitment and on whether we are attracting the right candidates.
I would also like to echo some of the things my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) said about the importance of the BBC. Looking at it on an anecdotal basis, I have tried on recent trips abroad to source BBC material on the television and the internet, but it has been very difficult, whereas other countries, such as Russia and China, are stepping up their soft power messaging via their media outlets.
Much of the work we do internationally over the coming years will relate to how China emerges on to the world stage, and we must give urgent priority to developing our approach to that nation’s increasing economic, diplomatic and military ambition. The sheer scale of its population, and its growing wealth, means that nations across the globe will very quickly be faced with questions over the extent to which that wealth and influence should be embraced, managed or indeed actively resisted.
When I was in Kenya over the summer, I was struck by the colossal scale of Chinese investment in east African ports and roads. Trade facilitation measures are welcome, but the debt arrangements for those investments are causing some concern in the region and elsewhere. There will be much more to say on that issue in the coming months, but I sense an increased appetite in such regions for alternative sources of investment that come with greater legal certainty. Here, the UK can carve a niche as countries look to diversify away from that approach, which has been presented as “no strings” but is actually beginning to reveal some conditionality. I would appreciate the Minister’s thoughts on how the FCO is approaching the belt and road initiative and on the experience he has had in the countries with which he has influence.
Charting our new global path beyond the EU will not be easy, and there is no room for complacency, nostalgia or timidity. However, those who believe the UK to be an irrelevance on the international stage are wrong. If we get our strategy right, Britain can be at the very forefront of shaping the governance of new technologies and upholding the values that will change people’s lives in the 21st century.
I would like to start by thanking the Foreign Affairs Committee and particularly the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) for bringing this debate before us. I also thank him for the excellent way in which he put forward the position held by the Committee on these matters, as well as the position he holds. That was incredibly useful.
It has been a really interesting debate. I was particularly interested in the speech by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely). When he began, I thought, “Gosh, I agree with almost everything he is saying,” but it went steeply downhill. Now, we are back on the correct sides of the House, and I felt a bit better after we began to diverge.
Thinking about the international rules-based order, some of the conversations that have been had today around global Britain have been about what exactly we want our aims to be. What do we want our position in the world to be? What do we want to do in terms of the influence we exert on others? What do we want to get them to do? The Scottish National party is focusing on furthering things like the sustainable development goals. We are looking to build capacity, peace, fairness and gender equality in other countries, many of which we have by right here every single day. Whenever we make decisions about what global Britain will do, we must hold those values in the forefront of our minds. That is certainly what the SNP would be doing in an independent Scotland if we were making those decisions for Scotland.
Britain has enjoyed a position of influence in the world that has been entirely disproportionate to its size, and that is largely because of its past wealth and empire. But the world has changed, particularly in the past 30 years, and I am concerned about some of the rhetoric that comes from some Conservative Members—although largely not today, I hasten to add—about dragging us back to the position we were in 30 years ago and trying to have Britain look like the Britain of 30 years ago and having the influence it had in the world then. I would suggest that that is not where we need to be. We should not be looking backwards; we should be looking forwards and seeing how the world has changed. We should be seeing where the levers are now and making sure those are the levers we are seeking to pull in order to help build capacity and create the world we want to live in.
I want to make it clear from the beginning that the SNP supports the retention of the international rules-based order and we will do what we can to ensure it endures—which is quite important—but we do not believe in many of the policy directions that successive UK Governments have adopted. We have major concerns that “global Britain” is just another of those follies. We do not make friends and gain influence by telling everybody how great we are. We make friends by showing everybody what we can do to help them; we do so not by standing there and saying, “Hey, look at us, we’re wonderful,” but by doing the capacity-building things I am talking about to make life better for people. That is how “global Britain” could become global Britain.
I want to talk about some of the specific different political choices we would make. In Yemen, in the first nine days of August there were 450 civilian casualties, 131 of whom were children. Nearly half the children in Yemen aged between six months and five years are chronically malnourished. The difference in the position the SNP and an independent Scotland would take is that we would not be having weapons sales that are 18 times the value of the aid we are spending; the value of our weapons sales to Saudi Arabia is 18 times higher than the aid we are spending in Yemen. Making sure those children are not chronically malnourished should be more of a political priority than getting the money from those lucrative weapons sales.
The escalation caused by the UK’s bombing of Syria has ceded any prospect of the UK acting as a peace broker in Syria, which is what is needed there. Lessons were not learned from the lengthy and expensive Chilcot inquiry. In contrast, the Scottish Government have been funding a UN project in Syria to grow the role of Syrian women in conflict resolution. That is incredibly important; women have a hugely important role to play in conflict resolution, and it is often under-reported and under-recognised. Such excellent projects are much more important than, and cost much less than, bombing campaigns, and make more of a positive difference.
On international aid, I agree with the majority of speakers. I am pleased that so many Members talked about the 0.7% aid target and have spoken positively about the fact that we are spending that. I acknowledge that many have discussed how that money is spent, and it is healthy that we are scrutinising that and making sure it is spent in the very best places in order to ensure that the best outcomes are created from that aid money. We will continue to champion that amount of money being spent on aid, and we appreciate the fact that the Government are continuing to do that.
There is more that the UK could do internationally, particularly in regard to humanitarian crime. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the UK could help to strengthen and support the international rules-based system by calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate the atrocities that have taken place in Myanmar. Members across the House have spoken about the atrocities and crimes that are being inflicted on the Rohingya people there, and I believe it would be helpful if the UK were to use its international influence in that way. Crimes such as those cannot be committed with impunity; they need to be properly investigated. We need proper results in that regard, in order to prevent them from happening in other countries and to show everyone that if such crimes are committed, the international community will speak out against them and do what it can to clamp down and prevent them from happening again.
Turning to Brexit, we believe that the UK should pledge to remain a member of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council Committee, post-Brexit. This is particularly important in relation to where we are with Russia just now. Having a close relationship with our European allies would be incredibly important, and continuing to have a place there would be useful in ensuring that we can continue to have those close links.
Acting in concert with our international allies is vital, not only in regard to the many things that we have spoken about so far. There has not yet been a huge amount of mention—perhaps a bit—of international financial crime. Whether that involves offshore trusts, Scottish limited partnerships, the Chancellor’s possible taxation of digital organisations, retail companies or the implementation of trade remedies, we need strong international relationships in order for any of those things to happen. Countries need to work in concert with one another and to agree common goals and objectives for cracking down on international financial crime. In the light of some of the comments and decisions being made in the United States just now, particularly around the World Trade Organisation, we need to stand firm on these issues and put what pressure we can on our allies there to convince them to continue to support the WTO.
To sum up, global Britain should prioritise the sustainable development goals. I think that those are the most important things, and that the decisions that are made in our international relationships should ensure that we are doing that capacity building. That would make the world a better place for everyone.
I thank the Foreign Affairs Committee for initiating this vital and timely debate, and I thank all Members who have contributed to it this afternoon. I will say more about those contributions in a moment, but at the outset, I believe that this is an apt debate in which to pay tribute to the great Kofi Annan, who sadly passed away three weeks ago. I was looking back at a speech that he made to this Parliament in 2007 to mark 200 years since the abolition of the British slave trade. What he said that day resonates just as strongly now. He talked about the men and women who fought to abolish the slave trade, saying that they
“represented a moral truth…a moral passion that must at first have seemed utterly impracticable. Yet by persistence, by resolve, by eloquence, and by imagination, they changed history. They showed that moral suasion could prevail over narrow self-interest.”
For me, this entire debate today boils down to that same basic challenge. When we talk about global Britain, do we just mean aggressively pursuing our economic self-interest around the world in the shape of trade deals? Or do we believe in a Britain that acts as a global force for moral truth, moral passion and moral suasion and that seeks to change the world in which we live? We only have one planet.
When we talk of a rules-based international order, do we mean that those rules should be applied equally, consistently and with the same moral force to all countries, whether friend or foe, or do we decide in practice that there is one set of rules that we rightly apply with great vigour when it comes to countries such as Russia, Syria, Libya, Venezuela or Iran but another that we apply to America, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel or China? That is the crux of today’s debate and why I have been so interested to hear speeches from both sides of the House. I applaud the many excellent contributions about Russia and the crimes committed by agents of the Russian state on our soil.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) rightly challenged the Government about suspicious deaths of Russians that have happened in the UK over the past few years, and he called again for those investigations to be reconsidered. He is right that the evidence is clear that there is no doubt of the culpability of the Russian state in the Salisbury poisonings. We also heard a condemnation of Russia from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and he was quite right to do so. I was particularly interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), who is creative and used lateral thinking in his contribution, which was of great value. I did not necessarily agree with all of it, but it is important to have people with an independence of thought who can help to inform not just the Government’s thinking but, frankly, that of the Opposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) is right to say that, given that we continue to recklessly warm up our planet, it only has any chance if we work together with internationally recognised rules. At a time when the very rules that we have been abiding by until now seem to be being undermined, we must also face the challenge of having to develop new rules in order to maintain the planet on which we all live. I was very impressed by the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez)—I hope that this is not a blight on her career—and her extremely thoughtful speech. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) said many things that we agree with, particularly about the importance of a change of policy on Yemen and the importance of us having a proactive role with regard to the Rohingya.
All the speeches were timely, not just because of yesterday’s revelations, but due to several other factors that we must discuss today. We are living through a period in which the world order and the international rules that are supposed to underpin it are under greater threat than at any time since the 1930s. In every instance, the problems that we face come down to countries simply ignoring the rules that should govern our world. From Venezuela and the Philippines to Turkey and Egypt, we see the rule of law ignored. What were once democratically elected Governments have turned into autocratic regimes. From Yemen and Myanmar to Cameroon and South Sudan, we see the indiscriminate killing of civilians in flagrant breach of international humanitarian law. From the battlefields of Syria to the streets of Wiltshire, we see the convention on chemical weapons brazenly ignored and innocent victims injured and killed.
In North Korea, despite Donald Trump’s efforts, and in Iran, because of Donald Trump’s efforts, we see the threat of hostile states becoming nuclear states in breach of the non-proliferation treaties. In Russia, Israel and the United States, we see three leaders behaving as if none of the normal laws apply to them and actively trying to undermine the institutions that uphold them. Faced with such challenges, it is incumbent on us all to stand up for the world order, to stand up for human rights and international treaties, and to insist on working for peace through the United Nations. We cannot do that if the concept of global Britain, if our entire foreign policy approach, is not driven by values, ethics, rules and principles but is a simple case of what works best for our balance sheet.
For example, on 7 June 2018 The Guardian ran a special feature on the brutal campaign of violence by the regime of Cameroon’s President Biya against English-speaking communities in the west of the country, which was formerly known as British Cameroon. We owe those communities a historical responsibility. The Guardian quoted the ordinary men and women who saw their villages attacked by Biya’s military, who saw their neighbours and family members killed and who were forced to flee for their lives. It quoted the charity workers who are looking after thousands of displaced women and children, for whom they warned that going home would be suicide.
By any normal moral standard, the UK Government would be expected to be appalled by those reports, but not this Government. The very next day after that report was published the British Secretary of State for International Trade announced a £1.5 billion deal with a British natural gas company and President Biya’s regime, a deal which, in the words of the Department for International Trade’s press release, will generate a “huge revenue stream” for Cameroon’s public treasury. Cameroon’s regime is ranked as the 25th most corrupt in the world. Its ruler, in his 43rd year of autocratic power and with personal wealth of more than $200 million, is engaged in a systematic campaign of brutality and killings against the English-speaking community in his country, and all the UK Government can do is boast of doing trade deals that will only enrich him further. That is what this Government mean by global Britain.
Under the previous Foreign Secretary we saw the same approach over and again, where the sole consideration on every foreign policy issue was how to help British businesses make a quick buck. We saw that in Libya with his horrific talk of British developers turning the country into a paradise of beach resorts just as soon as they could clear away the dead bodies of the Libyans who died fighting Daesh. We saw it again in Yemen, where there was literally nothing Saudi Arabia could do—not using starvation as a weapon of war; not cutting off supplies of food, clean water and medicine; not bombing farms, schools and hospitals; and not killing thousands of innocent men, women and children—that would persuade the former Foreign Secretary even to suspend the supply of arms for use in that conflict, pending a proper war crimes investigation.
We saw it in Myanmar with the Rohingya, where the former Foreign Secretary toured the killing fields of Rakhine state and called out what he saw as industrial ethnic cleansing, but he refused to take the next logical step of asking the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. The Government were afraid of upsetting China and jeopardising future trade deals.
The shadow Minister makes an interesting and valid point about moral equality. I accept that, but it is slightly concerning that your side of the House tends to focus on Yemen a great deal.
The right hon. Lady’s side.
I apologise. The right hon. Lady’s side of the House focuses on Yemen a great deal. Does she understand the difference between the Saudis doing something badly and the Syrians, with their Russian support, bombing hospitals as a deliberate policy? There is a moral intent, which is different. One may criticise the Saudis for being sloppy and not valuing human life enough, but there is a difference.
Dead is dead. Whether a person has been killed because those with the bombs have been behaving recklessly or doing it intentionally, they are still dead, and it is still in breach of international humanitarian law to do either. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but we should strive to apply international law to countries equally. The idea of balancing one above the other is a slippery road.
In the end, the rule of law is one whereby we treat everyone equally before the law. If people have breached international law, they have breached international law and they should be held to account for that. That is my view and indeed it is our policy.
I was talking about Myanmar and the Rohingya, but then I wanted to move on to talk about Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Honduras and Sudan. The list goes on and on, and always with the same common factor: under the former Foreign Secretary, if there was a trade deal to be done, any concern for human rights and international rules would go out of the window. Above all, we saw it in his consistent policy, and that of the Prime Minister, towards Donald Trump: every abuse of human rights has been tolerated; every effort to destroy international treaties has been indulged; every attack on the UN has been pampered; and every mild criticism of him by this Government has had to be forced out of them, usually after 48 hours. Whatever Trump has done, this Government’s hand has remained outstretched, all in the hope of some mythical free trade deal to solve the almighty mess they are making of Brexit.
Even though the new Foreign Secretary has not taken part in today’s debate, I genuinely hope he will usher in a change of approach from that of his predecessor. The test will be whether he can show, through his actions rather than his words, that “global Britain” is about more than trade and that it is also about morality, values and principles. If we want to have a world order based on international rules, we must apply the same rules not just to Russia, but equally to every country, whether or not we have military alliances with them, whether or not we trade with them and whether or not Donald Trump wants us to. That is the only way we can restore what Kofi Annan called for, which was “moral truth”, “moral passion” and “moral persuasion”, to our country’s foreign policy. If this Government cannot do that, it is about time they made way for a Government who will.
It is a pleasure to respond to this debate. First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on securing it and on all he does to support and challenge United Kingdom foreign policy through that chairmanship and his team? I am grateful for the contributions made by other hon. Members. We always face a limitation in this debate; we get 10 minutes or so to respond to thoughtful and considered contributions that have added up to nearly a couple of hours, and it cannot really be done. It can be done better by speeches and by conversations with the Select Committee, and I commend the Foreign Secretary’s recent speech in Washington as a start. I will do my best to make some points in relation to what has been said.
I will cover some of what my hon. Friend said in these remarks. As to what is going to be different, that might be difficult, because we have always been global Britain; it is not that there has suddenly been a gear change because of Brexit. The issue of EU and EU engagement is a really important one. He spoke of John McCain and his recognition that the US was enhanced through alliances, and I have always believed the UK was enhanced through alliances. One problem of Brexit will be that we lose the automatic political structures that the EU provided, and colleagues have rightly said that we need to find a way of re-engaging. For the Foreign Secretary, for other Ministers in the Department and for me, the speed-dial remains, “Paris, Berlin, Rome”. These are the places we contact, and we will build these things up. My hon. Friends the Members for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) and for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) spoke about that. May I also commend what she said about the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung? I made my first visit with it 35 years ago, and I am still in touch with it, and with friends in the Christian Democratic Union and in the Christian Social Union—we built up through there. Those foundations were vital and we miss those party links at our peril. They are so important.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling spoke about the cost of war. He and others, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely), have experienced that in a manner which others have been spared, and he is right to recognise that at the heart of policy is a determination to do all we can to prevent that. He spoke of governance and the importance of government; that is absolutely right. In so many of the places where we see conflict or the likelihood of it arising, the failure of governance has been catastrophic.
My good friend the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) made a typically brave speech. I commend him for reminding us of successive Labour Governments’ commitment to defence and security through NATO. I notice that the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) responded to some of his challenges, but not all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) reminded us of the good things in the world—the things that have changed—and that is positive, but also why we have to have great expectations. There is a lovely line in “The Way We Were”, when Robert Redford turns to Barbra Streisand and says in frustration, “You expect so much”, and she looks at him and says, “Look at what I’ve got!” We are the same with the world: we expect, because look at what we’ve got. Look at what we risk if we do not keep it.
The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) offered particular challenges on climate change, as well as on other matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight made a series of challenges in relation to his ConservativeHome article, and spoke of some structural changes that he wanted to see.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) spoke of the importance of the sustainable development goals—I am wearing the badge; they are important. It is most important to find ways to prevent conflict by making sure that a conflict has ended effectively.
I commend the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury for speaking of Kofi Annan, who was probably the first UN Secretary-General whom I got to know. His stature and what he stood for are immense.
The right hon. Lady also touched on something that is important to bring into a debate such as this: the messy area of compromise. It is great to bang the table and be very clear about our values, but what do we do when the restatement of values does not produce the results that we want, in a world where people do not do what we want, where our friends sometimes do not do want we want, and where things are more nuanced? That is where diplomacy comes in, and that is what is sometimes the difference between standing at this Dispatch Box and standing at the Opposition one. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling will experience what it is like in relation to foreign affairs, I have no doubt. Sometimes, an ethical foreign policy lasts only the distance between the Dispatch Boxes, in every effort. Unless we have that at the back of our mind and unless we reject what the right hon. Lady said about the core of British policy, which is not all about trade—it is about the whole variety of other things for which we stand—we will risk losing something. Alas, life is sometimes messier than we would wish.
Global Britain describes the Government’s vision for this country as an outward-facing, globally engaged nation; influencing and leading on the world stage; reinforcing what it has always been; projecting our influence; championing democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; protecting our people; and promoting our prosperity. It was coined in the aftermath of the vote to leave the EU, partly in response to the narrative that the UK would turn in on itself after Brexit. Global Britain is a clear rejection of that narrative, which was never at the core of those of my colleagues who took that particular line. It is not an empty slogan. Although our departure from the EU is an important factor, it is not the only one, because global Britain is also about how the delivery of UK foreign policy must adapt and evolve in a rapidly changing world. It is about strengthening our bilateral relationships around the world, as well as our partnerships with important regional bodies. That is why we are expanding our diplomatic network with 10 new posts and more than 250 new diplomats.
New investment is also necessary to protect and defend the system of international rules on which our prosperity and security have depended for more than 70 years—a system that is under strain. Some challenges are natural. There is nothing in a post-1945, heavily western-orientated order that should not be open to evolution. Some challenges come from the shift in economic gravity from west to east. As the second largest global economy, China’s desire to take on a greater leadership role and to change some aspects of the system to better reflect its position is entirely understandable. However, China’s mixed record on respecting the existing system and its rejection of liberal democratic values remain a concern. Other challenges come in the form of anti-globalisation and populist movements that question the wisdom of international co-operation and free trade. Others criticise the multilateral system for failing to deal with conflict, inequality, and human rights violations.
The debate was right at various times to highlight the threat from Russia in particular. I welcome a statement made in the past hour from international partners expressing full confidence in the Prime Minister and the United Kingdom’s response as articulated in the House yesterday. Russia has the privilege and responsibility of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but continues to flout its responsibilities, annexing territory in Europe, shielding the regime in Syria, which violates the international ban on chemical weapons, and instituting cyber-attacks that are reaching deeper into our politics and our critical infrastructure. I note that a number of colleagues have intervened on this issue and I commend some thoughtful speeches.
The rules-based system is, however, resilient. It continues to ensure that the great powers have not been involved in a global war, but flexibility must not become fragility and confidence must not become complacency. Any erosion, as opposed to evolution, of international rules and institutions threatens the very basis of our advanced democracies, our open societies and those free economies. That is why objectives for a global Britain are predicated on the conviction that strengthening the rules-based international system and the institutions and the values that underpin it remain the best way to ensure our collective and individual security and prosperity.
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee, spoke of the importance of shaping events, rather than being shaped by them. We continue to work at the UN as shapers and as penholders in a number of areas including in Libya and Burma. In Yemen, we are actively supporting the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to build trust between the parties and to bring them to the negotiating table. We know how important it is just to bring that conflict to a solution. We also remain concerned about Iran’s destabilising role there and other places.
In Syria, we are supporting the urgent diplomatic efforts being made by Turkey and the UN to avert a human catastrophe. Those of us still scarred by the events of August 2013 know now that the international order has to consider inaction as well as action as it looks at how to establish itself.
It has been understandable to characterise recent crises in foreign affairs as a challenge to the world order and fear that what has been so painstakingly built following the tragedy of the wars of the 20th century might be lost. It is not surprising. I was born in 1955 within striking distance of the war’s end. While I was growing up, unknown to me, the architecture was being put together. The EU, born out of the disaster on our continent, was a deliberate attempt to forestall the accumulation of the then requirements for a war economy—iron, coal and steel.
That generation has gone. It is essential that what drove it is not forgotten, but, as the debate has indicated, while we worry about what we might lose, let us recognise and cherish the world that we have and defend it and its values robustly even though it sometimes calls upon comprise. We must not mistake evolution for fragility or allow the undermining of rules under a guise of seemingly benign objection. Let me echo a great phrase of Robert Kennedy: global Britain will continue to see the world as it is and question why, but never lose sight of a world as it might be and ask why not.
May I pay credit to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his closing words and thank him very much for his consideration, thought and leadership in foreign affairs in our country? He has been an inspiration to many of us. I also thank the members of the Committee who have supported this debate so ably and all those who have contributed.
The one place that I wish to bring up finally is India. A global Britain without India, a global Britain without our partner, our ally and our friend, is not one that many of us can envision. As we close and we all go home this evening, we should think about the place that that country has held in our hearts, and still holds, I hope, for all of us. I hope that we will also go away and think about what has built us, what has come to us, and what has made us. It is great to see the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) in his place. We should think about generations such as those from Windrush— generations that have built Britain—because together we can all go out and build a global Britain that will shape the world and indeed determine a true vision for the rule of law, for co-operation and for the values that this House has been so active in promoting.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the Government’s aspiration to ensure the UK retains its influence and status as it prepares for departure from the EU; notes that for Global Britain to be more than a worthy aspiration the slogan must be backed by substance; further notes the threats to the international rules-based order posed, in particular, by the aggressive stance of the Russian Government; and therefore calls on the Government to publish by 31 October 2018 its assessment of the threats posed by Russia and other hostile states to the international rules-based order, and the Government’s strategy and resources for countering those threats.