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Leaving the EU: Diplomatic Co-operation

Volume 650: debated on Tuesday 4 December 2018

1. What recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts on continued diplomatic co-operation after the UK leaves the EU. (907986)

8. What recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts on continued diplomatic co-operation after the UK leaves the EU. (907993)

20. What recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts on continued diplomatic co-operation after the UK leaves the EU. (908006)

I have recently discussed post-Brexit diplomatic co-operation with my French, German, Belgian and Norwegian counterparts, and I am confident that it will continue post Brexit.

When the Cabinet met to discuss the Prime Minister’s deal, the Foreign Secretary said that it risked leaving the UK in what he called the “Turkey trap”, and that the backstop could in fact become an indefinite “frontstop”. Given those entirely valid concerns, will he explain why he is backing this terrible deal?

I do not comment on confidential Cabinet discussions, except to say that I started my comments at that meeting by saying that this is a time when all of us owe our loyalty to the Prime Minister, who has an extremely challenging job. And like many Members of this House, I am looking forward to a delicious roast turkey for Christmas.

It is not a coincidence that Russia has chosen this opportunity to take further military action against Ukraine and to continue to stir up trouble. Why does the Foreign Secretary think that so many former diplomats and others are totally opposed to the deal that the Government are putting forward on Brexit? Is it because it will undermine our diplomatic capacity in the world and our ability to stand up to those who would seek to divide and undermine Europe and this country’s national interests?

On the contrary, I think this deal allows us to project ourselves with confidence and strength across the world. I have had conversations with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, who is grateful for the staunch support that the UK has given his country in this challenging situation. It is fair to say that the UK has been one of the leading voices, if not the leading voice, among EU countries on foreign policy issues such as this, and I am confident that we will continue to do that.

When he spoke to Andrew Marr last weekend, the Foreign Secretary said that the Prime Minister’s proposed deal

“mitigates most of the negative impacts”

of leaving the EU. Can he tell us which of the negative impacts of leaving the EU the deal does not mitigate?

That is a very clever partial quotation. What I said was that this deal gets us most of what people voted for, and that it can be a staging post to getting everything that we voted for. That is why I shall be supporting the deal.

Both the United Kingdom and France have permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. We get to keep our seat after Brexit, but there is growing pressure by the European Union to take over France’s seat. What is the Foreign Secretary’s view on that?

With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, I think that is a matter for France. In my short time in this job, I have noticed that it is very difficult to get a consensus across the European Union to take common positions. We sometimes succeed and we sometimes do not. It is much easier to get the French to take a strong position, even though sometimes we do not agree with that, either.

As we are talking about British-European co-operation on diplomatic matters, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could talk about the events that we are seeing in Ukraine and the importance of working together to reinforce a country that is under severe threat and suffering severe abuse by a neighbour. It really does need the help of our institutions, both UK and European, to ensure that it is able to stand up to such aggression.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised this issue. He is absolutely right to say that, on an issue such as Ukraine, we have to stand four-square with our European friends, and we have indeed been doing so. We have extensive discussions about taking a common position with them, and I am pleased to say that there is unity not only among the European nations but with the United States that what Russia did is totally and utterly unacceptable. It is against international law and we do not condone it—we condemn it.

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that he made it clear in his discussions that, while we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe, and that we will continue to work through NATO and the many other international forums to ensure the peace and security of the whole continent?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important not to underestimate the influence that we have. We are a member of the G7, the G20, the OECD and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. We are a member of 60 international organisations. With the EU, we have built up a huge amount of trust and common ground over recent years, which is why I am confident that it is in both sides’ interests that that continues.

Climate change is the biggest challenge that we face, and one that we should perhaps spend more time discussing in this Chamber. Being able to take a common position with our EU partners on this has been an incredibly powerful diplomatic tool for pushing that message forward. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will join me in welcoming the fact that the First Minister is in Poland—where Scotland’s actions have been hailed internationally—to push that message as well. How will we continue to work with our EU partners to push that important diplomatic message?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific will be in Poland on Friday and Saturday for further discussions on such issues. This issue does not respect any national boundaries and can be solved only by countries across the world working together. We have a strong common position with other European countries and that will continue.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his response. There is a concern that the UK is being left isolated in terms of Brexit and the broken relationship. In maintaining that common position as we go forward, will he commit to working as closely as we have done with our European partners? Additionally, in terms of our international ambitions, can Scotland help to act as a bridge between the UK and the rest of the EU?

The best bridge Scotland could be is by not creating a wall between Scotland and England and not trying to become independent. If we act as one voice, as a United Kingdom, we will be a more powerful voice abroad. We have had an independent foreign policy during our whole time as a member of the EU. That is not going to change, but we have found that it is incredibly effective to work closely with our European neighbours and friends on a whole range of issues, and that is also not going to change.

15. BBC journalists in Iran and journalists throughout the world face criminal charges because of the regimes under which they work. How can the Foreign Office work with our EU partners to try to release the BBC journalists and others facing imprisonment? (908000)

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. In fact, I raised that issue when I was in Tehran on 19 November. It is essential that we give full support to media freedom in all parts of the world. We have a lot of common ground on that with other European countries that share concerns about the recent deterioration in the situation.

Only a month ago, the Foreign Secretary was one of eight Cabinet Ministers who said that they could not decide whether to back any Brexit deal unless they had seen the full, unedited legal advice given to the Prime Minister, saying that they could not repeat the failures of the Iraq war and rely only on an edited summary. The Foreign Secretary was right to take that entirely sensible and rational position just four weeks ago, so why should the same principle not apply to the whole of Parliament?

For the same reason that the previous Labour Government did not publish all the legal advice that they received: it would make the practice of Government totally and utterly impossible. I am delighted that the right hon. Lady has come in on this question, because she said on TV on Friday:

“I like the idea of us remaining in the EU.”

On this side of the House, however, we rather like the idea of implementing the will of the British people in a referendum.

23. The UK took part in the EU-led Operation Atalanta, which successfully tackled piracy off the horn of Africa. EU co-operation is vital in tackling these issues and saving lives, so why are such arrangements not given more attention in the PM’s blindfold deal? (908009)

I am unsure why the hon. Gentleman thinks that any of that is going to change, because the political declaration could not have been stronger in the commitments made to continue diplomatic co-operation between the UK and the EU. That is one of the first issues that European Foreign Ministers have raised in every single discussion that I have had with them, and there is total and complete unanimity.

22. UK-EU diplomatic co-operation has been part of the successful Iran deal for the joint comprehensive plan of action and must of course continue post Brexit. The Secretary of State’s tweet yesterday cited the JCPOA and resolution 2231 in demanding that Iran cease testing missiles. However, the missile ban was deliberately excluded from the JCPOA and was not mentioned in resolution 2231. Is it now UK policy to dismiss the JCPOA and diverge from EU joint diplomatic efforts with Iran? (908008)

No, it is not. We strongly support the JCPOA, but we strongly condemn missile activity by Iran in the region, because it is extremely destabilising. Military activities in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq are causing enormous problems for many people in the region, and we will not settle the issues in the middle east unless Iran starts to change its approach and act peacefully towards its neighbours.