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Rules-based International Order

Volume 657: debated on Tuesday 2 April 2019

The rules-based international system has made the world collectively massively safer and more prosperous than it has ever been before. This country played a major role in setting it up and we will always defend it, as we did when we held Russia to account after the terrible attack in Salisbury.

It has now been five years since the annexation of Crimea by Russia and since then Putin has repeatedly proved to be one of the greatest threats to the rules-based international order. The UK has led international efforts to try to make Russia see sense, and this has very much taken place online and in the media. With this in mind, will the Foreign Secretary join me in urging Members of Parliament to think twice about appearing on Russia Today, which remains a propaganda tool of the Russian state?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments; he could not be more right. It is incredibly important that when Russia does things such as invading neighbouring countries, as it did in Crimea, no one in this House should say things such as the Leader of the Opposition said, which is that Russia has more right on its side than Ukraine. That is quite wrong, and it is giving people permission to do that kind of thing again.

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world today. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us what the Government are doing to maintain an international focus on this and, in particular, what representations he has made to the Trump Administration in the United States on this crucial question?

We have been investing a huge amount in our global leadership on climate change, and we are the G20 country that has the biggest drop in emissions per unit of GDP. We are also bidding to host COP 26, which will be the next big climate change conference on the fifth anniversary of the Paris conference. We have a different view from that of the Trump Administration, and we are very open about that with them. It is all the more important that the countries that do not share their view and that think we have a responsibility to future generations should stand proud in our support for this vital agenda.

My right hon. Friend has made powerful comments about the role of the United Kingdom as a network player in the international rules-based system. Will he tell the House a little bit about the work he has been doing with our European partners, especially after the Foreign Affairs Committee published its report about a year ago on how to look forward to working with our European partners, on supporting the international order and the international rules-based system that Britain played such an important part in building?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. In all the debates we have about Brexit—I have now met my counterparts in every EU country—the one thing that comes across loud and clear is that the part of the world that has suffered the most from not having adherence to a rules-based international order is Europe. That is why European countries say to us constantly that they want to continue to have their vital strategic and military relations with the United Kingdom, whatever the outcome of Brexit, and that they want Britain to play a strong and influential role in upholding the rules-based order across the world. That is what we will do.

The rules-based international order would be strengthened if countries were seen to be held accountable for adhering to the conclusions of the United Nations Human Rights Council. What steps are Ministers taking to hold Sri Lanka to account for its failure to bring to justice those who are guilty of perpetuating major human rights abuses?

This is something on which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific has done an enormous amount of work through his contacts with the Sri Lankan Government. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue, not least because many members of the Sri Lankan community in this country have a great deal of concern about it. Overall, the picture in Sri Lanka is remarkably better than it was a decade ago. However, there will never be lasting peace unless there is justice and accountability for the things that went wrong.

Is it not a matter of the greatest regret that our most important ally, the United States, is in clear contravention of United Nations Security Council resolution 497 by recognising Israeli sovereignty claims over Golan? As annexation of territory is prohibited under international law, will the Foreign Secretary send a very strong message to the United States that the British House of Commons condemns unreservedly this breach of the rules-based order?

I am happy to do that. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—we should never recognise the annexation of territory by force. That has been one of the great achievements since the founding of the United Nations. I do that with a very heavy heart, because Israel is an ally and a shining example of democracy in a part of the world where that is not common. We want Israel to be a success, and we consider it to be a great friend, but on this we do not agree.

If we are to maintain a rules-based international order and strengthen it, the Foreign Secretary will agree that reciprocal arrangements for our constituents when they go abroad or when citizens of other countries come here are absolutely vital. Julie, the niece of my constituent, Deborah Pearson, was killed—murdered—by her ex-partner in Eilat in Israel at the end of 2015. I have raised this with the Foreign Secretary’s predecessors, but we are no further forward. We now know that the police were called five times, but they palmed her off, saying that she was a nuisance. She had 78 bruises on her body, and lost over a litre of blood. Will he meet me so that we can get justice for Julie and Deborah, my constituent?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case. Obviously, our hearts go out to her constituent’s family over a truly terrible incident. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Pacific is very, very happy to meet her and make sure that we are doing everything that we can.

May I join you, Mr Speaker, in welcoming our distinguished and learned visitor, Gareth Evans, who continues to make a vital contribution, as he has throughout his career, to the concept of the rules-based world order? On that subject, we must note that it is six months to the day since Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered by Saudi agents in their embassy in Istanbul. The greatest tribute that we can pay to him today is not to look back at his death but to look at the murder of innocent children in Yemen whose lives he tried to save with his journalism and which matter just as much as his did.

I realise that I have not asked a question, so let me say this. In that light, what possible justification can the Foreign Secretary offer for the Saudi air strike last week on the Save the Children-supported hospital in Kitaf, which was clearly marked on the Saudi no-strike list? The strike killed three adults and four children, including an innocent child aged just eight years?

Let me tell my opposite number that that is exactly why we are doing everything that we possibly can to try to create peace in Yemen. It is why I am the first western Foreign Minister to meet the Houthi side, even though they were the ones that were the cause of the conflict when it began four years ago. I am the first western Foreign Minister to visit Yemen to see where we could progress the Stockholm accords. I am not prepared to let Labour pose as the great humanitarians, as their foreign policy is to support an evil regime in Venezuela that stops its own people accessing food and medicine—it just does not work.

Does the Foreign Secretary understand the frustration we feel in this House when time and again over the last four years, including on Jamal Khashoggi, we get the same response from the Government? They regret what happened, they want a proper investigation by the Saudis, they promise real consequences and nothing ever happens. There is no investigation, there are no consequences and bin Salman carries on with complete impunity.

I ask the Foreign Secretary yet again what it will take for this Government finally to tell bin Salman that he cannot keep getting away with murder.

The right hon. Lady just is not reflecting what has happened. Thanks to action by this Government and other Governments, a judicial process started in Saudi Arabia on 3 January and we are sending observers. We have a UN special rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, who is responsible for looking at extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and she is leading an independent international inquiry.

When I became Foreign Secretary—the right hon. Lady was shadow Foreign Secretary then, too—we did not have a peace process in Yemen, and now we do, which is thanks to the UK and the huge diplomatic effort we have been making.