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Rules-based International Order

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2019

International institutions and international law have since 1945 provided the framework for a sustained rise in global peace and prosperity. As a permanent member of the Security Council, we consider the United Nations to be the foundation of peace and security around the world. The UK has been at the forefront of efforts to defend the system—for example, by challenging Russian attempts to undermine international institutions and international law.

I thank the Minister for that response. Further to UN resolutions 39 and 47, and the 2018 report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights detailing the shocking human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir; what steps is he taking with India, Pakistan and other regional powers to secure a further resolution at the UN Security Council and a lasting settlement between these two nuclear-armed nations?

The UK’s position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the situation in Kashmir, taking account of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. We consistently encourage India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue as a means of resolving differences. It is not for the UK to prescribe a particular solution or act as a mediator.

Does the Minister agree that the international rules-based order is underpinned by treaty, and if Britain were to leave the European Union with no deal we would be walking away and turning our back unilaterally on treaties? Not only would it be an act of self-harm to our country, but it would undermine the system of the rules-based international order itself.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in crowbarring this into questions, but my main focus under this question is much more about the United Nations and multilateral institutions.

I do not know whether to be pleased or astonished at the Minister singing the praises of the United Nations. Presumably, this means that the Government will be taking every step they can to comply with the recent resolution on the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands?

It is not a binding judicial decision, as the hon. Gentleman absolutely knows. He can expostulate as much as he wishes—it is a great act to watch—but he know the facts and I am sure he would admit it if he were pressed further.

I note that the hon. Gentleman is advised to expostulate rather than to expatiate. It is an interesting essay question in its own right as to the respective merits of each.

There are clear international rules regarding British sovereignty in Gibraltar, yet Spain continuously and repeatedly breaches the integrity of the maritime waters surrounding the Rock. What will the Minister do to remind Spain of its obligations under the rules-based international order?

Any such incursions in the proper waters of Gibraltar are always responded to by us. We watch them closely, but I very much hope that there can be no increase in tension and that we can in the years ahead reach a very settled position between ourselves and Spain on the absolute rights of Gibraltar as a British sovereign Rock.

I had hoped to start by congratulating the Foreign Secretary on making it to the final two in the Tory leadership race, but unfortunately, to coin a phrase, he has chosen to bottle the very first question, perhaps because he knew some of the issues that we were going to raise. But if the Minister of State is answering on his behalf, may I ask whether our potential future Prime Minister will commission an independent public inquiry or authorise a full parliamentary inquiry to establish which Ministers or civil servants over the past four years have been responsible for authorising arms sales for use in Yemen, even when, as the courts have found, it is clear there was a high risk that those arms would be used to commit war crimes?

I am very happy to join the right hon. Lady in congratulating my right hon. Friend on reaching the final two and indeed the final one—that is what we look forward to, for the good of the country. I am sorry that she was not sufficiently nimble of foot to save up such a question for topicals, when I am sure she will get such a chance. However, as she well knows, all of our arms sales meet the most rigorous rules, and we will continue to adhere to them.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but all the arms sales have not met the most rigorous rules. That is the whole point. He knows that there are men in this Chamber and beyond—Ministers—who ignored the evidence of risk to innocent civilians; guilty men, Ministers who signed off the export of arms that have now been found to be unlawful. Two of the men responsible for those decisions are the candidates to be our next Prime Minister.

Let me ask a related question, for which the Foreign Secretary has exclusive responsibility. It is now almost nine months since Jamal Khashoggi was murdered. Thanks to the Senate, we know that the CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Salman most likely ordered that murder, and we have heard from the United Nations that there is credible evidence for that conclusion. Will the Minister simply tell us, nine months on, when he will produce an official assessment of who ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Unlike Yemen, this is entirely on his watch.

I am afraid the right hon. Lady appears not to have read the 20 June Court judgment, which acknowledged “rigorous”—her very word—“robust” and “multi-layered” processes

“‘carried out by numerous expert government and military personnel’, upon which the Secretary of State could rely”.

As the right hon. Lady appreciates, my responsibilities do not cover Saudi Arabia, but we speak directly to our Saudi counterparts on all such matters, including arms and human rights.

Does the Secretary of State, who we hope will get to his feet for once on this question, not agree that the selling of weapons to a regime that murders journalists and civilians and repeatedly breaks international humanitarian law entirely undermines the United Kingdom’s role as a proponent of the rules-based international order?

I hope that for the time being at least I am an adequate substitute for the Foreign Secretary in answering these questions; it is a perfectly reasonable allocation of a question to a broad thematic policy area for which I am responsible. Within that broad theme, I assure the House that we endeavour to maintain the highest standards, not only within the rules-based international system but when it comes to the export of arms.

I welcome the Minister’s response, most notably his reference to this House, because earlier this year it was our own House of Lords Select Committee that reported that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia were “unconscionable” and that the UK Government are “on the wrong side” of the law. Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful. The Government’s actions have been denounced by the upper House of the legislature and ruled unlawful by the judiciary, so on what grounds does the Secretary of State, or, indeed, the Minister, still insist on selling weapons to the regime?

The Court judgment did not say that our arms sales are unlawful. It criticised an aspect of process that we are studying very closely and will address. It is incorrect to say that our arms sales to Saudi Arabia are wholesale unlawful.