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Economic and Security Ties with Allies

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 26 October 2021

3. What diplomatic steps her Department is taking to strengthen economic and security ties with international allies to help challenge hostile actors. (903831)

We are deepening our economic and security ties with allies, including the United States, members of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and India. We need to win the battle for economic influence through free enterprise and economies based on democracy.

Boosting our economic ties with India could provide opportunities for businesses in my constituency of Leigh and across the UK. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that she will do everything she can to turbo-charge that relationship?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I was in New Delhi and Mumbai last week doing just that. India is a key strategic partner for the United Kingdom. It is the world’s largest democracy. There are huge opportunities. We are shortly about to launch trade talks with India and we are working to increase two-way investment flows.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary to her role and congratulate her on becoming the second woman in history to hold the post. I think I speak for Labour Members when I say that we look forward to welcoming the third. The Foreign Secretary is right to make delivering build back better a priority. COP26 will fail without a commitment to clean and reliable infrastructure in the developing world. We will never be taken seriously in Beijing if we do not claw back some of the influence we have lost in the world. She is right to identify that being a pushover with the Treasury does nothing for our national interest and nothing for our national security. However, the non-official development aid budget has been halved—ODA spending is down by £4 billion—and the Treasury’s accounting tricks will leave her coffers almost empty. With just days to go until the most important climate summit in a generation, has she clawed back some of that funding in tomorrow’s Budget, or will we see the same story playing out of a Foreign Secretary who is not taken seriously in Beijing because she is not taken seriously around her own Cabinet table?

I thank the hon. Lady for her warm welcome to the Dispatch Box. I look forward to working with her over the coming years—many, many years. I do not think the Chancellor would be very happy if I announced the spending review today—and I am not sure you, Mr Speaker, would be very happy either. However, I assure her that we are absolutely prioritising our humanitarian aid budget. We are prioritising women and girls as part of our development budget, and we are prioritising investing in honest, reliable infrastructure in developing countries, particularly clean, green infrastructure.

If the Foreign Secretary is still the only person in this country who has not seen the contents of the Budget, may I refer her to the Daily Mail, which has the entire read-out for her and for the rest of us?

When the Foreign Secretary’s budget has been devastated over the past 10 years of Tory Government, can she not see the problem with no new money being announced in the Budget tomorrow? The Department she inherited was hollowed out under her predecessor and everything that she says she plans to do depends on her ability to reverse that. This House needs not more words but a serious plan. Only a few months ago, Members of this House made clear our view that what has been happening in Xinjiang constitutes genocide. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the UK’s application to join the trans-Pacific partnership, which she mentioned in relation to an earlier question. However, China’s application leaves open the very prospect that this House sought to avoid and that her predecessor blocked. We should not be entering into preferential trade arrangements with countries that commit genocide. If she cannot give the House guarantees that she has won the battle for resources, can she at least guarantee that she will veto China’s membership if the application is successful?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady about the terrible atrocities that are taking place in Xinjiang, and I raised that with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, on the phone last week, as well as our concerns over Hong Kong, which I have also raised publicly. It is important that we trade with China, but we need to ensure that it is reliable trade, that it avoids strategic dependency and that it does not involve the violation of intellectual property rights or forced technology transfer. I urge China to respect the rules of the World Trade Organisation. Of course, the United Kingdom is not yet a member of the CPTPP, so we do not have rights over decisions, but I am clear that any country that enters the CPTPP needs to follow its high rules and standards, including high environmental and labour standards.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend to her place at the Dispatch Box. Given her past experience and her former jobs, can she tell us how she will build on the economic power of the United Kingdom to develop our strategic influence around the world? This country grew rich not on the force of arms, but on the force of law and the different ways in which we have traded and travelled around the world. It would be fantastic to hear from her how she will use the office she now holds to defend the place of law both at home and abroad and to shape our alliances to promote our interests.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that developing our economic ties with like-minded allies is vital to developing our influence in the world and also the influence of free enterprise, freedom and democracy. That is why we are pursuing trade deals with the likes of the CPTPP, India and the United States, which are all democratic and free enterprise-based. We now have a unique opportunity, as post-Brexit Britain, with all the tools at our disposal—development, trade, diplomacy and security—to build those links that I describe as a network of liberty across the world.

I know the Foreign Secretary will agree that the sharply reducing ice in the Arctic is producing huge environmental challenges and serious economic and commercial opportunities, but also therefore an increase in security risks and the possibility of militarisation of one kind or another. Does she agree that the Arctic is an area worthy of intense diplomatic activity in the years to come?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Following our successful partnership with Australia and the United States on AUKUS, we are looking for similar partnerships that cover regions like the Arctic, working with close allies, such as Canada.

I also welcome the Foreign Secretary to her place. Like many other Members, I look forward to seeing many more glossy pictures of her in exciting places around the world doing her job looking fabulous. Perhaps she should sign them for Members keen to have more images of her.

That would be most kind, if the Minister can arrange that. Consistency in international law is vital for credibility and for building trust, none more importantly than in Cyprus, where part of the island remains under illegal occupation. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the only basis for peace in Cyprus is a bizonal, bicommunal federation and that any speculation —we have heard some speculation—to the contrary would be deeply unhelpful and a retrograde step?

I am pleased to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s reading material. What I would say on the subject of Cyprus is that the UK supports a comprehensive settlement based on previous parameters set out in the UN Security Council resolution, so I do not agree with the premise of his question.