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Brexit: Foreign Policy

Volume 788: debated on Thursday 25 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the foreign policy implications of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union post-Brexit.

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions, we remain committed to European security and values. Having reached sufficient progress on phase 1 of the negotiations, we will now begin work on the new, deep and special partnership. We will work with European partners to develop the details of an ambitious relationship, including on foreign policy, and alongside the negotiations we will be seeking even stronger bilateral relationships with member states.

Currently, the high representative represents the European Union in its increasingly global activities, which are very important to this country. I have yet to hear any coherent plan from the Government on how we are going to relate to her work—at the moment there is an Italian high representative—and how we are going to balance that with our increasing representation in individual EU countries without stripping our assets from the rest of the world.

My Lords, as I have already said, the UK, after we leave the European Union, will remain committed to strengthening ties with the remaining members of the European Union. The noble Lord may well have seen the common foreign and security policy document that we published in September, which laid out some of the key areas of discussion. On his point about European partners, I am sure that he followed very closely the UK-French summit only last week. The issue of security on a bilateral basis, for example, among other areas, was discussed in a very deep way. That underlines the continuing sense of respect and importance that is given by European partners to the UK’s role after we leave the European Union.

My Lords, is not the implication of what my noble friend has said that, as we develop our deep and special relationship, we are going to need a great many more bilateral links with, obviously, the other 27 members of the European Union and the wider world? Does that not indicate that perhaps the time has come to put an end to trying to run large parts of our foreign policy on a shoestring?

My noble friend is right that it is important to look at this issue in broader terms. Of course, our European relationships are important, but I reiterate that we remain members of the Security Council, the G7, the G20 and, of course, NATO. My noble friend is right to raise the important point of resourcing. The Foreign Office budget—the core budget—will increase next year to £1.24 billion. My noble friend may also be pleased to hear that we are also looking to add support to the Foreign Office network within a European context.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that last year we found ourselves in very close harmony with France, Germany and other European countries on a number of events, including climate change, Jerusalem and the Iran nuclear deal? Does he thinks that is pure happenstance or that there is a pattern there? By the way, does he think that we still control the bridge across the Atlantic between the United States and Europe, or is it controlled perhaps by President Macron?

Taking the noble Lord’s second question first, our relationship with the United States is important and strong. Indeed, the importance of NATO was reiterated and emphasised by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister during her meeting with the President in Washington. On the question of how we will continue to work with our European partners on important issues such as climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, that meeting demonstrates that we are close to the United States but, because of our candid and strong relationship, we are able to have those conversations to ensure that, as we have seen both on climate change and the Iran deal, we can make strong representations to the US in a way that will, we hope, allow it to think again.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with all those who say that we have had a disproportionate influence on foreign policy within the EU? Does he also agree that European ambassadors, including ours, of course, work together in countries and before summits to maximise our influence further? What kind of arrangements and resources will the Government seek to make sure that this influence is not reduced further than it already is?

First, I disagree with the noble Baroness’s final point that the influence is decreasing. On the contrary, I have not found that when I have travelled across the world. For example, when I was in Ghana, we had various meetings with the EU representative as well as our high commissioner on the ground. The noble Baroness will know that the specifics are yet to be determined, but it is very clear to me and the Government that we will continue to have very strong ties with our European partners. Recent events such as the UK-French summit and the meeting in Poland demonstrated that other European partners take the same view.

My Lords, the key point is that our deep relationship and partnership has added value to collective action. The world faces its biggest refugee crisis, and leaving the EU will weaken our ability to act collectively. What are the Government doing to ensure that in the future, working with DfID and the ODA budget, we can act collectively in Europe to protect our security interests, not least the humanitarian concerns facing the world?

We are, I believe, one of only a few leading nations that fully manifest our commitment to our defence spending and our development spending, which I know all noble Lords support. On the noble Lord’s substantive point about how we will continue to work with our European partners on important issues which he raises such as the refugee crisis that we have seen on European borders, again, if he was to look at the detail of the recent summit with the French, he would see that these kinds of issues come to the fore and decisions are being taken. While, yes, we are leaving the European Union, we will look to work in a collaborative way with our European Union partners once we leave.

My Lords, would the Government agree that we built and released an empire and saved Europe from herself in two world wars without any assistance from Brussels? Is not any new EU army pretty well bound to be a dangerous failure, like the EU itself?

The United Kingdom is proud of its role during the two wars, and the alliances we built then with our European partners are important. On his question about an EU army, I believe there is no formal proposal on the table, and if there was and we were to remain a member of the EU, we would not support it. However, because we are leaving the EU, it will not be a relevant question for us.