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G7: Charlevoix, Quebec

Volume 791: debated on Monday 11 June 2018


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the G7 summit in Quebec. The G7 is a forum that allows close allies with shared history and values to discuss issues that affect the security and prosperity of our people and of the world at large. Discussion at this year’s summit focused on our shared efforts to promote the rules-based international order; to advance free and fair global trade by making the global economy work for everyone; to strive for equal opportunities for all our citizens; and to drive further action to protect the environment, and in particular our oceans. As was clear over the weekend, there was strong debate and disagreement on some issues, but, after detailed discussions between leaders and our teams, we were able to find common ground and draw up a communiqué which reflected these discussions and the agreements we reached.

I want to pay particular tribute to Prime Minister Trudeau for his leadership and skilful chairing, which enabled us—after two days of negotiation between leaders—to agree actions and a shared approach on some of the most pressing challenges facing the international community and our citizens. The UK fully intends to honour the commitments we have made.

Recent events have underlined the importance of a strong international response to malign state activity. We cannot stand by when international law is undermined, when the security of our citizens is compromised and when foreign interference in our democratic institutions threatens the values and interests that we share. So at this summit we agreed to establish a new rapid response mechanism. As a result, G7 nations will work together to share intelligence, co-ordinate action and develop new strategies to tackle this growing threat.

We also agreed that we must maintain the global norm against the use of chemical weapons and that we will strengthen the ability of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for chemical weapon attacks. We all agreed in our discussions and our communiqué that we need to maintain sanctions on Russia in light of its failure to fully implement the Minsk agreements in Ukraine and that we stand ready to take further restrictive measures if necessary.

Turning to trade and the global economy, it is clear that in many of our countries some people feel left behind by globalisation and that not all countries are playing by the rules. We must address this. We need to make the international rules-based trading system work better so that the benefits of free trade can be felt by all. This includes encouraging the World Trade Organization to operate more effectively in supporting a global economy that works for everyone. Multilateral action is the right way to achieve this. It cannot be done by taking unilateral action against your partners.

So at this summit we expressed deep disappointment at the unjustified decision of the United States to apply tariffs to steel and aluminium imports. The loss of trade through tariffs undermines competition, reduces productivity, removes the incentive to innovate and ultimately makes everyone poorer—and in response the EU will impose countermeasures. But we need to avoid a continued tit-for-tat escalation. That is why it was right that we had such an open and direct discussion at this summit and why, as a champion of free trade, the UK will continue to support a constructive dialogue. As long-standing allies we do not make progress by ignoring each other’s concerns but rather by addressing them together.

Turning to equality, there was a special session at this summit focused on empowering and supporting women and girls around the world. Efforts to tackle global poverty are fundamentally undermined as long as millions of girls are not getting the education they deserve. So at this summit the United Kingdom announced £187 million of new funding to support over 400,000 girls in developing countries in getting 12 years of quality education.

We also called for new action to prevent gender-based violence, abuse and harassment online. Women and girls must be able to use the internet without fear of being subjected to online rape threats, harassment, cyberstalking, blackmail and more. Following the UK’s call for action last year, tech companies have made real advances in tackling online terrorist propaganda. In Canada I called for this work to be extended to end the abuse targeted specifically at women and girls. We committed in particular to new joint working on stopping the internet being used to facilitate people trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Finally, on World Oceans Day, the UK sought to build on the international agreements we reached at the Commonwealth summit in April by calling for a global effort to protect our oceans from avoidable plastic waste. This is one of the great environmental challenges facing the world today. This summit recognised the need for global action, including working with business, industry and non-governmental organisations to find innovative solutions. The UK is continuing to lead by example at home through our 25-year environment plan, and on Friday we proposed to extend the blue belt protecting sea life around the English coast, with a further 41 new marine conservation zones.

This was a difficult summit with, at times, some very candid discussions, but the conclusion I draw is that it is only through continued dialogue that we can find ways to work together to resolve the challenges we face. The countries around the G7 table have been pillars of the rules-based international order, which has benefited all our citizens and, I believe, the world as a whole. The United Kingdom, with our allies and partners, will continue to play our part in promoting that order to the benefit of all. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the Prime Minister on resisting the temptation to issue her Statement on the summit on Twitter.

We agree with the opening remarks in the Statement: it is worth reminding ourselves of the purpose and value of the G7. These seven developed, large modern economies have recognised both self-interest as a group and wider world responsibilities. We have worked together during financial crises and on the sustainable development goals, and we have taken action on debt for the heavily indebted poor countries. There have obviously been criticisms of that time, but these gatherings have been optimistic and have sought to be effective and responsible.

This time, it is fair to say that expectations were pretty low before the summit, but I suspect that the real outcomes—not just those in the communiqué—are more worrying than anyone anticipated. It is increasingly clear that, despite the best efforts of G7 members to seek to manage and engage with President Trump, the US President does not abide by the same rules. It may appear chaotic, but his unpredictability has become very predictable. Even as other G7 leaders and the EU Council President thanked Prime Minister Trudeau and his team for hosting the summit, President Trump tore up the diplomatic rule book to decry the Canadian Prime Minister as being “weak” and “dishonest”. Those now trademark forthright tweets appear to isolate him from the G7 as an effective group and, whatever agreements are reached and whatever compromises are made, it is not certain whether the agreement or acquiescence of the US will last as long as the flight home.

One part of the Prime Minister’s Statement evoked memories of the understatements of Sir Humphrey Appleby and Jim Hacker in “Yes, Prime Minister”—the part where she says:

“This was a difficult summit with, at times, some very candid discussions”.

How well this was illustrated by the marvellous photograph of Chancellor Angela Merkel, supported by the other leaders, as she leans forward across a table to a seated President Trump, with his arms folded, looking away from her at something in the distance—he did not want to look at her. You could almost hear that “candid discussion”.

The implication of this summit is that it appears that President Trump does not see himself or the US as part of a global strategy seeking a consensus on key international issues. Indeed, he does not appear to value his association with the UK. The Prime Minister has made much of her special relationship with President Trump, and Ministers have been vocal in their opinion of the necessity of this, particularly in a post-Brexit world. However, when asked about his relationship with the G7, President Trump declared that the level of his relationship was a 10 with “Angela, Emmanuel and Justin”, very pointedly and deliberately ignoring Mrs May and, later, briefing against her. If our Prime Minister has irked the President in some way, it could well be to her personal credit that she has done so, but it does not bode well for our transatlantic special relationship. It also means that our relationship with our European partners is all the more essential.

Even without US endorsement, there are some good and strong outcomes in the communiqué. We appreciate that the G6 has signed up to a progressive, value-based programme that is to be welcomed. It includes the condemnation of Russia’s destabilising behaviour in seeking to undermine democratic systems, its support of the Syrian regime and the attack in Salisbury. Yet, although initially signing up to this, President Trump also called for Russia to again be part of a G8 summit.

We welcome the recognition that ensuring that all citizens benefit from the proceeds of growth is essential for a cohesive modern society to meet the challenges ahead. Given the imposition of the new US tariffs, to which the noble Baroness referred, President Trump’s intentions, if not the accuracy of the assessment, could not have been clearer. The Prime Minister refers to the open, direct discussion, but President Trump did not sound like he was discussing it with anyone. He said:

“We’re like the piggy bank that everyone’s robbing. And that ends”.

He went on:

“If they retaliate…we win that war a thousand times out of a thousand”.

This is clearly a difficult situation. Can the noble Baroness say anything more about the implications for the forthcoming EU summit and what discussions she has already had with our current European partners?

The commitment to a more secure and peaceful world and advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment are important statements but, to be effective, they must jointly be acted on with political will and adequate funding. This was also a key issue at CHOGM earlier this year. I ask the noble Baroness, if she can respond today, how this builds on the CHOGM discussions. Is it consistent with the outcomes from that conference?

The statement on the protection and sustainability of our oceans and coastal communities is clear and far-reaching. Was the impact of the US withdrawing from the Paris agreement properly discussed? The comment at the end of that section of the communiqué is conciliatory to the US, but that US decision has serious implications.

If we are to build a more peaceful and secure world, all countries must abide by international law and their international responsibilities. Yet, in the past few days, the Italian Government have refused to let a rescue ship dock despite it carrying around 600 refugees, including young children, unaccompanied minors and pregnant women. That undermines those international agreements and the sense of shared responsibilities that underpin bodies such as the G7 and the G20. What discussions have the UK had with other EU countries regarding this situation and future implications?

I hope that, when the noble Baroness answers the questions today, she will also turn her attention to the value of the relationship we will have in the future with our EU partners.

My Lords, it is easy to feel some sympathy for the Prime Minister and the other non-US members of the G7 today. It must be extraordinarily frustrating dealing with an American president given to “fits of anger”, to quote President Macron, and they must all share Chancellor Merkel’s view that it was “sobering and a little depressing”. Again, Sir Humphrey would appreciate the understatement in that phrase.

For the Prime Minister and her colleagues, though, it must be particularly depressing because a large part of the case which Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and others make for Brexit rests on the assertion that the UK will receive a warmer welcome from the other English-speaking countries in negotiating favourable free trade arrangements if we free ourselves from the shackles of the EU. America’s supposed commitment to free trade was the key to that argument, as was the closeness of the special relationship which, we were told, would guarantee British leaders easy and preferential access to the White House. President Trump has now demonstrated that he does not believe in the special relationship at all. The Prime Minister does not even feature in the list of leaders with whom he has a good relationship—or, rather, had a good relationship, before he fell out with all of them—and he rejects the principles of free trade. This leaves the justification for leaving the EU to pursue more open markets elsewhere dead in the water. How appropriate that it was World Oceans Day with the Government and the G7 so at sea.

The G7 meeting has rightly been described as a G6 plus one, with the UK aligned with France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan in resisting the arguments of the US. However, only last week our Foreign Secretary was describing our European neighbours as the enemy rather than the allies with whom we are most closely associated and with whom we share interests and such close values. It is hardly surprising that the Prime Minister appeared to play only a marginal role in this summit, while Merkel and Macron stood up to Trump. Is it not the case that we have now marginalised ourselves as a nation and lack any coherent foreign policy whatsoever? The EU will now impose retaliatory measures against the US tariffs on steel and aluminium, but the Prime Minister is urging caution. In the Statement, she says that she wants to avoid tit-for-tat measures, but that is what countermeasures are. Could the Leader of the House, therefore, explain what sort of measures the PM does think appropriate? Could she explain what the Prime Minister hopes to gain by resisting calls from the rest of the EU for a firmer response?

The Prime Minister also said that, as long-standing allies, we do not make progress by ignoring each other’s concerns but by addressing them together. What do those words mean in the context of the attitude of President Trump, and by what means does the Prime Minister propose to do this in practice? Is she really going to start replying to President Trump’s tweets, or is there some sense in her mind about what those words might mean?

The world today is in greater disarray than it has been for decades. Nothing in the Prime Minister’s Statement would give you any sense that that is the case. In these circumstances, you need to embrace your friends in order to rebuff those who do you harm. This weekend has demonstrated that our friends are in Europe, and that we should be standing with them and not planning a walk into the wilderness.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. I say again, as the Prime Minister made clear in her statement, this was a challenging summit, and we are not denying that, and there were difficult discussions, but we continue to believe that continued dialogue is the way to make progress.

In relation to the communiqué, as we said, it was agreed by all parties. We fully intend to honour it, and we certainly hope that the US will also stand by the agreements made, and we will continue to have discussions around that.

On the question that the noble Baroness asked about Russia, the Prime Minister was very clear that, before any conversations can take place about Russia’s future involvement in this group, it must change its approach. Of course, we have to remind ourselves why the G8 became the G7. It was because of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea—again, a point that was reiterated at the summit.

On the questions on climate change, the Prime Minister once again made it clear that we remain firmly committed to the Paris Agreement, and the international momentum that underpins it, we believe, is irreversible. What we now need to do to move forward is agree on a robust set of rules to enable it to function effectively. While we may differ on the Paris Agreement, we still believe that within the G7 we can work together on solutions to address impacts and build greater resilience while creating economic opportunities.

The noble Baroness rightly raised the issue of the ship that was not taken by Italy or Malta. I think it is good that Spain has now said that it will step in, so we are very pleased that progress has been made there. Of course, we will continue to support international efforts to effectively manage migration flows, tackle people smuggling and prevent people from making perilous journeys across the central Mediterranean Sea. We are committed to working with European partners in continuing with our efforts to aid Italy and other countries with the issues that they face.

On the comments by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about our relationship with the United States, it is true that of course difficulties were experienced in the summit, but we remain strong partners and allies. We have of course recently worked together to expel Russian spies, to increase bilateral data sharing and to make plans for the next generation of F35s. Of course, when the President visits in July, we will be able to continue some of the discussions that we have had over the past few days.

The noble Baroness asked about the £187 million of new funding announced at the summit. That will support more than 400,000 marginalised girls in developing countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It builds on the commitments made at the Commonwealth summit and the announcement of £212 million for phase 2 of the Girls’ Education Challenge. Those funds will help nearly 1 million marginalised girls across the Commonwealth to benefit from quality education to 2025.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness both asked, quite rightly, about tariffs. I reiterate the point that the EU will impose countermeasures, but we all want to avoid a continued escalation and to maintain a constructive dialogue. We will continue to work with the EU and the US to achieve a permanent exemption. The Commission is required to seek member state approval for any countermeasures to come into effect; it has announced its intention to do that this month. We made the point that we believe that the US tariffs hit the wrong target. China alone was responsible for roughly half of the overcapacity in steel in 2017. We believe that we need to use the G20 Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity, in which China is involved, to help encourage a reduction in excess capacity. We also need a concerted international push to strengthen the global system of trade rules.

We of course want to continue to work constructively with our EU partners and friends. At this summit, we stood firm with them on a number of issues and we will continue to do so.

My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that, for some of us, this is an almost surreal communiqué? It talks about the agreement of communiqué, but the President of United States has already resisted it. We are committed to the World Trade Organization, but the United States Administration are currently doing their utmost to undermine the global trading system, including—as I read in my emails this morning—by resisting the appointment of new judges to the arbitration procedures. So we have a crisis in the global trading system that this Statement does not begin to reflect.

Does the noble Baroness also accept that the commitment to a “rules-based trading system”, which is again proclaimed in the Statement, is resisted by many within her own party as incompatible with British sovereignty when it comes to the European Union and that their suggestion that the World Trade Organization will be sufficient does not come to terms either with the weakness of the world trading system or with the necessary compromises of sovereignty which those international rules would require of Britain?

Lastly and most importantly, since the Secretary of State for International Trade and the Foreign Secretary appear to regard the EU as the enemy, and the sooner we get out from co-operating with it the better, can the noble Baroness inform us whether we intend to co-operate with the other members of the EU in imposing countermeasures for the next nine months, for the next nine months plus the transition and implementation period or for longer? We thought that solidarity with the EU was something that we were about to get rid of.

I reiterate that we remain a leading supporter of the global rules-based trading system. However, we accept that some elements of the WTO could be improved and we will continue to discuss issues such as improving transparency and dealing with state-owned enterprises and industrial subsidies with our partners—but we believe that the WTO plays an important role at the centre of our system.

On the noble Lord’s question on steel tariffs, I have said that we are working with our EU partners to achieve a permanent exemption. We will work with them in relation to countermeasures. The Commission will be required to seek member state approval for these to come into effect, which it intends to do this month. We will of course be involved in those discussions.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for the repetition of the Prime Minister’s Statement, which contained a report that the G7 agreed to strengthen the power of the OPCW to attribute chemical attacks. The OPCW does not have such a power—another UN body did, but it was closed when the Russians exercised their veto to stop its mandate being renewed. So how does the G7 without Russia intend to give this power to any body in the United Nations? Is there any explanation? What did the Prime Minister actually agree to?

The communiqué agreed that we must maintain the global norms against the use of chemical weapons and there was agreement among leaders on the need to strengthen the ability—as the noble Lord pointed out, it is not there at the moment—of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks. As he will be aware, there is a special conference of state parties later this month, which will be an important moment to demonstrate our determination to reinforce the Chemical Weapons Convention. We will, of course, be an active participant.

My Lords, it would appear from what happened earlier today or late yesterday that President Trump has dissociated himself from the communiqué. Is that officially the position, or is the United States still officially signed up? When are we likely to have the pleasure of welcoming President Trump to this country? I think it would be a good thing if he did come, because he could hear what we think, as well as us hearing what he thinks. Has his invitation been confirmed?

As I think I mentioned in answer to another question, the communiqué was agreed by all parties. We fully intend to honour it and we hope that the US will continue to stand by the agreements made. I believe that President Trump’s visit is on 13 July: I could be wrong but it is certainly in July. He and the Prime Minister discussed the visit briefly and both are looking forward to it.

My Lords, the G7 was a total disaster so far as the values of freedom and democracy that we in the West have upheld for decades are concerned. The next major meeting of international leadership will be the NATO summit next month. What lessons do the Government think they will have learned from the G7, particularly about President Trump’s views on NATO, to ensure that the NATO summit does not end up like the G7?

As the Statement said, the conclusion the Prime Minister drew from this summit is that it is only through continued dialogue, through whichever forums, that we can work together to resolve issues that may have been raised. Of course, we will also make very clear to President Trump, as we have been doing consistently, that we are firmly committed to meeting the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP. Chancellor Merkel herself has admitted that President Trump has a point about Germany’s comparative low defence budget, so I am sure that there will again be robust discussions, but I am sure that continued dialogue is the way forward. President Trump has identified his commitment to NATO in the past and we look forward to seeing that continued during the summit.

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, leaves the House in even greater confusion. Is it the position of the Government that President Trump still endorses the final communiqué that he is said to have signed, or that he does not? On what evidence does the noble Baroness say that she thinks that he does still intend to support the commitments in the communiqué?

What I said was that we hope that they will continue to stand by the arrangements. I do not speak for President Trump, so I cannot give the noble Lord the answer he wants. I think I have been pretty clear about our position and what we expect and hope to see from the United States.

Will the Minister please give us the benefit of her observation on the fact that we heard only a few months ago from members of the Opposition in this House and the other place that President Trump would not be welcome in this country and that the Government should not extend an invitation to him—yet those same people are now saying that we are at the bottom of the list of his affection? I would suggest that hypocrisy comes to mind.

As I mentioned, the President and the Prime Minister had a brief word about his visit; they are both looking forward to it. We will take the opportunity to advance our common interests further, reflect on the importance of the relationship between our two countries and, no doubt, have further robust conversations.

My Lords, Russia has been mentioned on a number of occasions this afternoon. Is it anticipated that sanctions targeting Russia will exist in perpetuity, given that there are many who apparently believe that they will never exit Crimea—or were different scenarios considered?

The leaders were very clear that the duration of sanctions is linked to Russia’s complete implementation of its commitments in the Minsk agreements, and we stand ready to take further restrictive measures if necessary, should their actions require it.

My Lords, as we have time, I wonder whether I can help the noble Baroness. She was asked twice about President Trump’s reaction to the communiqué and whether he has signed it. In a tweet yesterday, he said:

“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US reps not to endorse the communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the US market!”.

It would seem clear that he has withdrawn any support he gave to the communiqué at the meeting.

As I have said in answers to a number of questions, all I can say is that we hope that they continue to stand by the agreements. We will certainly continue to honour them and we will continue to have discussions with President Trump on these issues.

May I ask again for a reply to the question I asked: will we continue to apply EU countermeasures to the United States after March 2019? This is an important question—and if there is no answer now, could we have one in the next few days?

What I can certainly say is that we understand the importance of the steel industry in this country. We want to make sure that jobs are protected and we will continue to do that going forward. I will see if there is any further information that I can provide.

My Lords, the Leader of the House will confirm that, notwithstanding our leaving the European Union, we will still be a member of the G7, working closely with other members, and that we will be in a position to agree and, in so far as possible, enforce any relevant sanctions.