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United States: Diplomatic Relations

Volume 810: debated on Monday 1 March 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to conduct their diplomatic relations with the Government of the United States on the basis of sovereign equality.

My Lords, we look forward to deepening the close alliance between our two sovereign nations. At the G7 meeting on 19 February we welcomed President Biden’s reaffirmation of the centrality of the transatlantic partnership in dealing with the challenges the world faces. We will work closely with the Biden Administration through our presidency of the G7 and COP 26 this year. With so many commonalities between us, we are confident that the UK/US relationship will continue to prosper and strengthen.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Frost, the Prime Minister and others have declared that sovereign equality is a vital principle for becoming global Britain once more. I assume it ought to apply to all relations with other countries, which suggests we should renegotiate some of the structurally unequal aspects of the US/UK relationship, such as the status of US bases in Britain and the arrangements on extradition. Or do we need an alternative concept for the US/UK special relationship: sovereign dependence?

My Lords, our partnership with the US reflects some of the points that the noble Lord has raised and yes, that includes defence and security. The bases in the United Kingdom underline the importance of not just the UK/US relationship but of our working together in partnership to strengthen institutions such as NATO.

My Lords, America is back. President Biden has reset US relations with the Middle East, in particular with Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Will the Government follow the US line in respect of bypassing the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and freezing arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

My Lords, I acknowledge what the noble Lord says about US re-engagement on important issues on which we partner, and I understand the premise of his question on the relationship with Saudi Arabia. Our relationship is important, but we call out human rights issues, among others, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our arms exports are managed through a very rigorous arms export regime.

The Foreign Secretary told the Munich security conference that we have restored sovereign control over our foreign policy, as if we did not amplify our influence through the EU. He also said that the first deployment of our new aircraft carrier to the Indo-Pacific will have a squadron of American F35 jets on board and will be accompanied by an American destroyer. Is this our new sovereignty?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know from her experience that we work very closely with our allies, of which the United States is the important one, and that includes co-operation on defence and security. We should recognise the positive nature of this engagement.

My Lords, in our relations with the United States, could we please make it clear that what we welcome from the new presidency is more emphasis on partnership in a networked and completely changed world and rather less talk about merely resuming American leadership, as back in the 20th century? For instance, does my noble friend agree that the future of Asia, in which our nation and national story are increasingly involved, goes beyond just US/China competition and that the revival of the nuclear joint agreement with Iran needs a careful coalition of countries and cannot be done by American diplomacy alone?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That is why the United Kingdom has engaged on an Indo-Pacific tilt in terms of our foreign policy strategy and development objectives, and it is why we are seeking dialogue status within ASEAN. On the JCPOA, we welcome recent announcements from President Biden’s Administration. It is important that Iran also reach out and adhere to the structure of the JCPOA so that we can progress discussions further.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to the unequal nature of the UK extradition treaty with the US. On February 12 last year, the Prime Minister referred to the treaty and said:

“I do think that elements of that relationship are unbalanced, and it is certainly worth looking at.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/2/2020; col. 1.]

Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will begin to work towards a fairer, more equal extradition arrangement with the US Government?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stated the Government’s intent. We regard our relationship with the United States as a partnership. The relative size and mobility of the populations of the UK and the US naturally results in a greater number of extraditions from the UK to the US than from the US to the UK. Nevertheless, I note what the noble Baroness said and I think my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made our views very clear.

My Lords, picking up the point made by my noble friend, the biggest humanitarian crisis the world faces is in Yemen. Surely it is now time for the UK to work with our biggest ally, mirror the actions of the United States on arms sales and step up our contribution and humanitarian effort. However, according to press reports, instead of stepping it up and leading the way we are about to cut our aid support in Yemen from £181 million to £90 million. I hope the Minister will be able to say that we will not be doing that.

My Lords, the conflict in Yemen has brought great misery to its people, as is clear from our television screens and from what we have seen in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. On ODA allocations for future support, Yemen will remain the key priority country, but those decisions are yet to be taken.

It is a special pleasure today to greet the House and say, “Have a very happy St David’s Day”, not only because of the rugby result but because we are discussing American presidents. Two of the greatest—Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln—were of Welsh heritage. When President Biden comes, I ask that he have discussions not only with Westminster people, with us in this Parliament, but with the Parliaments in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

My Lords, I am sure the President’s team have noted the noble Lord’s suggestion and will reflect on it.

My Lords, notions of sovereignty are clearly contested, even in the way we use the language. Is it time for a public education programme through which the Government can explain why pooled sovereignty with the EU is a deficit for the UK but when it is pooled with the United States, it is seen as a positive?

My Lords, your Lordships’ House is always an education for any Minister. I note very carefully what the right reverend Prelate has said. Partnerships are about ensuring that we play to the strengths of the partnerships we have, and that is what global Britain is all about.

My Lords, from sovereign equality to gender equality. We have seen some very welcome progress from President Biden’s Administration on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Does the Minister agree that we have a great opportunity to work closely in partnership with the United States in international development to make real progress on gender equality and SRHR? Specifically, can he say how the Government will make the most of this opportunity in the coming months and years?

My Lords, the short answer to my noble friend is yes. As the PSVI lead on preventing sexual violence I am looking forward to engaging with my US counterparts.

My Lords, government strategy strays occasionally into individual policy pragmatism over consistency when deemed in the national interest: building back for a better world by ensuring accountable government globally, the eradication of corruption and being in lockstep with respecting human rights, including sanctioning leadership impunity. If that is so, is the right choice therefore not just to be sovereign equals with the US or elsewhere but a combination approach, equally embracing multilateralism and supporting policies because, individually, they are the right ones to champion?

My Lords, there is little in what the noble Lord has said that I disagree with. As ever, he provides valuable insights into our relationship with the US and other partners.

My Lords, in 2017, the then Vice-President Biden declared that he and President Obama believed that deterrence of a nuclear attack should be the sole purpose of the US nuclear arsenal. As a presidential candidate, he pledged work to put that belief into practice in consultation with allies. This language was adopted in the Democratic Party’s official 2020 platform. I understand that consultations with the UK have begun. What is the Government’s position on the US nuclear declaratory formulation that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear abuse against it or its allies?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, we welcome the re-engagement of the US, in particular on its obligations through NATO. That will form the basis of how the United States continues to strengthen defence alliances with the United Kingdom and others in the defence of not just the interests of the United States but those of its allies.

In paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, as a historian, I remind noble Lords that we come together on the eve of the famous speech given 75 years ago in 1946 by Winston Churchill when he defined what the relationship was all about. He said that

“in the days to come the British and American peoples will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together side by side in majesty, in justice and in peace.”

Long may that last.

My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked. We now move to the next Question, which is the fourth Oral Question and I call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.