FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE
The Secretary of State was asked—
US Administration: UK Foreign Policy
I met Rex Tillerson in Bonn last Thursday and Friday. We had some very good conversations, and I am sure we will have many more meetings in the weeks and months ahead to entrench and deepen a relationship that has been part of the foundation of global peace and prosperity for the past 70 years.
Could the Foreign Secretary confirm that when he met the Secretary of State last week he said unequivocally that Her Majesty’s Government think the ban on travel proposed by President Trump for Muslim countries is simply wrong?
The right hon. Gentleman will know very well that the Government did not support the travel measures that were introduced by the Executive order. They were not something we would commend to this House and it was not the kind of policy we would like to see enacted in this country, and we made that very clear to our friends in America. It was by engaging constructively with the White House and others that we were able to secure the important clarification that the Executive order would make absolutely no difference to any British passport holder, irrespective of their country of birth.
I am pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary’s reports of the discussions he had with the Secretary of State, but will he tell us a bit more about how he plans to manage the important tripartite relationship between the UK, the EU and the US, post-Brexit?
The hon. Lady asks a good question. Obviously, on some things we will differ from our American friends—we have just had an example of that—but on some areas we will perhaps wish to stiffen the spines of our European friends. I can think of issues such as sanctions over Ukraine, on which some EU members are not in quite the same space as we are. As would be expected, the policy of the United Kingdom would be to stick up for UK interests and values and—if I can use a bit of jargon—to triangulate dynamically between the two.
On standing up for British interests, Mr Trump’s track record suggests that any deals he agrees to are likely to be to our disadvantage. What will the Foreign Secretary do to ensure that British businesses benefit from any deals with the United States, not just American ones?
If I may say so, it is important to be clear-eyed about American power and success in negotiating trade agreements and to recognise that we will have to be on our mettle to get a good deal for this country. Nevertheless, I have absolutely no doubt that we will be able to do such a deal. It is a great shame that in 44 years of EU membership we have not been able to secure a free trade deal with the United States. That is now on the table.
In his discussions with the American Secretary of State, did the Foreign Secretary discuss the best opportunity for a state visit by President Trump? Did he put forward my suggestion that the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers in 2020 would be a much better occasion for a state visit than one in the course of the next few months, which is likely to be a rallying point for every discontent in the United Kingdom?
I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting suggestion; I am afraid to say that it is not one I had time to make to our American counterparts. Let us see how the matter of the state visit evolves. The invitation has been issued and accepted, and I am sure it will be a great success.
Next time he meets the Secretary of State, will my right hon. Friend tell him that if the current discussions between the US Department of Defence and the State Department lead to their recommending to President Trump that they put American ground troops in northern Syria to combat ISIS, the British Government will not be following them?
I have to tell my right hon. Friend that I am not aware of any such proposal. Nor do I think, having listened quite attentively to the language being used by the White House and the State Department, that we are going to see the imminent contribution of ground troops in that theatre. Nevertheless, the advent of the Trump Administration does offer the possibility of new thinking on Syria and the hope of a new way forward.
Last week, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and I went to Jordan as guests of Oxfam, and we met a number of Syrian refugees, notably Khalid who lives in the Zaatari refugee camp. He was due to start a new life in America literally within the next few weeks. It is difficult to put into words his sense of despair that all his hopes and dreams for a new life have been shattered by President Trump’s decision to ban all refugees from going to America. When my right hon. Friend next gets the opportunity, will he please not hesitate to tell President Trump that this ban on refugees brings great shame on his country and that he should lift it immediately?
My right hon. Friend will know full well that we have already expressed our disagreement with the travel ban and the policy on refugees. I think she was in the House when I explained the Government’s view on that policy. By contrast, this country can be extremely proud of the fact that it not only supports that particular camp in Jordan—indeed, we have recently agreed another £30 million to support that individual operation—but is the second biggest contributor to the humanitarian effort in the region, with £3.2 billion already pledged.
But has policy triangulation not meant that the British Foreign Secretary is trying to anticipate what American policy will be and then to mimic it? Interpreting what American policy will be or who will be implementing it must be very difficult just now, so will he at least wait to see what the policy is before, for example, changing policies such as the two-state solution in the middle east?
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the policy on the two-state solution in the middle east remains unchanged not only for Her Majesty’s Government, but, so too, to the best of my knowledge, for the United States’ Government, to judge by the recent press conference. For the guidance of the House, let me just say that it is my general impression that the policy of the United States is migrating ever more towards a position of congruence with our policy rather than the reverse.
Was it the Foreign Secretary’s idea to offer a state visit to President Trump after seven days in office? Given that the Foreign Secretary once famously declared that he would not go to New York in case he was mistaken for Mr Trump, is there any chance that President Trump will not come to London on a state visit in case he is mistaken for the Foreign Secretary?
I am embarrassed to say that I was mistaken for Mr Trump in—I think—Newcastle, which rather took me aback. It also happened in New York, which was a very humbling experience for me. I cannot say who was the exact progenitor of the excellent idea to accord an invitation to the President to come on a state visit, but the invitation has been issued. It is a wholly appropriate thing for the British Government to do, and it will be a great success.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when there is fresh fighting in Ukraine and when Russia continues to carry out large-scale exercises close to the borders of the Baltic state, some of them with nuclear capable equipment, there has never been a time in recent years when our relationship with America and keeping NATO together have been so important for Europe as a whole?
My hon. Friend is completely right, which is why it was so important that our Prime Minister, on her very successful recent visit to the White House, secured from Donald Trump the 100% commitment to our NATO alliance, which has been the guarantor of peace in our times.
We know that Trump’s Muslim ban adopts Daesh’s narrative, which is that it is the west against Islam. In fact, the Home Secretary said that it would bolster terrorists at home and abroad. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence about the increased threat to UK national security as a result of Trump’s immoral and racist policies?
We remain constantly vigilant against the terror threat as a result of all international policies, but, as I have said before, the seven countries in question were previously singled out by the Obama Administration for particularly tough visa restrictions. The hon. Lady will be aware that this Government have already signalled their disapproval of the ban to which Opposition Members are rightly objecting.
Did Mr Tillerson quantify the length of the queue of countries seeking to do a free trade deal with the United States, and outline where Britain’s place was in that queue?
Rex Tillerson was absolutely clear that he regards the relationship with the United Kingdom as one of pivotal importance for his country. Indeed, NATO is of pivotal importance for the safety not just of European countries, but of the United States. He was also clear, of course, that the UK will be at the front of the queue for a new trade deal.
President Trump boasts of running a finely tuned machine, but the truth is that American policy is under review when it comes to all the world’s major crises—from Ukraine to Syria, and Afghanistan to North Korea. I hear from the Secretary of State that there is new thinking, but we have yet to see anything coherent coming out of America. The finely tuned machine has not so much stalled as not yet got going. The resulting vacuum is being filled by the Russians, with peace talks on Syria and Afghanistan taking place without US or UK involvement. Is the Secretary of State happy to keep waiting for President Trump’s cue or is he capable of thinking for himself? Will we see a British initiative in any of these countries; and, if so, where is he going to start and what is the plan?
The finely tuned machine that is the Labour party is a fine one to offer any kind of political advice to the American Administration. As the right hon. Lady knows very well, the UK has, in fact, been in the lead in trying to find a solution in Yemen, and in trying to maintain the commitment to AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia. She should recognise, in all fairness, that the current area of diplomacy being considered by the United States in respect of Syria is a course that the UK has principally advocated—one in which the Russians and the Iranians are separated in their interests, and we move towards a political solution and a transition away from the barbarism of the Assad regime.
I have to say that if that’s a plan, I’m a monkey’s uncle. The fact is that the Government have been frozen out of negotiations on some of the most pressing issues we face. Take Afghanistan, where there have been 450 British fatalities over 15 years. The American army general on the ground, John Nicholson, describes the fighting as having reached a stalemate that may take several thousand more troops to break. In the meantime, Russian-led peace negotiations are going on in the absence of America, the United Kingdom and, in fact, every other NATO member, so I ask the Secretary of State again: when will we start seeing some leadership from this Government?
If the right hon. Lady is referring to Russian-led peace talks in Afghanistan, I think she is in error. Perhaps she is talking about the Astana talks on Syria. It is strongly our view and the view of all Syria-supporting countries that those negotiations should resume as soon as possible in Geneva.
The right hon. Lady talks about the UK’s contribution to Afghanistan, and I think that she and the whole House can be very proud of the sacrifice made by those 456 British troops who lost their lives over the past 15 years. Hundreds of thousands of women in Afghanistan are now being educated as a result of the sacrifice made by British troops and the investment in that country by the British people. There are people who are now getting food, water and sanitation, which they would not otherwise have received.
The Foreign Secretary and I took part in the Geneva conference on the Cyprus settlement on 12 January. We welcome the Cypriot leaders’ commitment to resuming political level talks next month. We are keen to maintain momentum and stand ready to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that third-country guarantees should have no place in a new settlement for Cyprus, because Cypriots should be able to determine their own future without the threat of external military intervention?
It is up to the two sides to decide what future security arrangements they want for a united Cyprus that will enable both communities to feel secure. As a guarantor power, the UK is playing a supportive role and is open to any arrangement that is acceptable to the two communities.
I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that Northern Ireland has had a partnership Government who have moved forward, bringing communities together. What has been done to offer advice from Northern Ireland to bring forward a political process that works, especially in relation to gas and oil exploitation, which could benefit all of Cyprus?
I think the example of Northern Ireland is an example to the whole world, and it has been of benefit in the likes of Nepal and Colombia. The issue of Cyprus is slightly different, but I hope that the lessons from Northern Ireland can be taken into account and that they can help inform the progress we would like to see in Cyprus.
Does the Minister agree with the view of the all-party parliamentary group, which visited Cyprus last week, that the best hope for a solution is the dedication and courage of both Cypriot leaders, freely negotiating, and a realisation in the communities that the status quo of a divided Cyprus is untenable? Does he agree that we need to ensure that Turkey gets that when it comes to security and guarantees?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think we all applaud the good faith and dedication of the two leaders, who are working tirelessly towards a solution. There are other ingredients that are necessary, such as the co-operation of the two main countries next door, Greece and Turkey, and—this is very important—successful referendums in each community.
The last time negotiations in Cyprus seemed close to a deal, the effort collapsed when hackers broke into the UN’s computer systems and the documents were leaked to a pro-Russian Cypriot newspaper. The inflamed communal tensions that followed had a major role in scuppering the chance of a deal. What assurance can the Minister give that lessons have been learned from that experience and that proper safeguards are now in place to protect the negotiations from any undue influence from outside?
We have a very close association with the UN special representative, Mr Espen Eide. I am confident that he will have thought of this possible intrusion into the successful negotiations, and I hope that those safeguards are properly in place.
Global Britain Campaign
Global Britain is a programme to help to explain to the world, but also to the people of this country, what I think they do not often suspect, which is the full range of Britain’s military, cultural, commercial and diplomatic influence in the world. It is important to do that now, particularly as we make our Brexit—or Bre-entry into the world, as we should perhaps call it—to help people to understand that a more global Britain will be a more prosperous Britain.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us how the various initiatives on building a global Britain as we leave the EU will help the people of the Yeovil constituency and the south-west of England?
I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that over the next 10 years we will, for instance, be spending £178 billion on defence—we are one of the few countries in NATO to contribute 2% of our GDP to defence. As a result, there will be more funds available, for instance, to support companies in Yeovil, such as the helicopter company Leonardo MW, which, as far as I know, builds Wildcat submarine-hunting helicopters, among other vital bits of kit.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, in addition to defence spending, soft power—including the effective use of aid and increasing levels of trade and investment, which are helping businesses to find the most suitable partners—remains an essential part of the UK’s approach to boosting security in some of the more dangerous parts of the world?
I quite agree. Perhaps I can just give Members one stunning fact, which should seldom be off their lips when selling UK universities, for instance, to the world: of the Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers in the world today, one in seven was educated in this country, and London has more international students than any other city in the world.
I think the Foreign Secretary’s brother probably told him that.
Could we have a note of honesty in terms of an assessment of the nasty little hard Brexit campaign? Will the Foreign Secretary, instead of insulting the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as he did last week, take seriously the danger to this country of a hard Brexit? The people of this country did not sign a blank cheque, and they want a real vote on how good the deal is with Europe as we leave it.
I do not think that anybody could seriously say that the former Prime Minister has been insulted by any remarks I made last week. What I was trying to get over was my strong feeling that the debate was had last year and everybody understands that we are going forward with a new approach for this country— a global approach. It will be a clean Brexit and, I think, a highly successful Brexit, as the Prime Minister has said.
Given that a famine has just been declared in South Sudan, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that a truly global Britain will respond to such crises rather than siphoning off the aid budget on diplomatic empowerment funds?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that the UK is one of the only countries in the world to contribute 0.7% of GNI to overseas development. We have a fantastic record not just in Sudan but across Africa. He is right to draw attention to the approaching famine in South Sudan. We have sent 400 troops to help deal with that emergency.
We remain deeply concerned about the UK consular cases in Iran and continue to raise them with the Iranian Government at every opportunity, including when I visited Tehran last month and when the Foreign Secretary met his counterpart, Javad Zarif, in the margins of the Munich security conference.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He is familiar with the case of Mr Foroughi, a 77-year-old father and grandfather to constituents of mine who has been detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for almost six years. Does my hon. Friend agree that at a time when Iran and the west’s relationships are under increasing scrutiny, the exercise of clemency in this case, and others like it, would demonstrate Iran’s commitment to constructive engagement with the international community?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I am grateful for the work that he has done in liaison with the family. I was able to meet Kamran Foroughi, the son, on 25 January. I spoke to Ambassador Baeidinejad about the case this morning and when I visited Tehran last month. I am pleased to see that Mr Foroughi is now going to receive the health test that he has been requesting, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a case for clemency there that I hope will be answered.
Is anyone in the British Government able to make direct contact with the Iranian revolutionary guard, because they are the people who are arresting and falsely imprisoning our nationals? Surely if we are speaking only to the puppets in Tehran, no one from Britain is going to be safe to visit that country.
I think we should be careful in the language we use. The Iranians, like those in many countries, do not recognise dual nationality, and therefore we have to conduct these matters with diplomacy. Our avenue with the Iranians, which was not there a couple of years ago, is through the Iranian Foreign Ministry and our interlocutors there. We have had communications from our Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, as I said, and now me, with our embassy opening as well.
EU: Science and Technology
The Prime Minister made clear on 17 January the high priority this Government place on their science relationship with Europe. The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), is in regular contact on this issue with his European counterparts, including the European commissioner.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there are no barriers to the UK joining future collaborative ventures, and that the UK intends to pursue those collaborative ventures with high-tech beacons around the world, including Hong Kong and Israel?
The Government aim to secure the best possible outcome for UK science and research as we leave the European Union. The EU and the UK have publicly emphasised the importance of continuing to work together to produce high-quality research, so both at home and abroad we will remain at the forefront of science and research.
In paragraph 10.14 of their White Paper, the Government tell us that they
“would welcome agreement…with our European partners”
on science and technology issues, but they give no indication of how that agreement will be achieved—no timetable, no detail and absolutely no guarantees. Will the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place, rather than simply telling us that the Government have had discussions?
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads on science, but this will be an essential part of the negotiations we conduct with the European Union after we have triggered article 50.
I do not see why not, especially as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is living proof that the woolly mammoth can return from extinction.
The Government are committed to strengthening our Commonwealth engagement, in continuing the theme of global Britain, and we look forward to hosting the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting in March and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018.
Can the Minister tell me how he believes the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting, to which he referred, can be used as an opportunity to promote the Commonwealth as a trading network?
We should not forget that the network of 52 states is very important to Great Britain. It has a combined population of 2.2 billion people, including 1 billion people under the age of 25. In the post-Brexit environment, we are looking for trade deals. When we travel across Africa, and indeed the Commonwealth in general, the first question that is asked is, “What are the opportunities for Britain, now that you are liberated from doing business through Brussels?” The ministerial meeting that is coming up is a great opportunity for us to embark on looking towards the trade deals that we need for the future.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the cross-party majority in the vote on the EU-Canada trade deal? What priority is the Minister giving to completing that deal and ensuring that similar arrangements are made with our Commonwealth Canadian friends and cousins post-Brexit?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are contained until article 50 has gone through, but Canada is another example—along with the United States, of which the Foreign Secretary made mention—of where we can push forward trade deals to the benefit of the United Kingdom.
I congratulate the Minister, who has responsibility for Africa, on visiting nine countries on the continent along with three other Ministers over the recess. May I encourage him not just to look at the existing Commonwealth and at bringing in old players such as Gambia, but to get Zimbabwe back and, off the back of Mozambique and Rwanda, perhaps to look at inviting the Ivory Coast?
My hon. Friend, with his experience, is absolutely right. The Foreign Secretary has been to Gambia, Ghana and Liberia, and I was in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Again, I stress the opportunities there. As we venture across Africa, there are huge opportunities for Great Britain to advance our trade deals post-Brexit.
Does the Minister agree that increased assistance to promote democracy in countries such as Bangladesh is a vital part of strengthening ties between the UK and members of the Commonwealth?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. These are countries with which we have a history and a relationship. We are trusted, and through organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the British Council and our embassies, consulates and high commissions we can certainly do that work. We hope to embark on such projects with Bangladesh and other countries across the Commonwealth.
With the Commonwealth encompassing 52 members and a third of the world’s population, is it not vital that we set out our stall for Britain by saying that we want a free trade deal with Commonwealth countries, and that the Government put forward a plan for achieving that—not least in tomorrow’s Westminster Hall debate on this subject, which I have secured?
I am sure, after that advertisement, that Westminster Hall will be packed tomorrow. My hon. Friend is right: Commonwealth trade will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, and trade across the Commonwealth is estimated to be actually 20% cheaper because of common legal systems and language and, indeed, trust. Those are exactly the areas to which we need to aspire, given our leadership role in the Commonwealth.
But 90% of those who live in the Commonwealth live in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Tanzania has, only this week, announced that it intends to publish lists of people in the public domain who are meant to be homosexual. That is a massive danger to those individuals, and it poses further risks to others because Tanzania is trying to close down all the HIV/AIDS units and to blame homosexuality for HIV. Do we not need to enter all our negotiations with our Commonwealth colleagues with our eyes wide open and making it very clear that we will not put up with this kind of thing?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. I will be visiting Tanzania soon, and I will certainly take that message with me. It is important to understand that, in the trade advances we are making across Africa, we do not miss the opportunity to raise delicate matters such as this, so that 21st-century standards can be met.
We maintain excellent relations with Japan. We have close defence co-operation, and the recent visit by RAF Typhoons was a very visible demonstration of that co-operation. Japanese businesses employ 140,000 people in the UK, which shows our strong economic ties.
Does my hon. Friend agree that North Korea’s recent ballistic missile test, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, shows how important it is that we maintain strong military and security relationships with our friends in Japan and South Korea, as well as strong trade relationships?
The actions of North Korea are a direct violation of multiple Security Council resolutions and a threat to international peace and security, not least to our friends in Japan and South Korea. Last week, as the House will know, the North Korean ambassador was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where we made clear the UK’s concerns. Japan is of course our closest security partner in Asia, but we also enjoy close co-operation with South Korea, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies.
Does the Minister agree that the innovative technology sector is very important for trade between Japan and the United Kingdom, in which we in Northern Ireland excel? Will he ensure that the sector is promoted very heavily in Japanese-United Kingdom relationships for the benefit of the Japanese workforce, but particularly of those who are developing the sector here?
As I have said, we of course enjoy very close trade relations with Japan. When I was in Japan last year, I met Japanese companies. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the biggest ever acquisition in the UK out of Asia was the acquisition of ARM Holdings by SoftBank for £24 billion.
Will the Minister engage with his Japanese counterpart to get the latest assessment of Japan’s attempts to resolve its dispute with Russia over the Kuril islands?
We of course maintain close links with Japan—and, in fact, with all our allies—on matters related to security, and we continue to have dialogues across a range of issues, including those that my hon. Friend has raised.
Last week, the Scottish Government’s external affairs Minister visited Japan to boost foreign investment, but the hard Tory Brexit is causing a cloud of uncertainty. Given the pending EU-Japan free trade agreement, will the isolationist hard Brexit agenda leave the UK trailing behind?
Along with ministerial colleagues, I talk regularly to Japanese businesses to hear their views. May I just say that, since the date of the referendum, a huge amount of investment from Japan into the UK has been confirmed? I have referred to the ARM Holdings deal, but, as the hon. Lady will know, Nissan has reaffirmed the super-plant in Sunderland. If that is not a vote of confidence in the UK, I do not know what is.
Yes, indeed. I met Prime Minister Netanyahu and repeated the historic UK position, which is that we believe the settlements on the west bank are illegal and constitute a barrier to a peaceful settlement in the region.
President Trump has caused great concern for peace in the middle east by dismissing a 20-year US commitment to a two-state solution. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK remains committed to a two-state solution and will redouble its efforts?
Yes, I certainly can—and, if I may say so, I think the hon. Gentleman misrepresents what the US President said.
We are aware of the preparations being made by Hamas in Gaza and we remain very concerned about the situation. It underscores the reality that while Israel is of course at fault for the expansion of settlements in the west bank—we have made that absolutely clear—on the other hand nobody should underestimate the very real security threat facing Israel. We are firmly on the side of the Israelis as they face that threat.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that just two days ago dozens of stop-work orders, which are usually regarded as precursors to demolition orders, were distributed in the village of Khan al-Ahmar, including to a primary school that serves over 170 children from local Bedouin communities? He may or may not know that the school is being visited by a large number of hon. Members from this House, and that if demolitions take place there to make way for settlements the chances of a viable Palestinian state will disappear. Is he making representations on this matter, and what action will he take to ensure that Mr Netanyahu heeds those representations?
I, of course, deplore demolitions, although, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, there is a difference between settlements and demolitions taking place in the west bank and demolitions within green line Israel.
Does my right hon. Friend think that our opposition to settlements is somewhat diluted by treating all settlements equally? The Oslo accords and the late President Arafat recognised that there would be land swaps. Would it not be better, as the Prime Minister said, to concentrate on new settlements and leave the existing settlements for a final decision?
The Government’s policy is unchanged. We regard settlements as illegal insofar as they are in occupied Palestinian territories. Members will be absolutely clear that sooner or later—I hope sooner rather than later—there will be a deal and an understanding that involves land swaps. As my right hon. Friend rightly says, we will have to show some sense when it comes to doing that deal.
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave a moment ago. My hon. Friend the Minister will be going to Israel very shortly. When we have got to the bottom of the exact complaint she is making, I am sure he will raise it.
Alongside concerns about the rearmament of Hamas and the rebuilding of its network of cross-border terror tunnels, does my right hon. Friend share the growing alarm at the new activities of Daesh in the Sinai desert, which, together with the activities of Hamas, point to the prospect of further violence in the region and a new wave of terror attacks on innocent Israeli citizens?
My right hon. Friend is completely right. What he says underscores the need for a regional solution that brings together all the states surrounding Israel to do a deal that brings the Palestinians, finally, to the table, and brings concessions from the Israelis.
Is not the truth of the matter that the Israeli authorities have at no stage over the years ever wanted a viable independent Palestinian state? President Trump’s inane comments have strengthened the ultras in Israel. What encouragement can one give to the Palestinian people in view of the continuing destruction of their homes and the building of settlements by Israelis?
Every Israeli Prime Minister in the last 20 years has supported a two-state solution, and that is the right way forward. It is the policy of the UK Government and remains the policy of the US Government. The difficulty will be to get a deal that not only allows the creation of the Palestinian state that I think everybody wants to achieve, but protects the security of the state of Israel.
But last week President Trump said very clearly on televisions across the world that he could “live with either one” of a two-state or one-state solution. I am sure the Foreign Secretary agrees it is deeply disappointing that the President could casually disregard so many years of international consensus on a possible peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Did Mr Netanyahu give any hint at his recent meeting with the Prime Minister that he too was prepared to live with a one-state solution? If so, what was her response?
Let us be absolutely clear. As both the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and indeed the Palestinians, have said, there needs to be dialogue, but at the moment I do not think that the Palestinians are committing to dialogue in the way they could and should be. It takes two to negotiate. We have seen no progress over the last eight years. Let us not rule out the possibility of progress today.
Leaving the EU: Defence
We are strongly committed to European scrutiny and will remain so after we leave the EU. NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence, and we will continue to play our full part in supporting European security, particularly in eastern Europe.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to NATO, but does he not find it as depressing as I do that while other EU countries are completely obsessed with creating an EU defence identity, they are failing miserably to meet their NATO requirement of spending a minimum of 2% of their GDP on defence? Is not the foot-dragging by Germany, the richest country in Europe, and its refusal to honour that commitment until 2024 particularly perverse?
We continue to make it clear that nothing should cut across NATO’s role as the cornerstone of European defence. Other parties’ contributions being fairly distributed to NATO would make sure that NATO can remain the force it needs to be.
The Foreign Secretary mentioned the sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine. Will the Minister confirm that even when we leave the EU it will be open to us to democratically agree such sanctions with the rest of the EU where it is in our mutual interest?
That is not specifically a question about defence policy, as on the Order Paper, but none the less I can reassure the hon. Lady that the answer is yes. Some kind of parallel structure for implementing sanctions will be required and I am sure will be agreed.
Burma has made welcome progress towards democracy since embarking on reforms in 2011. It has lifted media censorship and released political prisoners, and held legitimate elections in 2015. The military remains powerful, however, and under the constitution is granted 25% of the seats in Parliament. Clearly, we want to see a transition to full democracy.
The National League for Democracy, in power at the moment, continues to lock up those of its own activists who have spoken against the excesses of Burma’s military and its treatment of ethnic minorities. Will the Minister make it clear to the Burmese Government that it cannot be recognised as genuinely democratic if it keeps putting its critics behind bars?
Human rights are vital, of course, and we always ask any Government to make sure that they are observed. More broadly, the issues right now are stopping the violations, securing humanitarian access and delivering accountability in parts of Burma where it is lacking, and those are precisely the points my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pressed the Burmese Government and the military on when he visited Burma last month.
Burma’s Rohingya Muslims were banned from voting in last year’s elections, and have since been excluded from dialogue between the military and other ethnic minority groups. Endemic violence against the Rohingya has recently been described by UN officials as ethnic cleansing that may amount to crimes against humanity. Did the Foreign Secretary raise the plight of the Rohingya with Daw Suu and the generals on his recent trip to Burma?
Yes, he most certainly did.
By the next time I answer questions in the House, the Government will have invoked article 50. My priority for the rest of the year therefore will be to ensure the smoothest and cleanest possible departure from the EU consistent with maintaining close co-operation with our European friends. I shall also strive—the Opposition can never achieve this—to work alongside the new US Administration as we deal with common challenges posed by Russia and the crises in the middle east.
In July 2015, the highest court in Colombia decided that Her Majesty’s Government had discriminated against its embassy employee, Mr Darwin Ayrton Moreno-Hurtado, on the basis of his ethnic identity and religious convictions. The court ordered his immediate reinstatement, yet Her Majesty’s Government stubbornly continue to refuse to obey the court in Colombia. Does the UK Government not take seriously the judicial decisions of courts in Colombia, or do they not take seriously the need to cease ethnic and religious discrimination against their employees in Columbia?
As the hon. Gentleman well knows—I have written to him in detail—it is impossible to reinstate that person as the job no longer exists.
My hon. Friend will know that we have a programme to support the return of children whose parents are stuck in the wrong country. We do it through our—oh, what is it? We do it through our proper processes in making use of all our consular services.
I am sure the whole House will welcome the recent positive political developments in the Gambia. The Gambian authorities are already investigating allegations that the former President Jammeh smuggled millions of dollars’ worth of assets out of the country before his departure last month. What steps are the Government taking to help track down any missing assets, including any that might have ended up in the UK, and to make sure that any proceeds of corruption are returned to the Gambia without delay?
We are doing everything we can to support the Gambia’s judicial system. The hon. Lady will know that the new President Barrow has indicated that he would like the UK to be the Gambia’s principal partner of choice in tackling corruption in that country and putting the Gambia back on an even keel. I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that when I recently went to the Gambia, there were crowds in the street dancing—[Interruption.] Not necessarily because they were pleased to see me—perhaps they were—but because they were delighted that the Gambia was being welcomed back into the Commonwealth. I can say that their joy was unconfined.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I hesitate to advise the British public what to watch on television, but I have to say that I think they will exercise their infinite sagacity and wisdom in not heeding the siren voices of those who try to overturn the democratic decision of this country’s people last year to embark on a course that I think will lead us not only to democratic emancipation, but to a new course of global prosperity.
We discuss a wide range of issues with the Indian authorities. As for the specific issue raised by the hon. Lady, earlier in the year the state Government of Jammu and Kashmir ordered the establishment of special investigating teams to look into deaths of civilians and the involvement of police personnel during the five-month-long unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, and we will of course monitor their reports closely.
There were also crowds of people to welcome us when we arrived in Ghana a week or two ago. Although we could not quite work out whether the welcome was for us or for the Minister for Trade and Investment, it was thoroughly enjoyable nevertheless.
It seems to me that the greater the number of trading connections that we forge, particularly in west Africa, the stronger the foundation on which to build good international relations will be. Does my right hon. Friend agree that withdrawal from the European customs union will give us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to boost our diplomatic relations worldwide?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work as trade envoy to Ghana. Indeed, I thank all our trade envoys, who do a fantastic job around the world. It is thanks to the efforts of my colleague the Minister for Trade and Investment and others that we are seeing increased trade with countries such as Ghana, and I was very proud to see British firms operating there. I believe that the largest single private sector employer in Ghana is a firm run by a Brit. We should all be proud of the contribution that those firms are making.
The House gave a clear mandate, 6:1, to give the people the decision on whether to stay in the European Union. All sorts of threats and all sorts of blandishments were made to the people of this country to persuade them to vote to stay in. Those threats and those warnings have proved to be fallacious, and I think that all future such threats will be taken with a pinch of salt.
I fully accept that we need to give all the 3.2 million EU nationals in this country the maximum possible certainty, and that we should do it as fast as we possibly can. Unfortunately, however, I do not think it is reasonable to do it before giving certainty to UK nationals in other EU countries. We would like to get on with that as fast as possible, and it is up to our friends and colleagues abroad to join us.
I really must accuse the hon. Gentleman of failing to listen to the answer that I gave a few moments ago. I am not here to defend or explain what the American President said, but he made it very clear that there should be dialogue, and he also made it very clear that he thought that the illegal settlements should no longer continue. The solution is a deal between the two parties, and that is what everyone in the House believes and wants.
Today, once again, the ghastly prospect of famine stalks the world in four countries with which Britain has very close and long-standing historical connections: Yemen, north-east Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure, perhaps through the co-ordinating mechanism of the National Security Council, that every sinew of government is bent to address and combat this unconscionable situation?
Yes, I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. The whole House can be very proud of the work being done by the Department for International Development, and the huge contribution this country makes through UK aid to all four of the regions he identifies. He has recently been to Yemen, and he will know that this is a very difficult and intractable problem, but it is the UK who is trying to knock heads together and get a deal.
If the hon. Lady is suggesting that we should boycott Israeli goods, I must say that I completely reject her advice.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that any global Britain strategy should include the whole of the global British family, which means the British overseas territories and the Crown dependencies? What guarantees will the Government give that they will be included in any new arrangements post-Brexit?
I am certain I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. I know that one prime focus of his thoughts is Gibraltar, and I can assure him that the sovereignty position remains totally unchanged. Gibraltar is fully involved in the preparations for the process of leaving the European Union.
The UN high commissioner for human rights has issued a substantive report on the widespread human rights violations, and of course the UN special rapporteur also referred to violations in her recent press briefing. A full report is due in March. In the light of these two reports, the UK will consider, with international partners, the scope for further enhancing scrutiny of the military’s actions in Rakhine. I can confirm that I will be attending the Human Rights Council.
Brexit provides an opportunity to review the role of the FCO, which has been woefully under-resourced for far too long. Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that there should be a moratorium on any asset disposals until such a review is complete, and that such a review should also examine how finally to bring other Departments with overseas representatives under the control of the respective heads of mission?
I am delighted for the support from my right hon. Friend in campaigning for proper funding for our diplomatic missions overseas. It is true that we have an absolutely unparalleled network around the world, and it is also true that the missions will be needed more than ever as we forge a new global future. That point will be heard loud and clear by the current occupant of the Treasury, who was, after all, the previous Foreign Secretary.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I will be visiting Riyadh this week and having discussions with President Hadi and, indeed, Adel al-Jubair. We are concerned that we need to move towards a political resolution, and we want the military component that has been taking place to end.
The Israeli Prime Minister has recently spoken about coming together with the Gulf Co-operation Council on security issues. Countries such as Jordan and Egypt have played a significant role in previous peace processes. Does the Foreign Secretary think that the GCC has a significant role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
My hon. Friend brings a wealth of knowledge to this subject. I do think that the GCC and the Arab countries more generally hold the key, and that a variant of what used to be called the Arab peace plan is indeed where we will end up. What it will take now is for both sides to see that, and to make progress.
The announcement by Toshiba last week regarding NuGen will mean that new foreign investment will be required for the Moorside nuclear development. Does this not place a new question mark over the UK’s decision to pull out of Euratom, which will create more instability for the industry?
We shall remain a full member of Euratom while we remain part of the European Union, and we intend to make sure that all our research into nuclear fusion will continue after we leave.
We all look forward to the day when a sovereign Palestinian state exists alongside a safe and secure Israel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that can be achieved only through face-to-face negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
I certainly agree with that, and those negotiations should take place as fast as possible and without preconditions.
With Iran testing missiles, Russia plotting coups and North Korea murdering dissidents, does the Foreign Secretary agree that now is the time to renew western resolve and leadership, which has sometimes been lacking during the past eight years?
I completely agree. One of the interesting phenomena of the global reaction to the new US President is how much it is at variance with some of the commentary I have heard from the Opposition Benches this morning. When I go around the world, I find that many people in foreign ministries and other Governments are hopeful that they will see American leadership again where it has been lacking. They are particularly encouraged by the role of the United Kingdom in helping to transmit and improve American policy.
Last week I led a delegation to Kosovo, and I can tell my right hon. Friend that the President, the Prime Minister and others that we met there greatly appreciated his visit. May I invite him to reaffirm our continued support for Kosovo and to take part in any future initiatives to help it?
Yes, I certainly shall. I much enjoyed my time in Kosovo. All those on the Labour Benches who have sprung to the defence of their former Prime Minister today should know that he is memorialised, at least in Kosovo, in that no fewer than eight 16-year-olds there have been christened Tony Blair.
President Putin might be President Trump’s new best buddy, but he is certainly not ours. Will the Foreign Secretary give his full support to the Magnitsky amendments that we are going to debate in a few minutes, which would allow the assets of any Russians involved in the murder of Magnitsky to be seized in the UK?
We will be looking very carefully at that debate as it unfolds, and at the arguments that are made. We think that we have good provision in our statutes at the moment, but we will take account of the debate as it evolves.
I recently had a meeting in my constituency surgery with a delegation from Cameroon regarding the lack of democracy in that country. They described fear, brutality and a lack of education in English-speaking Cameroon. What role can the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the conflict, stability and security fund play in supporting democracy in that area?
First, I want to pay tribute to the diasporas based in the UK that provide us with an understanding of what is going on in their countries. I also pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend is doing, and I absolutely agree with the concerns that she has raised about Cameroon. She is right to point to the conflict, stability and security fund as a way for us to provide funds to achieve that security, and we will be doing just that.
A few moments ago, the Secretary of State confirmed as Government policy something that this House resolved without a Division on 9 February—that there should be a halt to the planning and construction of residential settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Given that that is the case, why is the UK permitted to trade specifically with those illegal settlements?
It is the policy of the UK, and I think of many of our friends and partners, to continue to trade on the grounds that that is the best way to support the economy of the region. Many workers in the region come from populations within the occupied Palestinian territories, and their livelihoods depend on that industry. That policy is widely understood and supported, and we will continue with it.
Order. I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary and to colleagues. We must move on.