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Commonwealth: Diplomatic Relations

Volume 641: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2018

During the recent Heads of Government meeting at the Commonwealth summit, we announced the opening of nine new missions, to great acclaim throughout the Commonwealth. They include six high commissions in Lesotho, Swaziland, the Bahamas, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu. As I have told the House before, we are expanding the UK diplomatic network to become the biggest in Europe.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments. It was great to see so many Heads of Government attending CHOGM last month. Does he agree with Her Majesty that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations under the worthy leadership of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales?

My hon. Friend asks an extremely good question, though he sets a very high bar in asking me in any way to disagree with Her Majesty the Queen, which I will not do because I think that the Prince of Wales will serve admirably as the next head of the Commonwealth.

Intra-Commonwealth trade is expected to increase to £1 trillion by 2020, which is up from £560 billion recorded in 2016. However, Commonwealth nations take just 9% of UK exports of goods and services. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, post Brexit, bilateral trade relations with the Commonwealth will be more important than ever and will provide us with an exciting opportunity to sell our goods and services and set up new trade deals with a third of the world’s population?

My hon. Friend is, of course, entirely right: we have a huge opportunity to build new associations and new trade deals with some of the fastest growing economies in the world comprising, as she knows, 2.4 billion people, but without in any way prejudicing our ability to do unimpeded free trade deals with other countries and to maintain the advantages of free trade with our European friends and partners.

Will the Foreign Office review its current position on the plight of the Chagos islanders, who should be granted immediately the right to repatriation in their home in the Indian ocean territories?

As the hon. Lady knows, we are currently in dispute with Mauritius about the Chagossian islanders and Diego Garcia. I have personally met the representative of the Chagossian community here in this country, and we are doing our absolute best to deal with its justified complaints and to ensure that we are as humane as we can possibly be.

Bearing in mind the recent return of Zimbabwe to our Commonwealth family, can the Secretary of State tell us what other countries might be about to join the Commonwealth? Is it too much to hope that perhaps the Republic of Ireland might be one of them?

In these questions, it is important not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Zimbabwe is a great news story at the moment, but, alas, she has not yet reapplied for membership of the Commonwealth. We await that application to the Commonwealth secretariat. It is certainly something that the UK and other countries would strongly support, as we discovered at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are other countries that are in the pipeline, but they are yet to identify themselves publicly.

Will my right hon. Friend explain how the UK is working with allies such as Australia to bolster Commonwealth ties in the south Pacific as a counter balance to growing Chinese influence in places such as Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her question, and it has been raised specifically with me by our friends in the south Pacific that they want to see the UK back there. A head of an island there described to me his sense of grief at seeing a vacant UK seat at a recent meeting—I will not name the country in which the meeting took place. We are filling that seat; we will be back there in all the countries that I have just announced.

I do not know whether “Fox and Friends” has broadcast in any Commonwealth countries, but can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether appearing on breakfast TV is now an official part of UK diplomatic foreign policy, or is it reserved only for countries with which we have a special relationship?

I cannot comment on whether “Fox and Friends” is broadcast across the Commonwealth, but what I will say is that we should use every possible means at our disposal to reach out to our friends not just in the Commonwealth, but in the former Commonwealth—the United States of America.

Order. I am sure that colleagues will not wish to be deprived, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will place a copy in the Library of the House for their delectation in the long summer evenings that lie ahead. [Interruption.] The transcript, man.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Malaysia on her recent outstanding elections, which have seen the return of the first ever opposition party since independence? It shows that democracy is alive and kicking in Malaysia. Does he agree that there is much more that we can do together, not least through an extended relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations?

Not only that; I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work he does to promote relations between the UK and ASEAN. He works tirelessly on that dossier. Malaysia certainly presents extraordinary opportunities for the UK. A massive friendship and partnership already exists with the country, and we look forward to building relations very fast with the new Government of Mahathir Mohamad.

We are all delighted that there was a successful Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this year. Among the valued Commonwealth members are of course the Caribbean countries. We know that Caribbean Foreign Ministers raised the issue of Windrush deportations with the Foreign Office in 2014 and that high commissioners did so in 2016, so will the Foreign Secretary tell us what discussions he and his Ministers had at that time with their counterparts in the Home Office?

I must respectfully tell the hon. Lady what I am sure she knows very well: this is a matter for the Home Office. We certainly alerted the Home Office to the issue, but the question of how to manage immigrants in this country is a matter for the Home Office.