I beg to move,
That this House has considered Global Britain.
I am delighted to open this debate on global Britain when, for the first time in 48 years, we now have full control of our trade policy. Back in 1846, Richard Cobden inspired people in Manchester with his belief that free trade would be
“the greatest revolution that ever happened in the world’s history…drawing men together, thrusting aside…antagonism…and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace.”
That revolution continues today, as for the first time in nearly half a century we are a sovereign trading nation free to pursue British interests while promoting British values. Our newly independent trade policy will create jobs, grow our slice of the global pie, and unlock great swathes of the world to the best of Britain.
As we recover from covid-19, we need to think radically about how we generate economic growth and how we are going to use our new global platform in 2021 to promote free and fair trade—how we are going to take on those countries that try to cheat and to undermine free enterprise. In 2020, we negotiated trade agreements covering 63 nations and the European Union, and in 2021 we will use this year, including our presidency of the G7, to champion free and fair trade in an era rife with pernicious practices. We will promote modern rules that are relevant to people’s lives for digital and data trade. We will champion high environmental and animal welfare standards in a science-led approach, and we will push for modernisation of the World Trade Organisation and trade agreements to reflect our values of free enterprise and fair play. We will also build an advanced network of trade deals, from the Americas to the Indo-Pacific, with the UK at its heart as a global services and technology hub. We have already reached deals covering 63% of UK trade, well on our way to our manifesto target of 80% in three years. We want to hit that target and to deepen our existing relationships in areas such as services and technology.
Exports are equivalent to nearly a third of our national income. Trade equals jobs. A job means independence and security, the realisation of our dreams, funding public services and the future prospects of our country. The deals we have done with the EU and our partners across the world, from South Africa to South Korea, mean that our traders continue to enjoy preferential access to world markets.
We have secured arrangements with Turkey that mean that Ford in Dagenham can continue to export its engines tariff-free. We have secured access to the Canadian market for our beef producers, such as the Foyle Food Group in Northern Ireland. We have secured tariff-free access into Mexico for our car exporters such as Jaguar Land Rover, while Scotch whisky—one of our biggest exports—continues to enter markets such as Singapore tariff-free and stays recognised.
All in all, this adds up to £885 billion of trade that we have secured. In addition, we have been able to go further and faster in our deal with Japan, protecting the free flow of data, which benefits industries such as FinTech and computer gaming, regulatory dialogue on financial services and improved mobility provisions, including allowing spouses to travel with businesspeople. We have secured additional protections for our fantastic creative industries, from music to TV, and recognition for geographical indications across the UK, from Welsh lamb to Scotch beef, from Armagh Bramley apples to English sparkling wine, subject to Japanese domestic processes.
This platform allows us to step up this year to show our full potential as president of the G7 and as an independent trading nation. At the G7, we will work to reform the World Trade Organisation, make progress on data and digital trade and promote greener trade. Our new UK global tariff will see around 57% of our imports entering our market tariff-free—more than the 44% that we had under the EU.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful start to promoting global Britain. She speaks of the G7 and the opportunity for us to make our mark in the world. Does she believe that now is the right time to move from the G7 to the G10, and to include Korea, India, and Australia? That would represent over half the world’s GDP in order for us to start looking at the challenges that we face of updating the United Nations, NATO and the WTO, and to make sure that we are in a position to offer a counterweight to China.
My right hon. Friend makes a very powerful point. Allies such as Australia, South Korea and India will be key to forging that group of democratic nations who can stand up for democracy, human rights and fair and free trade, and, of course, we are very committed to working with them this year.
Our new global tariff, as I said, will eliminate tariffs on more than 57% of imports. In particular, it will eliminate tariffs on 100 environmental goods. In short, our new tariff regime is lower, simpler and greener.
Furthermore, we will be working with our friends and family across the world to drive forward free and fair trade, setting the global standard for trade in the 21st century. We are already in deep negotiations with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and, this year, we will apply to one of the most dynamic trading areas on earth—the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Joining is part of our plan to grow our economy by making it far easier for British goods to reach our friends in Asia and the Americas. This high standards agreement would align the UK with some of the world’s fastest growing economies in a free trade area covering nearly £9 trillion of GDP. We will also deepen our relationships with countries such as Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Israel. As well as this, we are working closely with India, the world’s largest democracy, on an enhanced trade partnership, reflecting our mutual interest in technology and innovation. We are also in talks with Brazil and our allies in the Gulf.
While we are talking about the real opportunities for growing Britain’s trade power across the globe and while my right hon. Friend has touched on the aspect of Israel and the Gulf, let me say that we have rightfully been world leaders in soft power and aid during many generations and this should continue, but that we also need to lead in terms of diplomacy. Will she look at taking this back to the Cabinet to consider what we can be doing to expand the Abraham accords to bring not only peace to the middle east, but further trade and aid to that location as well?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right that trade is the key not just to prosperity, but to peace and co-operation between nations. I want to reassure the House that we will ensure that no country is left behind without the benefits of free and fair trade with the United Kingdom. Later this year, we will be launching an emerging markets trade scheme, which will offer the lowest-income countries a better deal when they are trading with the UK. It will be more generous than the EU scheme and it will help those countries on to the ladder towards prosperity through the enterprise and ingenuity of their people.
We want to encourage British businesses to take advantage of all the opportunities that we have either negotiated or are negotiating. Therefore, we will be loudly and proudly championing exports in key industries from food and drink to services in technology trade. We have a network of trade advisers across the country ready to help our businesses go global and they can be proud to put the Union Jack on their pack, which is one of the most recognised symbols in the world. With our great campaign, we are showing partners worldwide that Britain is ready to trade. In December, the Prime Minister launched our new Office for Investment under the leadership of Lord Grimstone. It will work tirelessly to secure investment in every nation and region across Britain, backing jobs and livelihoods. More than 56,000 new jobs were created last year through foreign investment in the UK, with a further 9,000 others secured. We will also be founding our first new free ports, which will drive enterprising growth in port cities and towns across the country as we turbo-charge trade across the world.
Of course, many are sceptical about globalisation and the benefits of trade. One reason why they are sceptical is that too many unfair practices and cheating have been allowed to undermine real free trade. That is why we are establishing the Trade Remedies Authority, headed by Oliver Griffiths, to protect UK industries from unfair practices. It is not right, for example, that ceramics manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent can be undercut by goods subsidised by state-owned enterprises, that our innovators can have the fruits of their work taken under forced technology transfer, and that goods can come into this country that have been produced through forced labour in abhorrent conditions. That is why we are pushing the World Trade Organisation for greater transparency and reform of the rules, and by joining CPTPP, with its ambitious digital and data provisions and clear rules, we will pile further pressure on the WTO to reform.
As an independent trading nation, we are setting our own path and rejecting the twin errors of values-free globalisation and protectionism.
One thing that incentivises and encourages younger people in our country is their determination to help third world countries that are not as well off as we are. The spending of the Department for International Development has historically been very important, but I very much hope that the Minister will start to explain to the electorate the huge advantages that third world countries will now have as a result of our lowering tariffs on the sort of products that we cannot produce here in the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is right that, of course, the UK global tariff has lower import tariffs than the common external tariff of the EU, but we are going to go even further than that with our new emerging markets trade scheme, which will offer more preferential rates for the lowest-income countries in the world to help their populations trade their way out of poverty, and I agree with him that that is a really important way in which we can bring more prosperity to the world.
As I was saying, we now have the opportunity to set our own path by rejecting the twin errors of values-free globalisation and protectionism. Instead, as the United Kingdom, we are rooting our approach in the fundamental values of sovereignty, democracy, the rule of law and a fierce commitment to high standards. That is why we are bringing together a coalition of like-minded nations to advance high standards worldwide—from food and animal welfare to the environment and data. With fellow democracies such as Japan and Canada, we are championing innovation, a cleaner planet, women’s economic empowerment and much more. We have demonstrated this through the fantastic deal we have struck with the EU to ensure we can keep trading freely with zero tariffs and zero quotas, alongside deals covering 63 countries. No other nation has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously, and I am proud of the results we have achieved.
At this tough time, we need to embrace our future as a confident, optimistic and outward-looking global Britain, delivering jobs and prosperity at home while helping lead the fight for free and fair trade abroad. My hope is that all sides of this House can join me in celebrating how far we have come and the huge opportunity we have in 2021, striking deal after deal with our friends and family worldwide to support our values and full economic potential. This is global Britain in action.
Let me thank the Secretary of State for holding this debate, albeit in the very strange circumstances we find ourselves in today. I said many months ago, when I came into this role, how important it was that we should have an open debate in Parliament and with the public about the challenges and opportunities that we will face after Brexit as an independent trading nation. Now, as 2020 is finally skulking away, those challenges and opportunities are upon us, and today’s debate is, if anything, long overdue, but no less welcome for that.
However, I think it would be remiss of me, as I think it was remiss of the Secretary of State, not to start by acknowledging the severe and rising problems affecting businesses engaged in trade across the channel and the Irish sea today. Trade that flowed freely just a few weeks ago is now grinding to a halt because of the barriers and bureaucracy that the realities of Brexit require. Let me be clear: those problems are always to some extent inevitable—they could only have been mitigated, not avoided entirely, by the adoption of a different approach to our deal with the EU—but three things that were not inevitable, and indeed were totally avoidable, are the lack of time that businesses had to prepare, the lack of support that they have been given to prepare and the lack of help available to them now. I recognise that not all of that is down to the Department for International Trade, but I do have three questions that I hope the Minister of State will be able to address later.
First, I asked the Secretary of State seven weeks ago if she would establish a dedicated helpline for companies facing problems with their exports after 1 January, and I was told in response that the Department already had a dedicated helpline for trade-related queries, which is the one it shares with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. That is all very welcome, except that if any businesses had called that number this weekend to ask for help with their problems at Dover or Holyhead, the automated response would have told them that the office was closed and that they should ring back at 9 o’clock on Monday. I hate to break this to DIT Ministers, but the import-export trade does not operate on office hours. That is why round-the-clock support was needed, especially during the period of transition, adaptation and confusion. I could see the clear need for that seven weeks ago; it is extraordinary that the Government still cannot see it now.
That lack of foresight could be related to my second question, which falls squarely on the shoulders of the Secretary of State. Given all the problems that were inevitable on 1 January and the consultation and preparation that were required to mitigate those problems, does she regret her decision last July, which I warned her against at the time, to scrap the advisory groups her predecessor set up to deal with customs issues and continuity of trade post Brexit? Does she also regret her inexplicable decision to remove from the advisory group on transport issues the representatives of the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association and the British Ports Association? At exactly the time she should have been listening to the experts, she was shutting them out of the room.
Thirdly, and finally, on the current issues affecting EU trade, will the Minister of State tell us at the end of the debate who in the Government is now in charge of that brief? Is it still the Minister for the Cabinet Office, his colleague the Secretary of State, the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, or the Chancellor, given his responsibility for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs? Looking at the chaos our exporters are facing today. I think we can all agree that someone in government has to get a grip and it would help if we all knew who is supposed to be doing the gripping.
Speaking of getting a grip, I come to the flurry of continuity agreements secured by the Secretary of State in December. Welcome though they were, there is something strange about the process followed for those agreements in the past year. Whenever I asked why no progress was being made, why the agreements were taking so long and why no deals were signed in the first nine months of the year, I was repeatedly told that they were very difficult and detailed negotiations which we could not expect to be done quickly. But when we look at the final text that emerged in December of one agreement after another, we see that they are clause for clause, word for word, identical to the EU treaties that went before them, apart from the words “European Union” being replaced with “United Kingdom”. The question is, therefore, exactly what were they discussing all that time?
The right hon. Lady will remember from our discussions about this that they were continuity agreements, and although, understandably, many of the partners with which we were seeking agreements had the ambition to do more at that time, we were seeking continuity. We explained to them that we would do more in due course, but we needed continuity to protect the terms of trade as we left the European Union. As for why it took so long, many of our partners did not think that we were actually going to leave and realised only late in the day that they needed to sign the agreements with us to protect our mutual trading arrangements.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but it looks to me a bit like two people meeting to play chess and the two of them sitting there looking at the board, not moving the pieces, and eventually deciding to shake hands and declare a draw. The Secretary of State might say that that is what continuity agreements are and the Government just kept things as they were, but if that is her argument I do not understand why the deals were left until the last minute and why a number were not done at all. Most fundamentally, what is the point of being an independent trading nation, what is the point of choosing to negotiate our own trade agreements, if we are happy to just replicate every deal that was done years ago by the European Commission, rather than include any new provisions of our own?
Let me make a little progress, then I will.
In many areas, the failure to make these deals is particularly stark, including the total lack of progress on any of the aspects of future job growth the Secretary of State highlighted in her speech, on just two of which I shall focus now. First, it is amazing and deeply disappointing that in the 30-plus continuity agreements secured by the Government over the past two years there is not one single new provision that strengthens the global fight against climate change—not even in the enhanced agreement with Japan. Secondly, it is not just a missed opportunity but a failed responsibility that there is no sign in any of the 30-plus agreements of the Government giving even the slightest consideration to human rights.
Egypt and Cameroon are by any standards among the most brutal regimes in the world today, yet the Government signed deals with both countries in December, with no apparent hesitation over their human rights records at all, and no apparent effort to strengthen human rights provisions in those agreements to gain some leverage over their behaviour. With Singapore, Vietnam and Turkey, the Government went one step further, signing new trade agreements which contain no substantive clauses on human rights at all, and not as much as a side-letter to address the issue. Is it any wonder that Members in the other place, with an increasing number in all parts of this House, believe that the only way to get Ministers to take human rights seriously when it comes to future trade deals is by obliging them to do so by law?
Given the time that I have available, although I would be happy to sit and—[Interruption.] No, no, I would seriously be very happy to sit and talk to the hon. Gentleman about this issue and about the issue of China, because it is a challenge for all of us to work out exactly what the right way of proceeding is, and we need to ensure that we listen carefully to the variety of views, and we need to ensure that we make progress together on this.
On the subject of amendments to the Trade Bill, we will also soon be considering proposals to ensure that Parliament is properly able to scrutinise, debate and approve new trade agreements before they become law, and if it was not already clear why those agreements are required then the absolute farce of the last few weeks surely makes that case. We saw 11 new trade agreements or memorandums of understanding take effect on 1 January: none of them have been debated or approved by this House; none of them have completed the ratification process; four of them were not even published until new year’s eve; and one of them, that with Cameroon, is still to be published. The whole process makes an absolute mockery of the current procedures for the scrutiny of trade deals, and when the Trade Bill comes back to this House, Ministers surely cannot tell their Back Benchers with a straight face that those procedures should stay as they are.
As I said earlier, if any of this was a case of incredibly detailed treaty negotiations coming down to the wire in an effort to get the final text right, we might all accept it. But then we might have come back with something more than this—the agreement with Mexico, just five pages long with an eight-page annexe; then they really would have no excuse. But then there is the unfortunate reality of the 30-plus continuity agreements signed by the Government these last two years: no ambition, no improvements, no action on the environment, no progress on workers’ rights, no consideration of human rights, no time for parliamentary scrutiny, and not a single benefit in terms of trade that we did not already have. So I am grateful to hear all the talk from the Secretary of State regarding the new trade deals which she aims to sign this year and next, and I am sure that this is the first of many debates that we will have on those prospective deals.
Yet again the right hon. Lady is raising the issue of continuity agreements, but may I just gently say to her, echoing the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that many countries were not willing to go beyond the continuity agreement until we had actually left the European Union? What was important for business was that word “continuity”—signing those agreements, so that at the point at which we left they could carry on trading on the basis on which they had been. Excellent work was done, not just in the past year but in the year or two beforehand by the previous Secretary of State for International Trade as well.
I understand entirely what the right hon. Lady is saying. It is interesting, is it not, that half of the agreements were done in six months by the previous Secretary of State for International Trade, and the other half have been done over an extended period of time under the current Secretary of State? Indeed, many of these agreements, as the right hon. Lady has said, were done on the basis that the European Union deal was likely to be quite different from the one that we actually have now. That is one reason that we had this condition, yet we end up with cut-and-paste agreements coming down to the absolute wire at the end of last year, without our being able to do any scrutiny. As the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) has said, there are many issues that Members would want to raise and would want to have considered before we make any trade agreements, but as things stand, there is very little time for us to debate these matters.
In the limited amount of time that I have left, I will not be taking any more interventions; let me just get to the end of my speech, because we already have only three minutes for each Back Bencher to make a speech in any event.
I would like to talk about the Secretary of State’s plan—as she has called it—on CPTPP, and to make a plea to her with regard to it. She has spoken many times about this matter. She talks as if the only issue to consider is whether we can persuade Japan, Australia and Canada to get on board, but I respectfully say to her that before she can win the argument for accession with them, she needs to start by making the case in Britain first. We have been through five years of division and debate in this country over leaving a trade bloc with our closest neighbours. Are we going to do that just in order to go and join another trade bloc on the other side of the world, simply because Tony Abbott thinks that it is a good idea? He might well be right—it may offer tremendous benefits for our country—but we cannot even start to judge until we know the terms on which we would join, and whether those terms are right for us.
There is a danger that the Government might even persuade themselves that this debate has already been had, thanks to the 14-week public consultation that was carried out back in 2018, but let me remind the Secretary of State of three things. First, only 81 business groups, non-governmental organisations and members of the public sat down and wrote formal responses to that consultation; in my book, that does not amount to proper engagement with stakeholders. Secondly, according to her Department’s own national survey conducted after that consultation, only 10% of the people of this country said that they knew what CPTPP was and supported joining it. That does not amount to a proper mandate in my book either. Thirdly, if she goes back to the consultation process responses, she will see that it is clear that many were based on very different assumptions about the outcome of our EU trade negotiations from the outcome that we have actually got. What is this about? In my view, it does not amount to a proper and reliable base of opinions.
For all those reasons, my plea to the Secretary of State today is for her to open up the consultation process again and to give business, unions, civil society and the public a chance to voice their opinions about whether joining CPTPP is the right next step based on where we are now and what we want to achieve as a country. The reason why that is crucial brings me back to what I said at the outset, about the chaos that is building at our ports and the crisis that is growing for our exporters. This is not a partisan statement; it is a simple statement of fact. We are going through all this pain because of a fervent belief on the Government Benches that the gains to be had from doing our own free trade deals with the rest of the world will eventually outweigh the losses from damaging our trading relationship with our nearest neighbours in Europe. That is the Government’s leap of faith. Even if I and many of my colleagues have fervently disagreed with that argument in recent years, we are now in a position where, for the good of our country and the communities we serve, we have to hope that we are proved wrong and that the Government are proved right—but, as things stand, that is not the case.
With every hour of delay that passes at Dover, every consignment that is turned away, and every product that is, after all, having to face tariffs because of rules of origin, British businesses are losing money. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, we have not gained one single penny in extra trade from the Government’s leap of faith: not one single agreement that we did not have before, and not one single export facing lower tariffs than it did in December. Indeed, as we heard the last time we were here, according to the Government’s own figures, our country is forecast to be worse off and to make lower exports thanks to the Secretary of State’s enhanced deal with Japan compared with the deal that we had before. So it is understandable—perhaps inevitable —that when the Government resume their talks with Australia, New Zealand and America; when they start their talks with India, Brazil and the Gulf states; when they try to turn 14 pages of cut and paste into proper treaties with Mexico, Turkey or Canada; and most of all, when they make their formal bid for accession to CPTPP, they will be desperate to do these new trade deals at any price, to make up for our losses with Europe.
But no matter how desperate the Government get, they should not be allowed to do these deals at any price. These deals must not come at the cost of domestic British jobs and business. They must not come at the cost of our farmers and our food standards. They must not come at the cost of our ability to protect the NHS from marketisation or put environmental protection before corporate profits. They must not come at the cost of our principles when it comes to human rights, democratic freedoms and the future of the planet. To guard against all those things, every one of us should make clear that they will not be allowed to come at the cost of proper scrutiny and debate by this House.
I refer Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right that trade brings prosperity and jobs, but global Britain is about much, much more than trade. It is about our shared values—our respect for human dignity, human rights, equality, the rule of law, freedom and democracy. It is about how we work with others who share those values to establish and maintain a rules-based international order that protects those values.
Sadly, what we saw last week in the United States shows us how fragile the value of democracy can be when it is under pressure from populism and nationalism, fuelled by messages disseminated on social media. At the current point for the United Kingdom, post Brexit, dealing with covid and yet to deal with the societal and economic impacts of that, it is absolutely imperative that we reject any push towards nationalism and isolationism and that we recognise the importance of global Britain. Indeed, it is more important today than it ever has been.
If we are going to lead, as we can this year, in G7 and the COP26, we also need to see a change in world politics, where absolutism—“You are either 100% for me or 100% against me, and no compromise is allowed”—has taken hold. We need to move away from the world of strong men facing up to each other. We need to find more ways in which we can work with those who share our values, because those values are under threat, and we need to work together to protect them.
Global Britain has the position this year to enable us to do that, but in order to do it, we need to live our values ourselves. I have to say to the Government that threatening to break an international treaty shortly after signing it, threatening to break international law and cutting our international aid does not enhance the impact of global Britain. In fact, it makes it harder for us as global Britain to get our message around the world. We have been respected because of our 0.7% and respected because of what we do, not just because we are British.
In the few seconds available to me, I want to mention one issue that is a clear and present danger to global Britain: the break-up of the United Kingdom. We often talk in this Chamber about Scotland and how important being part of the UK is to the Scottish economy. The reality is that England needs the rest of the UK as well. The United Kingdom has a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations; I doubt that England would have a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. We need to think about the impact of this, and I particularly want to mention my concern about Northern Ireland at the moment. We have seen the issue of empty supermarket shelves—not all due to the protocol, but certainly the protocol is playing its part, and the Government need to deal with that issue. Global Britain has a role to play on the world stage, but in order to do that, the Government need to ensure that we maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). We do not quite agree on the future of the United Kingdom, but we on these islands will always be friends, colleagues and, I hope, allies.
It was David Hume who said that the truth emerges from an honest disagreement among friends. I am a friend to all Members of the House, but we should be in no doubt that this is a very honest disagreement. Global Britain is not my party’s project; that will surprise nobody. I do not wish it any harm, but frankly, I wish it was not being inflicted upon my country against our democratic wishes.
I listened carefully, as I always do, to the Secretary of State. As ever, she got 10 out of 10 for enthusiasm, but one out of 10 for detail and zero out of 10 for recognition of the difficulties in the real world right now. If I were Trade Secretary of the United Kingdom—a moment of fantasy—and there were shelves empty in a part of the United Kingdom, I would have mentioned that before global aspirations that are hypothetical at best, in contrast to those real-world consequences.
I am struck, as ever, by the ability of Government Members to be giddy with excitement at the potential up sides of global Britain. I do, for the record, wish global Britain well—I want to see it succeed—because the battles of the past are the battles of the past, but the hypothetical, aspirational advantages are as nothing when set against the real-world consequences that people are suffering right now. No amount of red, white and blue breathless excitement will distract from the fact that global Britain is an answer to a question that nobody in Scotland or Northern Ireland was asking. Frankly, nobody in Northern Ireland or Scotland is interested in it right now, when we have far more pressing concerns.
Regardless of the international links that global Britain and the UK will have, the primary relationship in all forms of trade, human contact and cultural exchange is always going to be with the continent that we are part of and will remain part of. Despite the deal, such as it was, done at the last minute in Brussels at the tail-end of the year, far too much of the detail of that relationship remains utterly unclear, again causing real problems right now. The fact that the House’s scrutiny of that agreement and the future relationship has been shut down, with the Committee that should be doing it and is best placed to do it being closed by this Administration, should concern us all.
There are a number of things that we are losing. These are not aspirational, hypothetical things; these are things in the real world right now. The loss of the Erasmus exchange is an act of economic vandalism against our universities and higher education sector. It came at the last minute in the talks, when previously we had been told, “We will keep it,” “We will try to keep it,” or, “We will manage to somehow fix it.” At the last minute we were told, “No, we won’t.”
It is an act of economic vandalism against our universities, but it is also an act of vandalism and vindictiveness against future generations of students, who will be shut off from those advantages. I did Erasmus myself in 1992—a long time ago, but the advantages I gained then have stayed with me ever since. It breaks my heart that future generations will not be able to take advantage of it.
The Turing scheme that has been suddenly created on the back of an envelope to replace Erasmus is a pale shadow of those real rights. Presumably it was named after Alan Turing, as he was someone who was treated abominably by the British Government. It is an act of vindictiveness against future generations of students, and those who are responsible for that deception should hang their heads in shame.
In Scotland, all of our universities want to remain part of the Erasmus programme. We are, as a Scottish Government, trying to find ways to do that. I urge the UK Government, if it wants this to be a global Britain, to respect the internal democracy of the United Kingdom and allow Scotland to maintain those international links. There are ways that we could do it and we are working on the proposal.
Just as Scotland wants to stay in Erasmus, we want also to help our creative sector. Another thing we are losing is musicians’ visas. According to the Musicians’ Union, 78% of musicians and creatives have travelled to the EU or the European economic area over the last year to trade, to do their business and to do the cultural exchange—that soft diplomacy—that global Britain surely relies upon. There was an offer from the EU side to maintain a 90-day visa that would deal with the EEA as a bloc for all our creatives travelling abroad. The UK Government rejected it in an act of vindictiveness against our creatives, because they did not want inward travel to come to us. Again, I really hope that can be reversed, because it was a poor decision.
These are the real-world consequences of the loss of freedom of movement. The debate in the UK—and much of the debate in this House—seems to be predicated on the idea that inward movement happens only in one direction. There are millions of UK nationals enjoying freedom of movement rights across the European Union, which has been a huge boost to our society and to the soft power that global Britain surely depends upon. The SNP wants those rights back.
As the loss of those rights becomes clear, the people of Scotland will have a choice. As I say, I wish global Britain well—although not with much enthusiasm, I have to say—and I hope it works, but I will put forward a different proposition to the people of Scotland: independence in Europe. Nothing in EU membership was holding the UK back in what it wants to do. I echo the concerns mentioned by the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) about the lack of ambition on human rights, climate change and environmental standards—all the things on which we think the UK Government have engaged in a race to the bottom, rather than maintaining high EU standards.
The SNP will be putting forward independence in Europe, which will regain rights for our exporters, for our universities, for our students and for our people with freedom of movement—a huge societal and economic boost. Unlike in 2014, at the time of the first independence referendum, those real world rights have just been taken away from us, and the consequences are clear. We will be able to set that against the aspirational advantages of global Britain. I look forward to that discussion and to holding the Government to account for their promises. I wish them well in fulfilling them, but I am confident that they will be nothing compared with the losses that we have all suffered by leaving the European Union in the worst way possible, and the lack of clarity that emerges from the continuing talks that will need to be maintained to take the future relationship with the European Union forward.
Whatever global Britain becomes, geography will not be altered. Britain is a medium-ranking state within the European continent. Scotland is comfortable with that, and independence in Europe is our political answer to the best aspirations of the people of Scotland. I think it is the best aspiration and the best answer to global Britain as well.
Although I sympathise with the sadness of the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) about our now having a trade border about 30 miles south of here, I see no reason why it would be improved if there was a trade border 20 miles south of Edinburgh. That strikes me as a very odd argument for free trade and for improving the lot of people in Scotland—or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said, the people of England. It would be a loss to us all.
In fact, free trade has enriched us all. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State refer to Cobden, who spoke of the opportunities for us all. She also rightly spoke about the opportunities in Asia and CPTPP, and I look forward to seeing her bring back that agreement, which is important not just to us but to the Governments of Japan, Australia, New Zealand and, indeed, many others. She also spoke powerfully about the opportunities to reach into different markets in places such as India—I am sorry that the Prime Minister could not make his trip, but I welcome the opportunity to develop that market—but she did not speak about the challenge we have in trade with China. I look forward to her mentioning what she will do about the unfair labour practices we see in parts of China and the implication of that for free trade around the world, and particularly here in the UK.
Trade, of course, is not just good for the people of the UK; it is good for everyone. It is the best form of aid. While I welcome the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead about the 0.7%, it is certainly true that actually investing in countries around the world would make a transformative difference. I look forward to British businesses investing heavily in Nigeria, Somalia, Somaliland, Kenya and many other places to transform lives by transforming economies.
We can have fair trade and we can have free trade, but that also depends on the rules. That great Scotsman Adam Smith spoke about the rules when he spoke about the market, because the market is nothing without the rules; it is not fair unless there are principles that underpin it. I therefore look forward to the Government taking the opportunity at G7, and indeed when they get to COP, to look at the rules that apply to us when it comes to not just the goods we speak about in the WTO but the data that we see flowing around us.
A company in the United States has just made a decision on who can and cannot communicate on its platform —most famously involving the sitting President of that country. What does that mean for the data exchanges we will have around the world? We need to be shaping those rules and setting them again. There is a huge opportunity for the UK to retake that position at the heart of the international law-based system, restate the importance of the rules in our world and be the leading light in it.
In three minutes, it is quite difficult to cover all the issues one wants to cover in a debate like this, but I want to make a few points. First, I do not think anyone so far has mentioned the covid crisis that we are in the midst of, the inadequacy of the British response to it, the unfairness in the distribution of vaccines in the richest countries and, perhaps equally seriously, the lack of availability of vaccines to many of the poorest and most vulnerable people all around this planet. Surely, if we are to play a part on the global stage, we have to play a part that ensures that we eradicate the dangers of contagious illnesses all around the world; otherwise, we will ultimately all be vulnerable to the effects of them.
This debate takes place in the aftermath of Britain finally leaving the EU only a couple of weeks ago, after the Government cobbled together at the last minute a trade deal with the EU that many of us felt unable to support because we did not believe it gave the protections necessary on environmental and working conditions and a number of other issues. But the issues are already piling up, with the loss of trade, the difficulties of getting exports and the problems of vast amounts of bureaucracy and paperwork, all of which could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had seriously wanted to negotiate a proper trade deal with the European Union, which he had plenty of time to do. But he was always looking over his shoulder, preferring to do a deal with his former friend, Donald Trump, the outgoing—an unlamented loss—President of the United States.
We live in a global world, as the title of this debate—global Britain—indicates, and that means that we have to recognise the huge power of global corporations. Rolls-Royce is losing jobs at Barnoldswick in order to outsource those jobs to other parts of the world, including Spain and Singapore. The abuse of human rights around the world, which others have drawn attention to, has to be considered in our trade deals. Those human rights abuses lead to the loss of life and to refugee flows. There are now 65 million refugees around the world. Also, in all these trade deals that are being done, let us be absolutely clear. Let us make sure that everything we say at COP26 about net zero being achieved by 2030, or a bit later in the case of some Governments, is actually going to be met. Let us ensure that we have a trade deal that meets those targets by insisting on environmental and labour standards all around the world, and that trade deals do not become a race to the bottom, leading to damage to working conditions in this country and all around the world. It is in our hands to do this, and it is in the hands of this Parliament to scrutinise and hold to account what this Government do at the same time.
Looking back in our timeline of history, we see that it is punctuated by years where dramatic events and their consequences have altered the course of history. I believe that 2021 will be such a year, when we repair and rebuild our post-covid world. We will also better appreciate the frailty of our global order, with authoritarianism on the rise, the disunity of the west and a fast-changing relationship with an ever more assertive China. If 2020 was the year in which we calibrated our view on China and saw that it was not going to mature into the responsible global citizen we had hoped for, in 2021 we are likely to see Beijing unashamedly advance its own competing strategic agenda, exploiting battered economies across the globe and ensnaring ever more states into debt through its infrastructure and digital programmes. We face an inflection point this year. Either we support global democracy and repair it, or we allow the world to splinter into two dangerously competing spheres of influence.
Of course, 2021 brings a change in guard at the White House, with President-elect Biden promising to commit to rebuild alliances, to stand up against geopolitical threats and to return a sense of purpose to what the west believes in, stands for and is willing to defend. So this is a pivotal year and a time for Britain to step forward. Let us recall the last time there was a global reset. It involved the United States and Britain. It was Roosevelt and Churchill, through the Atlantic charter, who set the tone for the new international architecture, which now needs to be revisited.
The opportunity for Britain cannot be overstated, but our hard work is cut out in front of us. We talk up global Britain and the special relationship, but our international stock is not what it was. We have become too risk-averse and too distracted. Mention has been made of cuts to our soft power because of our aid budget. Indeed, the integrated review has yet to be completed. We need these answers in order to understand what our defence posture should be.
I encourage No. 10 to expand its bandwidth so that we can reassess and confirm our place in the world. The international to-do list is huge: reviving international organisations, for example, the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation; updating the Geneva conventions; securing a viable climate change agreement; and, of course, coming up with a unified strategy on China. None of those issues can be addressed without the appropriate alliance. I have said this before, but my single recommendation to the Government today is to advance and empower the G7 group of nations, widening it to include Australia, India and Korea, and advancing it from a talking shop to a new coalition with genuine clout. This is half the world’s GDP around one table. This formidable partnership, committed to collective security, democracy and the international rule of law, can be the vehicle that offers the leadership and designs the fresh international architecture our world now desperately requires. I encourage the Government to work with President-elect Biden and make this happen.
2021 is a pivotal year for the UK on the global stage: we will host the COP26 climate change summit; assume presidency of the G7; co-lead the action coalition on gender-based violence; and undertake a new chapter, having exited the EU. Against that backdrop, I await the findings of the Government’s integrated review of international policy, which provides an opportunity to clarify what the UK stands for internationally, and how we will hope to lead and achieve on the global stage not just through trade.
First and foremost, our development policy should be underpinned by a core commitment to tackling poverty among the poorest communities. The pandemic has meant that that commitment is needed now much more than ever. The World Bank estimates that covid-19 will push about another 100 million people into poverty, reversing hard-won gains. I am therefore concerned by the absence of an explicit commitment to tackling poverty in the Government’s new strategic framework.
Our aid policy should enable communities in developing countries to lead and shape their own development, using their own knowledge of what works best at local level to create long-lasting change. For example, local women’s rights organisations are grounded in their communities, with long-standing and trusted relationships. Their work is strategic, lasting and cost-effective. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that the pandemic will lead to an additional 2 million female genital mutilation cases and 13 million child marriages, so their work is needed more now than ever. To ensure that the Government meet their own commitments on girls’ education, global Britain must mean leadership on addressing violence against women and girls, which is a key barrier to girls globally accessing education in the first place. I was saddened when Baroness Sugg stepped down, but I admire her reasons for doing so. Can the Government confirm when her important role on gender equality will be filled?
In 2018, just 0.3% of UK aid was spent on ending violence against women and girls globally. We can and must do more. Alongside greater funding, there needs to be a robust framework to guide the Government’s work on gender equality. I urge the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to adopt and use the Department for International Development’s strategic vision for gender equality.
The UK needs to advocate for a world that respects internationally agreed rules and practices, including respecting human rights and the rule of law. We must call out the actions of those who break these rules, whether the Ugandan Government’s treatment of opposition politician Bobi Wine, or threats to human rights defenders in Colombia. Perhaps one of the greatest tests of this is our relationship with China. In Hong Kong, the rights and freedoms of citizens continue to be eroded following the introduction of the national security law. We need to work with like-minded international partners to stand up to these abuses and support pro-democracy campaigners.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is right that we should be debating global Britain this week, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and the House of Commons will want to mark with sadness the passing of Sir Brian Urquhart, one of the principal architects of the UN and a fine British civil servant. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said, the power of a passionate, compelling vision for global Britain has the ability to unite the United Kingdom, all four parts of it, in one vision, at a time when that Union is under great pressure.
I want to make two specific comments about global Britain. The first is about the what. As my right hon. Friend said, we await the report, because we have had the money but not yet the report of what global Britain is going to stand for, but it seems to me very important that global Britain should represent values, rather than geographers. This enables us from time to time to agree with China but to disagree with Donald Trump. The UK has been a very bright light in many difficult parts of the world, standing up for the rule of law and human rights against Islamic terror, standing against meddling Russians and Chinese human rights abuse, and standing in favour of women’s rights and the fight against starvation.
When it comes to the how, I think that the international rules-based system is the key. The UK has real leverage on this: our seat in the United Nations; as a leading member of the Commonwealth, that important north-south organisation, which embraces so much of the world; our principled position in NATO; the fact that we are a European power, in or out of the European Union; our relationship with the United States; and, of course, the British language, which, in terms of commerce, trade and law, gives Britain such a pre-eminent position, quite apart from the City of London as an international centre. And as others have mentioned, we have development. Over the past two decades, Britain has become a development superpower—the ideas of British universities, the actions on the ground of Britain’s international non-governmental organisations and the policy formation of the thinktanks—which is why I ask the Government to think again on breaking the 0.7% promise, on which every single Member of this House of Commons was elected just one year ago. Remember that the 0.7% has already been reduced.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is a champion for DFID spending, but does he agree that, now we are outside the European Union, our intention to lower tariffs for third world countries will, in the long term, result in much more support for them than just the DFID money?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, he is right that trade is the key, but in order to get to a point where countries can trade, you need many of the very important services that DFID has been providing in some of the poorest parts of the world. Remember that the 0.7% has already been reduced, because it is connected with our gross national income, by nearly £3 billion. If this cut goes ahead, the development budget will be reduced by nearly 50%. That is the worst thing we could do in a pandemic, which we know will never be defeated here until it is defeated everywhere. It is the most terrible timing—when we approach the chair of the G7, when this year we will chair the United Nations Security Council and when we have the most important COP in Glasgow in November. It would be a terrible mistake. I urge the Treasury Bench to think again about this £4 billion reduction—just 1% of the borrowing this year. It should not be carried out in this way and it should not be carried out at this time.
Global Britain reimagines the past, ignores the present and, in its naivety, diminishes the future. It is a product of the exceptionalism that diminished the UK’s relationship with the EU. Global Britain captures the arrogance of the Westminster Government towards the non-England UK.
The Foreign Secretary said that global Britain will be
“the best possible allies, partners and friends with our European neighbours”.
Those neighbours are bound together by a European vision of peace, protected by political, economic and social interaction. This was rejected by this Government. Delusion and nostalgia trump political reality, trump global interdependence and even trump geography itself. The delusion is obvious to all, save for the deluded. My party advocates a policy for Wales of proximity to Europe. We recognise our shared values, our diversity, our political and economic interests and the sheer fact of geography that draws us to our mainland.
The Foreign Secretary said the UK will be an
“energetic champion of free and open trade”—[Official Report, 3 February 2020; Vol. 671, c. 26.]
having just struck the first trade deal ever that put up barriers to trade. Most distasteful is the claim that the UK will be a “stronger force for good”—this coming from a Government who have cut international aid, have supplied arms to autocrats and have lavished praise on demagogues like Donald Trump, and that is going well, is it not?
This year, the Republic of Ireland has again taken its seat on the United Nations Security Council. This achievement for a small nation is an emphatic rebuttal of the Unionist contention that nations like Wales and Scotland are too small and too poor to be independent and successful. These past four years of failure have proved that one London-shaped national interest does not serve our four unique and diverging sets of interests. We have our own international priorities. For now, we must have equal powers to approve future trade deals. That is imperative.
Global Britain’s withdrawal from Erasmus is a disgrace: curtailing the life opportunities of our best, and with no reciprocal arrangements for students from our neighbours. But not to worry, we will have, I am sure, a “world-beating” alternative, no doubt destined to join all the other world-beating triumphs of this Government. Finally, there is the Government’s stupidest self-damaging spasm: the little England denial of visas for performers, rejecting a reasonable and mutually beneficial EU offer of 90-day visas both ways.
Wales can achieve great things as an independent sovereign nation, free to make a positive and honest contribution to address the global challenges of our times. Global Britain comes nowhere near that aspiration.
Naturally, I am glad that we have finally left the European Union in all its manifestations, which I always believed was an unnatural berth for a United Kingdom that was outward-looking and sovereign. However, Brexit is not a panacea in itself. What Brexit does is bring choices and options and freedoms that would not otherwise be there. To make it succeed we have to have vision for our future, we have to have courage in policy and we have to have boldness in execution. Government structures must be re-oriented towards the task, funding not only those institutions we need inside the United Kingdom to make it succeed, but our elements abroad as well, something the Treasury will need to come to terms with.
If I may, I would like to say two things about trade. First, Brexit allows us to have an independent trade policy, but that comes with one major drawback: we actually have to have more exporters to make it worthwhile. Unless we have more goods and services to sell—unless we have more trade—a free trade agreement is little more than another piece of paper. That is why I welcomed the push for an updated and extended transport strategy.
Secondly, it allows us to deal with some global trade issues. Global trade was shrinking before we got to the covid crisis, not least because of the number of non-tariff barriers being loaded into the global economy by the world’s richest countries. We are making it more and more difficult for some of the world’s poorest countries to access our markets. If we continue that trend, our aid budget will become little more than conscience money while we stop people being able to trade their way sustainably out of poverty. We need to take a strong look at our own behaviour and what we are doing in terms of putting up barriers to some of the world’s poorest nations. It is wonderful that we are talking about reducing tariffs for some of the world’s poorest countries, but we need to take a good look at the non-tariff barriers that are making it so difficult for them to enter our markets. That problem is being made worse at the present time by the export restrictions on medicines and medical products. They will need to be reduced, otherwise they will accentuate the problems we are facing with covid.
We have a World Trade Organisation that is, frankly, on the edge of collapse. That brings me to the final point I want to make about the institutions where Britain can play a bigger role. Multilateral institutions such as the UN, the Security Council, the OECD, IMF and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development were all designed for the second half of the 20th century. They need to be brought up to date for the challenges of the 21st century. Those who have shown the way in the United Kingdom, both in politics and the civil service, can give a lead. There are our other partnerships, too. In NATO, our European partners must learn to step up to the plate on spending. The Five Eyes community has far more than just security potential for us. The Commonwealth—a third of the global population, most of whom are under the age of 30—shares many of our political institutions and our legal system.
There are tremendous opportunities for the UK. We can choose to shape the global system around us or be shaped by it. I know what I want for my country.
I speak tonight as the trade rapporteur of the Council of Europe, and as such I want to see democracy, the rule of law, human rights and environmental sustainability embedded in all our trade deals. We stand here tonight semi-detached from our closest and biggest marketplace—the single market—and our closest friends. Over there, when they are looking at deals, they are scrutinising and approving the negotiating mandate, looking at the negotiations, and approving individual deals before they are ratified, but here we have not seen and agreed the mandate, and we have not looked at the negotiations. These deals are already binding in international law because they have already been passed and ratified. The EU deal was dumped on us on Christmas eve in a half-filled sack marked, “Take it or leave it”, and we found that it did not even include any services, which are 80% of our economy. The Japan deal, worth £1.5 billion, would have been worth £2.6 billion via the EU. As regards the US, it is good to see the back of Trump and his isolationism and climate scepticism. We should now embrace President Biden in COP26 to ensure that environmental sustainability is central to all future trade agreements.
As regards the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the US and India are standing back, and it is dominated by China, which has 18% of global GDP. China grew by 4.9% even last year through the pandemic. China is no friend of democracy, as we have seen in Hong Kong. It is no friend of human rights, as we have seen with the Uyghur Muslims. We have ended up moving from being a rule-maker in the EU, be it on the environment or financial rules, to a rule-taker from someone who does not share our values. That is why, if we do embrace the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we need to ensure that the UN human rights agreements are included and that, like New Zealand, we are one step removed and we do not agree investor-state dispute settlements. Otherwise those people from China who are building the nuclear power stations of the future, involved in HS2 and providing for 5G will end up being able to hit us, as we have seen in other examples like the nuclear provider Vattenfall in Germany. In a nutshell, with China we need to confront human rights, compete on trade, and co-operate on climate change and health. It is important that our COP26, G7 and Security Council chairpersonships embrace our fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, fair trade and our environment.
To anyone in this House or beyond this House who thinks that global Britain is somehow an aspiration, not a reality, I would commend to them the excellent report by Robin Niblett of Chatham House entitled “Global Britain, Global Broker” where he points out that the United Kingdom already has a seat at all the key multinational organisations—the IMF, the G7 and the G20—and is a permanent veto-owning member of the UN Security Council, and that is before we even look at the Commonwealth or NATO. We are fourth-equal place with Germany and Japan in the number of full-time embassies and high commissions, and sixth in terms of defence spending.
I think we have an obligation to define what global Britain means. I would say, before I incur the wrath of my friends on the Northern Ireland Benches and the noble Baroness Hoey, that global Britain also includes Northern Ireland—it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Of course, it goes to much more than trade—it is also about foreign policy, security, intelligence, development and defence, which are all part of the complex infrastructure that represents the UK overseas. The challenge is for us to distil that into a coherent offer that the world will understand.
I have not spoken on the subject of trade since I left the Treasury Bench. I could say that I resigned or I could say that I did a job swap with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy. As I went around the world as Minister of State for trade, I was struck by the interest there was in the United Kingdom and what Brexit meant in terms of our ability to re-engage. People were interested in green technology, fintech, the City of London, financial services regulation, and what the UK could do in terms of infrastructure. When I was in Vietnam, Morocco, Algeria, Brazil, Chile and even the United States, there was huge interest. One could almost say that if global Britain were a Tinder profile, we would crash with the numbers seeking to swipe right. I beg the indulgence of the House briefly to place on record my thanks to those who worked with me at the Department for International Trade in my private office: my senior private secretary, Marcus; and St John, Alessandro and Emily. They were a delight to work with; I am not sure they would always say the same about me.
We have talked about values; trade delivers prosperity, jobs and the emergence of a middle class in poorer countries, and it is the emergence of a middle class that leads to the demand and drive for rights such as female emancipation, the education of girls, LGBT rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law—as distinct, of course, from rule by lawyers. We saw the same thing ourselves in the industrial revolution. As we look at doing joint economic and trade committees, trade agreements and all the rest, we should never forget that, fundamentally, this is about prosperity and dignity for individuals around the world. That aspect of what we call global Britain is not just economic or even political but is, in the most real of senses, a moral mission.
I am all for global Britain, but I am more for global UK. I want to make sure that Northern Ireland gets its fair share of the action. I know that the Minister is doing his best to ensure that Northern Ireland is kept at the top of the agenda, and that is essential.
I welcome the comments earlier from the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). There is absolutely no doubt that in the first 11 days of this year, the protocol that has been inflicted on Northern Ireland’s trade has been a complete and unmitigated disaster. That is not the fault of Brexit, but it is the fault of those who tried to frustrate Brexit. I hope the Government will urgently invoke article 16 and remove the pernicious clauses of the protocol that are damaging trade.
Let me give an example. At the weekend, I had to field a call from my constituent who was moving home from Essex to Broughshane in my constituency. When she got her white van to Cairnryan, she was told that she required an export and customs declaration form—to move home from one part of the United Kingdom to the other! I was furious. That van had to turn and go back to Essex and she had to enter the boat at Cairnryan as a foot passenger to get to her home. It is utterly and totally disgraceful. If that is how we are treating citizens of global Britain, I am outraged and appalled that that is how citizens are being treated. Let us fix that, which we can do by invoking article 16, and let us fix it now, because the longer we delay, the more we will damage trade.
I had another constituent on the phone today who imports personal protective equipment that is made in Britain—in Yorkshire—and when it got to the Cairnryan ferry terminal it was turned back. It was coming in to help frontline workers in Northern Ireland but it was turned back. That is another disgrace. It has to cease, and the quicker that happens, the better.
I can tell the House one thing: I do not hear any Scots nationalists tonight demanding that they have this special protocol. The protocol has been a disaster for Northern Ireland and we are only on day 11. I hope that the Government fix it very quickly. Let us sort out our internal UK trade—sort out the friction that exists—and then we can get on with ensuring that we really can be a world player in the future of our market.
I wish to put one other item on the agenda: it is essential that we seize the opportunity to be the world leader in hydrogen technology. This country is right at the cusp of that. We missed the battery opportunity; we can be the leaders in hydrogen technology. Let us use every opportunity to make sure we have hydrogen cities, hydrogen power, hydrogen opportunities and hydrogen jobs in the United Kingdom.
Our new national security adviser, Lord Frost, who comes into the post on the back of a considerable success as our chief negotiator with the EU, said that leaving the European Union should be seen as an opportunity for what he called “national renewal”; I completely agree.
Although the EU will always be an important partner, we should lift our horizons to a more global outlook, but what exactly should this new concept of global Britain mean in practice? To my mind, there should be three core elements, or pillars, to the concept of global Britain, and the first is economics. Just as we rely on a successful economy to fund key public services such as the NHS and schools, we need a dynamic, growing economy to fund our defences and our international presence. In economic terms, we cannot simply tax our way out of the pandemic; we need to grow our way out, too. The absolutely sterling work of the Secretary of State for International Trade in signing more than 60 new deals is a fundamental example of how we can do just that.
Secondly, diplomatically, we are and must remain a key player in international fora. We are already an established member of the P5, the G7, the G20, Five Eyes, NATO, the Commonwealth, the OECD, the WTO and a plethora of other international organisations, and we will now host the COP26 conference as well. In some ways, our soft power outweighs our hard power, at least at the moment, and we remain a respected voice in favour of the international rules-based order. We must always maintain that leadership role in the world community.
Thirdly, militarily, we are, and are likely to remain, a nuclear power for the foreseeable future, and our nuclear deterrent remains the ultimate guarantee of our national security. However, in terms of conventional forces, we are still one of the major military powers in NATO. The Prime Minister has declared his intent that we should become the pre-eminent naval power among European NATO nations. Later this year, HMS Queen Elizabeth should achieve initial operating capability with her F-35 aircraft, the carrier strike. When the Prince of Wales follows her by 2024, we will be one of only three nations on earth to have two new fully functioning aircraft carriers. As the son of Stoker First Class Reginald Francois, who fought at D-day, I am proud to assert that the white ensign has always been a potent symbol of freedom, and it must remain so.
We must now think and act like global Britain economically, diplomatically and militarily. As we bring the integrated review to a conclusion, we should be a strong ally to many, but beholden to none. We should also bear in mind the words of the PM’s other hero, Pericles, who reminds us, “Freedom remains the sole possession of those who have the courage to defend it”. We always did, we always have, and, most assuredly, we always will.
Global Britain—a lofty ideal, but with recent months witnessing a dramatic reduction of the UK’s international aid and a hard Brexit, I want to strike a note of realism into the Government’s one-way triumphalism.
Less than two weeks ago, we saw our relationship with our biggest and closest trading partner, five decades after a Tory Government took us into the European Economic Community in a 12-year process, fizzle out in another of these constrained debates—so much for the sovereignty of Parliament. The Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union then began examining the detail of the 1,256 pages of trade and co-operation reduction downgrades. That Committee, too, is now having the plug pulled, when there is so much to scrutinise.
Erasmus—gone, with its replacement set to foster British uniglotism. Touring musicians, facing ruinously costly obstacles for themselves and gear to get in the van and go—gone. Eighty per cent. of our economy is services, the biggest chunk being financial services. It got 90 mentions while fishing, 1% of the economy, featured 368 times. Too much of this is left “TBC”, and other horrors are only now coming to light. There is no end to red tape, as previously promised, for export/import firms that are reporting untold VAT complications and costs.
The access to criminal databases enjoyed the week before last through the EU arrest warrant—gone. There is no more EU co-operation on defence, the environment, international aid—it is the opposite of global Britain as we shrink on the world stage socially, culturally, and in security and prosperity terms. It is better than no deal, yes, but it is a downgrade none the less, and with no guarantee of keeping up on employment protections and the environment. That is the opposite of levelling up.
On international aid, Cameron, Brown, Blair, Major and even the last Prime Minister—every living Prime Minister —have condemned the cutting of the 0.7% contribution to the world’s poorest as morally unjustifiable and practically short-sighted, particularly at a time when the world faces the common enemy of coronavirus. It seems that we are going it alone when collective action would be wise. On having the courage to condemn old friends and allies when necessary, the past PM was the first to hold Trump’s hand, but now it is time to hold him to account.
This Government have made a habit of U-turns—they occur daily nowadays. The next one must be to start off with reinstating the International Development and Brexit Committees and then go further, because otherwise, global Britain just becomes a mere Bozza buzzword.
I speak as the sole Polish-born British Member of Parliament in this Chamber. Obviously, for me, the three seas initiative is becoming increasingly important as we have left the European Union. The three seas initiative includes 12 countries in central and eastern Europe, bordering on the Black sea, the Baltic sea and the Adriatic sea. They are coming together; all are members of the European Union, and all apart from Austria are members of NATO. It is an increasingly important regional bloc on our continent. The three seas initiative is coming up with a different narrative from the Franco-German axis, which has perhaps for too long controlled the destiny of our continent.
The United States of America has been a very good example in its effective engagement with the three seas initiative, treating those 12 countries as a specific entity, investing in them and supporting them strategically from a defence perspective. In the post-Brexit era, we can show real leadership on our continent by supporting the three seas initiative and putting sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Now no longer constrained by our membership of the European Union, we ought to follow our American friends in imposing sanctions on any company involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is a real issue for many politicians who represent countries in the three seas initiative.
This undersea gas pipeline that the Germans are building directly to Russia, bypassing all the gas and oil networks that run through our NATO partners, is extremely dangerous because it puts our NATO partners at great additional pressure from Moscow and makes them susceptible to additional energy blackmail, which the Russians have used so successfully in the past. The United States of America has managed to halt temporarily the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline through sanctions on companies involved. I urge the Minister now, in a post-Brexit context, to show the same courage and resolve that his American counterparts are doing in standing up from a moral, strategic and security perspective, challenging the Germans not to endanger our NATO partners in this way, and imposing sanctions on any company involved in this highly risky project for the future security of our continent.
Blwyddyn newydd dda to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.
After the political rancour of the last four years, it is important that policy makers face the reality of where we are and start mapping a vision for the future. That challenge belongs to those on both sides of the European debate. False hope that the question of Europe can be parked by the next Westminster election seems naive, considering that the agreement contains provisions for periodic full-scale reviews, with the first expected right after the likely date of the next election.
The UK’s trade relationship with the EU will always—by far—be the most important one for Welsh businesses. I am glad that the agreement maintained tariff and quota-free access to the European economic area. However, any divergence in standards will in all probability lead to justified punitive action by the European Union. It is disconcerting, to say the least, that Brexiteers are already demanding a bonfire of environmental, consumer and workers’ protections. Those hoping that the Brexit culture war is over are living in the bizarre hope that the Tories are going to give up their main political weapon, and that the European Research Group obsessives are all of a sudden going to find a new political project to entertain themselves. This sets the scene for years of further Euro-bashing to make the case for the Singapore-on-Thames group or the “Britannia Unchained” gang.
I remain convinced that the Brexit that was chosen by the British Government will be politically, economically and culturally damaging to Wales. Of course, I hope that my concerns are misplaced. Looking for evidence of this, I find myself echoing the question asked by so many commentators: what will the British state do with this mythical sovereignty that was worth the price of a hard exit? After hearing the Secretary of State’s opening remarks, I am not entirely clear about what can be achieved now post Brexit that could not be accomplished before. Reminiscing about past imperial glory is not a vision for the future in a highly complex world. If we are to have any chance of making the best of the post-Brexit world, the Westminster elites need to be urgently inoculated with a reality vaccine. A renegade state in the north Atlantic with a reputation for undermining international law and the international rules-based order is likely to find itself located firmly on the inconsequential periphery.
I echo the comments of many speakers in this debate about the regrettable decision of the British Government to cut the international aid budget. My vision for Wales is for my country to be an international force for good in the world, placing itself at the centre of global issues such as climate change, economic justice, human rights, international aid and conflict resolution. I would like to think this would be a mantle taken up by the British state, but the aforementioned priorities are anathema to a Westminster elite intoxicated on its own propaganda, preferring to live in a fantasy of hubris.
We have heard from most Members about the national benefits of leaving the EU and the prospects for global trade, and in the limited time I have I want to highlight the positive effects this deal will have on my constituency.
In trade and business, along with the majority of my constituents, we overwhelmingly embraced exiting the EU and the prospects of trading on different global terms. The new link road in my constituency from Heysham port to the M6 is the quickest route in the country from a major transport artery to a major port. Heysham port has had over £10 million in recent years for upgrades from Government and the private sector, gearing up for increased volumes of trade through Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is only a matter of time before Heysham port is awarded freeport status, which I and the Morecambe business improvement district, among many others, would like to see. Indeed, I am in discussions about making this application in the very near future.
Morecambe and the surrounding area have many international energy interests. After the referendum result had been declared I was given assurances by EDF that the vote to leave the EU would not affect jobs and investment; it was true to its word, and the Hydrogen to Heysham project, which along with EDF includes the European Institute for Energy Research and Lancaster University, has successfully demonstrated the technical feasibility of producing clean hydrogen by co-locating electrolysis facilities at our nuclear site in Lancashire. EDF Energy has confirmed that the project remains on its corporate agenda. EDF is now considering options for building on the learnings of the project to focus on low-carbon hydrogen applications and demonstrate them in the Morecambe bay area. This is clear proof that the EU ought to continue being a partner in the great successes of the energy and academic sectors in my constituency to ensure clean energy for the future.
The Eden Project is coming to Morecambe, paving the way for Morecambe to move forward to a new golden era of regeneration and prosperity. We welcome Eden North, and in particular the future prospects for our young people, who have recently formed North West Youth for Eden. Lancaster and Morecambe College has, under the leadership of Wes Johnson, reached an agreement to train future generations to work in Eden, a prestigious brand with sites across the world. Likewise, the vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, Dame Sue Black, is already championing the benefits of Eden Project North and partnering for the future prosperity of my district in the next generations.
On the space industry, the UK will remain a member of the European Space Agency and will continue to participate in the Copernicus project. This will enable intellectual property to be maximised by high-tech industries in my district. Along with other communication platforms, the UK is now a major stakeholder in OneWeb, the Earth-orbiting communication system.
Finally, I pay homage to the Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister in getting us to this point. Leaving the EU has not been an easy job, but we will have many options in the future.
As we reset our foreign and development policies, they will no doubt reflect our country’s long-standing respect for human rights. Sadly, one of the human rights most at risk globally today is that addressed by article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights. Protecting and promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief must be one of the UK’s human rights priorities, not least because of the extent of violations of FORB in so many parts of the world today, affecting Buddhists in Tibet, Rohingyas in Myanmar, Yazidis in Iraq, Uyghurs in China, Hindus and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea, Christians in North Korea and atheists in Bangladesh. That is by no means an exhaustive list.
Tackling religious intolerance needs to be at the heart of our policies, not least because of the wider implications of the risks of not doing so. Those were summed up by the Prime Minister recently when, in replying to my PMQ, he said:
“We all know that wherever freedom of belief is under attack, other human rights are under attack as well.”—[Official Report, 11 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 898.]
The right to education, jobs, homes, family life, access to justice, liberty and even life itself all can be at risk when FORB is under attack. This is not only a human rights priority. As the Bishop of Truro said in his report, FORB is
“perhaps the most fundamental human right because so many others depend upon it.”
It is a privilege to take up my appointment as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, but that is not the point, nor is the title. The point for me is this: can this role in some modest way make a positive difference—yes, to our projection of global Britain, but more fundamentally, can it make a difference to what Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the architects of the universal declaration of human rights, called the “world of the individual person”? Working alongside the Foreign Secretary and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Minister for human rights, I recognise that this envoy role can and will only make such a difference when the envoy works with others—working cross-party here in Parliament, co-ordinating well with international counterparts and liaising with faith leaders and civil society.
For me, the heart of FORB is based on respecting the unique worth of every created human being. It is about the importance of treating every individual with dignity. It is about saying, “You matter. You have purpose. You are significant. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your faith or none, you are not forgotten. You are not disregarded. You are not overlooked.” Having travelled to many countries across the world and heard at first hand of FORB abuses, I want to state my heartfelt compassion and respect for all those who bravely make a stand and suffer for their beliefs.
For centuries, Britain has led the world as a global industrial centre, importing and exporting goods, services and skills around the world. We now have an opportunity to strengthen old friendships and forge new ones. It is an opportunity for businesses large and small, those that have never exported and those that already do. Here in Rushcliffe, we are home to the world-famous Stilton cheese at Colston Bassett and Cropwell Bishop dairies. We make award-winning wines; a taste of Eglantine vineyard’s North Star wine will leave you in no doubt as to why. We develop state-of-the-art fitness equipment such as Wattbike and world-leading nutrition apps such as Nutracheck; I should say that they have kindly given me a year’s complimentary subscription, which is perhaps just as well after all that cheese and wine. The east midlands is also the beating heart of manufacturing, with the highest proportion of manufacturing jobs in England based here. We make planes, trains and automobiles and everything in between.
The Government’s plan for a network of free ports is a great way to grow our economy, create jobs and encourage investment. Here in the east midlands, there is a fantastic, unique proposal for a free port that would cover East Midlands airport in North Leicestershire, a new advanced manufacturing cluster focused on green jobs in Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Rushcliffe and the east midlands automotive intermodal park in South Derbyshire—all situated at the heart of the country, with access to 90% of the population within four hours, on the site of the UK’s largest dedicated freight airport, connected by rail to our main deep sea ports and located at the centre of our national motorway network. What better place could there be to launch global Britain from?
East Midlands airport is one of the largest air freight handlers in the UK, with capacity to treble the value of freight handled and create many more jobs on site. A successful bid will act as a catalyst to galvanise redevelopment of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station site into a hub for green businesses. What a legacy that would be on the site of one of the last coal-fired power stations left in Britain. It would improve the competitiveness of our region, helping to attract key investment from employers, and it would create jobs and training opportunities for local people. I am excited about the opportunities that lie in store for us as global Britain, and I hope that my right hon. Friends across Government will see the many ways in which a free port in the east midlands will help to deliver these.
Global Britain—what does that mean? Here is what I hope it means: a United Kingdom that leads on the world stage, defending and strengthening the international rules-based order; a United Kingdom that puts human rights, social justice and ending global inequality at the heart of its work and lives those values in its trade agreements; and a United Kingdom that recognises there is no planet B and that it is about deeds, not words.
What do this Government’s deeds tell us about their definition of global Britain? It seems to me it means isolation from our closest allies, cosying up to presidents who incite violence and sedition and reneging on manifesto promises to the world’s poorest by cutting the aid budget. If that is global Britain, we must change direction now.
Coronavirus knows no borders and to truly defeat it we have to protect those in lower-income countries who are going to struggle to access the vaccine. Credit where credit is due, the UK has helped to put $1 billion into the COVAX facility, but I remain deeply concerned by global vaccine inequity. COVAX is committed to vaccinating up to 20% of the populations of the countries covered by it, but the other 80% must be provided for from elsewhere, and the vaccine companies are overwhelmed. How do we know that they are not prioritising the highest bidders and the biggest orders? In effect, are we creating a higher income, lower income divide? I fear we are, and it is not right. The UK must show global leadership and do more.
Take the example of Palestine. The situation there is dire. Many have rightly applauded Israel’s incredible effort to vaccinate its population, but we should note the programme excludes the 5 million Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The vaccine has been coming into illegal settlements. Israeli settlers are being vaccinated, but their Palestinian labourers living only a few hundred metres away are not. It is heartbreaking, and if we can help them in Palestine or elsewhere, then we should. We have ordered 350 million doses of vaccine for a population of 66.5 million. Even with wastage and the need for two doses, what are the plans for the rest? Can the Minister confirm what we will do to support lower-income countries further?
Finally, on aid, I want to put a marker in the sand. The Government do not need to legislate for the temporary cut. The law itself is designed to allow Governments not to meet 0.7% in an emergency, as unwise and cruel as such a cut may be. The only reason to bring legislation would be to cement the cut, using the current economic crisis as a smokescreen. I hope I can count on the support of other colleagues who have spoken against the aid cut in the House to fight this move should it come. It is not necessary and it needs to be resisted.
I refer Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Foreign Secretary set out the Government’s vision for a truly global Britain that would act as an even stronger force for good in the world, yet for many persecuted peoples around the world, his vision does not match the reality, and nowhere is that more true than for Kashmiris still living under an ongoing Indian military occupation. Under this occupation, thousands of civilians have been killed and many more injured, and there is a vast litany of other abuses that the India Government must answer for, which have been well documented by numerous human rights organisations, from illegal and arbitrary detention to rape.
Far from improving, after 70 years the situation has dramatically deteriorated since August 2019, following the decision to revoke articles 370 and 35A and impose a brutal blockade of Kashmiri towns and villages, with civilians cut off from power, food, water and medical supplies and their access to communications dramatically curtailed. These actions are tantamount to the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiris.
Despite those grave human rights abuses, our global Foreign Office is nowhere to be seen. At every opportunity, it has refused to condemn the abuses. It will not even engage with the issue, telling us that it is an internal issue for Pakistan and India to resolve between themselves. We also hear that the UK Government are close to signing a trade deal with the Indian Government and, just as I warned during the passage of the Trade Bill last year in relation to the rights and high standards ahead, of trading with no concessions obtained from the Indian Government to uphold human rights in Kashmir and no conditions to prevent the grave abuses that have been taking place.
The policy of this Government towards Kashmir is not one of a global Britain, but that of an isolationist, self-interested Britain happy to shirk our moral, historic and diplomatic responsibilities and give in to a far-right, nationalist Modi-led Government in India. So if the Government really did want to prove that we are a truly global Britain that lives up to our global role and global responsibilities, they would put resolving the decades-old dispute over Kashmir at the top of their agenda. They would get our Indian and Pakistani allies around the table to find a resolution in Kashmir, ensure that we do not sign any trade deal with India that does not address human rights abuses in Indian-occupied Kashmir, use our responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to uphold UN resolutions for the free and fair plebiscite asked for over 70 years ago and ensure that the sons and daughters of Kashmir are given their birth right of self-determination.
This is an important debate. Like many here, I was elected on a promise to move past the stagnation of the last Parliament and finally enact the will of the people as expressed in the referendum. More than that, however, I believe we are here to heal the wounds of that battle and start to speak for a global Britain that is confident of itself and of its place in the world as we strike out with a new sense of purpose. That striking out is not just about trade deals, although let us not hide our light under a bushel in that regard, with the incredible achievements of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the team in making more than 60 of these in quick order. Trade in British goods delivers jobs and secures British interests. Striking out is also about confidence and projection, reigniting ties with old allies and forging new ones, too.
We do not have to look far beyond the current pandemic to understand exactly what a roused Britain can do. We have developed our very own vaccine here in the UK. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is from a partnership between many, but that vaccine is a bold statement of what global Britain can achieve. At low cost and able to be stored in a regular fridge, it will provide hope to so many in the developing world. A global Britain does not stop with production. We have committed over £500 million to ensuring that developing countries get equitable access to vaccines. This pandemic has been a great leveller, and it is absolutely right that a global Britain ensures that our own recovery is not balanced on the backs of those who can least afford the economic cost. I hope we will go further, as we continue development of monoclonal antibodies in UK, offering hope to those who have suppressed immune systems and for whom the vaccine will not work. I hope we will look at making such landmark biopharmaceuticals available to them when they need them globally too.
While our actions around the pandemic will tell a tale of their own about Britain’s new role in the world, so will our actions in other fields. Just as the pandemic is a global challenge, so we must show leadership in other areas that are global challenges. I am delighted the Prime Minister has announced today that the UK will commit at least £3 billion to climate change solutions that protect and restore nature and biodiversity. Climate change is the great challenge of our age, and our treatment of it is the legacy that will pass to our children and our children’s children. We now have the opportunity to shape how and with whom we trade to advance high standards, champion democracy and the rule of law, and reflect and project British values across the world. We have the opportunity to show global Britain in action —confident, optimistic, and out and into the world.
I was unsuccessful, unfortunately, in being called on 30 December last year to speak on the UK-EU agreement legislation, so I am very grateful for the three minutes afforded to me on this occasion.
Decades ago, it was almost unthinkable that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, but I always had a conviction that the best future prosperity for this country was as an independent nation using, and being a conduit between, our unique global links—through the Commonwealth and our strong alliance with the United States of America—and our proximity to the continent of Europe. In the UK-EU trade agreement, that is what we have achieved. We have continuing trade with our European friends and allies, and the ability, as we heard from the Secretary of State for International Trade in her opening remarks, to forge global trade deals with countries as far afield as Canada, Japan, Singapore, Turkey, Mexico and elsewhere. I know that in the coming months and years, more trade deals will be achieved.
Global Britain is not just about trade; it is about using our other strengths, which we have had historically as an island nation that is outward looking—whether they be in defence, intelligence, our soft and cultural power or our international aid commitments. I welcome the refocusing of those development commitments on tackling global crises such as climate change, pandemics—both the one we are facing and those we want to militate against in future—and that in education.
Just as we should not only be focused on trade, vital though it is, we must not be afraid to challenge those in the world who do us and the global community harm. With China, there is its abuse of liberties in Hong Kong, its abuse against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and the fact that it was, at best, guilty of neglect in seeking to cover up the initial impacts of the covid-19 epidemic, which grew into a global pandemic. As an international nation, we need to build a global alliance on such things to militate against them in future.
In my maiden speech in this House almost a year ago today as the newly elected MP for Vauxhall, which is located in the heart of London—one of the most international, diverse and recognised cities in the world—I highlighted with pride the global nature of Vauxhall. Our schools are home to over 50 languages, spoken by the children of migrants from across the world who, like me, are proud to call Vauxhall their home. The global nature of the communities in Vauxhall brings richness and vibrancy. Just walking down Kennington Road, Clapham High Street, Stockwell or just about any street in Vauxhall, we can feel like we have visited several countries in under 10 minutes; we are likely to hear my constituents speak in Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, Tamil, Yoruba—my late mother’s native tongue—and so many more.
For me, global Britain is not just about trade deals, regulations and borders, as important as they are. It is not just about Britain projecting our hard power abroad or always trying to be the biggest, the first or the best. Global Britain is about the lived reality of every Vauxhall resident, characterised by the social and cultural ties that bind us together—generations of co-operation and the exchange of values. Throughout this awful pandemic, I have seen the true nature of global Britain shining through. I have seen it in our diverse communities in Vauxhall coming together to help their neighbours and to keep our public services running.
I fear that the hard Brexit path that the Government are taking us down and the isolationist vision for a newly independent Britain on the global stage are not something that I support. I urge the Government to give due consideration to the ties that bind us—our shared values, our histories, our values and experiences—as we work out who we want to be in the coming years and months.
It is a shame that we are doing this in the middle of a lockdown, but for the sake of the debate let us not dwell on that; let us look forward to the bright future that will soon be upon us. We are on a new path, having delivered the Brexit that people voted for in 2016 and reaffirmed in 2017 and again in 2019, now with a fabulous trade deal with our continental partners delivered in 2021—an achievement that many thought was not possible. As the Secretary of State said: zero tariffs, zero quotas. I am comfortable with that change of direction, having voted at every opportunity to ensure that the demands of my constituents —a significant majority of whom voted for Brexit—were finally listened to and acted on.
Now it is time to put all the division aside and to come together behind a common vision for our future. I would argue that the concept of global Britain should form the foundation of that vision, but what does it mean in practice? I offer some thoughts based on my discussions with my constituents in recent years. To my mind, it means that we return to a leading role in responding to global challenges and in making the most of opportunities for our country. We are indeed standing on our own two feet, but we do so surrounded by friends and allies both in Europe and across the world. That means reinvesting in those relationships, championing the rules-based international order and demonstrating that the UK is open, outward looking and confident on the world stage. It is about rediscovering the powers that we pooled through our membership of the EU and using them in a way that most benefits this country, as we have for many years with the powers that we reserved.
Global Britain must not seek to undermine EU standards, nor accept any diminution in food hygiene, environmental or animal welfare standards. We are better than the EU in this.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my view of the opportunities that come from Brexit, for example, in mid-sized democracies such as Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea? The opportunities are there; we just have to play the game and work in tandem and in partnership with those countries.
I could not agree more. We can step back to where we were before we joined the common market and reach out to those countries. There is no positive outcome from a race to the bottom in any standards. We can reach out to those countries and seek to lift our standards.
Our NHS must never be on the table in any future trade negotiations. I would not support any trade deal that threatens our institutions and rights. I know that that is what my constituents expect. They also expect that global Britain will continue to lead the way outside the EU. They anticipate, as I do, that we will take this opportunity to re-emerge and become a pre-eminent campaigner for global free trade. I want to go further domestically and truly level up this country. Global Britain cannot begin to speak of successful standards, rights and institutions to others if we have not yet got our own house in order. That means dealing with the deprivation we see in isolated pockets, including in my own constituency of Clacton.
When we speak of levelling up, of course we must deal with the north-south divide, but we must not forget coastal areas, many of which are located in the so-called prosperous south-east, which, ironically, contains the most deprived ward in the UK. Where is it? It is in my constituency, in Clacton. The local council is doing sterling work there, but Essex Country Council and Tendring District Council need help to finally lift the area out of deprivation.
I was so proud when, at a moment of crisis and maximum danger in this country, an army of volunteers stepped forward in Clacton and across the country. In fact, we had too many volunteers. When this is all over, we must bottle that community spirit for the future and continue to work together across political lines for a relentless improvement to our way of life: global Britain.
I note that in her introduction the Secretary of State declined to mention fish exports in her list of “jam tomorrow”—and a good job, too. The fishing community has cried betrayal over the post-Brexit trade deal, with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation saying that after all the promises given to their industry, it is hugely disappointing.
Taking back control of UK waters for fishing has resulted in a marginal repatriation of access, spread over five years, that fails to recognise the complex dynamics of the industry and which will almost certainly leave businesses worse off, but the immediate crisis is the near inability of Scottish fish exporters to get their product into the EU now, amid a dysfunctional system and an incoherent Government bureaucracy, leaving boats tied up, lorries idle and cold stores full. If that were not bad enough, we now know that the situation trends to get worse, as the authorities in the Netherlands and France bring to an end their two-week grace period for document errors. That could create even higher losses for hauliers and exporters.
It is not just fishing: Scotland’s renowned seed potato sector, worth more than £100 million annually, selling 20,000 tonnes of its product into the EU, will no longer have access to EU markets. Of course, that includes the significant Northern Ireland market. Not tariffs, quotas or paperwork—just banned. That is a Brexit disaster for Scottish seed potato growers, who are a needless casualty of a badly negotiated deal by the UK Government. I look at exporters in Angus and more widely across Scotland and I see sweeping new non-tariff barriers to trade, additional costs and pressures on the movement of goods—all completely avoidable.
On Erasmus, I was at university as a mature student with a young family, but I keenly remember the enriching fraternity of European students on campus and in classes. It saddens me greatly to know that my kids—one at university, one on the way—will not share in that richness of European diversity as I did.
Nothing could underline the marginal nature of Scotland to the Union more than the ambivalence of the UK Government to Scotland’s distinct ambition in retaining our EU membership. That was on the back of the hollow vow before the 2014 referendum and the paper promise that Scotland should lead rather than leave the UK and that voting for independence would see us lose our EU membership—the irony of it all! Those dark arts scared just enough people into voting for the Union in 2014.
I sincerely hope and believe that we have seen the last of those betrayals from the UK state and that the people of Scotland will put an end to this failing relationship in the interests of everybody involved. The UK Government are demonstrably not governing in the interests of Scotland. If global Britain is about to leave the station, I wish it well on its journey, but I hope and believe that Scotland will get off before the doors close.
Cornwall is known around the world as a top-rate holiday destination, and it absolutely is. However, a truly global Cornwall means year-round jobs for Cornish people, and that is vital for Truro and Falmouth.
It was once said that a Cornishman could be found in every mine in the world, and as the world has changed so have the fortunes of the Cornish. However, I would argue that a global Cornwall absolutely still exists. Penryn-based Allen & Heath has been at the forefront of audio technology for over 50 years. It started life building mixers for the likes of The Who, Pink Floyd and Genesis, and today Allen & Heath mixers are used across the world by top DJs, clubs, broadcasters and studios. Its digital and analogue mixers are made overseas but still designed in Penryn, from which the company is still run.
In recent years, Cornish luxury tea grower and producer Tregothnan brokered a deal that will see it exporting its range to the US and to Kazakhstan. This first-ever English tea company created a range of teas home grown in British soil and secured the contracts at a Government networking event at No. 10. Tregothnan has an export rate of nearly 50%, with its largest fanbase in the far east. New stockists include Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore— and, yes, this home-grown Cornish company also sells tea to China: a tribute to the capabilities and creativity of British talent.
Pendennis Shipyard, based in Falmouth and founded over 30 years ago, is a leading superyacht custom new build and refit facility. The company is still privately owned and employs 390 people locally. It has also acquired a marina and service centre in Barcelona, where it employs a further 30 people. Its pre-covid turnover was in the region of £50 million to £55 million and 80% of that turnover was exported annually. Crucially to Cornwall, Pendennis also runs a successful apprentice scheme, training more than 290 apprentices, and a third of the current Falmouth workforce are existing or former apprentices.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. We should all be optimistic for the future of global Cornwall, from the lithium under our feet to the daffodils we see in the fields. We look forward to the UK’s presidency of the G7 and, of course, to COP26 and all the opportunities that lie ahead. Cornwall is packed full of home-grown talent, goods and services, and I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to promote them all.
When we welcome the world back to Cornwall after covid, with the tall ships at Falmouth in August and the Tour of Britain racing through Truro in September, I hope that visitors will look at Cornwall differently and agree that global investment in Cornish companies creates fantastic prospects for the future of the UK as a whole.
Much of this debate will quite rightly focus on the Government’s baffling approach to trade deals, which has seen them take months to renegotiate agreements, only for them to end up as copy-and-paste jobs. However, I want to use my time to focus on a separate but no less important element of global Britain. It may be a long way from Durham, but there is no doubt that Heathrow airport has been a key symbol of global Britain for many decades. Now more than ever, it serves as a major physical gateway to the rest of the world and its vital importance, which the crisis in Dover before Christmas exposed so clearly, will only increase as the Government distance themselves from the EU.
However, this most critical piece of the country’s infrastructure is right now being consumed by industrial strife, which threatens its smooth operation, and that is all down to the cavalier and reckless attitude being shown by greedy Heathrow bosses towards their loyal and hard-working staff. The shameful fire-and-rehire threats from both airport management and British Airways have triggered strike action, which escalated throughout last month and into the new year. Cargo handlers, security guards, engineers, firefighters and now, potentially, Border Force staff who are seeing their rights stripped away under the cover of covid are all standing up to exploitative employers and withdrawing their labour as a last resort. Strike action is never taken lightly by any group of workers, least of all those in critical occupations such as those at Heathrow, but these cowboy management practices have broken the trust between the workers and their bosses, and Heathrow staff have been forced into a position not of their choosing.
The Government frequently state that they wish the UK to act as good global citizens abroad, but at home they turn a blind eye to exploitative fire-and-rehire practices. When will they get a grip on this situation, rein in these rogue bosses—British Airways, Heathrow Airport Ltd and now even the Home Office—and protect this critical infrastructure while defending the frontline key workers who are keeping our country moving throughout this pandemic?
I would like to focus my brief remarks on the economic opportunities that await a global trading Britain in the years ahead. Once the world has overcome the enormous challenge of covid-19, which we surely will, I believe that the 2020s can be a decade of expansion that will improve the lives of all our constituents. That is the defining purpose of any economic policy: to improve the lives of the people we represent, to increase the number of good jobs in every community and to give economic security to families. Rightly, the UK Government have put the fire power of the world’s fifth largest economy at the service of individuals and businesses affected by covid, and that in turn has hit our public finances. The only way to bounce back from covid, to save jobs and to fix our public finances is to trade our way to an export-led recovery. That must be our objective.
We all have examples of great local firms that can take on the world and help to enhance global Britain. In my own Scottish Borders constituency, we have a proud heritage of textile manufacture, and the products produced by Borders textile mills such as Hawico in Hawick and Lochcarron in Selkirk are, without exaggeration, the best of their kind in the world. These global success stories are testament to a skilled local workforce expanding the global markets for those firms that have a direct impact in the small rural border towns that I represent, and creating more skilled jobs, more opportunities for young people and more reasons to stay and build a life in the area.
Businesses in the Borders are ready to take on the world, and there are three things I would ask the Government to do to help them. The first is to make the most of the greater freedom and flexibility that an independent trade policy gives us. Instead of the one-size-fits-all trade deals designed for 28 highly diverse nations with very different climates and landscapes, we can now to tailor our trade relationships more closely to our needs. It is extraordinary that the SNP opposed the recent EU trade deal, effectively voting for a no-deal Brexit that would have created uncertainty and disruption for Scottish businesses.
My second request is that we do more to encourage businesses that have not yet exported their goods to seize the opportunity to expand their market. My third request to my colleagues in Government is to remember that their responsibilities are for the whole of the United Kingdom. I know that Ministers are well seized of that point. Scottish businesses are served best when their two Governments, UK and Scottish, are working together.
As we emerge from the shadow of covid, there will be no time to lose in the race to rebuild our economy and to make a success of the 2020s. There is a world of opportunity out there. It is time to put past divisions aside and all pull together as one United Kingdom to make a success of global Britain for the benefit of all our constituents.
This evening, we have heard a great deal about global Britain. I think of the 60 million people who call this country home. They each have a unique story, history and background. Many of those 60 million people were born on foreign shores, or are the children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of those who came to the United Kingdom in search of a job, prosperity, hope and peace. Now we have left the European Union, it is vital that we do things in the right way.
In 2009, the UK signed up to the principle that all new trade treaties signed by the EU should contain commitments on the protection of human rights as an essential element of each agreement, giving the EU the power to suspend or revoke those treaties if the other party was engaging in serious abuses of human rights. Nowhere in the entire of the four-and-a-half years of the Brexit process did this Government state that leaving the EU would mean departing from that principle for our own future trade agreements, yet last month we signed new treaties with Singapore, Vietnam and Turkey, none of which have clauses relating to human rights as an essential element of the agreement.
While we welcome the continuity agreements with 10 countries that were signed in December, some 11 other countries were sadly left out in the cold. Members of this House have received no formal or appropriate explanation for the failure with those 11 countries, so I hope the Minister will explain in detail the reason why deals could not be done in time with Albania, Algeria, Bosnia, Ghana, Montenegro and Serbia. Will he tell the House the exact status of those negotiations now? Could he also tell us the status of negotiations with the other five members of the East African Community besides Kenya—Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi—which have been left to rely on a generalised preferences scheme, rather than the formal trade deal with the UK that they previously enjoyed and hoped to build on?
The treatment of our Commonwealth cousins in Ghana is a shame on all of us. The Republic of Ghana has been treated disgracefully by Ministers in recent weeks and months. We know now from the Ghanaian Government that the UK negotiators turned up late for meetings and were badly briefed. They left early with nothing resolved. We also know that the Ghanaians expected to meet the Secretary of State, only to be faced with one of her junior Ministers.
I say to those on the Treasury Bench, and I do so objectively, that we must proceed with caution. We need the help, co-operation, good will and respect of nations across the world if we are to make this work. That means we need to be professional, respectful and act like adults. We need to ensure that we take our place as a global advocate of good governance, human rights, decency, respect and co-operation, and the sooner the better.
The importance of this subject, if not this abbreviated debate, with its précis-ed contributions, can be hardly overstated, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) noted, it goes much, much beyond trade. It remains somewhat vaguely defined by Her Majesty’s Government, so I hope this debate is part of a consultation process before the Prime Minister, supported by his Foreign and Development Secretary and his Defence Secretary, reinforces the Trade Secretary in defining what global Britain will mean under his Administration and how the United Kingdom will pursue those objectives. But this is not just about defining Britain to the world; it is about addressing our own electorate in the wake of the divisions that have riven our politics over the past five years around Brexit.
What global Britain says about our values has a vital audience, both domestically and internationally. We need to address the anxieties of those who voted to remain, who thought that the vision and values of Brexit were some kind of backward step to a nostalgia for an imperial Britain long gone. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), I much commend today’s paper “Global Britain, Global Broker” by Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House. I highly commend his 68 pages of analysis, which in many ways just pose the questions that we have to answer.
I believe that we have a golden opportunity to live and define our values in policies shorn of previous attachments to the interests of a great power, or being a leading member of a bloc aspiring to great power status. In previous times, those great power interests were often contradicted by the values that we wanted to express. Needing to protect our great power status meant that we could not express our values properly. British understatement was often the way in which we chose to express those values, but we can now be much more full-throated about what is right: the golden thread that is the British sense of justice, our standing up for the underdog—and that means standing up for minorities and individual liberty.
We can no longer afford to be careless about the signals that we send, and those signals are currently contradictory. The International Trade Secretary, in her role as Minister for Women and Equalities, knows the position that I hold on the Government’s response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. She knows that I believe that it was deeply unfortunate and that it will continue to take a toll on how we are perceived. The appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) as the Prime Minister’s global envoy for freedom of religion has its own contradictions, but I much welcome her speech in this debate, in which she quoted Eleanor Roosevelt and the values to which she is attached. I hope that that sense of representing all the minorities will continue.
Development expenditure being cut is another sign that has caused concern for our allies around the world and for the presentation of the United Kingdom’s position, but I really hope that it can be made up for by how we develop the strategic defence and development review that will enable our diplomacy and values to reinforce it. There is a great opportunity, and I trust that we will take it, to address concerns both at home and abroad and make a very positive statement about the United Kingdom and its future.
I have to disagree with the Secretary of State: this is not global Britain in action. Plans by the Government to cut UK aid commitments from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income—a real-terms loss of £4.6 billion—are unprincipled, unjustified and completely immoral. The World Food Programme has warned of “famines of biblical proportions” in 2021, and the UN now predicts that as many as 207 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 because of the severe long-term impacts of the pandemic.
Cutting our aid budget means cutting a direct lifeline to millions across the world. Women and girls in the poorest countries will be hardest hit. How can the UK continue to claim a leading role in advancing gender equality if it pushes forward with cuts to the UK aid budget? It is crucial that we commit our resources carefully and strategically to ensure that funds directly reach the communities and individuals most in need. This is the worst time for us to be turning our back on those in greatest need.
In my own constituency of Liverpool, Riverside, we have a proud history of internationalism and a strong tradition of helping those in need. Fantastic campaigners from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Liverpool Friends of Yemen have worked tirelessly to fundraise for the al-Sabeen baby and children’s hospital in Yemen, throughout the war and more recently, to aid its fight against coronavirus while simultaneously battling the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
In Yemen, 80% of the population—more than 24 million people—need some form of humanitarian assistance and protection. We have a moral responsibility to step up and do everything in our power to help and support these people. I am so proud of the way that our community has pulled together to help others in dire need and I wish that we could say the same of this Government. Oxfam has reported that, during the past half-decade, Britain has earned eight times more from arms sales to members of the coalition fighting in Yemen than it has spent on aid to help civilians caught up in the conflict.
The world is currently facing a common enemy like never before yet the response across the board has been to leave the poorest and the most vulnerable to fend for themselves. It would be entirely indefensible and inhumane for our leaders to cut one of the few resources to support the most marginalised at this time. I call on this Government to do the right thing: to commit now to maintain our aid commitments to the poorest and most in need across the world.
In 2016, the Government began using the phrase “global Britain” in the aftermath of the referendum. We received clarity last year from the Foreign Secretary who let it be known that the Government’s vision for a truly global Britain included showing our allies that we would remain great partners and friends, that we would be an energetic champion of free and open trade, and, finally, that we would be an even stronger force for the world. So far, I have seen action that would only diminish our standing and reputation on the global stage, such as the scrapping of international programmes for students in the United Kingdom to meet and network with their counterparts across Europe, which are their closest peers.
As the chair of the all-party group on Erasmus, I was devastated to learn that the Government had chosen not to participate in the programme post-Brexit. The Erasmus+ scheme allowed students to broaden their horizons, learn new languages, and forge international networks and relationships. As it stood, it could have contributed heavily to the Government’s vision of a truly global Britain. Scrapping the programme and announcing the new Turing programme, with limited details on what the scheme will entail, I am concerned that the Government have scrapped a brilliant programme for another that falls short. It is very underfunded and does not share the many benefits of the Erasmus+ programme. If we are truly aiming for global Britain, we must also consider how international students fit into the new Turing scheme. At present, the idea of reciprocity seen in the Erasmus+ programme does not seem to be present in the new scheme.
While we speak of a truly global exchange programme, we should be celebrating the good that British education can offer international students as well as celebrating the cultural benefits of learning from them, too. International students give us our local communities and we must do more to encourage and support them to choose Britain in their own exchange programmes.
Something woefully lacking in the Government’s vision of a global Britain is our own world renowned manufacturing industry. This is an industry that has been ravaged by the pandemic and overlooked by the Government during the Brexit negotiations. I want to see the Government finally prioritise this sector, save our businesses and employers and give them better assurances. Members will know that manufacturing has a deep root in my city of Coventry and in the west midlands. The west midlands can boast of the Rolls-Royce site at Ansty, which is the only site that can weld the veins of plane propellers. It is one of only a handful sites around the world that can produce fans with their plane engines. We risk losing our proud heritage of world-class expertise in the aeronautic industry. We need to capitalise on British talents, support our homegrown industry and ensure that jobs are not exported out of this country.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am keen for the Government to let us know where those two important tenets of our British society can fit into their global vision.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to this important debate. Global Britain means a lot more than just a couple of words now that we have left the EU. This is about reassessing Britain’s place in the world and championing the good that this nation has done and will continue to do in an ever changing global market. I am proud that the UK has been at the heart of the international effort to tackle covid-19, which just shows the good that this country can do through our international engagement. The development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, which is a game changer in our global fight against covid-19, has demonstrated that this country is one of the world’s best when it comes to science and research. In my opinion, the argument is also sound and compelling that Britain must do its bit to help vaccinate populations across the world.
2021 is going to be an excellent year for the UK’s global leadership, with our presidencies of the G7 and COP26 giving us a fantastic opportunity to highlight to the international community what a strong force for good global Britain can and will be. Our values are shared by so many across the world—a liberal democracy and a capitalist society, looking out for our most vulnerable. That is why I am glad that at the G7 summit this year, which is to be hosted by the UK, we are welcoming India, South Korea and Australia—the D10, or the 10 democracies. My hope is that this band of liberal democracies will help the world to stand up to autocratic regimes across the world. The D10 band of countries can be a force for good. While we as a nation have always been a leader, we cannot do it alone. The pandemic has shown the benefits of all countries working together to defeat this virus. This new band of countries is the key to unlocking that change and is the compassionate case for our future as a free trading, independent nation contributing towards humanitarian issues across the world.
We have already made 63 trade agreements with countries around the world. When combined with the trade and co-operation agreement reached with the EU, this covers £885 billion of UK trade. Mutual recognition agreements on conformity assessments have also been separately reached with the US, Australia and New Zealand. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade for all her work and thank her Department for setting the agenda of global Britain as a free trading nation. There has never been a more important time for the UK to be out in the world, delivering on our commitments, helping the most vulnerable and showcasing what the UK has to offer.
“Global Britain” may be catchy, but it is not an inclusive phrase. Britain or Great Britain is not the same thing as the United Kingdom. In terms of substance, there is a danger that global Britain is just a front for little England. The UK is retreating on the international stage. Its influence and, indeed, its sovereignty were amplified by working through the European Union alongside other multilateral institutions. With the incoming Biden Administration, a likely return to alliance co-operation and a greater focus on global institutions, there should be some reflection on the course now being taken. In the context of the support for and reliance upon a rules-based international order, it is worth reflecting on and recalling the damage that has been done by the games that were played around the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.
I am a supporter of free and fair trade in the liberal tradition. It is often overlooked that the UK was able to open new trade markets through the European Union. The test of any independent trade policy is whether it is capable of improving what the EU could have achieved for the UK through its much greater negotiating strength. At best, the jury is out on that. There is a danger that, in an effort to push the boundaries in reaching agreements, standards on labour rights, the environment, climate change and human rights are compromised. In the modern world, those are all intrinsic aspects of trade agreements.
Reference has been made to the current problems with the movement of goods into Northern Ireland. These problems relate to Brexit itself and the nature of the UK-EU trade deal. They are manifesting across the UK, so Northern Ireland is not alone in these problems. The subset of challenges arising from the protocol relate in large part to very tight timescales for implementation, poor information and a lack of engagement from companies based in Great Britain. Where there are structural problems, they can only be addressed by fresh flexibilities and derogations being agreed by the UK Government and the European Commission through the joint partnership council and the specialised committee. Those pushing article 16 of the protocol as a remedy are offering a populist, ineffective and false solution. Please note that no major business organisation in Northern Ireland or beyond is calling for article16 to be invoked.
Looking ahead, the promotion of democracy, human rights and good governance must be central. The UK must be a leader in the United Nations on peacebuilding and human security. It must be a leader on climate change, both at home and abroad. I am concerned that these concepts have been given very little space and attention in the integrated review to date. That needs to be addressed if we are going to talk about a genuine global UK.
After nearly 50 years of being shackled to the European Union, today we can say with confidence that Britain is back—back as a sovereign, independent and truly global nation. Let us, however, reflect that instead of being a nation with its sovereignty restored, trading on equal terms with Europe, we could so easily have been legally trapped in a backstop, which would have left the UK locked into the EU rules with no escape. Had some of us caved in to the pressure that we were under to vote for the withdrawal agreement, I fear that today the integrity and sovereignty of the United Kingdom would have been compromised. With the fresh start that this gave our then new Prime Minister, he was able to free the United Kingdom from the entanglement of the European Union and restore Britain’s sovereignty, which my constituents in Romford, and the British people, voted for.
Of course, our British family of overseas territories and Crown dependencies must always be included as part of global Britain. I cautiously welcome the agreement reached with Spain over Gibraltar, which I am assured by my friends on the Rock does not compromise the integrity of Gibraltar, which is and remains wholly British, as it always must. The Prime Minister reassured the people of the Falkland Islands in his Christmas message that the Government will do everything they can to support the islands, but that support must also be extended to all Crown dependencies and overseas territories; their needs and interests must be secured in future negotiations. Her Majesty’s Government have a duty to represent their interests too.
We also have an opportunity to build a stronger alliance with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We share so much in common with the CANZUK nations through family ties, history, culture, language, and, of course, with the Queen as our common Head of State, so let us work to make this alliance a reality too. Indeed, there are also all 54 nations of the Commonwealth—young and diverse—which make up almost 2.4 billion of the world’s population. The Commonwealth must also be at the heart of Britain’s global strategy.
Finally, we must never forget our special relationship with our companion nation on these islands, Ireland. We must work to strengthen areas of mutual understanding with our Irish friends, building ever closer and stronger bilateral relations between our two uniquely intertwined nations. As co-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I look forward to bringing members of both the British and Irish Parliaments together to discuss opportunities to collaborate closely as true friends and allies.
The United Kingdom must be bold in using our rediscovered freedom to go out into the world and reclaim our global leadership on free trade, enterprise and liberal democracy, spreading those values, which have given this nation a history of which we can all be rightly proud.
The measure of success for global Britain comes not just in rhetoric, but in the actions that we take on the international stage, particularly in the face of international injustices. I will therefore use my time today to draw the Minister’s attention to the situation in Sri Lanka, and particularly to the vital upcoming UN Human Rights Council meeting.
The challenges in Sri Lanka are well documented. Its President and his brother, the Prime Minister, face accusations of crimes against humanity for their role in killing thousands of their own people—Tamil civilians, at the end of the civil war. They have placed their closest allies in senior Government positions, including military commanders accused of war crimes and politicians accused of corruption, violence and common criminality. Just this weekend, I received thousands of emails from shocked and frightened members of the Tamil community following the destruction of the Mullivaikkal Tamil genocide memorial monument at the University of Jaffna —an act that completely undermines the process of truth, justice and accountability that would set Sri Lanka on a path to lasting peace.
How the UK responds to the ongoing injustice in Sri Lanka and in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law will speak volumes for our leadership role on the international stage. The 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place in March; what preparations are the Government making to ensure that a new resolution on the issue is agreed? Such a resolution should maintain human rights monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; mandate a mechanism to gather, preserve and analyse evidence for future investigations and prosecutions that build on the work of previous UN investigators; and call on the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on options for international action for the promotion and protection of human rights, justice and accountability in Sri Lanka. I urge the Minister, in the strongest terms, to ensure that we use the unique opportunity that March provides to continue the global leadership that we have previously demonstrated on this issue and show on the international stage that we are truly global Britain.
It is a pleasure to follow my colleague from the Treasury Committee, the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh).
When politicians break manifesto pledges, they normally pay a price at the ballot box at the subsequent election. Think of George H. W. Bush and his “Read my lips: no new taxes”; he then raised taxes and did not get a second term. Think of Nick Clegg and his pledge on cutting tuition fees to zero; tuition fees were then tripled and the Liberal Democrats lost 85% of their parliamentary seats at the next election. However, the breaking of a manifesto pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on helping the world’s extreme poor will probably be seen as a good thing by quite a few UK voters, yet the victims are unable to speak up in today’s debate. That is why it is so important for those of us who have had the privilege of seeing the good that UK aid does around the world to speak up on behalf of those who will lose out from the decision at the spending review to cut the aid budget to 0.5%.
Obviously it is not a good idea to break any manifesto pledge, but it is deeply shameful for the only manifesto pledge broken to be the commitment we made to the world’s poorest. If Members have seen the way in which nutrition is given to babies in Ethiopia or Somalia, they will realise that more babies will die if we cut the UK aid budget. If Members have witnessed the invention of the cold-chain deployment of the Ebola vaccine to the furthest reaches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, paid for by UK aid, they will know that it has helped us to develop the cold-chain deployment of the current Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. In fact, deploying vaccines saves lives—including lives here in the UK. Anyone who has seen the enthusiasm with which girls in Sierra Leone study their lessons will know that the best chance that poor countries have to move beyond aid is through universal access to quality education. Fewer children will finish school if we give less in aid.
We have heard today how global Britain will be presiding over the G7 and COP26, and there are going to be excellent uses for UK aid at those events. We will also be giving a generous amount to GAVI, but would it not be wonderful if it were the UK vaccine that was being deployed around the world? This is a year in which we should be increasing our aid budget, not cutting it.
This debate is led by the Department for International Trade, but in truth, if global Britain is to move from good intentions to successful strategy, it will need to involve all of Government, every constituency and many people—every immigrant nurse, every exporter, every person in our diverse communities who may have come from anywhere in the world but is contributing to our cities and our nation. In many ways, the pandemic is a metaphor for what can be achieved, for the key ingredients of our huge progress on vaccination have come from academics, scientists, the Government-created vaccine taskforce, taxpayer and corporate investment, pharmaceutical and regulatory leadership, and now primary care networks working closely with the NHS and the Army. That combination, involving so many skills, translates into a huge international commitment through GAVI, which was led at its recent summit by the UK. This involved a huge commitment of £330 million for each of the next five years by our own nation, as well as a huge number of other countries, with Oxford-AstraZeneca becoming the first manufacturer to guarantee huge numbers of doses of vaccine for global distribution.
So the idea that the UK has become little England, cut off from the world, does not match the reality of global Britain and the way in which we are facing the greatest global challenge of 2020-21. In our chairmanship of the G7 and the climate change summit COP26 this year, we have other opportunities to try to help the world resolve some of our greatest challenges. This means not only leading by example, which the Prime Minister’s 10-point green plan and his financial commitments bring alive, but working with the crucial partners to achieve common goals, and that includes both the United States of America and China. Global Britain therefore needs calm diplomacy focused on delivery; strong values; and a pragmatic recognition that this House accepts that there is little social justice without a strong economy and that exports bring huge mutual benefits to both our partners abroad and here.
There is so much I would like to say, including about the valiant work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, supporting open societies, recognising the great efforts we are making for the trans-Pacific partnership in Asia and, above all, the opportunity to show that we can, as President Reagan put it, achieve anything we want to so long as we do not mind who takes the credit.
I want this country to be outward looking and multilateralist, and that includes confronting difficulties. We should not retreat from the middle east because of past conflicts, and we must be prepared to toughen our response towards the regime in Iran. How much effort should we expend trying to appease a corrupt theocracy that has no regard for human rights or international conventions? We should give more support to those who challenge that regime. We should not tolerate Iran’s warmongering or support for terrorism. But a multilateralist Britain also needs to build peace in the middle east, which is why Labour Friends of Israel has been so prominent in making the case for an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Legislation passed by the US Congress provides an opportunity; it creates a $250 million peace fund and includes two seats for international partners. The fund aims to underpin a future peace, in much the same way as the International Fund for Ireland has done. We of all people should recognise the value of such a fund. It is through peace building and co-existence initiatives that we lay the foundations for a lasting peace. It is through strengthened civic institutions that we ensure it endures, even in times of difficulty. This fund has been pioneered by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, and will provide support for non-governmental organisations and people-to-people projects. We became the first country to endorse such a concept when then Minister Alistair Burt launched the people for peaceful change initiative in 2018. That project has now ended and future intentions remain unclear. By building on developments in the US Congress, we have an opportunity to demonstrate to our new friends in the White House that a post-EU Britain is indeed a global and multilateralist Britain.
In a debate last November, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), pledged to ask officials to look specifically at whether this country should seek to take up one of those seats. It would be good to hear in this debate that real progress has been made and we are now poised to play our full role.
We debate this this evening at a time when the values we stand for as a country, when the values of all liberal democracies of the world, seem more under threat than at any time in living memory. The western world, once confident and convinced of the powers of capitalism, democracy and free trade, has been shaken by two decades of terrorism, ill-managed overseas conflicts, a devastating financial crisis, the European migrant crisis and a lurch towards nationalism and populism. Now, economies are ravaged by covid-19, and last week we saw the bastion of American democracy—the Capitol, the literal shining city on the hill—overrun by a mob demanding that the results of a free and fair election be overturned because their leader refused to accept the result; actions we would normally associate with a tinpot dictator, not the leader of the free world. And so in front of us is the greatest challenge since we rebuilt our world after the second world war. We must take on the democracy deniers; we must re-establish and defend the rules-based order; and we must champion free trade. The challenge we have is great. We see Russia and China. We see threats to democracy and trade all around the globe.
Britain is already a global power: a world leader on foreign aid spending; the second highest defence spender in NATO, with that set to increase; a permanent member of the UN Security Council; a leading member of the Commonwealth; and a country that has shown by its action that it respects and enacts the results of democratic referendums and elections. We are a believer in free trade between free nations because it enriches our people and spurs economic growth and prosperity around the globe. That is why we have signed 64 trade deals since leaving the EU, worth over £885 billion. We are among the leading nations on earth in fighting climate change. Over the past decade, the UK has cut carbon emissions by more than any similar developed country, and it was the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050.
This year, we have a great opportunity at this crucial juncture for our world—at this epoch-defining moment when we, the liberal democracies, can choose either to simply watch as those who care not for liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or democracy overturn the rules-based international order, or to stand up for the values of the enlightenment, for democracy, for globalisation. The United Kingdom has been handed the opportunity to lead—to guide the world forward into the next decade of the 21st century. With our presidency of COP26, hosted here in Scotland this year, and with our presidency of the G7 coming at this most critical and crucial of years, we have the opportunity to be bold and to signal to the world that, though bruised, the values we hold dear are enduring and that, working together, with confidence in who we are and what we stand for, we can take action to combat the greatest threats to our planet and our people. A global Britain, with Scotland at its heart, will lead the fight in the struggles of this century, and I think, with conviction, that we will win.
It pains me to say that under this Government, Britain is world-beating for all the wrong reasons. We are facing the highest number of excess deaths in Europe—one of the worst covid-19 death rates in the world—and our worst ever recession. We chose not to implement a zero-covid strategy to save UK lives. It is alarming that this is the global Britain that is promised by the Prime Minister and his allies—a Britain that has alienated itself on the world stage by cosying up to Donald Trump, and which is forming a reputation across the world for rhetoric, incompetence and mismanagement.
This Government act as though someone can only love this country if they wrap themselves in the Union Jack, refuse to recognise the horrors of our colonial past and ignore everything that does not make Britain great, yet I believe that, as a former empire, Britain has a unique responsibility to redefine its role on the global stage. It is vital for us to consider the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy on modern-day global insecurity. For instance, it is crucial that countries in the global south are not denied access to vaccines due to financial constraints. It is also shameful that the Government are cutting development funding at a time of global crisis. Turning our backs on the world’s poorest is a political choice, not an economic necessity. It is especially crucial for the UK Government to be ambitious about changing the unjust dynamics of trade and global debt, forged through centuries of violent extractive colonialism and imperialism. The Jubilee Debt Campaign found that more than 60 countries are spending more on paying their creditors than they are on their population’s health. That is a direct consequence of the uneven power dynamics of empire, and it must end.
Despite what the Government may believe, it is possible to love Britain because of the NHS, because of our proud trade union history and because your parents were able to arrive from Nevis, settle in Leicester and build a life for themselves and their family. I want our country to ensure that none of our citizens goes hungry, that it is a welcoming place for everyone and that we are a force for human rights, climate justice and equality at home and abroad. That is the patriotism that I wish the Government would subscribe to and which must guide Britain towards a new path on the global stage.
I start by paying tribute to the Secretary of State for International Trade and her Ministers, because securing agreements for £885 billion in trade in one year is no mean feat.
I turn first to our EU trade deal. It is a good and pragmatic deal—a deal of which the British people can be proud as we chart our own future. For Rutland and Melton, our 63 trade deals and the EU agreement mean that thousands of businesses can better trade worldwide, our incredible food producers such as Long Clawson Dairy and Samworth Brothers are boosted by increasing recognition worldwide with geographical indicators, and our farmers get a better deal free from the bureaucratic tentacles of Brussels. With our new-found freedoms, I hope that locally, if the Chancellor heeds my cries, we will benefit from an east midlands freeport at East Midlands Airport.
Moving forward, we must seize the negotiations with New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the US to further our longstanding alliances. Through these deals, we also have the opportunity to join the CPTPP. As much as Britain is a trading nation, global Britain means more than boosting exports. We should build stronger economic and security partnerships with our Five Eyes and NATO allies to better tackle the rising threat of China and other nations to our security, economy and health, and to combat corruption in international institutions.
Trade deals with like-minded allies will enable us to establish coalitions for free trade and human rights worldwide and to diminish and isolate those who seek to undermine our values and nations. As global Britain, we should step forward to become the world leader in the prevention of atrocities. We need a stand-alone unit at the Foreign Office to do that and to stop genocides, such as that in Xinjiang. More than any time since the second world war, the UK has a chance to define for itself its place in the world. This place will be a great one that lifts other nations with us.
I go back to my maiden speech, where I said that for 1,000 years, Rutland’s motto has been “multum in parvo”, or, “much in little”. The same is true of this great country, for it is not through our vastness that we have become a beacon in the world, but rather through the commercial talent of our citizens, the power of our ideas and the strength of our democracy and laws, which by unapologetic defence have stood the test of time.
In my maiden speech, I also raised a Greek aphorism, “gnōthi seauton”, meaning “know thyself”. That is a sound basis for British foreign policy, because our great nation must be temperate where possible and decisive where necessary. We must ruthlessly defend our values, progress every opportunity for our people, stand by our allies, promote liberal, free market economies and protect the most vulnerable, because a global Britain is one that unapologetically stands tall on the world stage, certain in the knowledge that those who seek to dim the light of our great nation and our values will surely fail.
The British Government’s cut to the aid budget is a clear example that global Britain is about looking after the UK’s own priorities while reducing support for the world’s poorest. Abandoning the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid, but simultaneously finding millions of pounds for a festival to celebrate Brexit has left many questioning global Britain’s priorities. This cut to the aid budget will have a catastrophic impact, leading to increased poverty and instability around the world, further exacerbating the covid-19 crisis. Surely if UK Ministers wanted global Britain to lead the charge, this pandemic would be the perfect time to exemplify that leadership. I argue that cutting the aid budget is not global Britain; it is the actions of little Britain.
Last month, it was announced that the UK would no longer partake in Erasmus, even after the Prime Minister’s commitment to remain part of the scheme. In this debate, it is important to remember who will miss out from the UK no longer partaking in Erasmus; there will be so many missed opportunities for young people. I am proud to serve as honorary president of the British Youth Council. The BYC has serious concerns that, although the Turing scheme may replace the formal education aspect of Erasmus-plus, the Government have taken no action to replace the non-formal strand of the scheme. Withdrawing from the Erasmus programme is not global Britain; it is the actions of little Britain.
The UK Government claim that, as global Britain, they can establish a great trade deal with the United States, but they seem to forget that, since 2019, a 25% tariff has existed on single malt whisky imported to the US.
The news today indicated that online sales of whiskey—I think of the Echlinville distillery in Kircubbin—have exceeded expectations. I know that the hon. Gentleman and I have different opinions on the constitution, but does he not agree that the opportunities for whiskey sales across the world are growing?
The hon. Gentleman will certainly find an ally in me in hoping that we sell more whisky, not least because it is one of the most important industries in Scotland, employing 11,000 people. Scotch itself is worth £5.5 billion to the UK economy, so I heartily endorse that.
While the UK is negotiating a free trade deal with the States, the tariffs remain in place and exports to the US have fallen by 30% since they came into force. That means that jobs in the supply chain are very much at risk. Time is of the essence for the whisky sector, and it is imperative that the UK Government work with the Biden Administration to ensure that the issue of whisky tariffs is a priority in any future trade deal. I certainly hope that that will be the case, given the so-called special relationship.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) said, global Britain is not the SNP’s project. We wish it well, but we certainly do not want to be a part of it. Instead, we seek an independent Scotland rejoining the European Union as an equal member alongside our EU partners. We see the power of smaller nations and what they can achieve: the Republic of Ireland now sits on the UN Security Council and New Zealand leads the world in covid-19 elimination. That is the prize we in the SNP firmly have our eyes on, and we will not be distracted by hollow slogans like global Britain.
Three minutes is not a great deal of time to talk about a subject as big as Britain’s place in the world as global Britain, so this evening I want to challenge the House to think a little about the signals we are sending.
I mean it as absolutely no disrespect to the Secretary of State for International Trade, but I rather wish somebody else had opened the debate. I wish the Secretary of State for international development had come to the Dispatch Box to boast that Britain was one of the handful of countries that had a commitment to spend 0.7% of its GNI on overseas aid. Of course, we could not have had that, because the Government have abolished the Department for International Development and now seek to walk away from the commitment to spend 0.7% of our GNI on aid. As others have said in this debate, that commitment put us at the top of the world’s nations, rather than in the rather backward and downward-looking position we are now left in.
If the Government want the focus of today’s debate to be on trade, let us take them at their word. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) said, let us focus on the tariffs currently being imposed on Scotch whisky, which have cost us something in the region of £450 million in lost exports already. It is a pretty open secret that we were close to having a bilateral deal with the US last week but we did not get it over the line. That is because it was just too difficult for Government Departments within Whitehall to agree on a common position that would have delivered that deal. Rather than having Ministers come and crow at the Dispatch Box about the great achievements of cut-and-paste trade deals, they would do better to focus on the real challenges that face us as we now try to create these trade deals across the world, because that one issue of tariffs in one sector shows just how challenging this is going to be.
The challenge to the House tonight is what the narrative is going to be as we create this global Britain. Is it going to be one that is merely transactional—all about trade? Are we going to create a global Britain that is actually rooted in values—rooted in support for human rights, wherever they are found, and the rule of law—or are we going to be looking at this just as a question of pounds, shillings and pence?
Having listened to some of the nay-sayers today, I would refer them to a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man…in the arena”.
Well, global Britain is now in the arena, and this is about us engaging globally in our new, less constrained world. We need more trade and investment to propel our economic growth and create jobs as we recover from coronavirus. The UK, in reaching out to the world, needs to build its own platforms to support this.
I want progress in our levelling-up agenda for all parts of the UK to participate through agendas like putting the first freeport in the north-east of England at Tees port and Teesside airport; investing in proper rail capacity through connections like Ferryhill station on the Leamside line, affording efficient links for our businesses; and creating specialisms in the space and hydrogen sectors in places like the north-east. This will allow the north-east to fully participate in these opportunities.
With the Brexit deal now properly done, and having secured deals with 63 countries around the world covering £885 billion of trade, we need to grasp these opportunities for all our regions. We can develop as a scientific superpower. NETPark in Sedgefield is positioned to develop global expertise, creating more high-value local manufacturing and generating more export power. We need to commercialise our innovation expertise. This can be the platform for investing in training and skills. The Turing scheme excites me by creating a broader opportunity for students. With our overseas placements no longer limited by language, skills or money, all students now have equal access to what the world of education can offer. With the dedicated appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) to focus on COP26, the UK can lead on climate change and a green recovery.
I have every confidence that we have the desire and capability to develop a fully global Britain, and I look forward to supporting our Government in these endeavours.
Today Britain is forging a new path as a sovereign nation state. We will stand by our long-held values of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights. We will work hard to support our European friends and neighbours and our allies around the world and will continue to stand by the world’s poorest. But we must also seize the opportunity of our new freedoms—the opportunity to cast Britain as an icon of an outward-looking modern state. To do that, we have to recognise the changing factors disrupting the world as we know it today. First, the world’s economic centre of gravity has shifted east, and the Indo-Pacific region is now the fastest-growing region in the world. Secondly, the rise of technology is profoundly changing how we live and work. Those who cannot keep up will lose out.
We need to prepare ourselves for the century ahead. We should be proud of the talents born across these islands of our shared achievements to date. We are the world’s fifth largest economy, with more Nobel prizes and world-leading universities than any European country. We are a diplomatic superpower and a nuclear power, and we benefit from our leadership roles in the UN Security Council and the G7. We have a leading global financial centre and we consistently attract the highest foreign direct investment in Europe. Along with China, the US and India, we are one of the top four breeding grounds for tech unicorns—those rare new companies that achieve billion-dollar valuations. However, the world does not stand still and nor can we. We must now use our hard-won freedoms to keep up with a changing world—the freedom to revise our regulations at speed to meet the pace set by the world’s brightest innovators, to strike new trading relationships that suit our distinct economic strengths and to spur on our specialist sectors.
Britain’s record on covid-19 vaccinations—vaccinating more people than the rest of Europe combined—has reminded us all of the importance of an ambitious and agile state that controls its own regulation. We can use progressive regulation to push new boundaries, from AI to fintech to life sciences to gene editing, and we can also be ambitious with our new global partnerships, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. Our new trading freedom means Britain can join the CPTPP. Already the largest trade agreement by population, if the US joins, it will be the largest economic free trade agreement in the world. We can do more to collaborate with our Indo-Pacific partners, from space development alliances to green finance to protecting our shared values. We are also the biggest funder of COVAX, the global vaccine alliance, which will ensure we can get at least 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines to more than 90 developing countries.
Through innovation and partnership, we are helping to get the vaccine to those who need it most, proving that an independent Britain is not only good for us, but good for our friends across the world. Indeed, that is a fitting first step for a new truly global Britain.
Across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, over 125,000 people have already received the coronavirus vaccine. This is a truly staggering feat, given that this time last year many of us had never even heard of covid-19. Just last week, I spoke with the chief executive of Staffordshire County Council and the leaders of our NHS team locally who are rolling out this vaccine in Stafford. I thank all of our healthcare workers, members of the armed forces and volunteers who have helped to make this vaccination programme possible. I know there are still millions of people across the UK eagerly waiting for the vaccine, but if the operation at county showground in Stafford is anything to go by, I have every hope that the vaccine will help us to defeat the virus. Our experience of coronavirus over the last few months has, sadly, taught us that some people will have to seek hospital treatment and some will also need intensive care, so I thank everyone for the enormous personal sacrifices they have made over the past few months to follow the guidance, and I say thank you for all they have done to literally save people’s lives.
Unfortunately, in many less developed countries, responding to this need through existing health systems will be near on impossible. For example, Tanzania has just one doctor for every 30,000 patients, while most African countries have fewer than 20 ICU beds for their entire populations. So not only will the virus be more difficult to contain, but the ability to care for those severely infected will be limited. Therefore, today, I call for every country to strengthen their preventive measures to fight this immediate crisis. It is absolutely essential that we have strong, resilient health systems to fight this global pandemic. Investing in healthcare workers, as well as providing adequate protective equipment and other essential medicines, helps to prepare low and middle-income countries to deal with the immediate threat of covid-19 and helps to avoid thousands of preventable deaths. Of course, there is no one single model for handling this outbreak and no virus is the same, but I believe that this worldwide sharing of experience has helped us to slow down the spread of coronavirus and is helping to protect the lives of my constituents in Stafford and around the world.
Vaccines are an area in which Britain has a long-standing history in leading the world. We are a founding member of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and we are continuing to champion access to vaccines. So while this pandemic has devastatingly demonstrated that we are all only as strong as our weakest healthcare system, I think the UK has shown tremendous leadership and co-operation, which is what is needed to fight this disease and to ensure that covid-19 is ended in Stafford and abroad.
I welcome today’s debate. I am hugely optimistic about our future as a sovereign free-trading nation, although I appreciate that not all share that view—indeed, we have witnessed this evening how Labour and SNP Members wish to talk down Britain. Unlike them, I am confident about our place in the world. For evidence of this, we need look no further than the remarkable achievement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade and her team, who have successfully negotiated over 60 continuity agreements since we formally left the EU almost a year ago.
The Government have set out their welcome ambition to join the CPTPP. Perhaps we should also consider in greater detail CANZUK, which could bring Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK together as an international powerhouse. Far from being the little Englanders the remainers have always made Brexiteers out to be, we are pursuing a vision of a truly global Britain. I am pleased to play my small part in this through my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the western Balkans. Although I have been in office for only three months, I have seen the huge potential for expanding the relationship between the UK and each of the six countries in the region. There are considerable opportunities across a range of sectors, most notably in renewables and infrastructure projects. Furthermore, there are opportunities throughout the supply chains, offering infinite possibilities for SMEs in the UK to get involved.
The forthcoming COP26 world conference will focus attention on the green agenda and create a massive opportunity for the UK to showcase what our industries offer in the global markets that are open to them. In contrast to what the doomsayers claim, post Brexit we retain the status of a respected partner, which is able to continue to punch above its weigh thanks to a dynamic economy. We are one of the greatest military powers in the world and have a reputation as one of the most effective exercisers of soft power. Few can match our diplomatic footprint, as I have seen in my role as a trade envoy. Our ambassadors in the western Balkans have shown themselves to be people of great ability. They recognise that the UK brand is a powerful one and maintain Britain’s reputation as a country that offers fantastic opportunities.
I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State refer to free ports. She knows that I have long advocated such a policy. I am of course eager to ensure that the Humber ports receive free port status. It is clear that the UK’s best times are ahead of us, and I very much welcome the efforts of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Trade to refocus our policy so that it is fit for the 21st century.
I welcome the chance to wind up this first debate of 2021 for the official Opposition. We have heard powerful speeches from the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), and from my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Newport West (Ruth Jones), for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). Also notable were the speeches from the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe). It was difficult to disagree with the right hon. Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) that cutting our aid and abolishing the Department for International Development is hardly going to build confidence in the global Britain brand.
The International Trade Secretary’s speech was, sadly, not quite so encouraging. She and the rest of the Cabinet spent 2020 putting up barriers to trade. She unsuccessfully chased Donald Trump for a trade deal—indeed, it was striking that not once in her speech did she mention President-elect Biden. Vital markets in Asia and important allies in Africa were neglected or treated poorly last year. The one advantage that Ministers in the Department for International Trade start the year with is that expectations of them are not high.
The deal with the European Union that the Prime Minister negotiated, while better than no deal, is proving already to be very thin gruel. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton noted, 80% of our economic output depends on services. We might reasonably have expected Ministers to fight harder to maintain our access to EU services markets, but there is nothing on, for example, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and the Prime Minister’s claim that his deal means certainty for financial services—one of the industries where Britain leads the world in jobs and skills—will surprise many who work in that industry.
Never has any party embraced with such enthusiasm a trade deal that is set to generate unprecedented levels of red tape and form filling—new red tape for farmers, new plant and animal health checks, new red tape for manufacturers, new rules of origin checks, and new safety and security checks. Businesses will have to get used to an estimated 400 million new forms. Not surprisingly, one of the fastest growing areas of employment in global Britain is in handling all the new red tape.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, but, sadly, we are seeing lots of new jobs being created in this very area: customs clearance agents, import customs agents, international customs agents, import customs brokerage agents and customs clearance clerks—all these new jobs being created because Ministers appear to want dynamic export-oriented British firms to fill in more forms.
Since the Government’s new trade agreement with the EU came into effect, we have also seen rising numbers of export consignments from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and the EU turned away because they do not have the right customs documentation, we have seen EU businesses stop selling their products to the UK by mail because of new VAT rules, and we have seen thousands of companies grappling with the new rules of origin to determine whether their exports to the EU now face tariffs. So businesses—never mind the House—might have expected to hear a little more from the Secretary of State on what she was going to do about those problems.
As the shadow Secretary of State made clear, on rollover agreements, the truth is that the process has been a bit of a mess. Only 31 of the 63 countries listed on the Department for International Trade’s website have fully ratified agreements with the UK. Twenty-one have provisional agreements pending ratification, eight have bridging mechanisms pending the signing of deals, and in three cases deals have been signed but are not yet in effect. Clearly, not all of it is the Government’s fault, but leaving it so late to secure these agreements has caused completely unnecessary headaches and costs for many businesses trading with those countries. Prime Minister Trudeau’s suggestion that Britain did not have the “bandwidth” for a deal with his country hinted at a rather different reality from the one that the Secretary of State and her cheerleaders have implied today.
Indeed, the total inadequacy of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process as a means to guarantee proper parliamentary scrutiny of new trade deals signed by the Government has been exposed. Look at the eight continuity agreements that took effect on 1 January before they had been formally ratified: not a single one with a word of debate in Parliament. Continuity agreements with Canada and Mexico have not yet taken effect because ratification is taken more seriously in those countries than it is here, and one more agreement, with Cameroon, came into effect on 1 January without even being laid before Parliament. Think about that—it became law before any of us even saw it. If ever a process merited amendments from the other place being accepted to improve scrutiny of trade agreements, it is surely the events of the past month.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West pointed out, the House has received no formal explanation as to why 11 continuity agreements could not be concluded in time. So it certainly would be helpful if the Minister of State took a bit of time in his winding-up speech to go through the reasons why deals could not be done with, for example, Algeria, Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia. The Government’s dismal treatment of Ghana—a key Commonwealth ally—is particularly surprising. We know that UK negotiators turned up for meetings late and badly briefed and then left early with nothing resolved. What hung over all those negotiations was the threat of very heavy tariffs on cocoa, tuna and bananas if a deal could not be completed in time. That, sadly, is what has happened—twice already now, including today. I hope that a deal with Ghana can be completed soon and, when the Secretary of State finally signs that long overdue and much needed deal, it should come with a much needed apology.
It is also striking that, in the year when the UK will be hosting the world’s climate change summit, not one of the trade agreements that the Secretary of State signed last year saw any progress on the environment and climate change. Also, as other hon. Friends have mentioned, many of the deals that the Secretary of State signed did not include even the most basic provisions on human rights. It was good to hear the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) briefly require the Secretary of State to mention India. The Secretary of State has been astonishingly quiet on trade with the Indian subcontinent. India’s market is set to be the world’s fifth largest within five years, and given that Britain is bottom of the G7 for growth in our trade with India, a little more effort to open those markets would, I say gently, be timely.
Trade deals involve give as well as take, so it would be good to hear a little more openness from the Minister of State tonight and ultimately from the Secretary of State about what we will have to give in the trade deals she wants to sign this year. Australia and New Zealand, for example, are both great allies, but with a considerable interest in our agricultural markets. Japan, too, is a great ally, but we must remember that the Japan trade deal signed with great fanfare appears, according to the Government’s own analysis, set to benefit Japanese exporters five times as much as British exporters.
When it comes to future negotiations, the Secretary of State has once again spoken in this debate as if the UK’s membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the CPTPP—should be seen as a no-brainer and a done deal. Membership of the CPTPP may indeed be a very welcome and positive step for our country to take, but I think the Government owe it to the House—we certainly owe it to our constituents—at least to ask some basic questions about that membership and what it will really mean. Will it, for example, mean signing up to secretive investor-state dispute settlement processes, with all the risks that that poses for our ability to protect public services, consumers and the environment from corporate profiteers? Will it mean having to accept the CPTPP’s “list it or lose it” approach to private competition in the public sector? Will it mean being obliged to accept palm oil from Malaysia and other producers, regardless of the public pressure in this country for a ban? Will we really be able to renegotiate the provisions of the CPTPP in our own interests before we sign up to it, or will we just have to accept the provisions that are already there? Of course, that might ultimately be the right thing to do. The benefits may well outweigh the costs, but the Government have not yet made that case. They have not yet answered the most basic questions. It is not just the other members of the CPTPP that they need to convince, but Parliament and the British public as well.
After almost 50 years, we have left a trade alliance with our closest geographical and economic partners—a decision that was not taken lightly. It certainly was not taken without debate, so before the Government plunge us into another trade grouping, perhaps a little more discussion might be worthwhile: maybe an impact assessment, and certainly serious and meaningful consultation.
I thank the 52 Members across the House for their informed contributions to the debate. Following our exit from the European Union, on 31 December the United Kingdom left the EU customs union and single market, taking back control of our trade policy and becoming an independent trading nation once again. We have reached an ambitious agreement with the European Union, changing the basis of that relationship from EU law to free trade and friendly co-operation.
After four and a half long years of debate—including, most notably, in this Chamber—we have followed the instruction of the British people as expressed in the 2016 referendum. I am sure that I speak for many in this House when I express a sense of relief that this matter is now settled and that vote honoured. It was a vote for Britain’s relationship with Europe and with the rest of the world to change—to recognise some of the challenges of leaving the EU, but also to embrace a great number of new opportunities. In other words, it was a vote to forge the global Britain that this country can be.
Among the 52 speakers we have heard from, the longest speech—I thought I ought to reply to it—was from the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). In fact, we heard from both Islingtons tonight. The right hon. Lady’s speech was mainly complaints about the trade and co-operation agreement. I will pass her questions on to the Cabinet Office. Now, it was rumoured that she was close to quitting the Front Bench rather than voting for the new UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, and tonight we heard some of the details of her opposition to that agreement. At times it sounded like she wanted to rejoin the EU. She misunderstood some of the complexities of trade agreements—yes, there is the continuity of the effect, but we still have to negotiate the terms and details. That means things such as rules of origin, tariff-rate quotas and so on. There are quite complex negotiations involved, but we have been very successful: 63 countries with which we have trade agreements have been rolled over so far, covering 97% of that trade.
The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury repeated her complaint about the provisional application of some of these trade agreements—deals which have not yet been fully ratified but which take effect. One might think that that does sound a little bit alarming, but it is entirely normal for trade agreements. Indeed, many of the original EU deals at the time were provisionally applied. I checked back on the details of some of these agreements and found one, the CARIFORUM agreement—a very good agreement, by the way—which is still provisionally applied today, despite having been signed in the year 2008, so the Opposition complaint that these deals have been provisionally applied for perhaps a few weeks bears nothing compared with the 13 years for which the trade agreements signed under the last Labour Government have been provisionally applied.
I thought, “Well, presumably somebody in the Labour Government at the time might have done something about this,” so I checked back and found out. Who was the Trade Minister at the time? It turns out that it was the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas); he might have been able to stop it at the time. Then I thought, “Well, if the Trade Minister did not stop it, who was the Minister for International Development who covered the Caribbean? Maybe he or she might have stopped it.” But it was him as well—the hon. Member for Harrow West. He was perfectly happy in 2008 for a deal to be provisionally applied still 13 years later, but now he is complaining about the provisional application of some of these important details.
The hon. Member for Harrow West was also complaining about the CRaG process, so I checked back again. I wanted to know who was the Minister for international agreements at the time that CRaG was passed by the last Labour Government. I thought, “Who could that have been? Who would this person be today to be complaining about the CRaG process?” It turns out that it was none other than the hon. Member for Harrow West, in his role as an International Development Minister. Tonight we heard all those complaints, but sometimes such practices went on 13 years after the last Labour Government.
Anyway, we have heard from a high profile array of speakers, each frustratingly restricted to three minutes. We could have sold tickets for this debate. Instead of taking out a Netflix subscription, the people locked down at home could have been watching the House of Commons. We have had a former Prime Minister, two former members of the Cabinet, three current Select Committee Chairs, a former Leader of the Opposition and two former Trade Ministers. It has been a star-studded debate.
The former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), made a speech that will definitely get some attention; I agree with her calls to reject isolationism. We have heard from former Cabinet members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) spoke passionately about the Commonwealth and NATO, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) spoke about vision and boldness in trade, which he never lacked—nor, indeed, does his successor as Secretary State for International Trade. The former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), was listed on the call list as Labour, but I am not sure; I think he is still an independent. He took the title of the debate, “Global Britain”, and forgot the Britain bit. He did talk a bit about global, but it was mainly a speech against global corporations and his complaints about their role in the world today.
The Chairs of the Select Committees on Foreign Affairs, on Defence and on International Development—my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion)—all made very good points. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling spoke about how trade can transform lives in Africa; the Defence Committee Chair set out a huge to-do list on how we should work with President-elect Biden, which we very much look forward to doing; and the hon. Member for Rotherham spoke about development and women’s rights. Nobody is more passionate about girls’ education than our current Prime Minister, and I think we have been delivering on our important role there.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), who is at once my successor and my predecessor in this role, gave thanks to the DIT team; we thank him for his important work in the Department from 2019 to 2020. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) expressed his genuine concern about the Northern Ireland protocol and made some important points about hydrogen technology and other things.
Let me zip through the other speeches. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) quoted the words of Pericles; we were all expecting to hear Churchill, but instead he quoted another of the Prime Minister’s great heroes and we thank him for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) talked about Nord Stream 2, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) about the importance of Heysham as a port, my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) about the importance of human rights, my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) about both manufacturing and Stilton, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) about international development and vaccine development.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) skewered the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury on China—she had no answer. He was passionate about that very important subject. We will hear from the Foreign Secretary tomorrow about China.
From the Opposition, I liked the speech that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) gave about the living reality of her global diverse community in Vauxhall. I disagree with her on isolationism: I do not think that that is the direction that the UK is taking under this Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) praised his own community. He is quite right that the NHS will never be on the table in future trade deals.
The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) attacked the Government on fishing. How extraordinary to hear a speech attacking the Government on fishing from the SNP—a party that is committed to rejoining the EU common fisheries policy! It was an absolutely extraordinary speech.
I will not, because I am going to go through Members’ contributions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory) talked about global Cornwall, which I thought was a fantastic thing, and about Cornish exports to the US, Kazakhstan and Taiwan.
The hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) raised something that we have to clear up. On Ghana, the Secretary of State—this is on the Government’s website and we have announced it—has agreed the main elements of consensus on a new agreement with Ghana. That is a great relief to all of us, and I know that it will be and has been welcomed by many in Ghana. There is also no diminution of human rights in our trade agreements, as hon. Members will have seen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) made a thoughtful contribution; he also cited Robin Niblett of Chatham House. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) spoke about the importance of local exporters in his borders constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis) spoke about showcasing what the UK has to offer. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) said that Britain is back, and he is absolutely right. He also spoke about the importance of the Crown dependencies, which will play an important role. I have regular dialogue with the Crown dependencies—Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man—on their role in future trade agreements.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) was passionate about her time as Africa Minister. I read her piece on “ConservativeHome”; the Government position is that we will return to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal position allows it. There were also good speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham), for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), for Stafford (Theo Clarke) and for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), who all made excellent contributions in support of the Government’s free trade agenda. Unfortunately, I do not have time to reflect on every single one of those speeches, but this has been a successful, very well subscribed and star-studded debate and it has been a great pleasure to wind it up for the Government.
This year marks the beginning of a new chapter in our national story, going into the world as a sovereign, independent trading nation. The responsibility now falls on all our shoulders, both in the Government and in this Parliament, to take full advantage of the freedom of action that our country has regained. 2021 will be our opportunity to show what global Britain can be, striking trade deals with new markets and reasserting ourselves as a liberal, outward-looking, free-trading nation and, most of all, a force for good in the world.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Global Britain.