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United States: Diplomatic Relations

Volume 776: debated on Wednesday 16 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the outcome of the United States presidential election, what assessment they have made of future diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.

My Lords, the US and the UK are natural, resilient and strong allies. Throughout the history of the special relationship, British Governments have worked with successive Presidents to advance our mutual interests and tackle shared challenges. As the Prime Minister said during her call with President-elect Trump on 10 November, we look forward to working with his Administration to ensure the security and prosperity of our nations in the years ahead.

I thank the Minister for her Answer and her welcome statement that we will attempt to build close relationships with the president-elect and his transformation team. But may I ask her to join me in regretting that a dispatch from the ambassador was printed in full in the Sunday Times last week, and point out that unless these leaks can be controlled, ambassadors will write with an eye to the newspapers and to their reputations in the countries in which they are based, rather than giving clear advice to the Government who accredit them? This problem of constant leaks from embassies has got to be addressed. Will the Minister address it in whatever way is most appropriate?

My noble friend is right that it is invaluable for diplomatic staff around the world to be able to report events as they perceive them, in what are sometimes very hostile environments, and to do so frankly. If they cannot, the Government will not be able to fully understand the circumstances there. So I certainly take to heart what my noble friend has said. It is one of the reasons why, in condemning the practice of some people to indulge in leaks, we do not comment on leaked documents.

My Lords, Winston Churchill described British foreign policy as best when we balance carefully between our links with the United States, with Europe and with the Commonwealth. Tony Blair, when President George W Bush came in, abandoned that and wanted to hug close a right-wing Administration in the United States. Are we not in danger of hugging this very right-wing Administration close at the expense of the other circles of British influence?

My Lords, it is in the British interest always to ensure that we work with like-minded people around the world. That underlines what the noble Lord has put forward; there has to be a balance. But we must recognise—and I am pleased to do so—that our relationship with the United States, not over decades but a couple of centuries, has been based on the common values of democracy, freedom, enterprise and human rights. That is why we remain firm friends with the United States.

My Lords, many people were concerned about the rhetoric during the campaign, none more so than many British Muslims. Although any changes to the immigration system in America are a matter for that country, can my noble friend please confirm that at the earliest opportunity we will be given an assurance that any changes to America’s immigration status or policy will apply to British citizens regardless of their religion?

My noble friend is right to raise these matters. During a somewhat, shall we say, rumbustious contest for the presidency some interesting comments were made on a variety of matters —I think that I would use more House of Lords language. My noble friend raises an extremely important issue. We note that US immigration policy is a matter for the US authorities, as my noble friend says, but of course US Customs and Border Protection has made it clear that:

“The religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs of an international traveller are not determining factors about his/her admissibility into the U.S.”.

We should support the continuation of that policy.

My Lords, those working close to Donald Trump have reportedly said that they take what he says seriously but not literally. Does she think that that is good advice for the conduct of Her Majesty’s Government’s future relationship with Trump?

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that what we have witnessed in America is actually a great triumph of democracy? The most powerful nation in the world is able to hand over power from one Administration to another relatively peacefully, in a way in which three-quarters of the world could not possibly manage. Winston Churchill once said that democracy is a pretty awful system of government except that it is much better than anything else we happen to have invented. Alongside all the criticisms, can we not celebrate the fact that we live in a free western world?

My noble friend is absolutely right. As I am privileged to travel around the world for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office I see countries that do not have peaceful transitions, so I certainly celebrate in the way that my noble friend does.

My Lords, as one of the most important allies we have, is not the most important and effective relationship with the new President direct communications between the respective Heads of Government? When will she and the Prime Minister prioritise a meeting with President-elect Trump?

My Lords, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had a conversation on the telephone with Lord Trump—

I have clearly made one of the most popular proposals ever for an increase in the size of this House. As I say, when my right honourable friend had a conversation with President-elect Trump, he ended by extending an invitation to the Prime Minister to visit him in the United States as soon as possible, and I am sure that she shall.

My Lords, it is no secret that an important part of our relationship with the United States lies in the exchange, at the highest level, of intelligence. Does the noble Baroness acknowledge the importance of that particular aspect of the relationship, and can she confirm that in any negotiations, however broad they may be, very considerable emphasis will be placed on that aspect of the relationship, which is clearly in the best interests of both countries?

The noble Lord makes an essential point and we certainly shall concentrate on that. The co-operation we have at the security level is essential to the peace not only of this country and of the United States, but of the whole world.