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Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 7:32 pm, 13th March 2017

That is to be acknowledged, but we must also look at what is happening within the various missions and at the posts that are being stripped out. Those whose job it was to make contact with human rights activists and with civil society within those countries—[Interruption.] If the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East, wishes to intervene on me, I will have no problem with that. However, if he is not going to intervene, could he just be quiet and let me finish my speech? I would appreciate that.

I want to talk about what our foreign policy is, in essence. Ministers are fond of speaking of the opportunities that leaving the EU could provide. On foreign policy, a fundamental rethink of the Government’s approach could be one of those opportunities, but in fact it is more than that: doing so is an absolute imperative. As the Government start to think—however belatedly—about the kind of relationship they might want with Europe, they should also consider what kind of relationship they want us to have with the rest of the world. In doing so, we need more than just warm words from the Government—we need a plan. Our Foreign Office has been at its very best when it has been allowed in its foreign policy to give proper weight to British values as well as to British interests. I hope that the Secretary of State will look to that legacy and embrace and build on it, rather than undermining it any further. In the more immediate term, we need the Government to start thinking sensibly about Europe as a matter of urgency. We know little more about Ministers’ intentions than that they are prepared to break the British economic model if they feel that that is needed if we do not get a deal.

I heard the Secretary of State say at the weekend that we would be “perfectly okay” if we left the EU without a deal. So why is the Chancellor of the Exchequer briefing that he is going to hoard £60 billion because of Brexit? Perhaps it is to fund the extra £350 million a week that the Secretary of State promised for the national health service. If so, I hope that the Secretary of State has asked the Chancellor about it, because £60 billion would provide three years, three months and one week’s-worth of extra money for the NHS. At the moment, he seems to be doing no more than crossing his fingers and hoping for the best. This is a serious situation. We need clear thinking about our future in Europe and in the wider world, and simply talking about Toblerone display cabinets in Saudi Arabia is not sufficient. We need clear thinking and a clear plan, and we need them without any further delay.