Brexit and Foreign Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:43 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 9:43 pm, 26th June 2017

This excellent debate has been landmarked by a succession of first-rate maiden speeches. I single out Anna McMorrin, who spoke passionately in the cause of social justice for her constituents; my hon. Friend Ben Bradley, who showed exactly why he is the first member of our party to capture that seat for 100 years; Luke Pollard, who spoke movingly of his predecessor’s campaign for hedgehogs, as well as a rather important matter relating to that great port; and my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew C. Bowie), who spoke for many in this Chamber, and many in this country, when he said that it was time for the whole House to come together in the national interest and get Brexit done.

I have to say that, after about 37 speeches, my abiding impression is that there is far more that unites this House—both sides of the Chamber—in our approach to Brexit than divides it, and there is more confidence in this country’s future than we would expect given some of the coverage in the media. I was particularly pleased to hear my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry, who I am delighted to see in her place, saying that we have a great economy and a bright future. She is entirely correct. My hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), for Witney (Robert Courts), for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), and many others, raised their voices in favour of free trade and free trade deals.

Not a single Labour voice—not Keir Starmer nor Stephen Gethins, and certainly not Emily Thornberry—dissented from the point made so powerfully earlier by the leader of the Labour party, who said that it was his ambition to make sure that Brexit delivered new free trade deals around the world. None of them dissented from that, and of course the logical consequence of that is coming out of the customs union. There is far more agreement—[Interruption.] Well, this chap—the hon. Member for North East Fife—is not a Labour MP, as far as I understand the constitutional position. None of them dissented from that essential and fundamental understanding about Brexit. There is far more that unites us than divides us.

I think that confidence is right and justified in our country, because the ideal of and belief in free trade continues to lift billions of people out of poverty around the world. In 1990, 37% of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty. That figure has now gone down to 10%, and it is falling.

Wherever there is a crisis in the world—wherever there is terror or conflict—we will find that it is the United Kingdom that is at the forefront of trying to tackle those scourges. In Iraq and Syria, we should all be proud that the RAF is delivering more airstrikes against Daesh than any other air force apart from that of the United States. In the face of a revanchist and resurgent Russia, it is the UK that has kept up the pressure for sanctions over what it has done in Ukraine, as my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale rightly pointed out. In the face of the blood-curdling threats from North Korea, it is this country, in the UN, that has helped to marshal a coalition against what Kim Jong-un is doing. I am delighted to say that that coalition—hon. Members may have followed this—includes, for the first time, the Chinese, which is an important and hopeful development for our world.

In one of the most grizzly conflicts currently taking place in sub-Saharan Africa, it is this country that is sending 400 peacekeepers to South Sudan. We can be proud of what they are doing. If we think about the crisis that has just broken out in the Gulf—an unwelcome dispute between some of our closest friends—I can assure right hon. and hon. Members that it is to the United Kingdom that the world is looking to help to resolve it. That will take some time, but I have absolutely no doubt that we will get there. It is because the world looks to Britain, and it is because the work of the UK overseas is so vital for global security and stability, that it is absolutely vital that we resist the temptation to run down our defences and abrogate our responsibilities to our friends and partners around the world.