Global Britain and the International Rules-based Order

Part of Brexit, Science and Innovation – in the House of Commons at 3:08 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 3:08 pm, 6th September 2018

I am grateful to my fellow Committee member for making that point; he is absolutely right. That is exactly why we have called this debate. We want to explore the depths of this question and to challenge and push the Government. It is no accident that the motion calls on the Government to publish their assessment. We want to ensure that the House has the ability to exercise power over the Executive and call on them to deliver what we ask for. In this case that is an assessment, and I will say more about that in a moment.

Let me touch on a few of the areas where we have found answers to be lacking. The former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon Fraser, told the Committee that there was a lot of “mushy thinking”, and Lord Owen, the former Foreign Secretary, has bemoaned the lack of consistency in what the Government are saying on the subject. He also said, in words that are now somewhat historical but that speak to the truth, that if he listened to the radio and heard the Foreign Secretary saying something that the Prime Minister would then contradict, he wanted to throw something at his radio. I think his radio has been saved by a recent change in appointments, and let us hope that the situation will be improved by some co-ordination. I hope that the Foreign Office will manifest the same change through improvements in its thinking.

The question of a global Britain is a wide one, and we have produced a series of reports to cover it. In our first chapter, we look at what the Government will do differently and how they will change their approach. A lot of that is to do with the reality of bilateralism in Europe and how Britain will work when we are no longer working through the structure of the European Council, Commission and Parliament. For example, we will have to increase the number of our diplomats around Europe who speak Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish and other languages. The bilateral missions will do the range of jobs that bilateral missions would otherwise normally do, but for various reasons have not needed to because the European Union has been our focus. We have looked into that question, but as yet we have not found the detail we would like to see. We have heard talk of money, true, and we have heard talk of languages, which again is good, but we have not heard talk of strategy, co-ordination or delivery.

We need to be clear-eyed here. We need an assessment of our place in the world, and we need to be clear-eyed about what we are going to do to maximise our position in the future. That involves understanding who we are and what we want. We have a real choice: either we choose to shape events or we will be shaped by them. Over many centuries, the people of the United Kingdom have got into the habit of being actors in this world, rather than being acted upon by it. I would like that to continue, but it will require co-ordination.

We have seen what happens without such co-ordination. We have seen the lack of co-ordination in some areas of eastern Europe as well as the expansion of Russian influence and the spread of corruption. We have seen the physical reality of that in the energy markets, with the Russian Government deliberately salami-slicing those markets in order to salami-slice alliances. That is why I have spoken out so strongly against the Nord Stream 2 project. But there is more: we have seen that happening there, but we are also seeing it happening in other parts of the world, as well as in our own alliance of NATO. In NATO, however, it is different. The truth is that NATO has not spent nearly enough on its own defence. Indeed, if every nation were to achieve the 2% target, rather than just a few, we would be talking about another $100 billion or so being made available for the defence of Europe. The fact that some nations are not willing to carry the burden of their own responsibility shames us all, because it weakens us all, so when we talk about global Britain we must be clear that we are actually talking about Britain in a network of alliances.

If I may, I would like to mention the late Senator John McCain. He was a friend to many in this House, and I see one of his good friends sitting here, my right hon. Friend Sir Michael Fallon. Senator McCain spoke out passionately for the transatlantic relationship because he fundamentally understood that the sovereignty of nations is not diminished by alliance but enhanced by it and that the freedoms of individuals are not hampered by co-operation but increased by it. That is the message that we must carry forward, and that is why I have been urging NATO to name its new headquarters after the late Senator. There would be no greater tribute to a great friend of the United Kingdom and Europe. I hope that we will see that change.