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 the right hon. Gentleman, my fellow Committee Chair, for bringing that up, because he is absolutely right. The reality is that we have many people talking today as though isolation were a possibility or a desire, which is simply not true. The reality is that co-operation was what overcame the centuries of war preceding the building of the alliances that grew out of the disaster that ended in 1945. We need to see that continue.

Many people today do not believe in the devil—they do not believe that the evil of war will come back to Europe and do not believe in the dangers of the international system being undermined. They believe in many ways that rules are somehow optional, but the truth is that they are simply not. I can say that because I have seen myself the cost of believing that. I have been into middle-class homes Baghdad, in wealthy areas, where people lived in civilised society in the ’50s and ’60s. I have been to Kabul and seen family photos showing daughters going to university in miniskirts, but those people are now living with the reality of Islamic fundamentalism, barbarity and war. I can say clearly that just because someone does not believe in the devil does not mean that he does not exist and cannot return.

I do not think that that is a danger for us here, but the danger is only realised if we pretend it is not. If we remember that it is a possibility, and if we acknowledge the threats and the dangers that we can face, we can co-operate and ensure that they never happen. That is why our position on global Britain is not just about Britain; it is about all of us. I therefore welcome the work that Her Majesty’s Government do around the world, but I call upon everyone to act together. Defending the rule of law and defending the network of alliances that has made us happy and prosperous is essential to our future.

When I talk about the rule of law, I am of course talking about the international order and the rules-based system, but I am also talking about other rules. I am talking about governance, which is one area where the British could lead and in which the Foreign Office must be the strategic organising body for this country. Looking at the spread of aid dependency in some parts of the world, we can see that aid is not a solution in itself. I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent speech in Africa about trade and having a strategic approach that links development, trade and foreign policy, but I also want links with our Ministry of Justice and our Ministry of Defence to improve the security of individuals and links with our Treasury and our markets for loans.

If we want to see the alternative, it is very clear. It is situations such as the port in Sri Lanka that has indebted a nation so greatly that it has been left in hock to a power that has no interest at all in the development of that country. We are seeing that problem spread throughout Africa, too, because what other countries see as the rule of law is not. It is a new form of economic colonialism that threatens not only the UK’s interests but those of our partners and friends.

That is why I welcome the fact that the Royal Navy recently sailed through international waters unconcerned by the claims that others make on land that is truly not theirs. I will not go into detail on the nine-dash line in the South China sea, but we know that if we do not exercise such rights, and that if we are not willing to stand up for the rights of individual countries that are less able to defend themselves, we will wake up in the morning and find that those we thought would stand with us are no longer able to stand alone.

We hope this global Britain report will be built on not only by the work of our Committee but by Her Majesty’s Government and her diplomats around the world. It is about placing the United Kingdom in its rightful place, and placing our allies at its heart.

I will not go into the details of the Salisbury incident, which speak to so much of the evil we see today, nor will I go into many other areas of detail that would perhaps make it easy to punch out at particular incidents and at moments where we have made errors. Nor will I go into detail on the middle east, which my right hon. Friend the Minister knows so well and manages so expertly.

I will not go into the criticisms that one could certainly make about the operations in Yemen, which are fundamentally against the interests of the Saudi Government and people and of the Emirati Government and people, but I will touch on one thing: the reason why they are there, which is another malign influence we have a duty to face up to as global Britain. I will touch on it because it speaks to another essential part of British foreign policy.

What is global Britain for? The answer is simple: it is for all of us. It is for the people of these islands. It is for individuals here who find themselves seeking foreign goods and friendship, it is for individuals who find themselves trading abroad, and, should tragedy occur, it is for individuals in the most horrific situations such as the poor mother who was taken from her child and has been held in captivity for the best part of two years in a Tehran jail. Global Britain is for nothing if it is not to stand up for people like her, to resist the violence and repression of the mullahs, to partner with our allies in the region and to help them do a better job of standing up for the values that we hold so dear.

Our alliances must be based on the values we hold. They must be based on the interests of our islands, of course, but fundamentally they have to be in the interests of the people of this country. Foreign policy is not about foreigners; it is about us. It is about how we make ourselves happier, safer and more prosperous.

I will leave it there and welcome the contributions that I am sure will come from both sides of the House, but I will not be leaving the issue this afternoon. The Committee will be looking for the Foreign Office, under its new Foreign Secretary, to give us a strategic, overarching vision of Britain’s role abroad and of how to bring it together, co-ordinate it and deliver it in the interests of the people of these islands, our friends, our allies and our whole country.