Global Britain and the International Rules-based Order

Part of Brexit, Science and Innovation – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire 4:06 pm, 6th September 2018

It is a pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend Mr Seely, although in this debate it is probably a misfortune, as his experience, knowledge and passion in these areas are pretty much unmatched in the House and certainly unmatched by me. Nevertheless, we will see how we get on in the next few minutes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat and the Foreign Affairs Committee on securing this important debate. I also welcome the Government’s aspirations to ensure that the UK retains its influence and status as we prepare to leave the EU. It is easy to be glib about the phrase “global Britain”, as a succession of individuals on the Government Benches try to shoehorn it in pretty much everywhere they can. It is important that that soundbite does not come to be perceived as not meaning anything, so the Committee has been right to push and prod at what the Government mean by “global Britain”. What is the practical vision, and what would its implementation look like? What are our priorities? What are we seeking to achieve? The United Kingdom has always known the concept of a global Britain. We have constantly taken a leading role in responding to global challenges and standing up for the rules-based international order. What matters is the substance sitting behind the phrase and how we ensure that it becomes not just a tagline but a credible position where our vision and values are put into action.

Once we leave the European Union, our interaction with the rest of the world will change. There is no point denying that in the last decades our influence has been amplified by the force multiplier advantage of EU membership. It is also true that, after exit day, we will gain more flexibility and agility to react. Our main challenge, and one of the big challenges for the Foreign Office, will be to combine that extra flexibility with a strong foreign policy capability that ensures we continue to be one of the major global players.

The resources the Foreign and Commonwealth Office allocates to its European network will be crucial to its ability to implement a coherent diplomatic strategy both in Europe and around the world, particularly post Brexit. I am pleased that the FCO has taken my hon. Friend’s Committee’s advice and started increasing its diplomatic presence in EU27 capitals, focusing, in the first instance, on Berlin and Paris, and prioritising political and economic staff and research analysts. The key thing as we move forward, however, is that the allocation of resources cannot come at the expense of existing networks in other parts of the world, both those that are already pretty well established and those we are seeking to establish.

We have networks around the world that are not fully developed simply because our Government and our citizens have for years been able to rely on other EU states’ existing networks. If we are truly to be global Britain, we cannot start hiving off or undermining our presence in one part of the world to build it up in another. I would be interested to hear from the Minister, therefore, how the very welcome additional funding of £90 million to support the Government’s global Britain ambitions is intended to be used.

Our strong diplomatic footprint does not just help us to promote a set of values founded on democracy and the rule of law; it helps to keep the citizens of our country safe. We have seen how a weakened rules-based international system can lead to episodes such as the Salisbury incident—vile actions commissioned by a rogue state that systematically makes a mockery of international rules and basic principles of decency, whether in Georgia, which I have banged on about quite a lot since I was elected because not many people seem to talk about it, Crimea or the middle east.

I remember as an honours year student at Dundee Law School doing my dissertation on how international institutions responded to 9/11 and conflicts that had come before it, and how often such very significant events expose weaknesses in the very international institutions we expect and demand to uphold the rules-based order. I will be honest: my dissertation was not very good—I found lots of other things at university on which to focus my time rather than the library—but I think the underlying point I was supposed to be investigating was right. We still see it today in how multilateral organisations respond to Russia, Syria and so on—there are plenty of other examples. Establishing and upholding accepted standards of the rules-based order must be a central tenet of what global Britain stands for, because countries such as Russia exploit instability.

To me, global Britain is about championing Britain’s place as a force for good in the world. It is about ensuring that we are an outward and forward-looking nation that seeks to build friendships and stands up for our values where they come under threat. Global Britain in action was the internationally co-ordinated expulsion of Russian envoys following Salisbury. Global Britain is the soft power and reach of over 5 million British citizens living overseas. It is the BBC World Service, and our phenomenal universities and research institutions, which export talent, friendships and contacts. It is being the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that meets both the defence target and the development target. Global Britain is not an empty soundbite; it is a definition of what our country must and needs to be as we face the challenges of today, as well as those that lie ahead.