Global Britain and the International Rules-based Order

Part of Brexit, Science and Innovation – in the House of Commons at 4:11 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Conservative, Hornchurch and Upminster 4:11 pm, 6th September 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for his point. The point I was making is that although we might assume that these are universal global values, we have seen in recent years that we cannot assume their universality. That is why we, as a nation, need to stand for something in the world. There is a debate to be had about those values, and it is important that the UK has a strong independent voice in that debate.

The challenge for us as politicians is to give those whom we represent both a sense of security and priority and a clear understanding that our engagement with the rest of the world has practical relevance to their lives. To echo what others have said today, though, if we do not act in the world, we will be acted upon. With that challenge in mind, I want briefly to share some thoughts on how we might begin this new journey.

First, I echo the view that my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling has expressed on a number of occasions: we want to see a much more prominent role given to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as we leave the EU. If we are to make the most of this period of momentous change, we require intense, sustained relationship building at all levels, and a strong narrative about our direction of travel.

The Department for International Development became an independent Department in 1997, as a key component of new Labour’s self-proclaimed ethical foreign policy. Overseas aid moneys previously distributed from the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office budgets were centralised, leaving less financial autonomy for both those major Departments of State.

With the aid budget now ring-fenced by law, in recent years we have seen DFID rushing to spend its budget before year-end on projects that have undermined the otherwise strong case for its broader work on disease prevention, disaster relief and security. Meanwhile, the FCO has struggled to sustain its existing network of operations, so while the FCO may have the grand trappings and the historical clout, it can at times feel rather hollow when it is DFID that has the cash. Brexit should provide us with the perfect opportunity to refocus our outward-facing Departments and infuse our international work with strategic intent.