Global Britain and the International Rules-based Order

Part of Brexit, Science and Innovation – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader 4:23 pm, 6th September 2018

I would like to start by thanking the Foreign Affairs Committee and particularly Tom Tugendhat for bringing this debate before us. I also thank him for the excellent way in which he put forward the position held by the Committee on these matters, as well as the position he holds. That was incredibly useful.

It has been a really interesting debate. I was particularly interested in the speech by Mr Seely. When he began, I thought, “Gosh, I agree with almost everything he is saying,” but it went steeply downhill. Now, we are back on the correct sides of the House, and I felt a bit better after we began to diverge.

Thinking about the international rules-based order, some of the conversations that have been had today around global Britain have been about what exactly we want our aims to be. What do we want our position in the world to be? What do we want to do in terms of the influence we exert on others? What do we want to get them to do? The Scottish National party is focusing on furthering things like the sustainable development goals. We are looking to build capacity, peace, fairness and gender equality in other countries, many of which we have by right here every single day. Whenever we make decisions about what global Britain will do, we must hold those values in the forefront of our minds. That is certainly what the SNP would be doing in an independent Scotland if we were making those decisions for Scotland.

Britain has enjoyed a position of influence in the world that has been entirely disproportionate to its size, and that is largely because of its past wealth and empire. But the world has changed, particularly in the past 30 years, and I am concerned about some of the rhetoric that comes from some Conservative Members—although largely not today, I hasten to add—about dragging us back to the position we were in 30 years ago and trying to have Britain look like the Britain of 30 years ago and having the influence it had in the world then. I would suggest that that is not where we need to be. We should not be looking backwards; we should be looking forwards and seeing how the world has changed. We should be seeing where the levers are now and making sure those are the levers we are seeking to pull in order to help build capacity and create the world we want to live in.

I want to make it clear from the beginning that the SNP supports the retention of the international rules-based order and we will do what we can to ensure it endures—which is quite important—but we do not believe in many of the policy directions that successive UK Governments have adopted. We have major concerns that “global Britain” is just another of those follies. We do not make friends and gain influence by telling everybody how great we are. We make friends by showing everybody what we can do to help them; we do so not by standing there and saying, “Hey, look at us, we’re wonderful,” but by doing the capacity-building things I am talking about to make life better for people. That is how “global Britain” could become global Britain.

I want to talk about some of the specific different political choices we would make. In Yemen, in the first nine days of August there were 450 civilian casualties, 131 of whom were children. Nearly half the children in Yemen aged between six months and five years are chronically malnourished. The difference in the position the SNP and an independent Scotland would take is that we would not be having weapons sales that are 18 times the value of the aid we are spending; the value of our weapons sales to Saudi Arabia is 18 times higher than the aid we are spending in Yemen. Making sure those children are not chronically malnourished should be more of a political priority than getting the money from those lucrative weapons sales.

The escalation caused by the UK’s bombing of Syria has ceded any prospect of the UK acting as a peace broker in Syria, which is what is needed there. Lessons were not learned from the lengthy and expensive Chilcot inquiry. In contrast, the Scottish Government have been funding a UN project in Syria to grow the role of Syrian women in conflict resolution. That is incredibly important; women have a hugely important role to play in conflict resolution, and it is often under-reported and under-recognised. Such excellent projects are much more important than, and cost much less than, bombing campaigns, and make more of a positive difference.

On international aid, I agree with the majority of speakers. I am pleased that so many Members talked about the 0.7% aid target and have spoken positively about the fact that we are spending that. I acknowledge that many have discussed how that money is spent, and it is healthy that we are scrutinising that and making sure it is spent in the very best places in order to ensure that the best outcomes are created from that aid money. We will continue to champion that amount of money being spent on aid, and we appreciate the fact that the Government are continuing to do that.

There is more that the UK could do internationally, particularly in regard to humanitarian crime. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the UK could help to strengthen and support the international rules-based system by calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate the atrocities that have taken place in Myanmar. Members across the House have spoken about the atrocities and crimes that are being inflicted on the Rohingya people there, and I believe it would be helpful if the UK were to use its international influence in that way. Crimes such as those cannot be committed with impunity; they need to be properly investigated. We need proper results in that regard, in order to prevent them from happening in other countries and to show everyone that if such crimes are committed, the international community will speak out against them and do what it can to clamp down and prevent them from happening again.

Turning to Brexit, we believe that the UK should pledge to remain a member of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council Committee, post-Brexit. This is particularly important in relation to where we are with Russia just now. Having a close relationship with our European allies would be incredibly important, and continuing to have a place there would be useful in ensuring that we can continue to have those close links.

Acting in concert with our international allies is vital, not only in regard to the many things that we have spoken about so far. There has not yet been a huge amount of mention—perhaps a bit—of international financial crime. Whether that involves offshore trusts, Scottish limited partnerships, the Chancellor’s possible taxation of digital organisations, retail companies or the implementation of trade remedies, we need strong international relationships in order for any of those things to happen. Countries need to work in concert with one another and to agree common goals and objectives for cracking down on international financial crime. In the light of some of the comments and decisions being made in the United States just now, particularly around the World Trade Organisation, we need to stand firm on these issues and put what pressure we can on our allies there to convince them to continue to support the WTO.

To sum up, global Britain should prioritise the sustainable development goals. I think that those are the most important things, and that the decisions that are made in our international relationships should ensure that we are doing that capacity building. That would make the world a better place for everyone.