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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 5:40 pm, 15th October 2019

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the case of a direct act of democracy like a referendum, it is incredibly important to accept the result.

That brings me to a handful of suggestions for the Government. We need, first, an umbrella or co-ordinating role for the Foreign Office, with independent International Trade and International Development Departments, but with a Foreign Secretary who is above them all, with £14 billion-worth of development in one pocket and free trade agreements and market access relations in the other. We need a new democracy fund—no doubt financed largely by the International Development Department—to help us to work with partners across the world. Those with our democratic values are much less likely to be in conflict with each other.

We need, as the Prime Minister said, to step up our environmental leadership. The 2020 UN climate change conference in Glasgow—I do not like using the term “COP26”, which sounds like a futuristic police state drama—will give us an opportunity to demonstrate how we can work with the rest of the world on those incredibly important issues.

We need to ensure that our prosperity fund is not just about making partner nations prosperous, but about using our innovation to find creative solutions to problems such as plastic on beaches across Asia, which is not only bad for the environment but bad for the tourism industries and economies of those countries.

We must recognise the value of our armed forces. Whether they are peacekeeping or fighting disease, they are always ready for conflict and always available to help to train personnel. That is one of the things that make us stand out in the world. We also have 25 trade envoys, an innovation brought in by the former Prime Minister David Cameron. I think I am the longest-serving trade envoy in the House of Commons: next month it will be eight years since I was appointed. What this shows more than anything else is that in the business of business, relationships do matter. Ministers come and Ministers go, but trade envoys can be there for a long time, and that can be valuable.

Then there is the issue of our relationship with Europe. It seems to me, quite simply, that we must resolve what that is going to be, and then focus on how we can do more across the world. I should particularly like the Government to think more about the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and what more we can do with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The same applies to other continents with which I am less involved, such as Latin America and Africa.

The Prime Minister’s Queen’s Speech called for the UK to play a major role in global affairs, with multilateral diplomacy, trade engagement, and sustainable policies that are right for our planet in this age. We must recognise that the world needs and wants our experience and skills, and our reputation for quality. That is why, for example, Cambridge Assessments examines more than 1 million people every year in China. It is why Prudential has more than 270,000 agents offering health insurance to people in Indonesia. It is why there is British design in nearly every major airport in the world, and it is why half the businesses that accompanied the previous Prime Minister on a trip to China—I was with her—had not existed five years earlier. They were innovative, they were about tech, and the world wants them. The opportunity is there, and we must seize it.