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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 5:53 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden 5:53 pm, 15th October 2019

No, I will not.

Then we have the Scottish National party Members, who argue for a referendum on Scottish independence—that has been their long-standing position and it is a perfectly legitimate thing to argue for—but I do not know why they bother, because they refuse to accept the referendum that happened in 2014 and the referendum on the European Union in 2016. Why they think another referendum in Scotland would get them what they want, I do not really know, unless it were to be delivered, which they do not seem to like doing.

This is an unusual Queen’s Speech, and that brings me to Britain’s place in the world. I occasionally like to read, and I have been reading the recent book by Lord Waldegrave, from the other place, entitled “Three Circles into One”. I do not agree with everything that he says in the book, but he clearly outlines the narrative of this country’s post-war settlement. That settlement is that we have three circles of influence: the Commonwealth; our special relationship with the United States; and our relationship with Europe and membership of the European Union. That is a unique place for Britain; no other country has those three circles.

Lord Waldegrave, despite the fact that he is open about the fact he voted remain, as I did, at the referendum, says that one of the reasons that Brexit occurred is that the third circle—the European circle—was based around an untruth. That untruth, which was told to the British people for generations, was that they should not worry about the European Union—or the EEC, or whatever it was—because it was only a trading relationship, an economic relationship, and that it did not have a political narrative. People were told that we were not trying for a federal system, and that there was no such thing as ever closer union. Eventually, over time, the British public saw that narrative to be untrue. That is not to say that the narrative is illegitimate. There will be many people on both sides of the House who happen to think that Britain being part of a greater Europe is a good thing, and there is nothing wrong with that view. However, that was not what was told to the British people over the generations. In my judgment, Lord Waldegrave is right when he says that that third circle of Britain’s influence and place in the world has fallen away because of the Brexit vote.

If we accept the terms of the Brexit vote, as I believe it is incumbent on all Members to do, we need to have an alternative narrative—an alternative way of describing Britain’s place in the world. We need to use our unique strengths, including our legal system, the City of London, our language, our time zone and our welcoming and open culture. Those unique strengths could make us the world’s marketplace, the world’s souk, the world’s Speakers’ Corner.

We have spoken a lot about trade, but I do not believe that trade is the most fundamental aspect of this. Our political weight in the world is still strong, our soft power is still strong, and we are an aid superpower. We are not a superpower in all respects, but we are an aid superpower. Our relationships across the world are strong: our diplomats and our companies are respected all over the world. If we can be the place where the three circles—the Commonwealth, the United States and Europe—can interact to place themselves in the centre of the world in the welcoming, open, dynamic, forward-thinking, free-trading country that is Britain, that is a future.

I would like to finish by referring to the Secretary of State for International Development’s remarks around aid. Recently, I was in Uganda with a charity called Harpenden Spotlight on Africa, working to improve health and education in a particularly poor rural part of Uganda. I cannot express how positively they viewed this country or how much they respected the work that we do and the partnership that we have. We had the Ugandan Minister of Health coming to that small village to see the work we were doing. If only more people in this House and in this country could see that, they would realise that our aid relationship in particular can help to strengthen our three circles and Britain’s place in the world for many years to come.