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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:39 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 6:39 pm, 15th October 2019

It has been a pleasure to listen to this debate, even though it has felt at times like bald men in a dark room fighting over a comb that is not even there. As we know, this is a Queen’s Speech devoid of any meaningful content, not least in the areas of Brexit and foreign affairs that we have been debating today. That is presumably why the Foreign Secretary has not even bothered to wind up tonight’s debate. All in all, frankly, it has been the biggest waste of Her Majesty’s time and the biggest indignity that she has been put through since the fallout over “It’s a Royal Knockout”.

Nevertheless, this evening does give me two opportunities: first, to summarise some of the excellent points that have been made by my colleagues during this debate; and secondly, to ask the Minister of State, who has been asked to stand in tonight, whether he can answer some questions on the Foreign Secretary’s behalf. More than 80 days have passed since the new Foreign Secretary was put in place, and he may like Phileas Fogg have been around the world in that time, but neither his conference speech in Manchester nor this Queen’s Speech give any indication that he is across his brief or even that he has his focus on the right priorities. Indeed, as the lawyer for the Harry Dunn family observed on television this week after a meeting with the Foreign Secretary—excuse yet another profanity, Mr Speaker, but I am quoting—they got the impression that

“he didn’t know his arse from his elbow”.

Let me see whether the Minister of State can do rather better this evening, and my first question to him relates to the Harry Dunn case. Can he tell us the exact date when diplomatic immunity was withdrawn from Anne Sacoolas, if it was ever granted at all, and if it was never granted, why she was not held in the UK for questioning?

I will go on to further questions for the Minister later, but for now may I mention some of the excellent contributions made in this debate by some of our colleagues in the House? We heard the shadow Brexit Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer, and the former shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, demolishing with forensic skill the Prime Minister’s proposed new deal and explaining why it would be even worse for our country in its impact on jobs and the economy than the one already and repeatedly rejected by this House.

We heard the Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, speak with his usual eloquence and authority about the rules-based international order and how it applies to conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Those sentiments were passionately echoed by Stewart Malcolm McDonald and my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). They called for clarity and courage from this Government, and they are absolutely right.

We heard an impressive speech from Richard Graham on our relationships with America and China, and with the EU and the Commonwealth. However, I would say to him—perhaps he can read it in Hansard—that, given his unfounded concerns about the Opposition’s attitude to the Commonwealth, I was very glad to spend two weeks of the summer recess visiting my counterparts in Australia and New Zealand, just as he mentioned William Hague did in 2011.