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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:49 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 7:49 pm, 13th January 2020

What a fine first outing for Alicia Kearns! The former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee did warn me that she was one to look out for. She will not have seen what I could see, which was his career slipping away before him. I have no idea why Ministers on the Treasury Bench are laughing at that, because the same could be said for them. It was in many ways the perfect maiden speech. It contained humour in great serving, it had a generous tribute to her predecessor—a story of whom I will tell her, but not in this House—and just enough steel to show that she is indeed a voice to be reckoned with. She did well, and I wish her well in her parliamentary career.

It would be remiss of me not to also mention the hon. Members for St Albans (Daisy Cooper), for Stafford (Theo Clarke) and for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan)—he certainly has a future in reading audio books, for sure. I had not realised that he was going to start that tonight, mind you, but it was a fine outing that he had as well.

The title of this debate is “Britain in the World”. As my hon. Friend Alyn Smith said in his opening salvo, Britain in the world is not our project. We wish it well—Britain in the world matters to us—but our project is to maintain Scotland’s place in Europe. Scotland, as well as being an independent European country, will be the greatest ally of and closest partner and friend to the rest of the United Kingdom once it has restored its independence.

As others have sought to do, I want to adumbrate the context in which this debate is taking place. As my hon. Friend Stewart Hosie said, there is certainly, I hate to say it—no matter how myopic and rose-tinted the lenses of Conservative Members—a receding Britain offering itself out to the world. That can be seen no more than in its exit from the European Union and the way in which that is happening. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, I can accept that the Government now have a mandate to press ahead with Brexit, but it is an arithmetical fact that that mandate does not stand in Scotland, and it is our job to make that case. I plead with the Government, with their huge new majority, to abide by what he mentioned, which is to always understand that one’s opponent might well have a point. Despite the Government’s majority, there should be no monopoly on wisdom. Freedom of movement is one of the greatest diplomatic instruments ever to have underpinned peace on the continent of Europe, and departing from it will be a huge crime to future generations. I plead with those Conservative Members who believe in it to please stand up for it within their own forums.

We have heard much talk about the need for the United Kingdom to start playing a proper and more serious role in the United Nations Security Council, which is one of the instruments of the international order that are supposed to underpin peace across the globe but have been rendered utterly meaningless by events over the past few years—largely, it has to be said, because of the actions of Russia, which is now pretty much the only vote that matters in the Security Council. I want to hear from the Government exactly how they plan to deal with that in the upcoming integrated review. There are already discussions and ideas being advanced at a European level, not least by President Macron. I do not agree with everything he says, but he can sometimes bring forward uncomfortable truths and interesting solutions to counter them, perhaps with a European-style model.

We have, of course, an unpredictable man in the White House—more unpredictable than anyone who has gone before. We have a gangster in the Kremlin who has redrawn the borders of a sovereign European nation by force—the first time that has happened since the second world war. Let us be honest: the world has largely allowed that to happen, and what has gone on in Ukraine has gone unnoticed. In fact, what is happening—this is why I pressed the Secretary of State on it earlier—is that the Kremlin is being rewarded for its actions in Ukraine by dint of the fact that Nord Stream 2 will go ahead. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton mentioned hybrid warfare. What do we think Nord Stream 2 is if not an instrument of Putin’s hybrid warfare? We shall reap what we sow. When her predecessor used to stand at the Dispatch Box or respond on behalf of the Government in Westminster Hall, he would tell me and tell Mr Whittingdale, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, that Nord Stream 2 was largely nothing to do with the United Kingdom’s interests. I am quite confident that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton will take a different view, and I wish her luck in advancing it if she does.

As was mentioned in an intervention on Catherine West, a new kind of political gangsterism is rearing its head— yes, on the continent of Europe, but in other parts of the world as well. I would be interested to see in the integrated review how the Government plan to get the balance right. Of course we would expect Britain to advance its interests and seek to get good things where they are good, but how do they balance that with having the tough conversations that need to be had? I have to be honest: the score sheet does not look too good from where I am standing. We now have a situation where the Government are becoming more and more relaxed on, for example, Huawei. Why on earth would we go ahead and invite this virus into the security apparatus here in the United Kingdom? The United States Government—I cannot believe I am saying this—are right on Nord Stream 2 and right on Huawei, and the UK Government are getting it all wrong.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling mentioned the report on Russian action in this country to subvert democracy and much else. That report has been concealed for entirely political reasons. We do not need to wait for Select Committees to be up and running. The Intelligence and Security Committee is not a normal Select Committee of the House—it exists by statute—so the Government could get on with this and get that report published, as should have happened before the election.

I want briefly to focus my remarks on Ukraine. I declare an interest of sorts in that I am to receive the presidential state honour—I have forgotten the name of the award—from the President of Ukraine, President Zelensky. I have not received it yet, so I am putting that out there just in case I do have to declare it. Ukraine weeps for its sons and daughters every night as, yes, hybrid warfare but also a physical war takes place on its territory. The right hon. Member for Maldon and I have visited the same parts of eastern Ukraine. We have maintained strong relations and even friendships with politicians there who want to see that war coming to an end. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling rightly said, we are not short of platitudes in this House, but I think it can honestly be said that 25 years after the signing of the Budapest memorandum, that document now stands as utterly unfit for purpose. I do not blame the UK Government for that—I do not blame any of the signatories for it—but it does need to be debated. I hope that when I table such a debate, I will find allies around the House so that we can discuss it properly. It is about not just eastern Ukraine but what is happening in Crimea, where Crimean Tatars continue to be subjected to persecution and anyone who flies the Ukrainian flag will find themselves very swiftly in a Russian prison.

Funding continues to dominate as a huge issue for the Ministry of Defence. I was amazed to hear Alec Shelbrooke—I am not sure whether he is still in his place—suddenly realise that procurement is a massive issue. Anyone who has attended a defence debate in this Chamber will know that this has been getting discussed since long before I turned up in this place five years ago. As the former Chair of the Defence Committee, Dr Lewis, mentioned, the last mini review that took place had attached to it a requirement that it be fiscally neutral. It sounds to me as though that will not be the case this time round, and if that is so, it is welcome.

In the last Parliament, I pressed the then Minister of State, the former Member for Aberconwy, on the Government getting serious about the fact that the Ministry of Defence bleeds money as though it is going out of fashion. It is very simple: Governments carry out a threat assessment. Governments then look at what they need to meet the challenges in that threat assessment and fund what they need to. That is where we can get into a proper discussion on multi-year defence agreements. If the small Scandinavian countries can manage this—if they can take the political heat out of defence funding and provide some stability to their armed forces—surely, with the collective imagination that exists here, we should be able to do the same.