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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:39 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 8:39 pm, 13th January 2020

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Andrew Bowie—the true voice of Scotland in this House.

This is the first time I have had the opportunity to address the House since the general election, and I would like to thank the people of Harrow East for electing me for the fourth time, once again with an increased vote share—this time 54.4%—and a majority of 8,170, which in London terms is quite a windfall, I can assure hon. Members. The election result was very clear. In my constituency, the 2016 referendum result was 50:50 between leave and remain, but the people of Harrow East split into three portions. The Brexiteers said, “Why haven’t you delivered it?” The people who voted remain said, “We don’t want it”, but most of them said, “We accept the democratic will of the people—get on and deliver it”. I promised that if we got a working majority I would support the Government to deliver on Brexit, and I am delighted that just last week we delivered on the first measure in the Gracious Speech.

My constituency is one of great religious adherence: 75% of the population at the last census said that religion was an important part of their lives, as against the UK average of 25%. I have 24 churches, including the only Greek Orthodox church built in this country for 100 years; three synagogues; two Jain temples and one more being assembled; I have a Buddhist centre across the road; a Sikh centre across the road; an Islamic centre; and a Sri Lankan mosque. I can truly say that we have representatives from every country in the world and every religion on the planet and that every language under the sun is spoken in my constituency. Naturally, then, I have to be involved in a every single area of world policy, which is one reason why I was keen to speak in this debate.

As we leave the EU and set out our stall as a world player, it is important that we remember and unite not only with the United States—that has been mentioned—but with our Commonwealth partners in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One thing that has struck me as I have gone around the world either on holiday or on trips, is that the people of New Zealand, Canada and Australia all say the same thing: “Why did you turn your backs on us and become Eurocentric?” We now need to look outwards—not pull up the drawbridge but look internationally and reunite with those countries.

Today, however, I want to concentrate more on the new Commonwealth—namely our relations with India and other countries on the Indian subcontinent. Already, even before trying to do a trade deal with India, India is the third-biggest investor in the UK and we are the third-biggest in India, so we start from a strong base. India has been trying to do a trade deal with the EU for more than 22 years, without success, so I hope that the Department for International Trade will take up the opportunity to increase trade and investment with India very quickly. I was delighted when the Prime Minister confirmed that we would not get involved in matters sovereign to India, so when we talk about Jammu and Kashmir, we must understand that it is a matter of internal affairs in India—and actually the illegal occupation of Kashmir by Pakistan should end immediately, in my view.

We also need to encourage students from India to come to this country to be educated and then to return to India so that we enhance our understanding and capability across the world. Far too often now, Indian students would prefer to go to the United States, Australia or other parts of the world. The UK is no longer their No. 1 choice. We need to restore that position straightaway.

In our manifesto, we mentioned three places in the world where conflict needed to be dealt with. In Sri Lanka still, many years after the bloody civil war ended, those in power are alleged to have committed war crimes. It is time that we called those people out and called them to account, so that peace and tranquillity can be restored to that country and all the peoples of Sri Lanka can live in peace and harmony.

We must also mention the plight of the Rohingya, which I do not believe has been referred to in this evening’s debate so far. In Bangladesh, there are 1.5 million Rohingya refugees, whose living conditions are not so dreadful now, because the people of Bangladesh have helped them. We must do our bit, through our international aid budget, to ease the plight of the Rohingya and enable them to return home to Myanmar safely and securely.

We also mentioned Cyprus, another country divided, this time by an illegal invasion by Turkey. It is time that we took to the international stage and demanded that those differences be resolved and Cyprus be reunited as one country. We have a specific interest in Cyprus because of our long history there and because of our airbases, which are important to the security of this country.

I turn to our relations with Israel, which has the 10th biggest economy in the world and some superb science, and where we have opportunities for even greater trade. I am delighted that we will ensure that local authorities attempting to boycott Israel will be denied the right to do so. It is absolutely wrong that public bodies should attempt, in some shape or form, to boycott democracies, particularly the only true democracy in the middle east. It is in our long-term security interests to form a security alliance not only with the United States, Canada and Australia, but with India, Israel and France, so that we can secure the free world.