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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 4:39 pm, 13th January 2020

I was talking about a pair of Dominics, which explains why we are having today’s debate on the international aspects of the Queen’s Speech, which, Brexit and extradition policy aside, has absolutely nothing new to say on foreign policy, defence or international development, at a time when the world is crying out for new initiatives and global leadership on these issues. At a time when Her Majesty has got quite enough on her plate, I ask all her supporters in the House whether it was really necessary to waste her time asking her to read out the following lines, drafted by Downing Street:

My Government will honour the Armed Forces Covenant…and the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.”

Nothing new, no substance behind it—that is a statement that sounds all too hollow to our armed forces families living on substandard salaries in substandard accommodation.

Let me continue:

“As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, my Government will ensure that it continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values.”

Nothing new, no substance behind it, and it bears no relation to reality when it comes to our role in the world under this Government. Let me continue:

“My Government will be at the forefront of efforts to solve the…complex international security issues.”

Nothing new, no substance behind it, and it is at odds with a Government who cannot even explain the strategy for Syria, Libya or Yemen, Iran, Israel or Palestine, let alone the ongoing crisis with Iran.

There is more:

“My Government…will champion global free trade and work alongside international partners to solve the most pressing global challenges.”

Waffle, waffle, waffle—nothing new, no substance behind it—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, I am quoting Her Majesty, who had those words written for her by the people at No. 10—nothing new, no substance behind any of it, and an insult, when we consider how this Prime Minister actively acquiesced when his friend and hero, Donald Trump, started ducking all those global challenges and actively making them all worse, and told me that I was being pessimistic for warning as much.

Among all those vacuous, meaningless lines that Her Majesty was forced to read out, there is one of greater interest in the foreign policy section of the speech, which I would like to highlight:

“My Government will take steps to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.”

Let us bear in mind that those words were drafted by Downing Street for our sovereign to read out in front of Parliament. That was a solemn promise from the Government, in Her Majesty’s name, to protect the integrity of democracy here in Britain. Yet here we are, still waiting—still waiting!—for the Government to publish the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russian interference with our democracy.

Shortly before the election, the Foreign Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box and told us that the delay was perfectly normal because it usually took six weeks for ISC reports to be published, although this report had already been cleared in full by the Committee and the intelligence services, and just needed to be signed off by Downing Street. Most important, of course, it needed to be signed off by the two architects of the leave campaign and renowned friends of Russian oligarchs, the Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings.

Six weeks, the Foreign Secretary told us, but how long has Downing Street now been sitting on the report? I will tell you how long: 12 weeks and five days. Now we are told that it has been cleared for publication, but that can only happen when the new Intelligence and Security Committee is convened. On behalf of the former Chair of the ISC, Dominic Grieve, who is sadly no longer in the House, let me read on to the record his reaction to that news. He said:

“The fact that he”

—the Prime Minister

“has been able to sanction its publication now shows that in fact it was perfectly possible to sanction its publication before parliament was dissolved…The reasons he gave at the time for non-publication were bogus.”

So there we have it: bogus arguments, bogus timetables, bogus excuses, and still no sign of the ISC report. Yet this Government have the barefaced cheek to ask Her Majesty to announce that they are protecting the integrity of our democracy.

In the absence of anything else of substance on foreign affairs in the Queen’s Speech, let me raise some of the other issues that were not mentioned, and ask the Minister who winds up the debate to address them. First, may I ask what on earth has happened to the Trump Administration’s so-called middle east plan? Has the Foreign Office still not had any sight of that plan? Is there even a plan to look at? Now that he is in a place of greater influence, perhaps the Prime Minister will press ahead with the international summit that he promised to convene as Foreign Secretary, so that we, and our fellow allies with an interest in the middle east, can spell out our red lines on the American plan. Or will he go one better, and use such a summit to demand that if the Trump Administration keep prevaricating, we and others will resume the role of honest broker between Israel and Palestinian that Donald Trump is clearly incapable of fulfilling?

Secondly, talking of honest brokers, may I ask—for what is now the fourth year running since I became shadow Defence Secretary—why the Government are still refusing to use the power vested in them by the United Nations to draft a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen, to be observed by all parties? Yemen has just started its second year at the top of the International Rescue Committee’s rankings for the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. How many more years do its people need to suffer before the Government finally pull their finger out and do their job at the United Nations?

Thirdly—this is a related matter—it is now more than 15 months since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Last month, we saw the horrific spectacle in Riyadh of four junior Saudi operatives being sentenced to execution while all Bin Salman’s most senior aides were cleared of all charges. The Government have consistently asked us to have confidence that justice will be done by the Saudi authorities. Well, that was not justice. So I ask the Government, yet again, when they will publish their own assessment of who was responsible for ordering and carrying out the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and when they will deliver the “serious consequences” that were promised from the Dispatch Box

Fourthly, it was distressing last week to read the report of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact into the Foreign Office’s prevention of sexual violence initiative, which was intended to tackle the global use of rape as a weapon of war. We welcomed that initiative at the time, but we now read in the commission’s report that “ministerial interest waned” after William Hague left the Foreign Office—[Interruption.] That is a quote from the report, which goes on to say that

“staffing and funding levels dropped precipitously”.

The commitment to the campaign in London fell and a budget of £15 million and 34 staff in 2014 has fallen to £2 million and four workers, including the intern.