It is an honour to add my voice to this important debate, and it has been a pleasure to hear new Members giving their maiden speeches. I worked with Theo Clarke before she took her place in this House, and I look forward to working with her again and to being an advocate for the Department for International Development. Daisy Cooper spoke about her constituency, which is 25 miles away from Edmonton, so maybe I can join in on one of her pub crawls and bring some of my constituents.
It is safe to say that this will be a crucial Parliament for Britain’s role in the world. It is much more than the question of whether and how we leave the European Union; it is about who we are. It is about the fork in the road that we face. Does Britain want to become a mean, introspective, protectionist island that clings on only to the imagined greatness of some past empire that was powered by racism and exploitation, or does Britain want to become a beacon in the modern world for global justice, for international human rights and for tackling climate change, inequality and the refugee crisis?
Alongside the Government’s legislative programme, there are important points of policy. The UK must continue to spend 0.7% of its gross national income on international development priorities. In fact, I hope this Parliament may, in due course, debate increasing it to 1% to free up extra funding for climate finance to help the global south survive the climate emergency.
So, too, must the UK protect the independence of its world-class Department for International Development. The Department must not become subservient to another, and we must end the civil service recruitment freeze to bring in badly needed staff to manage the aid budget properly.
This debate is also about what Britain chooses to stand for; it is about Britain’s politics. The world is increasingly polarised. On one side sits Putin, Orbán, Modi, Bolsonaro, Trump and the rest of Steve Bannon’s dream of a fragmented new world order. On their side, they reject the rules, the international law and the universal human rights that have taken decades for the world to establish. On their side, Trump takes the world backwards on climate change and women’s reproductive rights. He decrees invasions on Twitter and insults the world’s poorest for living in what he calls “shithole countries.”
Theirs is the side of engineered chaos, of injustice and of ever-widening inequality, but on the other side stands hope and an international order that is strong and stable, and that could even begin to become fair. Imagine a new economics that could work for the planet and the people, and a world that actually brings people together to solve our biggest challenges, such as inequality and the climate breakdown.
That is the side the UK must pick each and every time, but I and many other Opposition Members are worried that the current Government will just keep picking the wrong side. The truth is that what we saw of the current Government in the last Parliament is a Prime Minister who has already made his choice, which is to take his place in Steve Bannon’s new world order. As this new Parliament commences, it will be up to us in this House to chart a better way forward for Britain, whether inside or outside the European Union.
I end my speech by making three simple pleas to Members on both sides of the House: first, that we do not let the Prime Minister and his extremist faction take Britain off the cliff; secondly, that we do not let the Prime Minister side with dictators and populists when it comes to the crunch; and, thirdly, that we do not let the Prime Minister pick the wrong side of history. Instead, let us all hold him to account by consistently speaking up for global justice throughout this Parliament.