Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 7:32 pm, 13th January 2020

Indeed, that is the case. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have seen that, when one visits certain missions abroad, there is a good policy understanding among our diplomats. However, that is sometimes not necessarily reflected in this House, and we must work much harder to ensure that we have our Ministers talking about the subject and promoting it much more themselves.

Secondly, good foreign policy relies on a vibrant domestic economy and a realistic trade policy, providing a positive financial context in which to play a leadership role abroad. Instead, Brexit provides years of uncertainty, which will harm long-term economic growth and a sense of buoyancy in our economy while consigning our economic importance to that of a middling nation.

The past decade has already seen anaemic growth in the domestic economy as a result of the disastrous policy of austerity and the self-inflicted wounds of Brexit. Just today, in the financial pages, there is much discussion about another rate cap by the Bank of England because of fears of another dip in our economy. Households are worse off now than they were in 2010—10 years ago. Simultaneously, there is a real risk that UK trade policy could erode standards on our trade in goods and lead to a diminishing of the ease of trading in services owing to the ridiculously short adjustment period that the Government have given themselves to achieve equivalence in financial services. The amount of political capital in energy required to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU and the unrealistic timeframe of 11 months will mean that the UK is likely to reduce its influence in other crucial international relations issues.

Finally, membership of the European Union has, to date, provided a strong front to promote values and norms in international relations, including a robust approach to promoting human rights. The UK was instrumental in designing a strong framework of protecting human rights, as it was the first nation to ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on human rights in war-ravaged Europe in 1949. The convention commits each signatory—each nation that signs up to it—to abide by certain standards of behaviour and protect the basic rights and freedoms of ordinary people. The treaty aims to protect the rule of law and promote democracy. The EU institutions in practice have performed an important function to maintain human rights dialogue with large trade partners, such as China, Japan and Turkey. Let us take, for example, trade relationships with Turkey. How will the UK be able to hold Turkey to account on its treatment, for example, of the Kurdish and Alevi communities, when trying at the same time to forge a trade deal and possibly to selling them even more arms than we do now?

On the case of China, how can we have those honest discussions with that giant nation around the issues of Xinjiang province, Hong Kong and Taiwan, when, at the same time, we desperately want to promote our trade arrangements with them.