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Queen’s Speech - Debate (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:50 pm on 22nd June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Suri Lord Suri Conservative 4:50 pm, 22nd June 2017

My Lords, before I get into the substance of my speech, I want to pay a brief tribute to the Queen. For more than 65 years, she has reigned with extraordinary dignity and reserve, and I am grateful that she continues to serve with distinction as the Head of the Commonwealth. I am even more grateful that she missed Royal Ascot to speak in this place yesterday, although given the heat outside, maybe it was a near miss.

Our foreign and defence policy is more closely connected to Brexit than some may think. Despite the formal lack of integration on a common defence policy, our European friends and allies are our closest partners, and our foreign policy is also shaped around that understanding. Primarily, I wish to focus on the situation in central Europe and our contribution going forward. Previously, I welcomed the Government’s decision to station more troops in and work more closely with nations such as Poland. We all know that Russia has been emboldened by western weakness, and the new inaction of the White House has since added to that impression of stagnation.

We must keep and strengthen our retaliatory tools, as Russia continues to harass, hack and bully the Balkans and others in the region. The primary European retaliation has been based around strengthening relations with nations such as Ukraine and putting up sanctions to hurt the Russian economy. I tend to favour targeted sanctions rather than general tariff-based versions, because the aim must be to deprive the liberty of those in power and not of their subjects. Making ordinary citizens poorer is not useful in any case, and shores up support for the regime.

I must confess that I am worried about how the Government are factoring our sanctions policy into Brexit. We are consistently the strongest advocate in the Council and the Commission. Our stellar teams in the Treasury, Foreign Office and Department for International Trade are globally recognised as experts in targeted sanctions and do a significant portion of the heavy lifting for the EU when it comes to this. Without our clout and expertise in the room, it will be far easier for other states to say that they lack the will or capabilities to continue, and a crucial plank of our foreign policy will be cleanly chopped away, as acting alone rather than with allies weakens our position. I have heard Ministers time and again say that they want a deep and close relationship with the EU once we leave.

Now that negotiations have started in full, it is time to make a unilateral declaration that we will support and uphold existing sanctions policy, come rain or shine. More generally, in light of the disappointing election results, Ministers should start to tone down some of the more contentious aspects of Brexit and start listening more closely to Parliament.

It is not often that I agree with those sitting across the Chamber from me but the Labour Party made a good point during the election campaign. Trident is of course critical for our stature and safety, and I have defended it in the past in this place. Yet the cybersecurity of this country has great scope for improvement. As recent events showed, cyber and digital attacks are moving to the stage of being as dangerous as conventional weaponry. Without conventional weapons we might not be able to eliminate targets but when the WannaCry hackers can seriously damage the ability of the NHS to heal our sick we should consider our priorities. National Cyber Security Strategy 2016 to 2021 makes for interesting reading and I hope the departure of the former Minister for the Cabinet Office from government and Parliament will not lead to a loss of focus.

One issue I had was with funding. The 2015 strategic defence review set aside £1.9 billion over five years. Whether that is still the case is unclear but it is not clear that £380 million will be adequate to put through the ambitious reforms and progress initially envisaged, especially given the increasing demand for such services after recent attacks. Within the ring-fenced defence budget, I would be glad to see Ministers with cybersecurity responsibility and Defence Ministers come to an arrangement to increase the funds available for the strategy should stakeholders think it necessary. That would be a wise investment, a hedge against the new warfare. Also, from an economic standpoint, we should support our industries most likely to thrive after Brexit. Cybersecurity is something both that the UK is good at and that pays well. I will of course support the Government on the Queen’s Speech.