European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:19 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Truscott Lord Truscott Non-affiliated 9:19 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, mentioned the importance of security issues. It is also true that, in withdrawing from the EU, as outlined in the Bill before us, we will be withdrawing from the European Union’s common security and defence policy and its common foreign and security policy. These were issues that preoccupied the European Parliament when I was an MEP years ago.

I wish to focus on the issue of British foreign policy post Brexit. I fear that, as we speak, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not prepared for Britain’s place in the world post Brexit and does not currently have a foreign policy fit for purpose. There will be a new reality for the UK post Brexit—a world where we need to forge closer political and trade relations with a whole host of partners, some of whom we may not particularly like or even trust. If we are to thrive as a nation, we will need to be pragmatic in our approach. Being pragmatic does not mean we will have to abandon our principles as a democratic country committed to free trade and human rights—several noble Lords mentioned the importance of human rights in the charter. However, it does mean that we will need to develop a more coherent, sophisticated approach to foreign and international affairs—an approach that is painfully absent today.

Frankly, Britain’s current foreign policy is incoherent, contradictory, hypocritical and short-sighted. The UK imposes financial sanctions on more than 20 countries, but sells arms to its ally, Saudi Arabia, which, in Yemen, is helping to cause the greatest humanitarian disaster on the planet today. Saudi-backed military intervention and bombing has led to 2.2 million people being forced to abandon their homes; half the population does not have food and a quarter faces starvation. Until recently, the war in Yemen was one of the most underreported in modern history. Why is that? Could it have something to do with Saudi Arabia’s role as a strategic British ally, trading partner and source of oil? Where is Britain’s moral leadership in Yemen?

Under former Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor George Osbourne, the Government’s main trade and foreign policy seemed to consist of selling as much of the country as possible to the People’s Republic of China. I note that David Cameron is continuing with this approach in his private capacity as vice-chairman of the £750 million UK-China fund. I welcome foreign direct investment from China as much as anyone, but we should be under no illusions about Beijing’s aims. China has already bought up large swathes of Africa, and it wants to do the same in Europe, including in the UK.

If it cannot buy up our high-tech industries, it is not above trying to penetrate them through covert means. Some 800,000 Chinese are working on cyber in the PRC, many in the People’s Liberation Army and state sectors. The Belt and Road initiative is designed to extend China’s geopolitical reach, with 900 planned projects and $4 trillion of investment, encompassing about 60 countries. In the meantime, Beijing continues to extend its sphere of influence in the East and South China Seas. Here in the UK, China is a partner in building the extremely expensive Hinkley Point C nuclear power station and wants to build a nuclear plant in Bradwell. If it succeeds in doing so, the UK can forget any notion of energy security.

In the new world order post Brexit, the UK will have to think through its policies more than it does at present. We should, perhaps, question whether making the President of the United States feel unwelcome in London is sensible, whatever one thinks of Donald Trump. The US is our most important ally, vital for inward investment and trade. It is our largest single export market and second-largest import partner. The US is also the UK’s largest single inward investor. Post Brexit, we will need America more than ever. Where possible, we should use the much-vaunted special relationship to influence US policy. We do not need to defer to Washington every single time—for example, in my view, it was a mistake to follow the US into Iraq, which destabilised the entire Middle East and far beyond. Nor should we ever agree with the US over the Paris climate accord and its withdrawal—something that EU member states have stood together to resist to date.

New thinking will be required. Perhaps, for example, the UK should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which is opening up closer trade with the emerging economies of the Asia Pacific region. Of course we will need a close and continuing relationship with continental Europe—and the closer the better in my view. The relationship should encompass not only trade but security, tackling crime and protecting our shared environment. We are leaving the EU but we remain both British and European. In doing so, our foreign policy needs to be thoroughly thought through, with a new sense of purpose and direction.