Beyond Brexit (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:58 pm on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:58 pm, 12th May 2020

My Lords, I hope that the Minister can give us some evidence that the Government are concerned to win friends in Europe now that we have left the EU. February’s white paper on the future relationship with the EU left out the references to last October’s political declaration agreeing to an

“overarching institutional framework … for ambitious, close and lasting cooperation” in foreign policy and defence, cybersecurity, civil protection and health security. I note the unwise omission, in February, of co-operation in health security. Now, the protection of national sovereignty overrides questions of national interests and how we might promote national interests through co-operation.

The declared intention is to turn away from Europe. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 3 February that:

“We are free to reinvigorate our ties with old allies”,—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/20; col. 25.]

as if EU membership had cut us off from other partners. We are leaving behind our oldest ally in the EU, Portugal, and we are leaving France, with which we now share a significant military deployment in Saharan Africa which the Government have told Parliament little about so far. We are putting political and economic relations with the United States first and foremost, even though we differ from Washington on an increasing number of important global issues.

This Government have no foreign policy. Beneath the empty phrase “global Britain” are buried illusions about a buccaneering Britain in a free-trading world, released from the shackles of a declining Europe. The current Foreign Secretary has made no attempt to build friendly bilateral relations with our European neighbours, nor has the Prime Minister. But the long history of British foreign policy has been centred on conflict and co-operation with our European neighbours. Now, 120 years after the Marquess of Salisbury stepped down as Conservative Prime Minister, splendid isolation is back.