United Kingdom Internal Market Bill - Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Lord Ricketts Lord Ricketts Chair, The Lord Ricketts GCMG GCVO Committee, Chair, The Lord Ricketts GCMG GCVO Committee 9:00 pm, 9th November 2020

My Lords, I apologise that I was unable to participate in the Second Reading debate. Many noble Lords this evening have set out with great power and authority the legal, constitutional and moral objections to this Bill. My purpose in speaking is to take a slightly different tack—which may be a good thing at this point in the debate—and to look at the operational damage that Clauses 42 and 47 of this Bill, if enacted, would do to the effectiveness of our foreign policy.

I do that on the basis of 40 years of experience representing this country as a British diplomat. I know at first hand that Britain has been widely respected around the world as the country that evolved the concept of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law and has played such a formative part in developing the body of international law as we now have it, from the Geneva conventions on the laws of war to the International Criminal Court.

My point is that this is more than an issue of the country’s reputation. Our power of example has strengthened our powers of influence in the world. It has given our country the authority to demand that other countries uphold their international obligations. It is part of the reason, for example, that Britain has been able to play such a leading role in the UN Security Council in crafting countless resolutions, holding to account those who break their international commitments and often imposing sanctions on them.

As other noble Lords have said, we are now standing on the cusp of a new American presidency, with a President-elect who is a passionate believer in the rule of law and in resolving disputes between countries through agreement. There is a great deal of important work that we can do together. An early priority with the Biden Administration should be to bring Iran back into compliance with the agreement it signed with the US, the UK and others in 2015. But how can we preach to Iran what we do not practise at home? It would be the worst possible start to the British partnership with a Biden Administration intent on rebuilding institutions of the rule of law if the Government now plough ahead with Part 5 even after Mr Biden has explicitly warned of the dangers. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, this is not about pleasing a new US President; it is about effective co-operation with a country that is now, once again, intent on helping to resolve the world’s problems through international agreement.

I conclude with a specific illustration of the collateral damage I believe would result from keeping these clauses in the Bill—damage that goes far beyond the issue of Northern Ireland or even the UK and the EU. I invite noble Lords to come with me across the road to the Foreign Secretary’s grand office on King Charles Street and to imagine that he summoned the Chinese ambassador to upbraid him on his Government’s crackdown in Hong Kong on fundamental freedoms. The Foreign Secretary would tell the ambassador: “This is a flagrant breach of the international agreement China signed with Britain in 1984 to uphold Hong Kong’s way of life for 50 years.” The ambassador might well say: “I agree; this is a breach of international law in a limited and specific way, but be reassured, Foreign Secretary, it is perfectly legal in our domestic law. The National People’s Congress has legislated to repudiate parts of that 1984 agreement. That is our sovereign right.” How is the Foreign Secretary to respond if these clauses stand part of this Bill and become law? Every other Foreign Secretary would have said “pacta sunt servanda”, and he would have had centuries of British practice behind him to give that weight. What would the current Foreign Secretary be able to say if this became law? “Pacta sunt servanda when it suits us” does not have quite the same ring.

For the sake of Britain’s effectiveness in repairing a rules-based international system grievously damaged over the last four years, in addition to all the other powerful arguments that have been advanced this evening, I shall be voting tonight with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, so that Clauses 42 to 47 do not stand part of this Bill.