Europe: Foreign Policy and Defence Co-operation - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:48 pm on 21 February 2022.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour 2:48, 21 February 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to deepen foreign policy and defence cooperation with European allies, in particular France and Germany.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, European allies are vital in building a network of liberty and in tackling shared challenges. The Foreign Secretary has spoken with many of her European colleagues in recent weeks, as has the Prime Minister, including on the situation in Ukraine. France and Germany are two of our closest partners, and we work with both countries at the highest levels. Our forces regularly operate alongside one another around the world, including defending NATO’s eastern flank.

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I tabled this Question before the Ukraine crisis reached fever pitch. I was pleased a couple of weeks ago that the Prime Minister said that he would bring together Europe in a united stance against President Putin, but now all I read is government briefing that Britain stands four-square with the United States, in contrast to the alleged weakness of France and Germany. Despite the Government’s temptation to scratch away at the Brexit issues that remain unresolved, will they now restate clearly and firmly the supreme and overriding importance they attach to a common European and NATO position with our European allies and friends, which in this moment of great crisis should come above all other considerations?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, European security is clearly directly linked to UK security, and I do not think anyone questions this. We share many security and defence interests with our European allies, from addressing climate change to tackling malign actors. As one of only two European nations with truly global military reach and the largest European spend in NATO, we remain an essential ally on foreign policy, security and defence for the wider European Union.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister recognise—I pay tribute to what the Government are doing on this—that the key aspect of this crisis, in our hands and those of our European and NATO allies, is a tough sanctions response, if there is any invasion of Ukraine? Therefore, would it not have been rather more useful in the last few weeks if we had been part of the dialogue within the European Union—which we could have been if we had put that into the TCA—instead of having to operate purely from the outside on sanctions, which is an EU matter, not a NATO matter?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The UK will continue to work with the EU and other international partners to tackle this shared global challenge. For example, on 2 December, alongside the US, Canada and the EU, the UK imposed fresh sanctions on eight Belarussian individuals responsible for repression and human rights violations. Our departure from the EU has meant that we are able to move more quickly than we could through multilateral channels, where it is in our interests to do so. Only a week ago, the UK Government laid legislation in Parliament to toughen and expand the UK sanctions regime, specifically in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. These powers will go further than ever before.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister accept that getting behind France and Germany, particularly on the issue of NATO expansion, would be a positive contribution towards building a European position on this matter?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we are already extremely closely aligned to both Germany and France on most overseas issues. Our defence relationship with France is closer than with any other country in the world, except the United States. We are working together to protect our people from shared threats. Germany is an essential ally and one of our most important international partners. We welcome the new German coalition’s description of the UK as one of Germany’s closest partners. The relationship is good and we have a shared interest in resolving this issue.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour

My Lords, while maintaining my deep concern for the sovereignty of Ukraine, I ask the Minister to confirm that no country has a right to join NATO and that allowing new members to join is a decision for all existing NATO members. By its nature, this imposes an obligation on any member to come to the aid of another, an obligation not to be undertaken lightly by any country.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord knows, Ukraine is a sovereign nation with a long and rich history of cultural and political independence. Ukraine has the absolute right to determine its own future. The sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, and other partners, are not remotely up for discussion.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, could the Minister take back to the Foreign Office the strong message that it does not help the cause of close co-operation with France and Germany if Cabinet Ministers make comments which suggest that they are weak and we are strong? For example, the suggestion that there was a whiff of Munich in President Macron going to Moscow was not helpful for Franco-British co-operation. I am well aware that the Blair Government did much the same in criticising the French in the run-up to the Iraq war. That damaged our co-operation with our major European partners, too.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I hope that what I have already said today in response to questions put to me reassures the noble Lord that we do not take lightly the importance of our relationship with major European powers when it comes to confronting these common challenges. What I have said today is a perfect reflection of the Government’s position.

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative

My Lords, given that the official position, now established, is that NATO will not fight even if Ukraine is invaded, does it not effectively mean that Ukraine is not likely to become a member of NATO—and has not the President of the United States said that Ukraine is a long way from membership of NATO? Given that, why is it so difficult to come up with a formula that could assure Russia that the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO is very remote?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am not in a position where I can assess the likelihood or otherwise of Ukraine being accepted as a member of NATO, but I shall convey the noble Lord’s message to the Foreign Secretary.

Photo of Lord Boyce Lord Boyce Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, notwithstanding Brexit, at the working level the relationships between our Armed Forces and those of other European countries, whether bilateral, trilateral or multilateral, are extremely strong and should be nurtured at all costs?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his comment, but we have shown that we do not need a separate institutional treaty to work effectively with the EU on foreign policy, whether co-ordinating on sanctions, responding jointly to Russian aggression or on wider issues involving Iran. Although we have left the EU defence structures, we will continue to work closely with the EU across the common challenges that we face. We do so on a very wide range of issues, including Libya, climate change, Russia and so on, and the trade and co-operation agreement provides for future co-operation on emerging security challenges, where it is in the interests of both sides to continue to work together.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade) , Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, what is the Minister doing to improve co-ordination with our EU partners on sanctions against Russia? Can he also tell us what the Government are doing now, independent of the EU, to implement long-overdue measures to prevent money laundering, including reform of Companies House, regardless of any further Russian attacks on Ukraine?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we have cracked down on illicit finance through ground-breaking legislation in the Criminal Finances Act, and we have already published our ambitious economic crime plan. The National Crime Agency has increased investigations into corrupt elites, and the Government are reviewing all tier 1 investor visas granted before 5 April.

On the broader point that the noble Baroness raises, the UK will continue to work with the EU and other international partners to tackle shared global challenges. For example, on 2 December, alongside the US, Canada and the EU, we imposed fresh sanctions on eight Belarussian individuals responsible for repression and human rights violations. That was a consequence of co-operation with our European allies and those further afield.

Photo of The Bishop of Coventry The Bishop of Coventry Bishop

My Lords, given the Minister for Europe’s comments yesterday that the conflict in Ukraine could lead to 5 million refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries, what forms of co-operation are Her Majesty’s Government preparing with European partners in response to this looming humanitarian crisis and other catastrophes on the world stage, caused through conflict, climate change or whatever?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the Foreign Office is supporting the Home Office in its diplomatic engagement with European partners and is looking to strengthen co-operation, including a possible new EU-UK migration agreement, and on the immediate concerns relating to Ukraine.