– in the House of Lords at 2:48 pm on 21st 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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
The UK will continue to work with the EU and other international partners to tackle this shared global challenge. For example, on
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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.