Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:08 pm on 5 March 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative 7:08, 5 March 2024

My Lords, I join others in recognising and thanking my noble friends Lord Ahmad and the Foreign Secretary for all the work they do. It gives us all confidence seeing them on the world stage on our behalf. I thank them very much indeed.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the United Kingdom currently faces the most serious and sustained threat to its international relations position since the end of the Cold War, in the context of our position as a prominent member of the free world. We face emboldened aggressors and multiple threats. How we respond to these will be a defining moment for British foreign policy. Two current conflicts encapsulate the possibilities and problems for the United Kingdom in a fast-changing world: Ukraine and Gaza.

Although, at first, they do not seem connected, they share a common pattern and, even more importantly, a common message: if the free world does not stand up to aggression until it has been defeated, we can only bring further aggression on us. This is an obvious lesson from history, notably the history of the 1930s and what it teaches us, and which His Majesty’s Government would be wise to understand.

We are now in the third year of a war visited on Ukraine solely by Russian aggression. For all Vladimir Putin’s fictions about why he started this war, none of us in this Chamber should be under any illusions that it was anything other than an old-fashioned land grab. We are discussing Ukraine because it did the incredible: it stood up to the Russian steamroller and stopped it in its tracks through the bravery and commitment of its own people. Since then, in addition to its admirable courage, Ukraine has been emboldened in its defence by the staunch support of its allies, but now we face a troubled year ahead, with crucial supplies from the United States stalling and debates abounding about whether, and for how long, Ukraine can survive without our full-throated and continued backing.

The cold-blooded murder of the largest number of Jews in one day since the Holocaust was always going to elicit a severe response from the Israeli Government, and rightly so. No democracy, even our own in the United Kingdom, could turn the other cheek to such atrocities without seeking to prevent those who committed the crimes from ever doing so again. This is all the more so given the despicable taking of large numbers of hostages by Hamas and others in Gaza, 130 of whom remain unaccounted for nearly five months into this conflict. We all grieve and react with total distress to the horror of the tragic deaths of children, women and all those citizens killed in Gaza; but far from being a genocide, or the greatest crime in history, the care that the Israel Defense Forces have largely taken during this operation to minimise civilian casualties will likely be studied for years by free-world military planners facing similar campaigns.

As with Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, the Hamas war of aggression against Israel initially elicited firm free-world support. Free-world leaders, this country’s included, understood entirely that Israel could not allow Hamas aggression to go unpunished and that the hostages needed freeing. In just a few short months, that solidarity of purpose has been undermined as, country by country, elements of the free world have peeled off from the idea of defending democracy. Instead, we have seen vapid and inane requests for an Israeli ceasefire now, sometimes even with no conditions on Hamas’s continued rule in Gaza, or the release of hostages, attached.

I posit, therefore, that British foreign policy must make 2024 a year of decision for the free world, and that our stance in the two conflicts I have addressed will be central to this. It might be tempting to give up on supporting Ukraine because we are growing weary of doing so, or to force Israel to compromise because we are tired of fending off the aggression of the street mobs here in the UK that did so much damage to the reputation of the other place a couple of weeks ago. But neither approach is in our national interest. If Ukraine is driven to the negotiating table through weakness this year, Mr Putin’s decision to wage war will have been vindicated with additional territory, and if Israel gives in to the international pressure before it has succeeded in delivering a final death blow to Hamas, terrorism will be seen to have triumphed through the improbable act of survival, even after committing the most heinous of crimes.

Do we think that Russia and international terrorists will be satisfied with their ill-gotten gains after achieving them? Of course not, they will come back for more, after a period of reconstruction, certain that the free world will eventually crumble before aggression if they just wait out our period of outrage over their actions. For this reason, I implore my noble friend the Foreign Secretary to stand firm with our fellow democracies in 2024. We must make the decisions that allow our allies to finish the jobs that they did not want but were forced on them—the same jobs that we would do if we were in their place.