Leaving the EU: Integrated Foreign Policy

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 30 October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 11:00, 30 October 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered integrated foreign policy after the UK leaves the EU.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am grateful to the Minister for attending; I am aware that he is newish to his brief, so I hope he is not too put out. I also hope that we can use the debate not only to set out ideas, but to explore some themes and thoughts that I hope will be of benefit to global Britain post Brexit.

Integration should be a key theme in foreign and overseas policy, because it is a natural way to increase our power. It is good to have more power, which we hope to use for our own good and for the defence of the international liberal order. Having power also prevents others from shaping the world to our detriment. All powers need to integrate, and arguably the problem at the moment is that our potential adversaries are doing rather better than we are. Indeed, the commonly used term “hybrid war” is in part a reference to permanent and hostile competition using not only conventional tools of military force, but non-conventional forms of state power. One of the things that worries me about the new world is that, arguably, modern autocracies have adjusted to it rather better than we have.

More broadly, Brexit—if it happens—requires a renewed commitment to global engagement. It should not imply a shrinking from the world, but an embrace of it. I want the Government’s vision of global Britain to have meaning. James Rogers from the Henry Jackson Society and I produced a study entitled, “Global Britain: A Twenty-First Century Vision”. The foreword was written by the current Prime Minister, who I hope appreciated some of the ideas—I am not saying that he would recommend them all, because we were trying to suggest some quite radical thinking. Perhaps there are hon. Members present who would question that, and they are welcome to do so.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

My hon. Friend is making some very wise points. When I was a Minister, I was certainly impressed with the integration that we see in post. I appreciate that he applied for the debate before the general election was announced, but is he as shocked as I am to see that there is not a single Labour Member present to discuss this crucial issue?

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

It is disappointing that they are not here, but we have a former Labour Member, Angela Smith, as well as an esteemed Democratic Unionist Member, Jim Shannon. There is at least some cross-party interest.

What is the UK’s status in the world? The 21st century is likely to be defined by two superpowers: China and the United States.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

On the point made in the intervention, it is not normal for a shadow Minister to respond in a half-hour debate.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Thank you for that point, Chair.

A series of major powers will sit alongside the two superpowers: Brazil, Indonesia, economic powerhouses such as Germany and Japan, and former superpowers such as Britain and France. Britain is not a superpower and has not been since the 1950s, but it remains a great power—perhaps the foremost great power. Talk of the UK as medium-sized and middle-ranking is pointlessly deprecating and contributes little to the debate.

What is the state of the world? Conventional wars are generally in decline, and much of humanity enjoys more enriched lives than ever before.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Gentleman has brought a very important issue to Westminster Hall for the half-hour debate. Does he agree that it is important for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to be a member of NATO and to play its part in that excellent organisation when it comes to foreign policy that collectively joins us together to have a global influence?

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

It is critical. One of the points that I would like to touch on in the debate is the importance of the UK’s engaging multilaterally through not only, hopefully, a leading role in NATO, but a re-energised role in the United Nations. If I have time, I would like to ask the Minister about that.

What is the state of the world? Conventional war is in decline, but the world is becoming a more challenging place. There are new forms of integrated conflict and competition being developed by rivals. The international rules-based system set up since world war two has not broken down, but it is under threat and is being bent in several different directions.

A global Britain implies the use of something that perhaps we have not had enough of in this country—strategy, which is the reconciling of ends, ways and means. For the UK to be better able to achieve its ends, it has to marshal its means and ways—its resources, and how it uses them in the most effective way possible. Hence the need for integration across Government Departments, in a strategy that includes all overseas Government Departments and perhaps sometimes domestic Departments, too.

Russia and China do not have foreign policies that we should copy, but they show the worth of integrating power. Does Britain have what the great 20th-century strategist Basil Liddell Hart would call a “grand strategy”—the combination of the great tools of state power? I would argue that we do not yet have that—the Minister might disagree—but we are working towards it. We do not have it yet because, apart from anything else, although Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pledged to the Foreign Affairs Committee to produce “something” in early 2019, I am not aware that the work has yet been produced. What has happened to the report that was promised to the Foreign Affairs Committee?

The tools of national power and influence exist on a spectrum, ranging from hard power through to soft power. As I have argued, they should not be seen in isolation from each other. British state power sometimes becomes less than the sum of its parts because our overseas engagement has come to be divided between so many competing Departments.

I will now make a point on which some colleagues may disagree with. For me, there is no reason why we should not look closely at the Australian and Canadian models, whereby overseas aid and trade Departments are integrated as agencies within the Foreign Office.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development)

Evidence suggests quite strongly that the Australian decision has had a significant impact on the Government’s ability to deliver effective aid overseas; in other words, aid has lost out.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

That is not the evidence that I have read, but I look forward to reading it. If the hon. Lady would care to send it to me, I would love to have a look at it. From my conversations with Australian and Canadian diplomats and people who know about these things, I understand that their system—the integration of trade and the Department for International Trade into their Foreign Offices—has actually worked quite well. This is not a criticism of DFID, which does many things very well. It spends public money considerably better than the Foreign Office does. It is not about trashing or diluting DFID, but about its full integration into an integrated overseas policy. I am also not arguing against 0.7% of national income being spent on aid, but I would change its definition.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

My hon. Friend and I have a difference of opinion on this matter. Let me be very clear: no one who has studied these things closely thinks that the Canadian and Australian model that he describes is superior to the British model. I can reassure him on this point. When David Cameron set up the National Security Council in 2010, he did so directly to address the point that my hon. Friend makes. The National Security Council provides for the co-ordination between defence, diplomacy and development. With the greatest of respect, that makes my hon. Friend’s proposal to put those Departments back into the Foreign Office entirely redundant, because the new mechanism delivers precisely the goal that he and I want to see—better co-ordination of policy in Government.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I am not sure whether that is the case, but I will explore that idea in a few minutes if I have time.

Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest

My hon. Friend makes a compelling point. He has done a huge amount of work on this issue, and I have a lot of respect for the work he has done with the Henry Jackson Society. One of the problems that he might crash into if we were to merge the Department for International Development with the Department for International Trade, albeit within the Foreign Office, is that there would potentially be the criticism that we are tying trade to aid, and that therefore our objectives might be impure. Would not our interests be best served by being more influential with the OECD Development Assistance Committee, and making the rules work better for those we serve?

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

There are various ways to do this. I do not expect to succeed in merging the Department for International Development and the Department for International Trade back into the FCO. It is an option that we should explore, and we should look honestly at whether it is the best, but if it is not—I suspect the Minister will argue that—I would very much like to explore ways to increase joint working, because it works at a strategy level.

I take issue with what my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell said about the National Security Council, because I am not sure it works as well as it could when it comes to setting strategy. We need a national strategy council because the National Security Council’s role is still too reactive. It is moving towards integration and looking at strategy, which I will come to if I do not run out of time—I want to make sure the Minister has time to respond.

There are many different ways of doing this, but at a departmental level, the integration to achieve greater effect and greater power sometimes breaks down. Arguably, it can also break down at an ambassadorial level; I will develop that argument in a second. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield and my hon. Friend Mark Garnier for their interventions and their important contributions to the debate, which I take in good faith.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems that we face in integration and influence is that our senior leaders travel far too little in places of importance, such as the whole of the African continent? In the time in which President Macron has visited the African continent more than 10 times, our Prime Minister has been able to visit only once. It was the first time a Prime Minister has visited Kenya—one of our strongest allies—since the days of Margaret Thatcher.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I would love to see Ministers do that more—I hope the Minister will not then blame me for jetlag if he ever has it. That is an absolutely sensible point. I will crack on, because I do not want to run out of time.

We have a tendency towards reactivity. We have a National Security Council, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield articulates. We have an Africa strategy, and we are developing a China strategy, so we are integrating more, but I would argue that we need to turbocharge it, push it and institutionalise it to greater effect. One way to do that is to change the nature of the National Security Council and turn it into a national strategy council. It would have two roles: it would have the reactive role that it has at the moment, and it would institutionalise and formalise a strategy role to set up whole-Government policy towards different parts of the world. That is beginning to happen; the National Security Council has within it committees that look at different parts of the world and themes. However, for me it is not institutionalised enough. There has been a lack of political leadership, as there often is nowadays—this relates to the point that my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy made about travel—to integrate Departments so that we maximise the value of our power.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

What my hon. Friend is saying about strategy is very good, but the National Security Council tends, to a very large extent, to be the creature of the Prime Minister. All I can tell him is that, when David Cameron was Prime Minister, the point that he makes about strategy was understood, and perhaps pursued more than it is today.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention and for being present; it is a great privilege for me that he is. He makes the point well about the need to normalise and institutionalise the strategy element so that, regardless of the Prime Minister’s determination to push through a strategy, the setting of strategy five, 10 or 20 years ahead becomes the norm. The Army does it when it looks at strategic threats out to 2045—I was listening to the Commandant General of the Royal Marines yesterday—but we are not doing it at a political level. I am worried that our excellent FCO diplomats and soldiers lack political leadership because we have become too parochial in this House. It is a pleasure that so many Members with a broader vision are in the Chamber. I will crack on, because I am about to run out of time.

Here are some ideas for the One HMG agenda. I want it to remove barriers to joint learning so that, whatever system we have—whether or not we keep DFID and DIT, and whatever their relationship with the FCO is—we maximise the integration factor. I was painfully aware of some of these ideas when I was overseas and deployed in my former life as a very accidental soldier. We need clear, integrated governance structures. We need integration of more levels of Departments, potentially through the use of what I call joint effects teams. I have seen their worth, and their absence in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

We need integrated line management through ambassadors. Ambassadors cannot manage DFID staff in the same way as they can with the FCO. An ambassador in a country should have control over the whole staff. There should be a common set of pay and conditions, which, frankly, means giving the FCO staff pay rises to bring them in line with other Departments and ensure that they are treated in exactly the same way.

Critically—especially for military operations in which the military are in the lead but DFID is very well represented and other international agencies fall under the British chain of command—there should be a single legal chain to speed decision making. Among the many things that slowed down decision making in provincial reconstruction teams in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq were the multiple legal chains that stretched back to individual Departments. If DFID is leading an operation in Africa and other Departments are supporting, DFID should supply the legal chain and there should not be parallel legal chains elsewhere. If the military are leading and DFID is supporting, the military lawyers should likewise have the legal remit. That speeds decision making and gives clearer and firmer political direction without too much infighting. That is an example of integration at a practical level that does not require great structural changes—I still want to see them, but I accept that they may not happen.

I would like to see the UK push for significant reform to DAC, the OECD committee. To colleagues who think that I am hostile to DFID, let me say that I am genuinely not, and I am genuinely not hostile to 0.7%. Some people in this House, like Nigel Farage outside it, say, “We should pretty much scrap it. It is a disgrace that we spend more on overseas aid than on policing.” Actually, that is an embarrassing figure for us. I am not against the 0.7% figure at all, but we need to change the definition in some way that helps us. I suggest 0.5%, with 0.2% that we spend how we like, without reference to DAC. We could do two things in particular. All UK peacekeeping should come out of development money, because it is a fundamental building block to development. That would save the Ministry of Defence £300 or £400 million a year.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

Does my hon. Friend welcome the fact that we were successful in lobbying the OECD DAC to ensure that peacekeeping should go from 7% to 15%?

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Yes, and I congratulate the former Minister on her excellent work and that of the Department. We can spend 15% now, but there is a big difference between 15% and 100%. I would like to see all UK peacekeeping counted, either by changing the rules of DAC or rearranging how we spend our aid money.

The second thing I would like to see is a reinvigorated BBC World Service TV and radio, with significantly increased funding, and I would like that to come under aid and development. Increasingly, aid and development will be seen not just as keeping people alive, as important as that is—I would not touch, but increase the life-saving element of DFID’s budget. However, I would reallocate some of the economic support, where there is no discernible evidence of its effectiveness, either to the BBC World Service so that it can take on global fake news, or peacekeeping.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the BBC World Service. In fact, when I was Secretary of State, I increased by nine times the amount of money spent on the BBC World Service Trust. On the OECD DAC, if we make a promise to the poorest people in the world—Archbishop Tutu described that as a sacred thing—we should stick to it. The promise was 0.7%, and I am very proud that a Conservative Government introduced it. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that we should always review the nature of the definition. What he says about Britain’s peacekeeping effort is absolutely relevant, but the OECD DAC works very well for Britain, because it brings countries that do not spend their aid as effectively as we do up to the standard that Britain expects, so we gain from that.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I will wrap up in the next minute because I want to give the Minister time to respond. I do not accept that final point, because so few countries spend anything like the same amount on aid, and I think it just washes over most states. There is clearly a conversation to be had there.

To sum up, we have a National Security Council, we have had changes to increase integration and we should have three global themes—free trade, free thought and freedom from oppression. We could wrap up so much of what we do by championing free trade under the WTO, freedom of thought with the BBC, and freedom from oppression, by championing UK anti-slavery measures at the UN and in this place. All that implies a commitment to a renewed multilateralism, not only through NATO, as the hon. Member for Strangford pointed out, but through the UN. I would very much support a much more powerful role for the UK in the UN, both in committing more resources, funding and support for its reform, and in being a critical UN power. That will also mean giving the UK’s UN team a better building to work in, so that they become more of a hub for the diplomatic community at the UN, increasing our power and influence.

Although I had other points to make, I will leave it there because I want to give the Minister time to respond. I thank him for listening and look forward to his response.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State 11:20, 30 October 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Seely on securing this timely debate. I mean “timely” in the broader sense, as we are nearly out of time in this Parliament, but I am sure that the ideas that he adumbrated will form part of the election campaign, in which parties and candidates of all stripes will be able to put forward their views on our foreign policy—views that may well be taken up by the next Government. I pay tribute to him for all that he has done to inform and challenge the Government’s foreign policy making, both as a member of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and through his thoughtful contributions in print, of which I have two submissions to hand. I also congratulate all colleagues who are present. As my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin said, not every political party is represented, but those who are here are respected across the House.

There is no doubt that we face a world of increasing uncertainty. The rules-based international system is under challenge. Trading tensions, climate change and growing populations mean greater competition. New technologies need to be properly harnessed to ensure that cyberspace cannot be hijacked for malign purposes—my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight made that point cogently and eloquently. Those challenges involve threats to our interests that we need to identify and overcome, but they also offer opportunity, from the economic potential of innovating to tackle climate change to the commercial possibilities offered by the dynamic economies of Asia, or the growing populations of Africa.

My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy mentioned Africa, and I agree with him: Ministers should travel more. I draw his attention to the current rather challenging parliamentary arithmetic, which means that the most powerful person in the House of Commons is not the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Foreign Secretary, but the Government pairing Whip, who allows us to travel. Perhaps in a new Parliament with a different arithmetic, Ministers will be able to travel much more.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

Does the fact that British foreign policy suffers because Ministers are understandably tied to Parliament not point to a fundamental problem in our country? We do not have the ability to get out there, unlike our counterparts with presidential systems.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State

Our system is beautiful but imperfect. I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s point, but we have a fantastic diplomatic service, Members of the House of Lords, who are often able to travel more, and trade envoys from across political parties, who contribute to our diplomatic effort.

Once we have left the European Union, we will continue to be guided by our core foreign policy priorities: protecting our people, projecting our influence and promoting our prosperity. Those priorities align with the three freedoms mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight: freedom from oppression, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom for trade. I am sure he will agree that those are important elements in delivering our core priorities.

We will remain a pragmatic champion of our values, a steadfast defender of our interests, and a global force for good. We will work with, and through, the global network of multilateral institutions—as a permanent member of the United Nations, to which my hon. Friend referred; as a leading member of the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth; and as an independent reformist voice in the World Trade Organisation. That commitment extends to our neighbours in Europe. We are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. We remain steadfastly committed to the security and welfare of the continent, remaining a vital partner in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and of course, NATO, as Jim Shannon and others mentioned. We will lead by example. The Foreign Secretary has announced our intention to establish a global human rights sanctions regime, which will reinforce Britain’s role in the world as a good global citizen.

I had a good sense of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight would raise today from the report he produced in February. He referred to the Prime Minister’s foreword to it, and it will form an important part of my respite reading during the general election campaign. If I am here on the other side of the election and appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I trust he will be a member, I am sure that we will refer to the report when we joust.

I am pleased to advise my hon. Friend that many of the suggestions made in the report, and by hon. Members today, mirror lines of work that this Government are already delivering. The United Kingdom has considerable strengths and world-leading capabilities, including a renowned military, of which he was once a part, an attractive economy and one of the largest and most respected diplomatic, development and security networks. Our extraordinary soft power generates a huge amount of opportunity and puts us in the top two of Portland’s soft power index. To leverage those assets to maximum effect, we must work across organisational boundaries. If global Britain is to be successful, our systems must be fit for purpose.

I agree with my hon. Friend that a well-integrated foreign policy is critical. He mentioned the National Security Council, which has proven an excellent vehicle for bringing together the work of different Departments to focus on the more immediate issues and threats that we and our allies face. The NSC’s role has been enhanced over the last year by the adoption of the fusion doctrine, which strengthens Her Majesty’s Government’s collective approach to national security, drawing together all the United Kingdom’s security, economic and diplomatic capabilities in pursuit of our national interests. Members of the NSC, be they Cabinet Ministers, junior Ministers, officials or experts, speak with authority and as equals. That is one of the key components of the NSC’s success.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. That is why at home, the Government’s collective approach to international work is strengthened through the creation of national strategy implementation groups, which meet monthly and bring together officials from all relevant Government Departments to formulate collective responses to opportunities and challenges. We encourage effective co-ordination between Departments, but there is also a great deal to be gained from the development of dedicated expertise in specialist departments. I will ask my officials, who my hon. Friend is meeting later, to give him further detail on that.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I appreciate that a 30-minute debate on the integration of foreign policy is hardly enough to integrate it, but I am sure that there will be future opportunities for him, me and other hon. Members to debate it more fully.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.