Financial Security and Reducing Inequality in the Caribbean: Government Role — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:58 am on 8th March 2023.

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Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham 9:58 am, 8th March 2023

Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Davies. I start by paying tribute to Clive Lewis for securing this debate. I want to offer him some form of cross-party collaboration focusing on the Caribbean.

This country—I speak as an immigrant myself—has benefited enormously from the British-Caribbean diaspora, not just in London but across the whole of the United Kingdom. That community has some of the greatest skillsets imaginable; we want to harness the skills in the diaspora to help us build a bridge between London and the Caribbean, post Brexit. The paucity of Members attending this debate is rather regrettable, bearing in mind how important the Caribbean is to the United Kingdom and to our relations with that western sphere of the world.

I chair two all-party country groups: the APPG on Poland, not surprisingly, which is the third-largest in the House of Commons. We now have 97 parliamentarians in that APPG. We make regular visits to Warsaw with Members of Parliament who have never visited Poland. I also chair the all-party parliamentary group for St Kitts and Nevis, which we set up last year. One reason why I set it up is that I am particularly interested in evaluating how, post Brexit, the United Kingdom will strengthen links with the Commonwealth.

You and I entered the House in the same year, Mr Davies, in 2005. We were both Brexiteers. One of the reasons why I campaigned so assiduously for Brexit is that I recognise the extraordinary power of the Commonwealth—a global network of 54 nations around the world, representing a third of the world’s population. In our obsession with the European Union over the last 50 years—this tiny, almost inconsequential continent, whose population as a percentage of the global population, and whose GDP as a percentage of global GDP, is shrinking every day—we attached ourselves to a shrinking market, and allowed protectionist barriers to be imposed between us and the Commonwealth. That is probably one of this country’s greatest acts of self-harm in our lifetime.

What I want from this Government, post Brexit, in a country freed of the European Union’s artificial constraints, is for us to turn the Commonwealth into something meaningful and economically viable. The hon. Member for Norwich South said that King Charles may be the last titular head of the Commonwealth. I do not believe that. I believe that Prince William will continue in that role, as will his children, but only if we demonstrate to these 54 nations that we want to give them the maximum tariff-free access to our markets and build up those economic partnerships. Politicians are transient figures, here today, gone tomorrow. It is businesses and economic joint ventures that solidify and strengthen links between countries.

This year, we enter the CPTPP—the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. It is a partnership with the world’s largest trading bloc in the far east. We should also focus on the Caribbean, and on making sure that we challenge our American allies’ position as the major investor and exporter to the Caribbean. As you will know if you have visited the Caribbean, Mr Davies, the vast majority of products there, whether it be a car, or a pencil in a school, come from the United States of America. In this modern era of transportation, with high-velocity cargo ships crossing the Atlantic, we can compete against the United States of America. That is the best way to strengthen our relationship with the Caribbean.

When we set up the APPG for St Kitts and Nevis, would you believe, Mr Davies, that it was the first time that such an APPG had been set up in this Parliament since 1983, when St Kitts and Nevis achieved independence? I find that staggering. St Kitts and Nevis may have a small population, but let us not forget that it has one vote at the United Nations. There are only 195 votes in total—there are 195 countries in the world. St Kitts and Nevis has one of those precious votes. We ought to do everything possible to demonstrate to our partners in St Kitts and Nevis that we do not take their votes at the UN for granted, and we are doing everything possible to show them a genuine partnership.

I am very honoured to be hosting His Excellency Dr Kevin Isaac, the high commissioner to St Kitts and Nevis, today in the House of Commons. He has been the high commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis to the Court of St James’s since 2011. When I spoke to him this morning—I do not want to embarrass him—he said he could not remember reference being made to St Kitts and Nevis in the British Parliament in the last few years. He could not tell me the last time he heard such a reference. Between us, we need to make as many references to St Kitts and Nevis as possible. His Excellency Kevin Isaac was awarded diplomat of the year from North America and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2022. That is an award adjudicated by other diplomats and senior political figures. He has won it twice. If someone wanted to understand about international diplomacy, they should go and talk to him.

In my discussions with His Excellency Kevin Isaac, we have talked about an important project in his country: the construction of a major bridge from the island of St Kitts to the island of Nevis. I will talk to bridge builders in my constituency of Shrewsbury; we have a famous bridge builder in Leebotwood, Shropshire, and I will write to them about this opportunity. It is essential that the Minister is cognisant of this huge infrastructure project that St Kitts and Nevis is investigating. Can the Minister give me an update on what his Department is doing in conjunction with the Department for International Trade to ensure that there is a British proposal on the table to build that highly strategic and important bridge?

The Government of St Kitts and Nevis are building a climate-smart modern hospital and a senior high school. They are also seeking support for extending their international airport. There should be British construction proposals for all those projects. I am keen to hear from the Minister what we are doing to ensure that we bid for those important projects. Speaking as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, it is important that we use UK Export Finance to help British companies bid for those projects. UK Export Finance has billions of pounds at its disposal, with which it can give companies soft loans and credits to help them compete against Chinese construction companies.

I have a great concern about the way that the Chinese are taking over the whole of the Caribbean, in terms of infrastructure projects and commercial opportunities. It is not just Africa where the Chinese are stealing a march on the United Kingdom; it is also in the Caribbean. If we look at the figures for investment in the Caribbean nations, we will see that we have fallen behind the communist dictatorship of the People’s Republic of China in this critical part of the world—a part of the world that has such historical links to the United Kingdom, and that is so close to our major ally, the United States of America. Somehow, this Government are allowing the Chinese to steal a march on us in the Caribbean. You couldn’t make it up, Mr Davies.

Before I conclude my speech, I will make one strong appeal. We need a trade envoy for the Caribbean. I know that the Minister is from the Foreign Office, but I would like him to take that message to No. 10 Downing Street and to the Department for International Trade. As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, I have dozens of meetings every month in the House of Commons. The trade envoy is like a telephone switchboard operator, putting British commercial entities in touch with opportunities from the jurisdiction that they represent. Here in the House of Commons, we take advantage of the prestigious building that we work in to bring together people from the UK with people from the country to which we are trade envoy. We ensure that Britain is doing everything possible to take advantage of the opportunities. We need an envoy for the Caribbean. We had one in the past. A trade envoy acts as a totem pole; they encourage, facilitate, represent, and lobby on behalf of British business. They work with not only the Department for International Trade, but, most importantly, UK Export Finance.

Lastly, let me refer to compensation. I could see how emotional and passionate the hon. Gentleman was, and I am not going to demur from anything he said as it would be inappropriate for me so to do, even though he and I might not entirely agree on the matter. However, I would say to him that I have campaigned for many years for compensation for Poland from Germany, because 98% of the city of my birth, Warsaw, was destroyed in 1944. The Germans still refuse to pay that compensation, so I entirely understand his motives and strength of feeling. I respect that and his right to raise the issue, but I say to him again—gently, delicately and irrespective of the differences we have—that I hope we can agree to work together to slash those tariffs and restrictions, which have existed for decades with respect to Caribbean countries and their commercial entities.

We have been part of the European Union. As I said, I go around universities in this country and try to explain to young people that we gave automatic access to Poles—fellow white European Poles—but that somebody from the Caribbean would have to go through a different channel and jump over higher hurdles to get into this country. That is pure, unadulterated racism. It is staggering that for so many years we accepted a system—I look to Patrick Grady, who actively campaigned to remain in the European Union—that tolerates such extraordinarily profound discrimination between European citizens—fellow white Caucasian citizens—and Caribbean citizens. That is an absolute outrage.

I want every single individual at the border crossing to be assessed on their skillsets, their ability to learn English and their ability to convince a British entity to hire them. Those are the attributes that should be tested, not which part of the world the individual is from.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich South on securing the debate. I hope that he and I can stay in touch and work together to facilitate and send a strong signal to Caribbean nations that we value their partnership and their friendship, and that we are determined to create the strongest possible economic links between us.