2020 03 – Parliamentary Notes

Parliament Notes

Dick Barry

Global Britain

03 February 2020

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on global Britain, following the Prime Minister’s written ministerial statement today.

Last Friday, 31 January, the United Kingdom left the European Union. Before then, for three long years, we had debated the European question. Members on both sides of the Chamber were weary and people out in the country were tired of the wrangling, so I think there is relief on all sides that the question is now settled. I know that the point of departure is difficult for many people—decent people who love their country and who did not want us to leave—so it is incumbent on this Government to show that leaving marks not an ending, but a bold new beginning. We take that responsibility very seriously.

When we ratified the withdrawal agreement, this Government and this Parliament finally delivered on the promise made to the British people over three years ago. We did that as a matter of democratic principle. We did it to keep faith with and to retain the confidence of the British people. In doing so, we sent a strong signal to the EU and to the world about our ambition and our resolve as we chart the course ahead. As one United Kingdom, we are now free to determine our own future as masters of our own destiny. We are free to reinvigorate our ties with old allies. We are free to forge new friendships around the world. As we seek those new relationships with friends and partners, the interests of the British people and the integrity of our Union will be the foundation stone of everything we do.

The Prime Minister’s speech this morning and the written statement to the House start us on that journey by setting out the Government’s proposed approach to our relations with the EU in 2020. The most important thing about 2020 is that having left the EU at the start of it, at the end of it we will fully and with absolute certainty regain complete economic and political independence. That is when the transition period ends, and it will not be extended.

We will have a new relationship with the EU, as sovereign equals, based on free trade. Between now and the end of the year, we will work with the EU to try to negotiate a free trade agreement, drawing on other recent agreements, such as the one between the EU and Canada. That should be the core of our future relationship. We will look to reach agreements on other priorities, including fisheries, internal security and aviation. These will be backed up by governance and dispute settlement arrangements appropriate to a free trade agreement, with no alignment and no role for the European Court of Justice, respectful of our democratic prerogatives. We hope we can agree. If we cannot, we will of course carry on trading with the EU in the same way as Australia and many other countries around the world—as a free country, collaborating where we can, and setting our own rules that work for us.

Of course, the EU is not our only trading partner, and at the same time we will be seeking to get agreements with other great trading countries around the world. We are delighted—in the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was here last week—that the UK is now front of the queue for a free trade deal with the United States. We expect to open negotiations with the US and other countries very soon—in that way we can broaden our horizons to embrace the huge opportunities in the rising economies of the future, where 90% of the world’s growth comes from. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade will set out more detail in a written statement later this week, and I will visit Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia over the next two weeks.

At such a crossroads moment, it is fitting and timely that this Government will engage in a thorough and careful review of the United Kingdom’s place in the world, including through the integrated security, defence and foreign policy review. This review is an opportunity for us to reassess the ways we engage on the global stage—including in defence, diplomacy and our approach to development—to ensure we have a fully integrated approach, because now is the moment to look ahead with confidence and ambition, to signal to our future partners the outward-facing, trailblazing country that we intend to be.

We have a vision of a truly global Britain. The first pillar of our global Britain strategy will be to continue to prove that we are the best possible allies, partners and friends with our European neighbours. We are working closely with our European partners to find a political solution in Libya. We will continue to stand together to hold Iran to account for its systemic non-compliance with the joint comprehensive plan of action, the nuclear deal. We will work together to tackle shared threats and global challenges, whether it is Russia’s aggression, terrorism, rising authoritarianism, climate change or, indeed, health crises such as the coronavirus. It was our honour on Friday to bring home 29 other Europeans on the UK-commissioned charter flight from Wuhan, along with the 97 Britons, because we will always look out for our European friends, with whom we share so many interests. I am grateful to the Spanish Foreign Minister for Spain’s help in co-ordinating that effort and to the French Foreign Minister in relation to the flight that came home on Sunday.[Official Report, 5 February 2020, Vol. 671, c. 6MC.]

The next pillar of our global Britain strategy will be the UK’s role as an energetic champion of free and open trade—to boost small businesses, cut the cost of living, create the well-paid jobs of the future for the next generation, provide more consumer choice and to raise UK productivity, which is so important for our “levelling up” agenda right across the country. The pursuit of shared prosperity has an essential role to play in our approach to development policy, too. As we maintain our 0.7% commitment on development spending, we need to find better ways of making sure it contributes to long-term and sustainable economic growth. As we demonstrated at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, we believe the UK has a unique and competitive offer to tackle poverty and help poorer nations benefit in a way that benefits us all over the longer term.

Finally, the third pillar of our global Britain will be the UK as an even stronger force for good in the world. Our guiding lights will remain the values of democracy, human rights and the international rule of law, and we will lead on global issues that really matter, such as climate change. That is why this year we will host the UN climate change summit, COP26, in Glasgow. We will lead by example and rise to the challenge by harnessing all the British talents in tech, innovation and entrepreneurialism to find creative solutions to global problems. We will champion the great causes of our day, as through our campaign to give every girl access to 12 years of quality education. We will defend journalists from attack, stand up for freedom of religion and conscience, and develop our own independent sanctions regime to tackle human rights abusers head on. Together, united, we can show that this country is so much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP) Did Dominic Cummings write this rubbish?

Dominic Raab I know the hon. Gentleman does not like that commitment, but it is what the Scottish people voted for. The 31st of January was a day that will be etched in our history. It has been hard going, and I know that many good people on both sides of the House and all sides of this totemic debate still bear the scars of the last three years, but now is the time to put our differences aside and come together, so together let us embrace a new chapter for our country, let us move forward united and unleash the enormous potential of the British people, and let us show the world that our finest achievements and our greatest contributions lie ahead. I commend this statement to the House.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab) I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. The Foreign Secretary is right that the last three years have been difficult and divisive for our country. He is also right that leaving the EU does not mark an ending. We have left the EU, but Brexit is far from done. As he knows, the next stage is more difficult—agreeing our future relationship in all the areas he set out, and in more besides—and we will continue to be dogged by the central dilemma that was at the heart of much of the wrangling over the last three years: will the new relationship be determined by the economic interests of our country or by the ideological commitment to break with the European social model that drove so many of the Brexit enthusiasts? I am sorry to see that today’s statement and the Prime Minister’s comments over the weekend suggest that ideology has trumped common sense.

Difficult decisions lie ahead for our country, and if the Government are serious about bringing people together we need reassurance that they will conduct the next stage of negotiations in an open and accountable way—and not by banning journalists from their political briefings, as they apparently did earlier this afternoon. The Government stripped Parliament’s role in providing accountability from the withdrawal agreement Act, so will the Foreign Secretary at least commit to publishing all negotiating texts and proposals and reporting to Parliament on each round of negotiations? [Interruption.] I want to see this Parliament in no less a place than the European Parliament, as the EU negotiators will. Will he also set out exactly how the three devolved nations will be consulted at every stage of the process?

The country is faced with two options—two opposite destinations: we can either form a new and close relationship with our biggest trading partners, or open the door and lower our standards by pursuing the damaging trade deal with Donald Trump that the Foreign Secretary welcomed in his comments. [Interruption.] I see the faces of some Government Members. They may change when the farmers whom many of them represent respond to Trump’s ambitions for that trade deal, which would damage not only farming but manufacturing, lower standards and expose our public services to real risks. As Government Members might have noticed, this weekend the UK’s former ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, made it clear that Trump would aim to force the NHS to pay higher prices for pharmaceuticals. The NHS itself has expressed concern about that.

The reckless pursuit of a Trump trade deal is limiting the Government’s aims in their negotiations with the EU. We started with a commitment to the “exact same benefits” as we currently enjoy with the EU. That was scaled back to “frictionless trade”. Now it is either a damaging Canada-style deal or leaving without a deal—rebranded as an Australia-style deal. Do the Government still recognise their own analysis from 2018—the Foreign Secretary will note that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), is sitting behind him—which shows that a Canada-style deal would lead to a 6.7% reduction in our GDP, while a WTO-style deal would lead to a 9.3% hit, hurting every region and nation of our country?

Business will be alarmed by the casual way in which the Foreign Secretary talks about leaving without an agreement, and other sectors—such as universities, which are critical to our future—will be concerned about the fact that they were not mentioned at all in his statement, or in the written statement from the Prime Minister. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government will press for association with Horizon Europe and continued participation in Erasmus?

Labour will continue to press for a relationship with our European partners based on common regulation and a level playing field, for a new place in the world based on internationalist values, and for a future with equality and social justice at its heart.

Dominic Raab I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks about the importance of moving beyond the divisions of the referendum. However, I think I am right in saying that not one member of the shadow Cabinet is here to address these issues. [Interruption.] I apologise. There is one. However, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Brexit Secretary are busy debating the Labour leadership, although this is an important moment for Members in all parts of the House to look at the future direction of this country.

The hon. Gentleman talked about parliamentary scrutiny. We have made it absolutely clear—the Prime Minister made this point on Second Reading of the Bill that became the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020—that Parliament will be kept fully informed about the progress of the negotiations. Both Houses will have access to all their usual arrangements for scrutinising the actions of the Executive, and the Government are confident that Parliament will take full advantage of those opportunities. We will also ensure that there is full engagement with the devolved Administrations.

The hon. Gentleman made a number of other points, and I have been listening to his more recent remarks, including those made since the election. He has said that the Labour party should have organised an out-and-out campaign for Remain during the election campaign. That suggests to me that the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the Labour party, have still not quite “got it” that there is a referendum result, a democratic will, that must be respected. We will not move on from this debate, let alone grasp the opportunities of Brexit, if the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party stay stuck in that rut.

It was not clear to me whether his attack on our proposals and ambition for free trade agreements was just the tired, old anti-Americanism that is harboured in the Labour party, or whether he is actually against free trade in itself, but he does not seem to believe in democracy and he does not seem to believe in free trade, and at points during his remarks he did not seem to believe in the potential of this country.

Let me now turn to the hon. Gentleman’s specific points about a free trade agreement with the United States. Let us be absolutely clear, as we have already been: the national health service is not on the table during those negotiations. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is pointing and asking about pharmaceutical companies. The pricing of UK medicine is not up for negotiation. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that that is not what the ambassador says. It is what this Government and this Prime Minister say.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the free trade agreement with the United States, but he made no mention of the prospects for an ambitious FTA with Japan, Australia or New Zealand, or of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Is he against those as well? It seems to me that he is pitting himself against a huge opportunity for this country to grow its trade, boost its small businesses and ease the cost of living for consumers, and that is a step back, not forward, for the United Kingdom. He also mentioned forecasts. I think that there is a degree of healthy scepticism about some of those forecasts.

The United Kingdom and the Government are not passive observers. It is incumbent on us—through our approach to the economy, through an ambitious approach to free trade and through getting the right immigration policy—to ensure that we grasp the opportunities, and we on this side of the House are absolutely committed to grasping those opportunities and making a full success of Britain in every quarter of the Union.

The hon. Gentleman referred to business sentiment. We have seen purchasing managers index data on manufacturing today, which was positive at 50 points. The EY ITEM Club has identified an increase in business confidence, and the International Monetary Fund has increased its forecast for the UK. We are confident that we can make a success of Brexit. I am only sorry that the Labour party is still looking over its shoulder.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP) I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement. He said that the UK would “look ahead with confidence” and “signal to future partners” that we were “outward-facing”. May I disagree? I think that all these plans risk making the UK a smaller, more insular and more isolated place. He also spoke about a “truly global Britain” and about being the “best possible allies” with the EU, but I fear that that was rather contradicted when the Prime Minister said in his written statement today that there would not be “any regulatory alignment” at all, even on the efficacy of medicines.

The Prime Minister also said that there would be no “supranational control in any area” of UK policy. The World Trade Organisation has an appellate body—a dispute resolution body—the European Free Trade Association has a court to deal with disputes, and even the much-vaunted CPTPP has an investor-state dispute resolution mechanism. Unless the English language has changed, every single one of those bodies and mechanisms has supernatural effect—[Laughter.] It may well be supernatural as well! Every one of those bodies has supranational effect. Does the Secretary of State not understand that if our putative trading partners insist on formal dispute resolution mechanisms or institutions, our saying no might risk the UK being seen as abandoning the international rules-based system? Does he not understand that rejecting formal dispute resolution mechanisms or institutions when our partners insist on them will make it harder, not easier, to strike deals? Does he not understand that if the UK reverts to WTO rules—the UK’s favoured option outside any real agreements—the WTO has an appellate body, a dispute resolution body, that is supranational in its effect, thus rendering the red lines laid out by the Prime Minister this morning utterly useless before the ink is even dry on them?

Dominic Raab The hon. Gentleman referred at the outset of his question to an approach that was smaller, insular and isolated, but I am afraid that that sounds like the Scottish National party’s recipe for the people of Scotland. The Conservatives want one United Kingdom proceeding forward and ready to grasp any opportunities, including for the Scottish people, and including ensuring that we have full control over our fisheries as an independent coastal state—one thing that he would clearly be willing to sacrifice at the drop of a hat. Although it is understandable that the SNP, given the views of its leadership, calls for more and more powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, it is astonishing that it wants to give up power to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels through what he calls dynamic legislative alignment. There is a total contradiction in his position.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the dispute resolution mechanism. The UK Government will approach the negotiations in the same way we did for the withdrawal agreement—although this will be tailored to free trade and areas of security co-operation—and will ensure that there is a track for negotiated diplomacy to resolve problems through political resolution. As for arbitration, where it is necessary, the common practice is that both sides appoint arbitrators and appoint a chair. What we will never do—the EU calls for this and the SNP seems to endorse it—is allow one side’s judicial institutions to have control over the dispute resolution mechanism for both sides. That would be entirely lopsided and a fundamental abdication of responsibility by any responsible Government, and we will not go down that path.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman will continue to make in his own way the blinkered arguments for a second referendum in Scotland. In the meantime, we will continue to work in the full interests of the whole United Kingdom and take this country forward together and united.

List of acronyms

  • COP26– 26th conference of COP26, run by the United Nations. Representatives of more than 200 countries meet to discuss how governments should tackle climate change.
  • CPTPP- Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. A free trade agreement between Canada and 10 countries: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
  • EY ITEM- Independent Treasury Economic Model. An economic forecasting group based in the UK. Founded in 1977 and sponsored by Ernst & Young, a firm of business and financial advisers.
  • FTA- Free Trade Agreement.
  • WTO– World Trade Organisation.