Garvan Walshe: Lukashenko’s air piracy. By way of western response, sanctions are only a start. Here’s what we need to do next.

27 May

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party

Alexander Lukashenko has stopped pretending he’s anything better than a gangster. Roman Protasevich was paraded on TV after his kidnapping with visible bruises. The message is clear: we grabbed him, we tortured him – and we don’t care what you think. He might as well have taken out that AK–47 he’s fond of carrying ,and screamed: “what are you going to do about it, punk?”

But what, indeed, are we going to do about it? International opinion is coalescing around a set of economic sanctions, and the US, EU, UK and other diplomats are working out the details. It could usefully be accompanied by a coordinated expulsion of Belarussian diplomats by all NATO members, just as Russian diplomats were expelled following the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal. This is the minimum that can be expected, and will provide a modest deterrent against other small regimes contemplating something similar.

It is nowhere near enough.

While twentieth century dictatorships consolidated power by cutting themselves off from the democratic world, in the twenty first they exploit globalisation to corrupt democracies. They think we’re too greedy, fond of a quiet life, or exhausted after 20 years fighting Islamist terrorism to impose costs on dictators.

Mention of the latter pre-9/11 suggests a parallel today. Just as in the case of Al-Qaeda, which had bombed a US barracks in Saudi Arabia, attacked the USS Cole destroyer, and whose precursor made the first attempt to level the World Trade Center in 1996, we have ignored warnings about a significantly greater threat to peace and security, because facing the truth was inconvenient.

We made the mistake of hoping that tit-for-tat reprisals against Islamist attacks would be sufficient, when we needed to work out how to marginalise and sideline the full spectrum of Islamist activity. After 20 years of trial, and (considerable) error, we’ve settled on a combination of measures, from military strikes through humanitarian aid, counter-extremism prevention, and education progammes at the soft end. We came to understand that we had to neutralise the Islamists’ strategic aim to build theocratic dictatorships, and not merely blunt their tactics.

Lukashenko, Putin and Xi Jinping want to destabilise and weaken the West by undermining the system of international norms we’ve built up since 1945. They take advantage of our naivety. We made the mistake of letting countries without democratic politics and rule of law into the system by pretending to ourselves that the economic integration would be to make them liberal. This exposed our societies to infiltration by emboldened autocracies instead.

They have put a former German Chancellor and a Scottish First Minister on their payroll, have gained access to critical nuclear and telecommunications infrastructure, and broadcast their propaganda and disinformation on our airwaves. They use the openness of our free market system against us, by operating through front organisations (The gory details of the Russian element to this can be found in Catherine Belton’s excellent Putin’s People). The well-known abuse of social media platforms with fake accounts are just an extension of this technique. Lukashenko’s abuse of counter-terrorism protocols to dupe the Ryanair flight into landing, and then seizing Protasevich, is from the same playbook.

Our mistake was to extend the deeper elements Western of international cooperation, which relied on a sense of shared interest in keeping the system together, to countries that want not merely to free-ride on that system, but actually pull it apart.

This now needs to be reconfigured to deal separately with trusted and untrusted states. Trusted states can be kept within the system, but untrusted states need to be let in only on more sceptical terms. The automatic snap-back sanctions in the JCPOA Iran Deal are an example of mechanisms that could be used. The China Research Group proposed taking a similar stance in its Defending Democracy in a new world report (in which I was involved). Flows of foreign investment, support for think tanks, universities, and other forms of influence need to be brought under heavier scrutiny. Real “beneficial owners” need to be identified, and intelligence capability be built so this goes beyond a box-ticking compliance exercise. Media backed, directly or indirectly, by regimes that restrict media freedom should be denied broadcast licenses.

We need to consider whether we have adequate intelligence capability to keep tabs on influence by twenty-first century autocracies, and to protect our citizens and residents from their extraterritorial operations. One wonders whether Greek security services, for example, had any idea of the Belarussian KGB’s plot to kidnap Protasevich. Protecting democratic opponents of these regimes ought now become a priority for Western security agencies.

Belarus’s air piracy should be a wake-up call for the Western alliance. Just like twenty-first century terrorism, twenty-first century authoritarianism doesn’t stay within its own borders. Keeping it out of ours and those of our allies has become a matter of highest importance.

Mario Laghos: Covid reminds us of the dangers of depending on others. We would be mad to do so again – with food.

21 May

Mario Laghos is a political analyst and the editor of Just Debate.

Atop a hill, in a quiet corner of sleepy Somerset, the thirteenth century church of St Michael cuts a lonely figure. But look down into the valley below and you’ll find Raddington, an ancient parish, within which the Church is a relatively young fixture.

Excavations have turned up Viking bridles, musket balls from a long-forgotten English Civil War battle, and coins of every sort. Raddington’s historical record begins proper in the year 891, when King Alfred gifted the land to his friend, Berthulph.

For a thousand years the land passed between thegns, lords and knights. Throughout the centuries of tumult, there remained one constant: the viable farming of the land for beef and lamb. Raddington’s Domesday estates are known to have had ‘128 sheep and 37 she-goats’; by 1537 a single tenant is known to have supported ‘at least seven bullocks and about 140 sheep’; and by the 1700s, Richard Yeandle, probably of Upcott, could boast of 160 sheep, and 57 cheeses from his many dairy cows.

To this day, farms are peppered across the landscape. With the exception of equestrian training yards, and a solitary inn, they are the only workplaces and centres of industry in the area.

Tucked away in the valley is John’s farm. Before him, his father, also named John, farmed the land. Five hundred years ago, a farm likely stood on the same site, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the then-steward was too called John.

The methods here are not backwards; a visitor might be surprised to see how modern the machinery is. From rearing to slaughter, the farming of animals in Britain is as efficient as it is viable. The proof of the pudding, or the main, is in the eating.

And the eating is the fact that Britons spend an average of just eight per cent of their income on food. This is less than any country on the planet, with the exception of the US, and Singapore. The average Greek spends 16 per cent of their income on food, a Ukrainian almost 38 per cent and a Nigerian a whopping per cent.

But this industry, which employs some half a million workers, is in danger. The prospect of a tariff-free, quota-free trade deal with Australia poses an existential threat to British farmers, from the valleys of Somerset to the Scottish Highlands.

Australia, unlike us, cleans its chickens with chlorine. Unlike us, it cultivates hormone-treated beef. Unlike us, it cages its sows in cruel metal stalls. Abdicating protections on British industry is neither free nor fair if the standards are so grossly misaligned, as they are in this case.

Those who favour the deal pray in aid the ingenuity of the British farmer, and of his ability to overcome all odds. But such a prayer is made in vain.

Anna Creek is Australia’s largest cattle ranch. At 23,677 square kilometres, it is 10 per cent of the size of the entire United Kingdom. Our family farms, whose land is dotted by old oaks, latticed by hedgerows, contained by country lanes and cut across by bridle paths cannot compete with the sheer industrial scale of the Australian industry. Aussies don’t have a comparative advantage; they have an absolute advantage.

To enter such an unequal relationship would be to herald, as Minette Batters, the President of the National Farmers’ Union put it, “[the] slow, withering death of family farms throughout the four nations of these isles”. It’s not talking down Scottish crofters or Welsh shepherds to point out the blindingly obvious.

It has been argued that Australia is preoccupied with servicing the demand from Asia’s growing middle class, and that may be true – for now. It does beg the question though: why does it so desperately want the access to our market? But that aside, it’s the cumulative effect which is most concerning. If we so carelessly abandon our defences at the first time of asking, these surrender terms will be demanded of us by the United States, Brazil, India and elsewhere. And for what?

Daniel Hannan, appearing on Newsnight this week, talked up the opportunities for Edinburgh’s financial sector as part of this deal. No doubt that’s true, and for the City of London too. It might even increase our GDP, perhaps by as much as 0.02 per cent, according to the Government’s own estimates.

The prospective cheapening of our already inexpensive food prices, and the further expansion of the financial services sector is being offered up in exchange for our farming industry. This pandemic illustrated well the long-term consequences of deindustrialisation, and the costs of dependency on others for strategic assets. How mad we must be to do it all again, and with the most precious of resources, food.

To trade away our heritage so lackadaisically would be to know well the price of everything and the value of nothing. Ask yourself: will it be a better Britain when our countryside is barren, devoid of sheep and cows who beckon you on your hikes, deprived of farmers who tend this green and pleasant land, and when our supermarket shelves are unburdened by British beef? We should be diversifying our economy, not consolidating our might in the financial services sector, whose dominance leaves us open to catastrophic and regular recession. This deal isn’t levelling up, it’s levelling down.

Garvan Walshe: Russia’s building up troops on Ukraine’s border. Here’s what we can do to stymie Putin.

15 Apr

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party.

Tanks rolling towards the Ukrainian border. Paratroopers in Crimea. Mechanised troops to the Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic sea between Poland and Lithuania. A “rotational” but in effect permanent presence on Ukraine’s frontier with Belarus.

These are just the most obviously military steps in Russia’s campaign to divide and confuse the West, and test the mettle of the Biden Administration.

They come as tensions increase in East Asia, with China increasing pressure on Taiwan, and the US trying to enlist Japan into backing up the island. The question on Russia’s mind is who are the Japans – the large, democratic American allies – of Europe?

Moscow could be forgiven for thinking there aren’t any. France was suckered into attempting a “reset” in relations in exchange for cooperation in the North Africa that never materialised. How seriously can Germany be taken until it cancels Nordstream 2? And the UK has just released a review of strategy promising a military tilt towards the Indo-Pacific.

Russia’s big disadvantage is that its economy is still relatively small (its GDP is the same as that of Spain and Portugal, or the Nordic countries), and its autocratic regime needs an expensive repressive apparatus to hold onto power.

Its advantage, however, is that such wealth as it has comes from natural resources, and these are easy for the ruling elite to capture. It’s much easier for the “Collective Putin”, as the ruling elite is sometimes known, to spend them on internal security, military hardware and foreign subversion than it is for a democracy constrained by law, voters unhappy about tax rises, and expensive welfase states.

Putin’s central belief is that the world is a transactional place where raw power is decisive. He finds it difficult to understand the Western talk of values, and dismisses it as cant, just has he knows that Russian lines about non-interference in the affairs of other nations or respect for international frontiers are empty propaganda – to be used, or discarded, as convenient.

But if he cannot quite fathom the levels of trust that Western countries still have for one another, he knows how to erode it by supporting nationalists from Marine Le Pen (whose party received loans from a Russian bank) to Alex Salmond (still a presenter on Russia Today), and of course, Donald Trump.

But 2021 has worsened the strategic environment. Biden has bluntly called him a “killer”. The autumn’s elections in Germany could deliver the Greens (who are not only anti-Putin, but anti-the oil and gas from which he makes his money).

His only solid European ally is Hungary, whose government has bought Russia’s vaccine, hired Rosatom to renovate its nuclear power plant, agreed to host and give diplomatic immunity from regulatory oversight,to the Russian state International Investment Bank, and provided a permissive environment for Russian spies. Viktor Orban’s collaboration with Putin, is however, enough to neutralise the EU’s Russia policy and limit the effectiveness of NATO.

The latest military build up is another attempt to increase pressure on the alliance now that Trump is no longer in a position to destroy it. Ukraine, which was formally offered a path to NATO membership in 2008, has repeated its request to join, splitting its friends from those who profess to be afraid to “poke the bear.”

But if immediate NATO membership for Ukraine is currently off the table, there is an opportunity here for the UK to be a “North European” Japan, and anchor North European security against Russia in support of the US-led alliance. This role should naturally fall to the UK, since France is heavily committed in North Africa, and Germany cannot be expected to be decisive, especially during a year where the election coincides with Russia’s annual Zapad military exercises.

Britain is in a position to convene a coalition of European countries worried about Russia, including Poland, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and the Baltic states, possibly with Ukraine in association. A semi-formal initiative and northern analogue of France’s European Intervention Initiative, but obviously more defensive in nature, could focus on reinforcing the territorial integrity of its members, as well as security of the Baltic sea, and develop programmes of mutual assistance in civil resilience for circumstances below those that would warrant the invocation of NATO’s Article Five.

Such an initiative would, I believe, be well received in Washington, where a reinforcement of Britain’s role in the Euro-Atlantic, and not just the distant Indo-Pacific, theatre would bring significant relief.

Neil O’Brien: I can laugh off China sanctioning me, but we can’t shrug off the threat it poses

5 Apr

Neil O’Brien is co-Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Policy Board, and is MP for Harborough.

Typical, isn’t it?  You’re trying to get the kids off to school and nursery, running late as you hunt around for your son’s snuggly giraffe. You have a busy day planned, meeting the local paper and a café owner threatened with eviction.

The next thing you know, a communist superpower declares war on you personally.

I’m one of nine people sanctioned by China. It’s tempting to laugh it off. After all, seizing my assets in China will leave the Communists no richer. And after they kidnapped two prominent Canadians, I wasn’t planning to go there anyway.

The next morning, the Chinese embassy still sent me their regular propaganda email to MPs, which began: “Dear friends…”  It seems joined-up government is impossible – even under dictatorship.

But it’s no laughing matter. The goal isn’t really to intimidate me or the other MPs, but business people, academics, and others. To create uncertainty, fear and self-censorship – memorably described as the “Anaconda in the chandelier” strategy.

More and more businesses are having to grapple with it: Beijing’s currently threatening to destroy Nike and H&M in China for raising concerns about slave labour.

It’s now coming up on a year since we launched the China Research Group.  Over the last 12 months, things have changed in lots of ways.

First, there’s growing global awareness of China’s human rights abuses: particularly against the Uighur people, but also in Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and across China as a whole. Human Rights Watch says it’s the worst period for human rights since Tiananmen.

The brutal crackdown in Hong Kong and Beijing’s decision to tear up the Sino-British declaration and end “one country, two systems” showed how much Beijing will sacrifice to keep absolute control. All leading pro-democracy activists there are now in exile, in jail or on trial.

At least the world has started to notice and act.  Indeed, we were targeted by Beijing in response to coordinated sanctions on human rights abusers in Xinjiang, recently put in place by 30 democratic countries.

MPs around Europe and MEPs from all the European Parliament’s main political groups were sanctioned along with us, with various US politicians already sanctioned last year.

So we’re all in it together, and it was great to get strong support from the Prime Minister – and through him the US President – and also from friends around Europe.

The sanctions aren’t like-for-like of course. MPs like me are being sanctioned simply for writing articles like this. By contrast, the democracies are sanctioning Xinjiang officials for presiding over a regime forcing sterilisation of Uighur women on an industrial scale; using rape as a weapon to break dissenters in its vast network of detention camps; rolling out an AI-powered surveillance state that to identify and control minority groups; and physically erasing the Uighur culture and religion from the face of the earth.

Our sanctions are to protest against human rights abuses. Theirs to silence such protests.

What Beijing’s doing is at least as bad as Apartheid South Africa.  But by comparison, the international response has been more muted so far. Partly because China makes it hard for reporters to get access. But also because China is more powerful than South Africa was.

International pressure on South Africa grew over decades and became a huge cultural movement. It loomed large in the pop music of my 80s childhood: “Free Nelson Mandela”, “Something Inside So Strong”, “Silver and Gold”, “Gimme hope Jo’anna” were all hits.

These days Hollywood studios make sure that their films have the thumbs up from Beijing: they think it’s too big a market to risk losing.

I’ve written about China’s growing global censorship. Nonetheless, the truth is seeping out, and the global criticism getting louder.

That points to a second positive change over the year: new opportunities for democracies to coordinate in the Biden era.

Coodination is essential: China’s economic and political strategy relies on divide and rule.  Each free country fears losing out if it alone stands up to Beijing.

The communist regime singles out countries who challenge it like Australia, Sweden and Canada. Like all bullies, they are really trying to teach others to keep their heads down.

But while Trump had scratchy relations with other leaders, Biden’s election makes cooperation much easier.

It’s not just that we need to get the band back together again, and make the G7 work (though that’s important), but bringing together a wider group of democracies including India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. The Prime Minister is right to push the “D11” concept.

The third big change is changing western attitudes on economic policy regarding China.

The single best thing about the recent Integrated Review was the clear-eyed understanding of the competition for technological advantage now underway between nations.

In the sunny utopianism of the 1990s, the world was going to be flat, borderless, and competition was between companies not countries. Technology was cool, but not a national issue: the UK could just specialise in professional services. Awesome new global supply chains meant you didn’t need to worry about where your supplies were coming from, whether it was vaccines; ventilators, PPE, silicon chips or telecoms equipment.

Beijing has a very different vision, and its rise means we must change our thinking  It promotes “Civil-military fusion”, and its imports have slowed dramatically as its import substitution policies develop.

Xi Jinping says he is “building a socialism that is superior to capitalism, and laying the foundation for a future where we will win the initiative and have the dominant position.” He explains that China must “enhance our superiority across the entire production chain… and we must tighten international production chains’ dependence on China.”

The US has woken up to this, and in Washington as well as Beijing there’s a shared understanding that the two superpowers are fighting to dominate the technologies of the future. Joe Biden talks about “winning the future”.

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have long seen tech competition as a shared national endeavour, and have policies to match.  No wonder: meeting politicians from these countries through the China Research Group, I’ve come to understand the level of constant threat they have to live under.

We too must adapt to this more national world.

First, we need to build a powerful innovation system. During the 1960s and 1970s the US and UK invested similar amounts in R&D.  But Reagan grew federal support while we let it wither, and we have been operating on different levels since.  I’ve banged on before about how to make government funding do more for our economy.

Second, we need to protect ourselves from the Beijing’s hoovering up of technology.  More help for business to resist cyberattack from the National Cyber Force.  Somewhere to get advice on not losing your intellectual property if you do business in China.

And as well as the very welcome National Security and Investment Bill we need to make sure that the new Investment Security Unit has the same resourcing and input from the security services that CFIUS enjoys in the US – and we need to be prepared to use the new powers.

Likewise, Jo Johnson’s recent report highlights the risks to our universities from poorly-thought-through partnerships with China. Investigations by Civitas and the Daily Telegraph revealed that UK universities are actually helping Beijing with new weapons technologies. We must get a firm grip of all such partnerships and where universities’ money is coming from.

Over the last year we’ve learned a lot.  The UK and governments across the west have started to act.  But we’re still just starting to figure out how to respond to a more aggressive China.

Garvan Walshe: Merkeldammerung. Germany’s polls put the Greens within striking distance of government.

1 Apr

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party

No leader gives up the job entirely on their own terms, but Angela Merkel, who will step down as Chancellor after what will be at least fifteen years in power, came closer than most.

She had the skill to keep the coalition of voters behind her Christian Democratic Union (which governs with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union) sufficiently broad to dominate German politics for a decade and a half. She’ll leave office as one of the great centre-right Chancellors of modern Germany, along with Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl.

Known for waiting for what seems to everyone too long before making darting radical jumps, Merkel overcame the financial crisis, the refugee crisis, and even dealt effectively with the first wave of the Covid pandemic.

She saw off rivals internal (Wolfgang Schäuble) external (the AfD) and a man best described as standing just inside the tent, peeing in (Friedrich Merz).

Yet she was unable to find a successor. Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg imploded in a plagiarism scandal, Ursula von der Leyen’s mediocre efforts at the defence ministry would be repeated at the European Commission, Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer proved the dampest of squibs, while Armin Laschet was left holding the Coronavirus pandemic as the vaccination programme foundered.

Like every other centre-right party in proportional electoral systems, the CDU/CSU is struggling in a fragmenting political landscape. Party activists worry that she’s losing votes to her right, to the AfD (or, in a more liberal direction, the FDP), while larger numbers of voters defect to the Greens, who have governed impressively in Baden Württemburg (in coalition with the CDU), and who also increased their seats at the CDU’s expense in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The “Union” has a backup plan in the form of Markus Soder, the leader of the Bavarian CSU, who could replace Laschet as the centre-right’s Chancellor candidate in September’s elections, but he is now also suffering from the terrible vaccination campaign and PPE procurement corruption scandals. The Union is now polling in the mid twenties, ten points down on the beginning of the year. This doesn’t look like an election where “more of the same” is a winning formula.

The latest opinion polls have narrowed the gap between the CDU/CSU and the Greens to less than five points, and if the trend continues the Greens could even top the poll in September.

This opens up two new possibilites for post-election Germany. Until this month, it had seemed likely that a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Greens, headed by a Union Chancellor, would have been the only way to avoid letting either the AfD or the post-communist Linke into national government.

But the green surge increases the options. A “traffic light” coalition, between the Greens, SPD (the social democrats, whose colour is red) and the liberal FDP (yellow), or a Jamaica coalition (after the Jamaican flag, because the CDU’s colour is black) involving Greens, Union and FDP would also add up to a majority. In these scenarios it is the Greens, not either of Germany’s two traditional parties, who could choose who to form a government with.

Germany’s Greens started as a conventional green party emphasising environmental politics, but have evolved into a centre-left formation without the industrial baggage of the SPD, which allows them to take clearer stances against polluting industry or in favour of immigration and accommodating refugees.

If their representation in the Berlin city government is radical (favouring rent control, for example) their adminsitration in prosperous Baden Würtemberg, home to much of Germany’s car industry, has been decidedly more pragmatic. Their independence from German industrial politics has also led them to take stronger stances against Putin’s Russia (remember that Gerhard Schröder, Germany’s former Chancellor, serves as chairman of Rosneft), and Orban’s Hungary.

A green-led government would, perhaps astonishingly, tilt German geopolitics closer to that of the United States. Transatlantic friction over Russia’s Nordstream pipeline to Germany, which both the Greens and Washington are against, would disappear. Leading the govenrment would, however, pose problems for the party in relation to nuclear weapons, with which much of its membership is deeply uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, the German Greens, which hse co-leaders, Robert Habek and Annalena Baerbock, would pursue international policy in step with the UK’s focus on addressing climate change, and upholding international human rights norms against Moscow and Beijing.  Nonetheless, they are strongly pro-European, and a Green-led German government would put renewed energy behind deeper European integration.

In September, the test for the Greens will be whether they can provide the right combination of reasssurance and change for an electorate that prized the stability and integrity Merkel provided them, but is now ready to give the system a bit of a jolt.

Tim Loughton: So – no Wuhan holiday home for me. Yes, I’ve been sanctioned by China. But it won’t stop me speaking out.

28 Mar

Tim Loughton is MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and is a former Education Minister.

What adjective do you use for a group of nine democrats calling out human rights abuses by the world’s largest totalitarian state? We have the Famous Five and the Magnificent Seven and After Eights even, but nine seems to be a particularly under-appreciated digit. Nine pins doesn’t really cut it.

Thus it was that I woke up on Friday morning – or, rather, was woken up by my Twitter feed going berserk in the early hours to find that I have been included on the list of nine Britons sanctioned by the Chinese Government for spreading ‘lies and disinformation’ about the epitome of benevolent paternalism that is the Chinese Government.

I am in good company with four other Conservative MPs, two members of the Lords, an eminent lawyer and an academic together with some random mostly Tory-minded research groups.

As apparently no other Britons have been personally sanctioned before, it is not clear exactly what it entails. I have received no formal letter from Comrade Xi. Should I be awaiting a DHL speedy delivery bearing an official ‘certificate of debarment’? From what I read on social media, it would appear that I and my family will be barred from entering mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong, all my assets and business interests in China will be seized and Chinese officials will be prevented from engaging with me.

Fortunately, I have no plans for a holiday home in Wuhan and resisted the lure of investing in Uighur forced labour sweatshops in Xinjian, so I am not going to lose too much sleep. But if the Chinese Government thinks it can apply to British Parliamentarians the same level of censorship and suppression of free speech that pervades their own citizens, most recently extended to Hong Kong, they have badly miscalculated.

Indeed, given the tsunami of supportive emails and comments from around the world and everyone from Joe Biden to Boris Johnson, the move appears to have backfired badly for the Chinese Government. Instead, its actions are acting as a recruiting sergeant for those coming forward to call out China’s ‘industrial scale’ human rights’ abuses, as our Foreign Secretary rightly described it.

This week, Government ministers, acting in unison with EU states and our American and Canadian allies, applied Magnitsky sanctions to certain Chinese officials, complicit in human rights abuses. The seven Parliamentarians now sanctioned warmly and vociferously welcomed this move, and have urged the British Government to go further. Bizarrely, it is we ‘Nonentity Nine’ who are now the target of Chinese reprisals, not members of the Government itself nor Government officials.

The action lays bare the Chinese Government’s complete lack of understanding of how democracies work. The ‘crime’ of British Parliamentarians is to call out what many see as constituting genocide against the Uighur people by the Chinese Government, on top of 62 years of suppressing the people of Tibet resulting in deaths of more than a million Tibetans.

But that is what democratically elected MPs should do, without fear or favour, yet in return we are now sanctioned by China. We call out genocide; they actually carry it out. These moves are a breach of Parliamentary privilege, and so a challenge to the people who elect our Parliamentarians.

Frankly, I have surely been on borrowed time for a while now. For several decades, I have championed the cause of the Tibetan people. It was the first ever political march I went on as a spotty teenager, to the Chinese Embassy bearing Tibetan flags.

I Chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group For Tibet, and have had the privilege of welcoming the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Sikyong (President) to Parliament several times, despite the now notorious attempts of David Cameron to kow-tow to the Chinese Government, and ban ministers from meeting them.

At times, standing up for the Tibetan people, the most peace-loving and put-upon people in all the world, has been a rather lonely vigil. But the international focus on the extraordinary atrocities inflicted on the Uighur minority in Xinjian province from satellite images of corralled prisoners in detention camps to accounts of forcibly sterilised Uighur women, has put Chinese human rights’ abuses firmly on the international radar. We are no longer voices in the wilderness.

This latest inept measure by the Chinese regime will be hugely counter-productive. For too many years, they have got away with it because condemnations by Governments of all colours amounted to strong words, with little follow through. But this act is a wake-up call to all democratic nations and freedom loving people everywhere. We sanctioned MPs are more determined than ever to make sure the Chinese regime faces serious consequences for its atrocities, and our voices will now be louder and heard further afield.

In the last few weeks, the Government has been emboldened to bring forward significant practical measures. Key officials have been sanctioned, but not nearly enough. British businesses are prevented from dealing with Chinese companies complicit in Uighur forced labour factories, though not yet widely enough.

Whilst we did not persuade the Government to go all the way in making genocide a key consideration of the Trade Bill, it moved a long way, and genocide and the Chinese regime are words now regularly occurring in the same sentence in regular parlance. This is a good start – but only a start.

The international allegiances that are being formed between foreign ministers and the cross-border scope of Parliamentarians striking common cause through the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) are making a difference, and clearly China is getting riled. If they want to be treated as twenty-first century major power there are basic global standards they need to adopt, and not trying to crush the culture of inconvenient minorities is pretty basic.

Hand in hand with abuse of its people goes China’s abuse of the planet too. As the world’s biggest polluters, where their contribution to global warming is melting the glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau which water over a quarter of the world’s population, the Chinese need to be held to account environmentally too, and we must make sure that happens at COP26.

So, as Iain Duncan Smith said, I will wear my inclusion on the sanctions list as a ‘badge of honour.’ If it means more people more focused on standing up to the world’s biggest human rights’ abuser, even if I personally will be denied access to the delights of a Wuhan wet market, I will happily take one for the team.

Kate Ferguson: This new genocide amendment puts Parliament at its centre. Which is why it should be supported.

22 Mar

Kate Ferguson is Co-Executive Director at Protection Approaches and Chair of Policy at the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Protection Approaches has convened The UK Atrocity Prevention Working Group since 2017.

Today a new iteration of the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill returns to the House of Commons after a fraught and bruising process of parliamentary “ping pong”.

At the heart of the fight is China. The Government wants to avoid any process that could curtail UK-China trade, and so is trying to force through its own amendment ­­that limits focus only to future trade deals.

The Genocide Amendment would trigger immediate scrutiny of existing deals with China – which the campaign for it says could help Uyghurs now. MPs will today need to vote against the Government’s amendment and then vote for the reimagined Genocide Amendment (assuming procedure so allows). It will be a tight fight and an important one.

Like others, I had reservations about the previous attempts of the Genocide Amendment, but this new formulation offers practical and needed augmentation to how the UK approaches and responds to modern mass atrocities.

The essence of Lord Alton’s original amendment remains – namely, seeking a method for determining cases of genocide, but supporters are now proposing a parliamentary rather than legal process.

This makes sense, and builds on the Government’s own idea of going through the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The proposal is something of a parliamentary judicial committee that would bring together five former High Court justices in the Lords to respond to conclusions made by the select committee; if both committees determine genocide is ongoing, the Government must then set out their response, which would then be subject to parliamentary votes.

Because the amendment is attached to the Trade Bill, the actual legislative impact would still be very limited, impacting existing or potential trade agreements with perpetrating states. Yet in promising to invest greater responsibility upon Parliament, this new mechanism will both raise expectations regarding the implementation of the Government’s stated commitments to confront genocide, and create potential for British parliamentary leadership on the international stage in times of grave concern.

The reimagined Genocide Amendment is more flexible than earlier versions. It will be a speedier process than a court could ever deliver. The new amendment also offers much-needed bolstering to how parliament engages with modern atrocities, forcing the issue on to the agendas and into the inboxes of MPs, Peers, committee clerks, and journalists.

It should go without saying that our collective responsibilities to confront genocide and crimes against humanity should be an issue that supersedes party political lines. Just as the UK quite rightly supports efforts at the UN Security Council for permanent members to withhold their veto in matters relating to mass atrocity crimes, I’d like to see political parties lifting the whip for votes that fall within that remit. If modern atrocities are not matters of conscience, I don’t know what is. The impact and potential of this amendment will fail if UK atrocity prevention policy becomes partisan.

To be successful, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the proposed panel of former judges will need to apply a common sense approach to the conceptual scope of the process. Taking too narrow a remit risks opening a pathway to exclusionary justice and would contradict the principle behind the prevailing national approach mass atrocities, which rightly confronts crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes as well as genocide.

The painful debates over various iterations of the genocide amendments have shown how badly the UK needs a national strategy on modern atrocities, or else comprehensive legislation via a Modern Atrocities Act. Without it, the government have been forced into a corner, appearing to defend  trade with genocidal states and reluctant to make their own determination of what is so blatantly happening in Xinjiang.

Without a strategy on China and without a strategy on mass atrocities, debates over the different formulations of the Genocide Amendment have seen the Government contradicting themselves at every turn, one week saying “it would frankly be absurd for any Government to wait for the human rights situation in a country to reach the level of genocide, which is the most egregious international crime, before halting free trade agreement negotiations. Any responsible Government would have acted well before then” and the next week inviting China to Downing Street for free trade negotiations.

Publication last week of the Prime Minister’s long awaited Integrated Review set out a new and welcome commitment to prioritising atrocity prevention, but until this is built out in policy the unresolved tension between rights and trade will stymie the pursuit of both. The paragraphs on China are some of the weakest of the whole document: How can the UK “continue to pursue a positive trade and investment relationship with China, while ensuring our national security and values are protected”?

If the Government’s China policy is confused, so too is the UK’s current approach to mass atrocities. It relies on political leadership, attention and will. This doesn’t work. It never has. As the incidence of mass atrocities have continued only to rise – most of the world’s refugees have fled atrocity-afflicted states – the issue has fallen between the cracks of UK development, diplomacy, trade, justice and the MOD.

By contrast, allies such as the US and Germany have done more to prioritise prevention. Even when trade was part of the Foreign Office, the two never coordinated in responding to mass atrocities. Until the government has a cohesive strategy for action and has demonstrated a willingness to use it, it is only right that Parliament steps in.

This reimagined Genocide Amendment is no panacea. Centring parliament in the process might well help invigorate political engagement with “Never Again”, but it does not guarantee it. The amendment will not “stop genocide”. To pretend anything else is more than disingenuous – it’s downright dangerous to the communities at risk now and in the future. Determinations alone have never saved lives: that requires action which too often has failed to follow.

Lord Alton’s newest proposal is not a substitute for the justice that victims deserve, nor will it absolve Government of its responsibility to enact comprehensive policy on modern atrocities, but it would be a welcome addition to how the UK confronts, understands, and responds to the most serious violations.

Garvan Walshe: The Integrated Review’s tilt to Asia could leave us vulnerable closer to home – and Putin

18 Mar

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party

The Integrated Review has emerged as two documents in one. Much of it focuses on trying to bring together different types of threat to our security – from hostile states to terrorist groups, hybrid warfare and misinformation, as well as longer term problems like climate change.

It is full of sensible recommendations for “deeper integration across government”, better crisis management, more coherent policy development and so forth. This is as fine as it is not new (remember Tony Blair’s “joined-up government”?). It would be strange policy paper indeed that advocated the promotion of incoherence and the implementation of contradictory policies.

But government always has to do many different things at once, each making compelling (but often contradictory) demands on policy, reflecting different political constituencies and requirements, and promoted by people with the different personal agendas, as is to be expected in a democracy. Addressing this diversity takes time and thought that is always in short supply. The review is part of that process of thought, and worthwhile for that reason alone.

It is also the first serious attempt at developing a new foreign policy doctrine for the UK since Brexit, and the Government has been wise to wait until the end of the Trump Administration before releasing it.

An unstable, corrupt, semi-authoritarian United States would have made an uncomfortable partner indeed in a world otherwise dominated by a resentful European Union and an assertive China. It is Biden’s restoration of sane, boring US leadership that makes a realistic post-Brexit foreign and security policy feasible. The Review is right to worry about China’s rise, and right, too, to recognise that the post-cold war world moment of Atlantic triumph is passing.

This last half decade has seen the return of geopolitics in the assertion of power by an adventurous Russia and an increasingly hardfline China.

Yet if there is cause for concern in this Review it is that the politics has crowded out the geo. Take, for instance, increasing the cap of available nuclear warheads. Perhaps it is useful to have the freedom to have more available, but without more submarines to launch them it is hard to see what practical they could it could have. It’s not as if the new Dreadnought-class submarines would have time, during a nuclear exchange, to swim back up the Clyde to reload. The proposal did, however, managed to nicely provoke the left.

It’s the “geo” that should give more pause for thought. The Review grandly divides the world into “Euro-Atlantic” and “Indo-Pacific” regions, without really acknoweledging that we’re right in the middle of one of them, and 6,000 miles away from the other.

I’m all in favour of standing up to Chinese aggression (and was even involved in this effort to come up with some ideas about how it might be done), and the Government, again, is right to reverse the beggary of the Osborne-Mandelson erea, when Falun Gong flags were removed from protestors lest they offend the Chinese premier, and the unwise and expensive contract for Hinkley Point C was agreed. Yet strategy is the art of applying means to secure ends, and this is where the Review’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” falls short.

It is indeed the case that the most serious threats to democracy and freedom on this planet are likely to emerge from the Chinese Communist Party, but it doesn’t follow from that that Britain’s main role should involve the prepositioning of military equipment in Asia.

Rather, the greater risk of conflict in Asia means that the UK’s aviation and maritime capability would be required to maintain deterrence against Russia in the event of a major conflict in Asia on which US resources had to be concentrated.

That would clearly be much harder achieve if most of the Royal Navy is in the Pacific protecting the Queen Elizabeth from Chinese anti-ship missiles. Such back-filling may not be the most exciting task but, given the facts of geography tilting to Asia, we risk finding ourselves in the position of the 1990s Colombian goalkeeper Higuita, who would pay upfield while leaving his net undefended.

It is in Europe, after all where Russia tries to make inroads, to the alarm of Poland, the Baltic states and the Nordic countries. It is to Europe’s south where the main ungoverned spaces that host terrorist training camps survive, and it is to Europe’s south-east where a difficult Turkey-EU relationship poses problems in the Western Balkans and Aegean.

And as much as the natural impulse of Brexit is to prove Britain’s openness and optimism by striking out to Asia, the Indo-Pacific tilt increases Britain’s security dependence on Europe, and in particular on the EU’s own institutions that are growing in military and policy-coordination capability. The debate in Paris and Berlin as well as the more traditionally integrationalist Brussels Rome, and Madrid now centres around achieving “strategic autonomy” (code for being able to do more without the US) for a more integrated European policy bloc. One of the strongest arguments against it has been that doing so would unnecessarily alienate the UK, whose interests also require it to contribute to European security.

The creation of such a strategically autonomous bloc has not, to put it mildly, been a British foreign policy objective over the last few hundred years, but a British decision to concentrate on projecting power in Asia would leave gaps, in the event that the United States is unable or unwilling to come to Europe’s defence. If the Government is convinved that a tilt to the Indo-Pacific is in the national interest, it needs to give more thought to who will backfill for us, and in particular our Nordic allies, when the next Russian provocation comes.

Grant Shapps: Our plan to supercharge the Union’s transport links can help make us Europe’s biggest economy by 2050

15 Mar

Grant Shapps is Transport Secretary, and is MP for Welwyn Hatfield.

When the Union with England Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1707, creating “One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain”, it could take ten days to travel the 400 miles from Edinburgh to London in the summertime, and a dozen in the muddy winter. Coaches lurched their way along the rutted track that was the Great North Road for hour upon unforgiving hour, their less prosperous passengers sitting up top, exposed to the merciless elements.

By the end of the eighteenth century, macadamized roads and more refined vehicle design had more than halved the journey time. Royal Mail coaches, introduced in 1784 and representing the high technology land transport of the day, were capable of nine miles per hour.

Things have improved somewhat in the ensuing centuries, but there are still hurdles to overcome. The A1, descendant of the Great North Road and the longest numbered carriageway in the United Kingdom, is still single lane in stretches, an enduring reproach to our national transport infrastructure.

There are other bottlenecks impeding travel between the four nations of our Union, such as the A75 which runs through the south west of Scotland, carrying traffic to and from Northern Ireland via the port of Cairnryan. A strategic route, heavily used by HGVs, it is single lane for most of its length. Congested roads impede access to north and south Wales, too. And trains between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain are slower than they could or should be.

This is not good enough if we are to remain in the top ten, the premier league, of economic powers in the twenty-first century. Faced with competitors counting their populations in hundreds of millions, the United Kingdom must work hard to maintain its place at the top table, maximising resources, human and physical, in all its constituent nations. We are 68 million facing competition from China (1.44 billion), India (1.38 billion) the United States (330 million) and Indonesia (270 million).

So we cannot afford to waste the talents and productivity of anyone, be they in Coleraine or Kirkcaldy, Caernarfon or Carlisle. Placing all our economic eggs in one basket – South East England – is not an option if we are to continue punching above our weight. A risk-averse infrastructure investment model that simply reinforces success, pumping money into projects serving London and her hinterland, will consign us to mediocrity. We must take a leap of faith, investing in transport links and new industries across the Union to mobilise our full national potential.

That is why the preliminary Union Connectivity Review, published by the Prime Minister last week, is so important. Its key recommendation is the establishment of a strategic transport network binding the UK into one closely integrated whole. Routes that serve this aim – be they the A75, the A55 in north Wales or the air corridors to Northern Ireland – will be accorded favoured status.

That means widening roads, extending high-speed rail and reducing Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights. It could – could – also mean a fixed link from Scotland to Northern Ireland, and a feasibility study into a tunnel or bridge is being carried out. Madness, say some. The most natural thing in the world for an ingenious and enterprising people to consider, say I.

If this Government has a motif then it is surely an open-minded pragmatism, a willingness to experiment with varying mixtures of private and public investment to produce the desired outcome. As Conservatives, we don’t believe in governments trying to pick winners – we leave that to business.

But we can help build the racetrack, providing the transport, telecommunications and green energy infrastructure firms need to compete successfully. Government in this country should never again seek to dominate the commanding heights of the economy through traditional nationalisation – that way lies failure – but it can incentivise, incubate and facilitate business.

Willingness to experiment requires self-confidence. We British have lost some of ours over the past decades, maybe due to our psychological dependence on the European Union. In our post-imperial malaise, we sub-contracted our destiny to a supranational entity for almost half a century, and it is scary for some of us to be going it alone once again. Britain is not capable of independent greatness, argue the naysayers.

I beg to differ. Stand-alone countries like South Korea (population 51 million) and Israel (nine million) do not fear to chart their own course, and we are a much bigger player than either. They nurture native industries, cultivate partnerships across the globe and trust their own judgement in terms of national self-interest. This despite chaotic or threatening neighbours.

A true Tory should never learn his or her place. We believe in the individual’s power to mould their own destiny, to realise their ambition. So it should be with our country. Let’s stop agonising about our place in the world or fixating on the past and head towards the future with a spring in our step.

Following the long dark winter of Covid, the shoots of future success are appearing. The tremendous success of the vaccine programme shows what this United Kingdom can do when it abandons self-doubt, rolls up its sleeve – literally – and gets on with it. We succeeded precisely because we were prepared to act swiftly and unilaterally – and were legally free to do so. How would an independent Scotland be faring now with vaccination if it were hitched to the EU, as the SNP desires?

Those who believe Brexit will condemn the UK to stagnation and decline should look at the latest survey of 5000 company chief executives by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers. These hard-headed businessmen, not given to flights of unjustified optimism, now rate the UK fourth in the world – behind only the USA, China and Germany – as a preferred destination for investment. This is up one place on last year, the UK having overtaken India. American and German companies look favourably on investing here. So let’s stop doubting ourselves.

I’ll stick my neck out. I believe the UK will be the largest economy in Europe by 2050. What was once the workshop of the world can be its laboratory – a scientific superpower, as the Prime Minister puts it.

Certainly, we can retain our position among the top 10 economies, even as rising living standards in populous emerging economies like Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico propel them into this club. Free of euro-sclerosis, we among the current four G7 economies in Europe have the best chance of remaining in this top tier.

So long, that is, as we stick together as one United Kingdom. Our four nations, the most successful joint venture in history, are so much stronger together, sharing our talents, supporting and protecting each other. We know this to be true because we have been through so much together in our long island story, and not only survived but triumphed.

Tradition is a wonderful thing and we Brits do it so well. But here’s one tradition I suggest we ditch as we trade the status of stately old nation for disruptive economic streetfighter. Let’s stop making a virtue out of losing gracefully. And win.

Ben Roback: Vaccination in America – a research and manufacturing triumph. Now for the next challenge: getting needles into arms

10 Mar

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

Is the American vaccine rollout a success story?

Joe Biden is on the cusp of signing his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law, in advance of the 14 March deadline when the previous package of support runs out.

With the Senate split 50-50 and Kamala Harris breaking the stalemate, the White House has no choice but to keep every Democrat on side in any vote that progresses through the budgetary reconciliation process, in which only a simple majority is required.

The President’s plea for political unity has yet to bear fruit on either side of the political aisle. The divides that have split Washington appear just as entrenched as ever before; not a single Republican in the Senate voted to support the plan.

This meant that Senate Democrats were able to hold out for their own checklist of amendments. This situation emboldens Democrats to supply the de facto Opposition-In-Chief. Step forward, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, whose last-minute objection to the size and scope of the legislation required 11 hours of negotiation throughout the night to broker a deal.

The final bill’s headline measures include $400 billion in one-off payments of $1400 (quickly phased out for those with higher incomes), $300 a week in extended jobless benefits for the 9.5 million people made unemployed, and $350 billopn in aid to state and local governments. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill today.

Swift passage is expected despite progressive Democrats, led by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, questioning whether they can support the legislation. Conservatives fear the package is too generous and wasteful, pointing to underlying economic and employment data. The US economy added a surprisingly high 379,000 jobs in February, with expectations for higher numbers ahead as bars and restaurants reopen and Americans begin to travel again.

Republicans are therefore expected to offer blanket opposition in the House. That makes Biden’s next task – selling the plan to red and blue states around the country – an uphill struggle.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink

Whilst Congress has horse-traded over the legislation, the Biden administration has kept one eye fixated on ramping up the nation’s best line of defence against the virus – vaccine production.

The President’s decision to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) last month has bolstered vaccine production and increased the supply of testing kits and PPE. Just as importantly, it prevents exports of certain materials needed to manufacture vaccinations, including gloves and filters.

The invocation of the DPA is not unique to this president; Donald Trump was often accused of not giving Covid the time, attention or respect it deserved, but he invoked the authorities of the DPA no fewer than 18 times to counter the pandemic. Biden’s invocation of the DPA and overarching Covid strategy meant the White House has brought forward the target date for vaccinating all Americans by two months to the end of May.

The expedited vaccination timeline was attributed to an agreement, brokered by the White House, between Johnson & Johnson and Merck. The traditional pharmaceutical competitors will now work together to expand the former’s vaccine production capabilities. By that measurement, the US vaccine rollout is a success story in parallel with our own, given the numbers on our shores suggest all those over 50 may now be vaccinated by the end of March — two weeks earlier than planned.

Politicised jabs

It is a sad reality but hardly surprising that attitudes to the vaccine have become deeply embossed along political lines. A poll this week found 67 per cent of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already been inoculated – good news, given that the World Health Organization said that 60-70% of a population must acquire resistance to the virus, either through infection or vaccination, to achieve herd immunity.

Look deeper, and partisanship becomes clear. 23 per cent of Republicans said they would “definitely” not get vaccinated, while another 21 per cent said they “probably” will not get the vaccine when it is made available to them.

So if the aim on both sides of the political divide is one nation under vaccination, Donald Trump holds a disproportionate amount of power in his hands. Given the strength of feeling the Republican base retains for their recently departed leader, a campaign led by the former president encouraging Americans (read: Republicans) to get the vaccine would be a hugely powerful tool in the fight against vaccine misinformation.

To his credit, at the recent CPAC conference, which confirmed Trump as the runaway leader for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, the former President said the word “vaccine” a dozen times. Trump continues to identify the vaccination program through the prism of his own administration’s success in getting Operation Warp Speed underway. He touted his defiance of the FDA and the expedited approval of two vaccines. “So everybody go get your shot”, he encouraged the audience. Those words were an island of sanity amidsr a sea of familiar grumblings about election malfeasance and political score-settling.

Warren Buffet has made a career out of his “never bet against America” mantra. In the fight against Covid, the United States has shown renewed strength. The traditional timescales for vaccine testing, approval and production have all been upended. Supply no longer looks to be an issue since the invocation of the DPA.

Biden and Trump deserve joint credit for the progress made so far. Until this point, the American vaccine program looks to have been a proud success story. But researching, approving and manufacturing vaccines for the masses is only as useful as the ability to get it into people’s arms. Failure to launch a major cross-party campaign encouraging vaccination uptake will render Operation Warp Speed (Trump) and the increased firepower of the federal government (Biden) moot. The onus now rests with the American people, and their willingness – or otherwise – to get the vaccine. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.