Defence, energy, food. Ten ways in which this war should change Government policy and the way we live.

7 Mar

None of the below will happen in the straightforward event of an imminent coup in Russia.  Nor perhaps in the more subtle one of a ceasefire soon, followed by eased sanctions and a negotiated peace.

But most of it will take place in the event of a longer war, and much of it should have happened anyway.  Here are ten ways in which politics is set to change.

First, defence policy.  It’s a statement of the obvious that defence spending will rise – at the expense of budgets elsewhere, further complicating Rishi Sunak’s calculations.   But as important as the percentage by which it will rise is how it will rise.

Russia was named as “the most acute direct threat to the UK” in last year’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.  Now the Government will have to react on the basis of that judgement, and review the review itself.

That should mean a larger army, a focus on our European hinterland, and no more naval adventures in the South China sea.  “Putin’s Russia is closer to home – remember the Salisbury attack – and Islamist extremism is already here,” as I wrote at the time of the AUKUS deal.

This site has been singing the same song since the review was published, and before (see here, here, here and here – “The Conservatives risk obsession with China to the exclusion of other threats, including Russia and Islamist extremism”).

The last may fade away in public consciousness, which would bring its own dangers with it. The second knock-on effect of the war will be on energy policy.  To pick up on another theme familiar to ConservativeHome readers, Government policy will need a much greater stress on security of supply.

Which means extracting more of our own oil and gas as a bridge to more nuclear and renewables.  That might not affect the second leg of the energy policy stool, lower electricity prices.  But it will have have an impact on the third, carbon emissions.

As this war gathers pace, it is looking harder for us to hit Net Zero by 2050, though I’m sceptical about that timetable in any event. Next, food.  Agriculture policy will always seek to strike a balance between consumers and producers, and in the wake of Brexit we now have more scope to adjust.

To date, the tilt has been towards consumers, with less farmer subsidy (“mine are doing their nut”, one Minister told me yesterday) and more countryside rewilding.  That is going to have to change, which will have an effect on trade policy.

Deals with Commonwealth friends and allies  – Anne-Marie Trevelyan has just agreed one with New Zealand – have implications for domestic production, no less than those with other countries.  And a lesson of Covid should be that one cannot rely on supply chains to deliver as planned.

Which will mean a switch from just-in-time to just-in-case.  Then there is the exposure of universities to Russian and Chinese influence.  The sanctions in placed are already poised to snarl up science partnerships with counterparts in the Putin-led state.

There will be protests, for good reason and bad.  It will be argued that many Russian academics are opposed to the war, and that collective punishment is a bad thing.  That argument will have wider resonance as the effects of sanctions kick in.

But read Tom Tugendhat on this site, writing about the universities’ dependence on Chinese overseas students, or elsewhere on the need for a register of China’s interests in the UK.  A Counter-States Threats Bill was promised in the Queen’s Speech.  Ministers will need to speed up getting it before Parliament.

Next, immigration and asylum.  Taking more refugees from Ukraine, as they flee West from the war, will have an effect elsewhere – since public opinion will always back, as it must, control on overall migration numbers.  Watch out for the tangling-up of Ukrainian refugees and small boats.

Voters won’t long tolerate the opening-up of legal routes if illegal ones run out of control (as the traffic across the channel already has).  How many who seek help from the gangmasters will be from Ukraine?  Or from Afghanistan – in the wake of last summer’s disaster?

How many who arrive will claim to be, whether they actually are or not?  Pondering the European landscape takes one to our relations with the EU.  Liz Truss was invited to and attended a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council last week.  That’s a sign of easing tensions, as Europe and America close ranks.

It may even be possible in this improving atmosphere to recast or minimise the Northern Ireland Protocol, although I’m doubtful – since the theology of the EU requires stringent checks at the sea border to guard against the non-existent threat to the internal market.

But either way, don’t expect Article 16 to be moved any time soon (will will bring its own risks, as indeed would moving it, during the run-up to this spring’s election to the Northern Ireland Assembly).  There are conceivable effects on the debate about devolution and independence.

Scottish independence ought to be a less attractive option in a more dangerous world – and Ministers can be expected to make that argument as they continue to develop the UK’s internal market.  Meanwhile, expect the UK to work more vigorously through European institutions.

Writing on this site recently, David Lidington named “the Northern Group that brings together the NATO members and partner countries that border the Baltic and the North Sea”, the E3 (France, Germany and the UK) and “the party too European Intervention Initiative that brings together EU and non-EU countries”.

Boris Johnson issued a statement last week in the wake of a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Group, whose members are the UK, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Iceland.  The Group has previously carried out its own military exercises.

Then there is the economy.  I’ve already referred to a higher defence budget necessitating a spending squeeze elsewhere.  There are those who believe it isn’t necessary: that the Government should cut taxes, go for growth and let borrowing take the strain.

Up to a point: Jacob Rees-Mogg hinted in our last Moggcast that government ought to be able to find the £12 billion of annual savings for the next three years that would render the coming National Insurance rise unnecessary.  But Sunak’s take on history and the economy in his Mais Lecture was sound.

Namely, that the economic recovery of the 1980s came off the back of lower interest rates, secured in the 1981 budget by tax rises, not cuts.  The lesson of the era is that tax cuts and spending control march in step – one that we may have to learn all over again at a time of stagflation, as growth slows and shortages send prices rocketing.

There will be pressure for the City to be less open to dirty money, which the institutional Treasury will try to resist as best it can, and a squeeze on the levelling-up project.  That takes us finally to culture – and, no, I don’t just mean the “sporting and cultural Siberia of its own making” which Nadine Dorries referred to last week.

The last fortnight has seen the contention that Putin’s aggression has been encouraged by Western decadence discussed vigorously.  That’s a bigger theme than the conclusion of an article can tackle.

Though the progress of Putin’s war, or perhaps the lack of it, ought to give pause for thought.  At any rate, apologists for dictatorship are getting a hard time.  That’s a change for the better.

Aman Bhogal: A Global Britain can turbocharge free democracies, free trade and free enterprise

2 Feb

Aman Bhogal is the Founding Chairman of Global Britain UK and stood for parliament in the 2015 General Election.

Television headlines recently showed the terrible volcanic eruption that ravaged Tonga, but why was the report of Britain dispatching HMS Spey to support the relief effort, led by allies Australia and New Zealand, right at the bottom of the news agenda?

For the world that was global Britain in action. Our British Isles leaping to help a group of islands 13 time zones away.

Following on from the establishment of AUKUS and in the wake of the Carrier Strike Group’s power projection, is it not news that the Indo-Pacific is fast becoming the centre of economic, security and political gravity of a new multi-polar world order?

Of course, the assorted left rejoiner Brexit-bashing brigade would have you believe that Britain cannot play a meaningful role in global affairs outside the EU’s orbit; though it has to be said, the likes of the shouty-mad-as-a-EU-hat man seen loitering outside Parliament, has been quite quiet of late.

Yet, with a resurgent UK leading G7 growth, record job numbers and as one of the first exiting the pandemic, that argument is as past its sell-by-date as the hidebound EU.

There is no bigger example of the stuck-in-the-mud out-of-sync-with-liberty EU than the outrageous prevailing view at its heart – Berlin blocking Estonian defence assistance to Kiev trying not to upset the Kremlin, even as it amasses its belligerence in Eastern Europe.

Whereas following UK support for Kiev with the supply of defensive anti-tank weapons, “God save the Queen” amassed trends on Ukrainian Twitter.

With Boris Johnson having got Brexit done and Liz Truss getting on with sorting out the Northern Ireland Protocol, British support for free Ukraine and a helping hand for Tonga sum up what makes our Britain global like no other.

Yet there is a whole world of goodwill still to be tapped, where a Global Britain helps unleash the potential of the world’s leading free democracies, by identifying shared values, shared challenges, and shared strengths to ensure security, stability, and prosperity.

Getting Brexit done has shown up all that still remains to be done to help make Britain central to the prosperity and security of our allies and friends.

The biggest step in that direction is the Prime Minister’s ‘Roadmap 2030’ signed with Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister. However, we now need to go further and faster. And we do this by building a framework of political and business engagement to bind together the tremendous goodwill for a global Britain that exists throughout the world, especially the Indo-Pacific.

Now providence places Global Britain in the centre of a core group of natural allies and friends across the Indo-Pacific. With India, Australia and Japan defending the frontier of freedom, turbocharging our strategic partnership with these free democracies it is crucial to integrate free Britain into the centre of the network of liberty.

Many hurdles remain – hostile forces running 24×7 fake-news bots spreading disinformation to undermine democracy in London, Washington DC and New Delhi, the CCP undermining nations with its debt-trap diplomacy – toxic forces chiselling at the very foundations of our freedoms and liberty.

However, it is in the greatest democratic exercises of our times – the EU referendum and the biggest democratic mandate in history, earned by PM Modi that offer us the hope and optimism to prove that democracy is more resilient than the toxic agenda of the anti-UK- India-Israel-US-Brexit bashing nexus.

Global Britain, together with a New India, is uniquely placed to lead the charge to defend our way of life – free democracies, linked by free trade, powered by free enterprise, driven by a free people.

And on free trade, the more than five dozen trade deals signed, including two brand new ones with Australia and Singapore, and the prized deal with India in the offing, are a shining testament to how Global Britain is revving up to lead the global recovery. And this is still before British business really goes global with entry into the tier-A Indian towns.

With free enterprise – there is not a brighter beacon of hope and aspiration than the UK where our agile businesses, slashing suffocating red tape, are more productive, innovative, employ more people and generate more revenue.

This is the ready-to-make template which we must push to persuade the next start-up, the next unicorn, the next big idea that free enterprise and education is the best way known to mankind to lift the next billion out of poverty. And now more than ever, as the world economy attempts to reach escape velocity out of the orbit of Covid, Global Britain must set the global tempo.

Be it getting Brexit done, more trade deals than Emmanuel Macron could shake a stick at, record job numbers and mega manufacturing investment, Johnson has shown how Global Britain is a proven winner. And this is the Global Britain vision which resonates with the goodwill in capitals across the free world.

That’s why the Global Britain Centre is established to bring together a coalition of those who want to fill in the gaps, colour in the details, to pour concrete into the foundations of a Global Britain turbocharging free democracies, free trade and free enterprise. To help build a Britain that is truly global, by global Britons, for Britons that are going global.

Richard Holden: Covid has kept Britain in chains since we left the EU. Now we’re set to break free.

4 Jan

Mounter and Sons Sawmill, Willington, Co. Durham

A hard core of my colleagues in Parliament are Brexperts. Many spent decades campaigning against – or in some cases for – Britain’s membership of the European Union. It is the issue that in no small part tipped constituencies like mine ‘over the edge’ between 2015 and 2019.

Finally, the scales fell from local people’s eyes, and they saw what they’d had an inkling of for some time: that Labour no longer respected the view, or even the votes, of people in North West Durham. Inner-London Labour thought it knew better and the public, finally, gave it the boot across the Red Wall.

The first big piece of legislation that the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs voted for was the EU Withdrawal Agreement. This month marks a year on from the end of the so called ‘transition period’, when our ties to the European Union were severed de facto, as well as de jure. Some said would be the start of ‘Britannia Unchained’ and others predicted would be the greatest foreign policy disaster since Suez.

Within a few weeks of MPs voting through the Withdrawal Agreement, the global pandemic hit. What leaders in Britain and the EU had thought would be the biggest challenge of the decade – Brexit– suddenly became secondary. And the impact of leaving the EU, whatever side of the debate you were on, now feels small fry compared to the: lockdowns, colossal borrowing, and worldwide efforts that have gone into tackling Covid.

I’m tempted to put my neck on the line at this point, and say that we’re coming to the end of Covid. Like the rest of the country – and the world – let’s pray that is the case. And if it is, what lay behind Brexit will return centre-stage alongside the fall-out from the virus

While many will groan at the prospect of the return of Brexit as a political issue, I welcome it wholeheartedly. I long to see the eyes of Government and the country lifted from two years of crisis management to a discussion about where we now see ourselves, and how we deliver it. The country is sick to death of circular debates about the social etiquette of mask wearing and meeting via Zoom and Teams.

Like my Conservative colleagues from every intake, I am desperate for Parliament to be at the heart of the debate about international trade, securing our borders and Britain’s place in the world.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen flashes of the future. Such as: AUKUS – the new tripartite defence agreement with Australia and the United States. The UK’s application to join the Trans-Pacific-Partnership. Improved post-EU trade deals with Japan, Australia, and many other countries, alongside scores of roll-over deals.

There will be challenges. How to manage the place of Northern Ireland in the UK raises profound constitutional questions. With the Northern Ireland Assembly elections looming large, dealing with a Sinn Fein First Minister (if the polls are to be believed) in a few months will be challenging.

Mounter and Sons, a wood pallet manufacturer in my constituency, is facing increased costs and bureaucracy in dealing with the EU. The most substantial of these is heating all pallets leaving for the EU, which wasn’t required before Brexit. This is just one of examples from my own constituency of blocks to trade that both sides surely want to see removed in further negotiations to the benefit of all concerned. These are eminently achievable if the will is there.

In 2016, my constituents voted to leave the European Union. And in 2019, they voted again to finally make it happen. After two years of the focus of the Government being elsewhere – rightly – it’s time start reminding people again that they made the correct choice both times.

That means getting some focus back on getting Britain out into the world, and dealing with those very tricky issues Brexit throws up. After the last couple of years, that task of unchaining Britannia seems more manageable, and getting on with it will be welcomed more than ever by the whole country.

Garvan Walshe: Four ways in which democracies can fight back against China’s state gangsterism

23 Dec

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

Peng Shuai, a Chinese Tennis player, accused a former Chinese vice premier of sexual assault on the Chinese social network, Weibo.

The post then disappeared, and so did she. Six weeks later, she gave an interview to a pro-Beijing Chinese language newspaper denying she had ever made the allegation. Far from clearing things up, this stage-managed recantation reeks of state gangsterism.

The behaviour is part of a pattern of violence and intimidation that has intensified since Xi consolidated power in China. It goes beyond traditional targets of Chinese policy like Hong Kong and Taiwan, and takes in anyone that dares to cross the regime’s leadership.

Sometimes it is absurd (demanding that all Amazon reviews of Xi Jinping’s new book shown in China receive five stars), but more more often it is sinister – as demonstrated by the sanctions applied to Lithuania, the attempts to intimidate German companies that use Lithuanian suppliers, and the politically motivated prosecutions of Canadian businessmen Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were only released after legitimate charges were dropped against a Huawei executive.

China has turned globalisation into a weapon, and Western democracies need to develop a systematic defence. During the 1990s and 2000s, a combination of wishful thinking and greed allowed China to enrich itself through a globalised economy while maintaining an ideology hostile to the rules on which the international order was based.

Democratic countries have started to understand and correct this error in individual cases: Australia has sought stronger security guarantees from the United States through AUKUS. The UK has removed Chinese involvement in British nuclear electricity infrastructure, and the new Czech government, for instance, is likely to adopt a more sceptical approach to Huawei’s provision of 5G infrastructure.

While these changes are welcome, it is time to consider a more systematic approach. A first mistake of the 1990s was to think that economic growth would lead to democratic change. Though there may have been merit in the theory that wealthier middle classes are more likely to demand accountable government, it was unwise to base policy on a “law” among whose exceptions may be counted Russia and Turkey, as well as China.

A second, less well-understood error was to think it possible to depoliticise business in authoritarian states. Instead, the opposite happens: businesses, which need to make money after all, are being held hostage to the regimes’ agendas, whether these matters are as trivial as reviews of the Xi Jinping’s book, or as geopolitically pointed as Lithuania’s support for Taiwan.

Western foreign investment is subject to extortion, while authoriarian investment in the West is used to finance strategic corruption. Western libel laws are then used to attempt to silence its exposure (as Catherine Belton, who has successfully defended her Putin’s People from a fusillade of lawsuits can attest).

The lesson is that the globalisation of finance is only reliable when mechanisms exist to enforce the depoliticisation of business, whether through domestic courts that enforce international agreements, or Investor State Dispute resolution agreements when domestic courts cannot be trusted.

This applies equally to sport, where athletes should not be compelled to follow regime agendas either, and should be free to seek justice for crimes committed against them by the regimes.

That we instead have had to rely on the courage of HarperCollins, Belton’s publisher, or the Women’s Tennis association, which has stood by Peng Shuai, is not good enough. Democracies, acting together, need to start thinking about how to protect their sports organisations and busiesspeople from capture and extortion by powerful dictatorships.

There are four things democracies should do.

First, ensure protection from arbitrary retaliation, such as that China is trying to impose on Lithuania, by establishing automatic means of retaliation. To work well, these need to be done by democracies together. The EU is proposing an “anti-coercion” instrument for this purpose. The UK, US, and other democratic states should follow suit, and include countries like South Korea, which are too small to resist Chinese pressure on their own.

Second, sporting and research organisations could be supported, or compelled, make competitions and research cooperation conditional on ensuring the political independence and academic freedom of participants. Democratic countries dominate these areas to ensure such conditions are upheld. Even FIFA, happy to sell out to non-footballing Qatar would have to pay attention — who would watch a world cup in which democratic countries didn’t participate?

Third, in a sort of “democratic preference,” future economic integration should be focused on democratic countries, and could include snap-back clauses to remove priveleges if democracy decays.

Finally, democracies should act collectively against strategic corruption, leaving kleptocrats without a safe place to stash their money.

Peng Shuai’s treatment by the Chinese regime should reinforce the warning delivered to Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig. Neither celebrity or foreign citizenship can protect you from becoming an instrument of the regime’s intimidation. The naive globalisation of the 1990s has become a liability. Democracies need to beef up their defences against the Chinese dictatorship.

Shanker Singham: Today’s signing of the UK-Australia deal symbolises a new economic era for Global Britain

17 Dec

Shanker Singham is CEO of Competere. He is a former adviser to Liam Fox when he was Secretary of State for International Trade, and to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

We have often taken the special relationship for granted on this side of the Atlantic. While we rest on our laurels, often the US’s other allies and trading partners steal a march on the UK.

What is needed is a comprehensive re-engagement with the US at multiple levels – Prime Minister, Cabinet, ministerial and parliamentary. There is already a lot of private sector to private sector dialogue but these need to be accelerated with ministerial sponsorship.

It is clear that on matters as diverse as the Northern Ireland Protocol, to our interest in a comprehensive free trade agreement, the UK has not been able to land forensic, knock-out blows, whereas others, notably the Irish and the EU have been more successful in prosecuting their interests with the new administration.

There are signs of improvement however. We have seen a significant uptick in the frequency of UK ministerial engagements in Washington recently. There were at least five UK ministers in the US, the week of the December 6 for example. Importantly, UK engagement is not limited to Washington DC and New York. Penny Mordaunt, the trade policy minister has just returned from the longest ministerial visit to the US in recent history – a tour of five US states lasting over 10 days, a lifetime for a minister.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, made a very important speech at Chatham House on December 8, where she acknowledged that the world had broken down into those countries that supported a vision of capitalism based on competition versus those whose capitalist model is based on distortion and cronyism – and that the countries in the former camp constituted a network of liberty. AUKUS was just a start to bring those countries together to pursue an international economic policy that maximised open trade, competition on the merits and property rights protection.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Secretary of State for Trade, also made a recent intervention at the CPS’ Margaret Thatcher conference on trade, where she specifically addressed the cancer of anti-competitive market distortions which are plaguing global trade. In this the UK and US have very similar concerns and are looking for similar solutions – a mechanism to deal with the problem that does not drive a coach and horses through the international trading system.

On what the UK’s regulatory system will look like in the future, Lord Frost was also crystal clear when he discussed this in the House of Lords, noting that the UK will diverge from EU regulation, not just for the sake of it, or because it can, but because it must do so in order to promote a pro-competitive regulatory agenda that both increases economic growth at home, but will also make it easier (and faster) to do trade deals.

The trade policy minister’s long trip led to substantial progress on Memoranda of Understanding with a number of states, as diverse as Tennessee, Oklahoma, North and South Carolina and Georgia. She made a very important speech to the Carter Centre. In it she was much more forensic about a case that does not get made often enough – why a free trade deal with the UK is in the American interest, not just the British one.

The UK leaving the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union is a massive global event. The UK, to quote Minister Mordaunt, has made itself a piece on the global chessboard, and a powerful one at that. It alone is negotiating or discussing international economic policy issues with all the key players, including the EU with which it is one of the few major players to have an FTA already.

The UK has made it crystal clear to its trading partners which side of the table it is going to be on – to inter-operate with the world on the basis of equivalence and adequacy, as the US and CPTPP countries do, instead of pushing its own regulatory vision on the rest of the world as the EU and China do.

This shift is a seismic one in geo-economic terms. If the Americans fail to capitalise on it, they will have lost a huge opportunity to win the battle for the world’s operating system, and to ensure it is based on voluntary exchange, underpinned by open trade and competition, including regulatory competition based on outcomes. This would unleash wealth creation and economic growth at a time when it is so crucially needed as the world struggles to emerge from Covid-19.

But the UK is not just making speeches. It is delivering. Today’s signing of the UK-Australia deal means that the UK’s entirely de novo trade negotiating agenda is now in full swing. Contrary to the naysayers who said that trade deals take 10 years to do, this was initiated in 2020 and concluded in 2021 – within a year of the UK leaving the EU.

It is anticipated that the NZ deal will quickly follow. Within the year, the UK also concluded a deal with Japan that contains important new elements and departures from the EU’s deal especially in the crucial data area, signed a deal with Australia, established its working group for accession to the CPTPP, and will doubtless conclude a number of MOUs with US states as a down payment on an eventual FTA with the US. This has all been done within a year of concluding the FTA with the EU, the point at which our trading partners knew whether we could do trade deals or not.

The UK and US must now use the recently announced Atlantic Charter to push for the key initiatives such as the reduction of anti-competitive market distortions around the world and the commitment to open trade and competition on the merits.  They must tie other nations into the AUKUS deal which is much more than an agreement about submarines, especially the Japanese.

The geo-economic tectonic plates are shifting as we said they would, but even faster than even we hoped and anticipated. For the first time in a long time, the network of liberty countries look like they might be winning.  We are far from out of the woods, and the world remains a very dangerous place for freedom, but these countries now have line of sight to victory, and the UK is their champion. We may yet lose, but if we do, it will be because this moment of opportunity was wasted.

Interview with Tobias Ellwood: Johnson lacks “serious expertise, people with political acumen, over in the Number 10 machine”

11 Nov

Boris Johnson does not have the advisers he needs at Number 10, has exposed himself to comparison with the Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, and is “losing sight of what parliamentarians and the Conservative Party would naturally do and see as right to do”.

These are among the lessons drawn by Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, from last week’s debacle on Commons Standards, when Tory MPs were whipped to vote in support of a course of action which only hours later the Government abandoned.

Ellwood, who abstained in that vote, has sat for Bournemouth East since 2005. He protests at the sacking of Robert Buckland in the last Cabinet reshuffle, and laments that the Government is failing to use the talents of the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs, and indeed has no idea how to set about doing so.

As a specialist in international relations, Ellwood is deeply worried by the lack of resolve shown by the United States in Afghanistan, and by the West’s lack of strategy in the face of Russia and China, but sees opportunities for British leadership.

He warns against allowing the argument over the Northern Ireland Protocol to become a running sore which prevents the much needed defence co-operation between Britain and France:

“There’s a 1930s feel to the world. Weaker international institutions, countries weaponising, the authoritarianism on the Right, lack of western leadership.”

ConHome: “In your Sun on Sunday piece last weekend you wrote,

‘the Government thought it acceptable to overrule the punishment [of Owen Paterson] and rewrite the rules. If this happened in Poland or Hungary, we would not be surprised. But in Britain?’

“Orban is corrupting Hungarian government and society. Is that an apt comparison to make about Boris Johnson and the Government?”

Ellwood: “It’s a warning. It’s to say, ‘Is this who we want to be compared to?’ That itself can’t be a good thing. In that article I mention a couple of times ‘the mother of Parliaments’, how proud we are of the journey we’ve taken over centuries.

“But that journey of advancement has actually almost stopped. We’ve refused to look at further ways we can continue that journey on.”

ConHome: “What are the most dangerous things Number 10 is doing?”

Ellwood: “It’s losing sight of what parliamentarians and the Conservative Party would naturally do and see as right to do. Clearly there was something wrong with this decision. You yourself pointed that out.

“So our loyalty was tested, 250 of my colleagues actually held their noses and walked through those lobbies because they somehow assumed it was in the interests of the party, and clearly it wasn’t.

“So two questions there. Why, first of all, did the executive think they could do this?

“And secondly why weren’t more of my colleagues willing to stand up and say ‘No, this is actually wrong’?

“To give them their due, I can’t actually find a single Member of Parliament who did not express views to the Whips’ Office that this was completely wrong.

“So somehow something went wrong with the reporting mechanism to Number 10, to say ‘Don’t pursue this route’.”

ConHome: “This is part of a wider pattern?”

Ellwood: “That’s the concern I have. It’s part of a wider pattern, of us veering away from sound policy, of explaining to the British people what needs to happen, the difficult decisions.

“And two great examples where you could win over the public, actually I can think of three.

“Firstly to do with Trump and Afghanistan. Much easier to say ‘Bring troops home’ – that’s a vote winner – rather than explaining to the American people why keeping 2,500 troops there is actually in our longer-term interest strategically.

“Bringing troops home shows success, job done. Clearly it’s more complicated to explain to the electorate that keeping troops there, in that neck of the woods, between Russia, Iran, China, not a bad bit of real estate to keep control of, it will take time though, it’s going to take much more patience than we’re currently showing at the moment.

“That’s one example. The other one is DfID, the cuts in that. You explain to the British people, as has been done since that cut was made, that actually we lose leverage, we get replaced by Russia and China with their projects, or extremism then fills in, because of us pulling out.

“The British people would actually say, ‘Well, that’s wisely spent.’ But if you sell to the British people, ‘We’re going to take that money and we’re going to slide it to Red Wall seats,’ well which is going to win?

“Now ultimately the needle has moved on the support for DfID funding, because it’s actually part of our DNA, it’s what we do on the international stage.

“It’s a wiser, more cognitive approach to taking the electorate with you. It’s more complicated, it’s more taxing, it’s not simple, it’s not banner bumper stickers or banner headlines, but it’s what we should be doing.”

ConHome: “You also wrote that ‘at every reshuffle, MPs who have become experts in their fields are demoted or sidelined in favour of the uber-loyal.’ Who were you thinking of?”

Ellwood: “I mentioned Robert Buckland. Everybody was astonished by this decision. Everybody expected him to become potentially Home Secretary or certainly to stay in Cabinet.

“Go back to balance if you like of the spectrum within our party, he’s seen as a moderate, a sound voice, willing not just to toe the party line but occasionally to add another dimension to it.

“That’s just one of many examples. I’ll just mention another. A Cabinet member, now doing brilliantly, but it took 11 years to get there. What a lot of patience you have to go through. How many sycophantic, underarm-bowling questions do you have to ask?

“What often happens is that people lose patience with the machine itself.”

ConHome: “Are we not recruiting enough high-grade candidates? Because this will put good people off.”

Ellwood: “It will put good people off. I won’t make a judgment about not recruiting them, because I think we’ve got some really good talent on our backbenches.

“But they’re not utilised. And the difference between this new intake that’s just come in, particularly as we suddenly got all these Red Wall seats, so these are people who are running businesses, they’re doing, you know, exciting things.

“If they are not utilised, you know, they’ve come in to be part of politics, to represent their constituents, but to affect the political agenda.

“And if all they’re doing for years is just ask simplistic questions which are just handed out by the Whips’ Office, that’s not really utilising their strengths that they bring to the Chamber.

“So what I’m suggesting is this, which I think there would be a lot of appetite for. You come in and you’re invited to suggest a spectrum of interest for your career.

“It might be local government, it might be health and social services, it might be education, it might be science, it could be in my case international affairs.

“And within that spectrum there are things that you could do. Not necessarily being a minister, but certainly things which will allow you to advance and progress with an interest, and to influence policy.

“But no. There is no HR. There is no managing of anybody’s career whatsoever.

“So you end up, and this leads into the very topical debate at the moment, with people finding outside interests, and that also affects how this place looks.”

ConHome: “Were you thinking of yourself? You’re an expert in your field, you were a minister, you’re now not a minister.”

Ellwood: “No, not at all, because being on a committee is another great way in which you can affect the agenda, hold Government to account, and come up with ideas.

“And certainly being the chair of that. If you are a round peg in a round hole you are very, very lucky indeed.”

ConHome: “Can Johnson revive his Government, though. He’s just had a reshuffle. But can he revive it without sweeping changes in his team, both his team in Cabinet and in Downing Street, to take more account of what the backbenchers are now thinking and saying?”

Ellwood: “I think we do lack some serious expertise, people with political acumen, over in the Number 10 machine. It’s a tough gig, but you need to have your political antennae about what does and doesn’t work.

“Now on the actual team of the reshuffle, it’s that wider picture of making sure you take advantage of the skill sets that you actually have.”

ConHome: “Fundamentally, do you have confidence in Boris Johnson’s leadership?”

Ellwood: “I worked for Boris Johnson in the FCO, and he brings an element of energy and vibrancy to the party which I’ve not seen for a long time.

“And in today’s cut and thrust of 24-hour news that’s actually important, that he’s actually inspired a lot of people to vote Conservative, in a way that many other leaders have actually failed to do.

“But you need to be supported then by genuine strategy, when it comes to policy formation. For me there’s a gap in the market in the area I’m particularly interested in. What is Britain’s place in the world? What does global Britain mean?

“There is a leadership role, I think, that the world is calling out for.

“He needs the team around him to support the energy he provides.”

ConHome: “After David Amess was murdered, you said that MPs should pause holding face to face surgeries. Do you think that pause should now cease, and if not, when should it cease?”

Ellwood: “I look from a security and defence perspective. Clearly the situation has changed, we can reassess, and everybody has taken stock of their own situation, so it’s right that we can then downgrade or reassess the situation.”

ConHome: “You’ve been a soldier, and soldiers have to confront danger and death, but you’ve had two very personal encounters with it.

“You wrote last weekend about shaking hands with the Taliban, who were harbouring the group who killed your brother. What effect did his murder have on the way you think about security?”

Ellwood: “I don’t go past a barrier now outside the gates here without thinking about the wider security environment. I think the sadness of the 9/11 anniversary with all those documentaries we saw again – we are no better at tackling extremism, if we’re honest about it.

“We’re no better at dealing with the ideology that encourages somebody to put on a suicide vest to kill themselves, to kill westerners in the belief that they’re going to be rewarded with a place in paradise.

“And until we deal with that – and that’s not for us so much to deal with the interpretation of the Koran, that’s actually a wider theological challenge for the Islamic world to deal with too, but until we’ve done that then I’m afraid ISIS-K, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda, they will continue to be able to recruit.”

ConHome: “You also fought to save the life of PC Palmer.”

Ellwood: “That happened in 2017, it was a reminder again. Bali was 2002, 9/11 2001, David Amess 2021. There is a correlation between all those events, which link myself and indeed other people in our community together, and shows you what an enormous challenge still exists.

“We’ve now absented ourselves from Afghanistan, handing the country back to the very insurgents that we went in to defeat. When I met the Taliban it was very, very clear why they are trying to still pursue a ruthless, quite a tough interpretation of Sharia law, because if they didn’t they would actually haemorrhage more people to ISIS-K.”

ConHome: “You’re an interventionist, both for security reasons and for moral reasons: you’re helping to spread and sustain liberal democratic values by intervening.

“Do you feel that you’re part of a beleaguered minority now – that the trend here in Britain as in America has been to withdraw, to try to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world?”

Ellwood: “We’re feeling very, very bruised. It’s been provoked by Covid as well, our retreat from global exposure, becoming more isolated, more protectionist.

“Populism also is on the rise – why should we have a responsibility for what’s going on abroad? Let’s look after ourselves. Times are tough here.

“From where I sit, we’ve got a bumpy decade ahead. There’s a 1930s feel to the world. Weaker international institutions, countries weaponising, the authoritarianism on the Right, lack of western leadership.

“On top of that you’ve got three other factors. Climate change, which is going to bring its own scale of problems. Biblical movements of people that are displaced.

“Advances in technology that then allow non-state actors to incite real harm onto communities. And the rise of extremism.

“And if Russia wants to harm Britain, it can just play with the gas taps and watch the prices ripple through and cause problems.

“Look how that one ship caught in the Suez Canal caused problems across the world. I tried to get my lawn mower repaired the other day, and they couldn’t get the parts. They said, ‘You take your choice, it’s either Covid, Brexit or it’s that Suez Canal blockage.’

“How easy it is to cause harm to economies using non-military means.

“And there’s a gap in the market for international leadership. We’ve seen America retreat slightly, give up essentially in Afghanistan. This was the biggest military alliance arguably ever formed and we were defeated by an insurgency armed with AK-47s and RPGs, and we just decided to go home.

“So where is America’s commitment? If they’re not going to step up, we had to do it a couple of times in the last century. Different circumstances, I recognise that.”

ConHome: “What about NATO?”

Ellwood: “I was in Norfolk, Virginia only two weeks ago, headquarters for NATO in the US, scratching their heads, what is their purpose?

“We don’t do out of area operations any more. So there is a purpose, you go to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, they’ll say absolutely, NATO is critical. NATO itself will retreat to what it knows best, dealing with the old Cold War-esque challenges.

“Putin has a strategy. President Xi has a clear strategy on the international stage. The West lacks one. We don’t have a strategy. We have an attitude towards China, towards Russia, but we don’t have a strategy.

“And again, this is Britain, going back to Boris Johnson and what Britain can actually do, this is where we normally have an insight and an understanding, a means, a desire to help shape the world.”

ConHome: “Our relationship with France is currently extremely bad. We and the French are the two military powers in Europe. How bad is it and what should we do about it?”

Ellwood: “So this is a great example of us enjoying an old rivalry that goes back centuries. What we forget is that as we fail to reconcile our differences with continental Europe, our adversaries are enjoying this blue-on-blue, which is essentially what it is.

“We and the French are not working together to recognise what Russia is doing in the Arctic, what China is doing in the South China Sea, and AUKUS was a great illustration of how things could have been done better.

“Absolutely right for Australia to move from diesel electric to something better, you’re offered a Ford Focus and suddenly you see a Ferrari, which one are you going to take?

“You’re going to go for the upgrade nuclear deal, nuclear powered, so France should accept that. But if you want a strategy to deal with the South China Sea, finally standing up to what they’re doing in that neck of the woods, which is pretty concerning, then include Japan, India, include the United States, Britain and France, and that’s the quad that should be invited, allowing AUKUS to be a procurement process.”

ConHome: “If we’re going to have a better relationship with the French, is that really consistent, given the French view of themselves as one of the guardians of the integrity of the EU, with moving Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol?”

Ellwood: “You then move into a very awkward space. This was always going to be a problem. I served in Northern Ireland and it’s not until you go there that you realise how critical trade of the entire island is in keeping the peace and helping both economies.

“We need to make sure we solve this, because it’s turning into a sore, which is then used by other countries to prevent us drawing a line and finally moving forward and advancing, where we don’t then say I’m a Brexiteer or I’m this, but this is the norm.

“We are still in transition, I’m afraid. And as long as that is the case, it will poison discussion on other, bigger issues, such as our reflections on international security that we need to be having with our continental partners.”

Garvan Walshe: Germany’s new government may be tougher on Russia and China. Which would suit our own. But there’s a snag.

30 Sep

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

Foreign policy rarely features much at election time, and Germany’s election last Sunday was no exception. It scarcely appeared during the three Chancellor candidates’ debates, conducted against a background of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Franco-American spat over AUKUS. The result, however, sets the stage for an change in German foreign policy to which the UK will need to adapt.

The centre-left SPD came out narrowly on top with 26 per cent of the vote and 207 seats in the Bundestag. Their Olaf Scholz is likely to move to the chancellery once coalition negotiations conclude.

Angela Merkel’s successor-to-be, Armin Laschet, suffered a true shocker. He gave his CDU/CSU Uniuon their worst ever result ever (24 per cent of the vote and 196 bundestag seats).

Next came the Greens, up a third to 15 per cent and 118 seats, and the liberal FDP (92 seats and 12 per cent).

The far right AfD and far left Die Linke got 10 per cent and five per cent respectively, as their core electorate of elderly former GDR residents dwindles. Fans of the Schlewsig-Holstein question will be delighted to observe the seat won by Stefan Seidler of the Danish minority SSW.

The big electoral shift is not so much the revival of the SPD, up a fifth on their 2017 result, or unmet expectations of the Greens, who did not do as well as their early summer polling suggested, but the decline of the CDU/CSU. This was partly down to an uninspiring and gaffe- prone candidate, but also because of its difficulties in keeping its vote together at a time of electoral fragmentation.

An important strand of the CDU has come to think that a hard-boiled national conservative politics could consolidate the right-wing vote by winning back supporters lost to the AfD. Friedrich Merz, who narrowly failed to become CDU leader after Merkel’s successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was forced out, epitomised that thinking. This week’s results put its futility beyond doubt. The CDU picked up 80,000 votes from the AfD this time around, but lost almost three million to the SPD, Greens and FDP. If even ultra-moderate Laschet was too right-wing for that many CDU voters, it is hard to see how an AfD-lite offering could not have done even worse.

This election has moved German politics in a liberal, pro-European, pro-green direction. Norbert Röttgen is the CDU man best placed to take advantage. Yet after its battering, the CDU/CSU is now divided about whether even to take part in coalition negotiations. Though Laschet claimed a mandate to enter talks with the Greens and the FDP, many in his party, including the influential Bavarian sister party leader, Markus Söder, are wary. After sixteen years in power, an exhausted Union could do with some time in opposition to refresh itself.

Though a CDU-led government remains an outside possibility, the most likely coalition will be the so-called “traffic light” made up of the SPD (red), FDP (yellow) and the Greens. In a savvy move, the smaller Greens and FDP have decided to forge a joint neogtiating platform (together they acccount for 210 seats, four more than the SPD) that they will then put to the bigger parties’ leaderships.

And although Greens and FDP differ on economics, their positions on foreign affairs are much closer than might be expected. With the Green co-leader, Annalena Baerbock, tipped for the foreign ministry, German foreign policy is not set for radical revolution (this is Germany after all), but it can expect to receive a sizeable shove.

Both parties want to see more foreign policy made at the EU level, and by qualified majorities (rather than unanimity as it is now). The FDP are explicitly in favour of a European army. And while the Greens have a pacifist inheritance that makes them skittish about anything involving nuclear weapons, they have come around to multilateral military deployments abroad. Watch for an effort to change the EU’s treaties to bring all this about. If the new coalition is with the SDP, policy towards Hungary and Poland will also toughen.

Beyond Europe, both these parties are also tougher on Russia and China than both the SPD (whose former leader works for a Russian state oil firm) and the CDU, more focused on human rights, and less on industrial exports. Though they are unlikely to be strong enough to stop the Nordstream 2 pipeline in Germany, expect them to push to have it subjected to tougher EU-level regulation.

Overall, this is an agenda with which the UK can work well — provided it realises that the new government will be even more disposed to conduct its foreign policy through the EU. Bilateral relations will remain polite, of course, but London will find it much easier to pursue its interests if it comes to terms with the growing EU foreign and defence establishment in Brussels and engages with it.

Stephen Booth: AUKUS has been an encouraging test for post-Brexit Britain

23 Sep

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

The landmark security partnership recently announced by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States reflects the new geopolitics of great power competition, prompted by the rise of China.

The new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS”, will see deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, ranging from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity and quantum computing.

The first initiative will be a collaboration on future nuclear-powered submarines, providing the Australian fleet with the US and UK technology for the first time. Canberra’s mounting concern at China’s growing naval capacities encouraged it to cancel an order for French diesel-electric submarines, prompting fury in Paris, and seek the higher spec US and UK nuclear-powered technology instead.

The new trilateral alliance is the latest pillar in US-led efforts to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and balance China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region. The US President has highlighted that this new phase of security cooperation will take place alongside a network of other relationships in the Indo-Pacific, such as the Quad, comprised of the US, Australia, India and Japan, whose leaders will meet in-person for the first time in Washington tomorrow.

New polling commissioned by Policy Exchange illustrates that the British public strongly welcomes a continuing US leadership role supported by allies. 54 per cent of Britons believe that when the US has strong cooperation from allies like the UK, the UK is more safe, as opposed to just eight per cent who believed it was less safe.

It is notable that Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, was quick to welcome the AUKUS announcement. Predictably, China has responded negatively to AUKUS, criticising its “cold-war mentality” and describing it as “extremely irresponsible”.

Ultimately, security is only one dimension of the changing strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific. Chinese growth has been central to Asia’s rising global economic importance.

But China has also sought to use economic levers to exercise its power in the region. Following Canberra’s public calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia has had to weather formal and informal Chinese trade restrictions on several of its export industries.

It may or may not have been a coincidence but, the day after AUKUS was announced, China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – the most advanced trade agreement in the region.

The forerunner to the 11-member CPTPP, known simply as the TPP, was not originally conceived as a grouping of geopolitical importance. However, when the US became involved and took a leading role in developing it, the Obama Administration was keen to highlight the strategic dimension. “With the TPP, we can rewrite the rules of trade to benefit America’s middle class. Because if we don’t, competitors who don’t share our values, like China, will step in to fill that void,” a White House factsheet said.

Ultimately, President Trump pulled the US out of the deal and it is Japan, as its largest economy, that has taken an increasingly important role within the CPTPP, including encouraging the UK to join it.

China’s application is unlikely to progress for the foreseeable future, since it will struggle to demonstrate adherence to some of the key elements of the deal, particularly the disciplines on state-owned enterprises, intellectual property, the free flow of data and labour standards.

Moreover, accession requires the unanimous approval of the existing members, including Australia and Japan, which would need some convincing given the current political climate. However, China’s application may be designed to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, forcing the wider CPTPP membership to debate the pact’s geopolitical role in relation to Beijing.

The UK is ahead of China in the queue to join the CPTPP, after all the existing members recently agreed to commence the formal accession process. If the UK’s membership bid is successful, it could work with others to facilitate US reengagement with the pact.

Biden’s team has suggested that trade agreements (not simply with the UK) are not a short-term US priority. However, China’s application might act as the catalyst for a reassessment of the CPTPP in Washington, which would greatly increase the economic and strategic benefits of membership to the UK.

Taken together, AUKUS and the UK’s CPTPP membership bid provide long-term substance to the UK’s “Indo-Pacific” tilt outlined in the Integrated Review. Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission, which presaged the tilt, stressed the need for a mutually reinforcing “twin-track” UK approach. One focused on trade, economics and technology issues, and another on security. Both aspects of Global Britain are now very much in action in the region.

Meanwhile, French anger at the loss of a lucrative submarine contract has been compounded by its exclusion from a new strategic alliance. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Paris sees further evidence of the need for European “strategic autonomy” to reduce dependence on Washington. However, the same formidable hurdles to realising this ambition remain.

AUKUS was announced on the eve of the publication of EU’s own Indo-Pacific strategy and caught Brussels somewhat on the hop. Interestingly, Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, was in London in the days immediately after the AUKUS announcement.

Rutte was reportedly laying the ground to invite the UK to take part in discussions about greater European security cooperation. Whether or not the current Government is open to exploring such an offer, the overture demonstrates that many smaller and Atlanticist EU member states are wary of a greater European role in defence and security, if no role can be found for the UK.

Ultimately, the UK might have entered the AUKUS were it still a member of the EU. But one of the major question marks against Brexit was whether it would see the UK lose its influence over global affairs as an independent nation state.

Recent events demonstrate that economic and security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined and adaptable alliances are becoming increasingly important. A flexible and nimble Global Britain has much to offer in such a world.

Jon Moynihan and Christopher Howarth: In an age of global insecurity, Truss’s appointment could mark a watershed in foreign policy

23 Sep

Jon Moynihan was the CEO and Chairman of PA Consulting Group, as well as a member of the board of Vote Leave. Christopher Howarth is a former accountant, lawyer and TA soldier.

The promotion of Liz Truss to Foreign Secretary has the potential to mark a watershed in British foreign policy. Creative, iconoclastic, and bullet resistant, Truss has, as Trade Secretary, made multiple trade breakthroughs by combining pragmatism and optimism.

Recognising as she does the great geopolitical changes around the world during just this past decade, she has the opportunity to make her mark on our history by formulating, with the Prime Minister, a new foreign policy approach for the UK, one that cashes the Brexit Dividend while recognising the dramatic changes in the world that have occurred over the past decade.

There has never been a golden age of global peace and prosperity, but the world has definitely worsened recently. The EU, not yet reconciled to UK departure and torn between an anxiety to contain Russia and a desire for Russia’s energy, is an always unreliable partner, with the France/AUKUS row showing that the EU and its member countries often act in opposite directions.

The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan threatens to recreate a safe haven for arms and terrorism exports. Biden’s fumbles and abandonment of Trump’s Middle East gains give Iran a renewed chance to further its nuclear and regional ambitions within the Shiite Arc and beyond, destabilising states from Yemen to Iraq and threatening Israel.

In Africa, South Africa’s continued implosion has accelerated. Further north, the arena around east Congo contains Hieronymus Bosch-like scenes of civil and interregional war, rape, slavery, and economic exploitation. Across Africa, an old tradition, the military coup, has re-emerged; both military and civil autocrats bolster themselves with Russian mercenaries.

The Indian subcontinent is now a more dangerous place because of Afghanistan’s implosion. Myanmar has taken a huge step backward. Thailand is repressive. South and Central America are the least concerning areas, but only by comparison; democratisations that followed the Falkland Islands war in the 1980s have steadily drifted leftwards, with Venezuela a stark yet apparently unheeded warning.

This brings us, finally, to the two greatest problems: Russia and China. Russia, even in its position of weakness, creates instability, threatens invasion, in its near abroad – Ukraine and Baltics in particular. In further-away countries, the Wagner Group spearheads a new colonialism.

The group of thugs and oligarchs around Putin maintain a steely extractive grip on their own country. Russia has a formidable cyber hacking arm which makes money (through ransomware) and disrupts the West.

Russia opportunistically allies itself with the far stronger China, whose intelligent and to date successful long-term policy, starting with the Belt-and-Road initiative, is quite clearly that of world domination.

In its near abroad, China extends its reach bit by bit, building roads into Pakistan and Afghanistan and railways toward Europe; building illegal villages in Bhutan and pushing Indian soldiers off Himalayan precipices. It refuses to bring North Korea to heel even as that country becomes an ever-greater nuclear and cyber menace (even as large numbers of North Koreans starve to death).

Despite the West’s long-held concern, that led to Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, China continues with its long-term maritime strategy, building piece-by-piece what is eventually likely to become the most formidable Navy in the world.

It builds ports in Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Gwadar and on; it fortifies islands and atolls across the vast expanses of China’s 9-dash-line claim; it threatens Taiwan. In the meantime, China extracts every last ounce of the West’s technological capability via legal and illegal routes; buying, spying, hacking, sending its students in waves to the west so as to learn and return.

The spectacle of China building a F-35 clone 10 years before expected was a wakeup. It highlighted that the role of science – in weapons development, cyber defence and offence, intelligence, and industry – is key, yet in the UK, as in most of the West, we are falling behind and are increasingly unable to protect even what IP we have.

These are some of the strategic challenges facing the UK. What should the UK response be?

In short, our new foreign policy doctrine should first, realise the Brexit dividend, and second, respond to the new bifurcated hegemonic structure: The US (no longer the global hegemon) with its allies, versus China and Russia with their satrapies.

The Brexit Dividend: The UK has not been a super-power for 100 years, but it is a significant power, one with a unique ability to be at the centre of alliances addressing current and future threats. Now we’re a fully sovereign power, we can forge our own policy based on our own interests, with full control of defence, trade and development.

The EU, built around a single market and customs union, always lacked a coherent foreign policy. The UK as a member was saddled with a trade policy serving the interests of others, not us, and a foreign policy unaligned even with the EU’s own trade agreements – the German or Cypriot veto, for example, preventing any serious criticism of Russia or China.

The Bifurcated Hegemony: things are going to get tougher. We will have to tighten our uses of trade and subordinate it and Aid to new geopolitical imperatives; anticorruption and cementing new treaties will have to take precedence over softer fashionable favourites.

Our new ability to focus on our own (and global) security came good in the recent AUKUS negotiations. The UK played to its strengths; a trading partner, trusted and with unique technology (more Brexit dividend: as an EU member the UK could not have discussed trade policy; would have had to support French interests; and would have been pressured to be more accommodating to China).

Promoting specific UK interests becomes central; no more need to outsource our development money (and trade deficit) to Brussels. A sovereign UK can use its aid and trade policy as twin tools to improve stability and growth in Africa, helping countries trade their way out of poverty –win-win for the UK in prosperity and influence.

In the Middle East we can work better with historic partners on security and trade. Joining CPTPP (the pacific trade partnership), and the hinted deemphasis of Canada and NZ from the 5eyes network, points to a more complex future, awash with interlocking networks and relationships of different strength.

We can also now push our objectives in global councils – protecting intellectual property, combating cyber espionage and theft, resisting authoritarian states seeking to subvert international organisations and our values. The UK now has the opportunity to work flexibly with different models to meet differing and emerging threats and opportunities. It’s an exciting new chapter in UK foreign policy.

Such an approach has the makings of a distinctly Conservative foreign policy; pragmatic but optimistic, believing in Britain, British values and a global role; with loyalty to old allies and friends and an instinctive belief that global engagement is good for both us and the world.

As Margaret Thatcher always clearly said: a decrease in British (and American) global influence would be very bad for the world. Fortunately, Truss, being a Thatcherite, recognises the opportunities the UK has. She brings to the Foreign Office unique insights into how to further UK interests and global stability. A new Johnson/Truss doctrine can put them into action.

Ben Roback: AUKUS shows that delivering ‘global Britain’ creates losers as well as winners

22 Sep

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

It has been a busy month for geopolitical analysts. Rarely does the world slow down, but a sluggish summer has turned into a busy autumn.

Joe Biden abandoned his globalist heritage and pulled the United States out of Afghanistan, taking the western coalition with him by default. Kabul fell and a once nascent democracy is now run by a terrorist organisation that diversity groups have been surprised to learn is clamping down on women’s rights.

The announcement of AUKUS – Australia, UK, USA – pulled the rug from the Five Eyes network and questioned the relevance of Canada and New Zealand, although Auckland frequently gives Beijing the benefit of the doubt to the frustration of the other four Eyes. France reacted with unprecedented fury, but in a bruising re-election campaign it was perhaps not surprising to see Emmanuel Macron lash out.

Energy politics has created a new frontier for international diplomacy, as ministers in Western Europe rush to warn their citizens that the lights won’t be going out any time soon. Raging wholesale gas prices have once again reminded continental Europe that hard politics often begins first with raw materials and natural power.

“Global Britain” creates winners and losers

At the United Nations, all of these factors are coming together. It is a good week to be Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan. From Downing Street’s perspective, it is a fresh chance to plant the Union Jack on the world stage and prove that “Global Britain” is more than just a strapline.

Johnson and Biden met yesterday in the White House, where the expected back-slapping bonhomie was missing owing to the Biden administration’s ongoing insistence on mask wearing.

There was plenty for the two men to discuss, chiefly the AUKUS trilateral, a fledgling US-UK FTA, Covid-19, and COP26. Although AUKUS featured only briefly in Downing Street’s published remarks, the newly minted partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States loomed large over the meeting.

It followed last week’s announcement in the East Room of the White House, where the President and Prime Ministers Johnson and Morrison announced the creation of a new trilateral grouping, “AUKUS”. It lacked the zip or panache of a “G7” or “Five Eyes”. Presumably “Bojo, ScoMo & Joe” was vetoed. The announcement proved the joint opportunity and challenge ahead for “Global Britain” – picking winners (in this case Australia and the United States) which results in losers (France).

“AUKUS: a partnership where our technology, our scientists, our industry, our defense forces are all working together to deliver a safer and more secure region that ultimately benefits all”, Morrison described. In the first instance, a signed agreement that would deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia.

The Australians “intend” to build these submarines in Adelaide, but from a British perspective there is a clear appeal given our own expertise in the field. After all, the Royal Navy launched our first nuclear submarine in the UK over 60 years ago, and the domestic manufacturing and skills base have never looked back since. Johnson’s remarks therefore turned quickly turned to the hundreds of highly skilled jobs that could be created across the UK.

From an international perspective, the three leaders were guarded about the rationale behind AUKUS. The “Indo-Pacific” was mentioned a dozen times in the shared remarks. China? Not once. But when world leaders talk about “threats in the Indo-Pacific region”, they mean Beijing’s expansionist tendencies.

China’s growing defence capability has caused grave concern in democratic capitals for decades. The 2020 Department of Defense’s China Military Report describes PRC as having the largest navy in the world. It has more ships than the United States, is the top ship-producing nation in the world by tonnage, and is increasing its shipbuilding capacity and capability for all naval classes.

AUKUS proved that geography matters in international politics. The UK has the domestic expertise to help provide the naval capacity the Australians need given their nautical proximity to China and Beijing’s ‘freedom of navigation’ missions. The US retains a clear interest in supporting measures to push Beijing back. Europe was simply a geographic and therefore political afterthought.

Whilst it was a bad week for Macron, who recalled France’s ambassador the United States for the first time in 243 years, AUKUS is a telling reflection of where international priorities lie for the Biden administration. International trade is viewed through the prism of reshoring jobs back to the United States, whilst the major international priorities are climate change and combatting the rise of China.

If the President was taking his international obligations more seriously, he would speed up the excruciatingly sluggish pace at which the White House is nominating ambassadors to supposedly key posts. The US still has no confirmed ambassador in Paris or London, at NATO or at the EU. It is unlikely that an approved ambassador would have changed the course of AUKUS events, but with more informed ears on the ground, Washington might have been better prepared for the fallout.

The AUKUS announcement has shifted the geopolitical sands further, whilst the dust has still far from settled in Afghanistan. Biden was supposed to bring a sense of calm and normality back to international policy, but he has become wildly unpredictable. In this instance, Macron’s loss was Johnson and Morrison’s gain.

In London, the Prime Minister has shown that “Global Britain” and “Levelling Up” can be delivered hand in hand. But just as the motivation for AUKUS was geographic proximity and Australia’s concern about a noisy neighbour, there are dozens of issues at home which rely on cooperation between the UK and France. The small boats carrying illegal immigrants from French shores to Britain’s is the Home Office’s top priority and said to be an increasing imperative for Johnson. Any solution will require increased collaboration between the UK and France just at the time when Paris is apoplectic with London.

Global Britain can be a guiding light for the United Kingdom, bold and brave outside of the EU, but the challenge becomes how to manage the winners and losers it creates.