Malcolm Rifkind: We need a global response to Beijing’s belligerence, inhumanity and mendacity

13 Jan

Sir Malcolm Rifkind was Foreign Secretary from 1995 until 1997 and was Minister of State in the Foreign Office from 1983-86. He was responsible for the final stage of negotiations with the Chinese Government over the return of Hong Kong to China.

A week today, assuming the constitutional democratic process takes its proper course, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President of the United States.

Immediately, he will face two challenges.

The first is that he is not Donald Trump. He will want to distance himself from everything his predecessor represents: belligerence, intolerance, rage, incompetence, incoherence and unilateralism.

He will want to prove himself to be the multilateralist, internationalist, engagement-minded president – and democrat – that we all hope for.

In some ways, he will make us all heave a sigh of relief.

At the same time, he should reject one of the mistakes of the Obama administration in which he served. Against the tyrants of the world, what counts is strength. Rhetoric, while welcome, must be accompanied by action if it is to mean anything.

And now more than any time there’s a need to stand up to Xi Jinping’s brutal regime in China.

Tonight, a major new report will be launched by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, titled The Darkness Deepens.

More than any other report in recent time, it provides the full catalogue of horrors of what Xi Jinping’s regime is up to, against its own people and against the free world.

Other reports have detailed individually the atrocities against the Uyghurs, the abuses in Tibet, the persecution of Christians, the suppression of dissent and the silencing of liberties in Hong Kong – but few have combined them all. This report weaves this house of horrors together.

It brings together the dismantling of freedom in Hong Kong, the atrocities in Tibet, the assault on freedom of religion and expression throughout China and the persecution of the Uyghurs, in a way that has seldom been combined before.

And it offers ways forward.

Crucially, the report makes clear, it is not anti-China – it is critical of the Chinese Communist Party regime.

The starting point is engagement and dialogue. But the issue is not should we talk, but what should we talk about and how. And an unavoidable topic of conversation should be human rights.

And then the next question is should we trade? And for me the answer is: yes, but on what terms?

Not on terms of bullying and intimidation. Not on ”wolf-warrior diplomacy”. And definitely not by surrendering our values.

And so we need a global response to Beijing’s belligerence, inhumanity and mendacity.

The British barrister Geoffrey Nice, who prosecuted Slobodan Milošević, now chairs an inquiry into atrocities facing the Uyghurs, and previously led an independent tribunal that concluded that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China continues, and constitutes a crime against humanity. In that tribunal’s final judgement, published early last year, the eminent panel of lawyers and experts advise that anyone interacting with the Chinese regime should do so in the knowledge that they are “interacting with a criminal state”. The free world must do more to counter that criminality.

That should mean, as the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission proposes, Britain leading the establishment of an international coalition of democracies to coordinate a global response to the human rights crisis in China, bringing together not only the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and our European allies, but countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others in Asia and beyond.

The British government should do more to help build support for the establishment of a United Nations mechanism to monitor human rights in China, as called for last summer by at least 50 serving UN independent experts and several former UN special rapporteurs, including Zeid Raad al-Hussain, the distinguished former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It is time to look at imposing targeted Magnitsky sanctions against key officials in the Chinese and Hong Kong regimes for serious human rights violations and breaches of international treaties.

We should be looking to diversify supply chains and reduce strategic dependence on China, and put our values and national security first when looking at Chinese investment in critical infrastructure and other sectors.

And while growing claims of genocide against the Uyghurs are not proven, there can be little doubt that what the Chinese regime is doing to the people in Xinjiang reaches the level of mass atrocities and can be considered to be attempted cultural genocide.

Last month an ingenious amendment to the Trade Bill that would prohibit trade deals with states found guilty of genocide was passed in the House of Lords by a majority of 287 to 181. What is striking is that it was introduced and supported by a cross-party group of peers that include Michael Forsyth, the former Conservative Cabinet minister, Lord Blencathra, former Conservative Chief Whip, Eric Pickles, former Conservative Party Chairman, along with Helena Kennedy, Labour peer and leading human rights barrister, Lord Alton, cross-bencher and former Liberal chief whip, the Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, bishops and numerous others across the House of Lords including David Hope, the former Supreme Court Justice. This is no collection of rebels, but some of the country’s most distinguished experts in their field, and therefore should be taken seriously.

The Government’s position has always been that it is for the courts, not politicians, to determine genocide, and I agree. But the problem is that our international judicial mechanisms for genocide determination are found wanting, due to the referral requirements and veto power of some countries, and the result all too often is government inaction in the face of mass atrocities. This amendment creates a vehicle, allowing for the High Court of England and Wales to make a determination and, in any given situation that it does so, the government is duty-bound to abandon any trade deals it may have or hope for with the regimes responsible. As Nice says, “no well-ordered state would want to be trading with a genocidal state.”

It is worth noting that this amendment does not apply retrospectively, and it does not violate multilateral trade commitments, only bilateral agreements. It doesn’t preclude further action at an international level – indeed it strengthens the case for it. And – given my own concern that the charge of genocide should only ever be made when there is indisputable evidence of mass killing and proof of intent – it would, according to Nice, “discourage, and probably significantly reduce, casual and often instrumental assertions that genocide is being committed.”

So it may or may not apply to China. But it would signal Britain’s intent – to the Chinese regime and every other brutal dictatorship – that we will not stand by while grave atrocities are committed. For these reasons I hope Members of Parliament will support it when it comes to the House of Commons.

The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s report on Xi Jinping’s human rights record follows its previous one in 2016, titled The Darkest Moment. As the Commission acknowledges, the title four and a half years ago was with hindsight a little premature, for the darkness has clearly deepened – hence the title of the new report. It makes sad reading, but it should be read in every foreign ministry in the world. If only the Chinese people could themselves read it too, for then they would realise the degree to which millions of their fellow citizens are persecuted and imprisoned by a cruel regime. That cruelty requires a robust, co-ordinated and effective response by the free world, and I hope Britain – together with the new US administration and our other allies, will lead that effort.

Jamie Green: Now that Brexit has finally happened, Scotland’s ambitions must stretch beyond Europe

12 Jan

Jamie Green is Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and an MSP for West Scotland.

They say that January is a time for renewal, new starts and new resolutions. After the 2020 we’ve just had, that message of renewal is more important than ever, but I can think of nobody in greater need of wiping the slate clean and replacing the broken record than our very own First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

I appreciate that it’s difficult for a veteran politician of 30 years to find somewhere to start fresh, but I might gently suggest to the First Minister that she embraces 2021 with a more positive vision of what Scotland can achieve going forward. Instead of endless re-running of votes and arguments, all of which she sadly lost, the leader of Scotland’s government needs to embrace the reality of the new world we are in.

“A No Deal Brexit would be a catastrophic outcome for Scotland” – she proclaimed, before ordering her MPs to vote for one in the closing days of 2020. To her, Brexit has always been an emotive weapon used to stir up division and further her grievance with the UK government. But also one of absolute hypocrisy and paradoxical ironies.

She would happily drive our fishermen and their fish straight back into the murky seas of the Common Fisheries Policy, and she would herd our farmers back behind the fences of the Common Agricultural Policy, if it meant achieving her lifelong political mission of Scottish separation, at the expense of everyone and everything else. Her swansong perhaps, at any cost.

Just last weekend, her own deputy labelled a second independence referendum “an essential priority” without a hint of irony, apparently unaware of the global pandemic and the mounting Coronavirus death toll in Scotland.

The truth is that she must be spitting nails at the UK’s orderly managed exit, because the SNP calculated it had more to gain by pushing for a chaotic departure rather than acting in the national interest. The truth is that the SNP was desperate for the final week of 2020 to be marked with disruption and for 2021 to begin with the very No Deal exit from EU transition that it had spent years condemning with the might of a pulpit preacher.

They talked of the cliff edge ad-infinitum, only to then vote for one when it came to the actual crunch: do as I say, not as I do.

Now that Brexit has finally happened, and we have actually left the EU, how on earth can Scotland be reassured that their First Minister will embrace the New Year and the opportunities that awaits us with the zeitgeist it merits? The problem for Scotland is that she won’t.

If only her separatist government put such effort into its domestic policy as it does its interest in repealing referenda, perhaps we wouldn’t have seen the demise of our world-class education, our judicial system or the seemingly perpetual decline of our economy under the reigns of the nationalist government in St. Andrew’s House in Edinburgh.

When you think about it, the only people who should be afraid of the new freedoms we have outside the EU, is the SNP. With more powers devolved to these islands, they might simply now have to deliver for Scotland rather than just pointing the finger at Westminster when things go wrong.

The bogeyman is neither Europe nor London. The power and responsibility lie firmly in Edinburgh. Be it agricultural policy, or fishing infrastructure. Be it environmental ambition or investment in infrastructure – the Scottish Government has much to account for and much to deliver.

The stark reality facing all governments is to make sure that Brexit actually works for everybody in Scotland, not just those who voted for it. Instead of listening to what Scotland can’t do without Brussels, I want our government to start talking about the opportunities on our doorstep. Our global ambition, if you like.

What about a study abroad scheme with Australia? A financial services agreement with the US, so firms in Edinburgh can have unfettered access to the multi trillion-dollar market in New York? Scotland will always be a close partner and ally of Europe, but our ambitions must stretch beyond the continent of the political union we have just taken leave of if we are to succeed.

Nobody is saying that things will be easy, but ambition is core to success.

We begin 2021 with a new deal, a new relationship, and a new future, which does require some patience I admit. But waiting is not a quality that Sturgeon can rely on, because the political life expectancy of SNP leaders who lose referendums is very limited, and she has been on the losing side of every referendum she has ever campaigned on.

Unlike the First Minister, I believe that Scotland can truly thrive outside of the constraints of Brussels. I want those powers of the Brexit bounty repatriated to these shores, so that every corner of the UK can take advantage of a global UK. The deal thrashed out with the EU, and accepted by both sides, means Scotland will succeed by not only having tariff-free access the European Single Market, but by allowing us to benefit from new free trading arrangements with economic giants such as the US, India, Japan, and Canada. Our whisky, our salmon, our smokies: a global market for a truly global Scotland.

It now just needs a First Minister with the resolution, a new found one if you will, to work with and not against the grain and make a success of our renewed place in the world.

Andrew Rosindell: How close we came to waking up in the backstop

8 Jan

Andrew Rosindell is the MP for Romford.

How close we came to waking up on January 1 trapped in the backstop. That misery would have been quickly overtaken by the new national lockdown announced on Monday night. But this would in no way have diminished in the longer-term the ramifications of being trapped in a customs union with no way out.

To the true Brexiteers, the sensible outcome to the Brexit process was always a Canada-style free trade agreement which took back control of our laws, money, borders and waters, while still allowing both the UK and the EU to trade together as equal partners on mutually-beneficial terms.

Unfortunately the EU spent the next few years in a desperate and arrogant attempt to punish our nation for the Brexit vote. It tried to trap our nation in a customs union, demanded tens of billions in exit fees, demanded a continuing role for its courts in UK affairs and made blood-curdling threats of economic punishment.

In a way it showed self-awareness. Because it is only with threats and traps – much in the fashion of the Chinese Communist regime (with whom the EU is now engaging in a nauseating romance) – does EU membership become preferable to the freedom of being a sovereign, independent nation.

All told, the EU generally appeared aghast at the affirmations by the British people of their democratic right to decide their future. To me this demonstrated that the only way out was a completely clean break: to walk away, for good if necessary.

It is why I and my Spartan colleagues voted on three separate occasions against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. If we hadn’t held out against the pleas of our colleagues, from both the Remain and Brexit wings of the party, then we would have woken up on New Year’s Day trapped in the backstop. What should have been a moment of restored sovereignty would simply be a new future paralysed by the EU’s protectionist trading bloc.

The Prime Minister voted for that deal, at the third attempt. I believe he feared for Brexit if the deal wasn’t passed. Fortunately for him, the Spartans gave Brexit a chance. And once Boris was at the reigns he was always ready to walk away. He realised no deal really is better than a bad deal.

With this strategy he was able to bring before the House of Commons an agreement which facilitates free trade with zero quotas and tariffs, without the UK being part of the Single Market or Customs Union and with no control over us by the European Court of Justice.

It will give us the freedom to chart our own course. It will mean the establishment of freeports and new enterprise zones to turbocharge the regions. It means we can change our VAT policy, for example on home insulation products as my friend and colleague John Redwood has noted.

It means we can revitalise nationally important industries with targeted support, such as shipbuilding. It means we can sign free trade deals with our closest friends and allies in the Commonwealth, and improve economic ties with some of the fastest growing economies.

Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, has already negotiated trade deals with 61 countries, including one deal, the UK-Japan FTA which goes beyond the existing EU-Japan agreement, particularly on data and digital matters. The backstop would have precluded much of this.

The new agreement with the EU is not perfect. There are flaws in the deal. The transition period for fisheries is too long, the Northern Ireland protocol threatens to divide our country and I am nervous of the separate deal on Gibraltar, given Spain’s record.

Finally, I was disappointed that our British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies did not seem to be fully included. I also share David Davis’s comments on this website, where he highlights how far ahead of the EU we are in many areas of regulation, particularly animal welfare, but also on energy and labour law. Any arbitration panel which rules on deviations from the “level playing field” must recognise that there is no “level playing field” at present. It is the EU undercutting the UK in many ways.

There are problems, then. However, I and my colleagues have come to the conclusion that this is still a good agreement: it restores our sovereignty, avoids temporary disruption of ‘no deal’ and avoids the acrimony which would define UK-EU relations going forward if no agreement had been reached.

There is nothing in the agreement which compromises our sovereignty in the manner of the backstop. Yet where there are flaws, there are fights still to be had. I have demonstrated that I am ready for these battles, as have my fellow Spartans.

For now, let’s celebrate the restoration of sovereignty to these islands and move onto the next challenge: getting the country vaccinated, lifting these Covid-19 restrictions, and revving up the UK economy for a new, better, more prosperous and, I hope, a more united decade.

The Deal in Detail 6): Law and Constitution

1 Jan

Richard Ekins is Head of Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project and Professor of Law and Constitutional Government in the University of Oxford.

In his foreword to the Government’s explanation of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the Prime Minister says “the agreement provides for the UK to take back control of our laws, affording no role for EU law and no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. The only laws we will have to obey are the ones made by the Parliament we elect.”

Strictly, no agreement with the EU has ever been necessary for the UK to take back control of its laws, but the Prime Minister’s point is that nothing in this new agreement requires the UK to conform to EU law or otherwise to be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The truth of this claim is obviously important. So too is the question of whether, even if the ECJ’s jurisdiction is brought to an end, the agreement might (inadvertently) compound the problem of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), strengthening its jurisdiction over the UK by tying it to free trade with the EU.

Like the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, when ratified, will be an international treaty between the UK and the EU. Both agreements make provision for dispute resolution, and in neither agreement is the ECJ the arbiter, for the obvious reason that the ECJ is the EU’s own court.

However, parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, especially the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, do make provision for EU law to continue to apply, in relation to which the ECJ has a continuing role. In adopting the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK agreed to legislate to give some of the agreement’s terms domestic legal force, including priority over other legislation.

There is no such requirement in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and the agreement does not import concepts of EU law or otherwise make provision for the UK to be subject to ECJ rule. The only limited exception concerns continuing UK participation in EU programmes, such as Horizon, in relation to which the ECJ obviously has a role. However, this is quite different from the UK agreeing to follow EU law and agreeing to be subject to the ECJ’s jurisdiction.

The Agreement creates a complex network of institutions that will manage relations between the UK and the EU across various fields. In the event of disputes, different options will be open, depending on the context, including third-party arbitration. In some cases, the UK and the EU may be free to suspend performance of obligations in retaliation to breaches. The UK and the EU will thus enforce the agreement by way of arbitration and diplomacy. The EU cannot enforce the agreement against the UK by way of the ECJ, which has no relevant jurisdiction.

At various points during the negotiations, the EU has sought from the UK an undertaking that it would remain a member state of the ECHR and would agree not to amend or repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. This was an obviously unreasonable negotiating aim. Happily, the Agreement contains no such undertaking. The point might seem academic because it is Government policy for the UK to remain party to the ECHR. However, the UK’s treaty right to leave the ECHR is an important protection. It would be open to a successive government, led by a latter-day Clement Attlee for example, to choose to leave. While the Agreement is to some extent conditional on mutual human rights assurances, they fall well short of an undertaking not to denounce the ECHR and thus to protect human rights by other (better) means.

In the opening words of the preamble to the Agreement, the UK and the EU reaffirm “their commitment to democratic principles, to the rule of law, to human rights, to countering proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to the fight against climate change, which constitute essential elements of this and supplementing agreements”.

Part Six, which concerns dispute resolution, again confirms that these are “essential elements” of the agreement. The UK and the EU agree to continue to uphold shared values and principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and reaffirm their respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the international human rights treaties to which they are parties. The UK is of course a party to the ECHR, but the agreement does not mention the ECHR at this point (the EU has a treaty commitment to join the ECHR, but the ECJ has frustrated its fulfilment; EU member states are parties to the ECHR). Respect for treaties to which one is a party is consistent with maintaining a right to leave in future.

Part Six provides that either the UK or the EU may terminate or suspend the operation of the Agreement if there has been “a serious and substantial failure” by the other party to fulfil any of the obligations that are essential elements of the Agreement. However, the agreement specifies that any measures adopted would have to be proportionate and for a failure to be serious and substantial failure, “its gravity and nature would have to be of an exceptional sort that threatens peace and security or that has international repercussions”.

The Agreement specifies that defeating the object and purpose of the Paris Agreement would count, but there is no mention of leaving the ECHR. The omission is justified, because denouncing the ECHR would not itself be a failure of respect for human rights. On the contrary, it might well be a decision that human rights, democracy and the rule of law are better realised by a mature parliamentary democracy not subject to the ECHR’s jurisdiction. While the EU might attempt to argue that denouncing the ECHR was a breach of the Agreement, the argument would be weak indeed. It would also be superfluous because the EU, like the UK, is free to terminate the entire Agreement provided it gives twelve months’ notice.

Part Three of the Agreement, which concerns law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, is somewhat more specific. The Agreement notes that the basis for cooperation is that the UK, the EU, and EU member states have long respected democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, including rights set out in the UDHR and the ECHR, as well as the importance of giving domestic effect to the ECHR.

The Agreement disavows any intention to modify existing obligations to respect fundamental rights, especially those affirmed in the ECHR or, on the part of the EU and its member states, in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Part Three permits the UK or the EU to terminate this part of the Agreement by giving nine months’ notice (other parts of the Agreement also provide for partial termination on nine months’ notice).

It also provides for earlier termination if the reason for termination is that the UK or an EU member state has denounced the ECHR, , specifying that in this case this part shall case to have effect from the date on which denunciation becomes effective (which the ECHR provides requires six months’ notice). Denouncing the ECHR would neither breach Part Three nor vitiate a condition on which the continuing application of Part Three depends; instead, the EU would have to choose to exercise its right to terminate.

In ratifying this agreement, the UK will not be undertaking not to withdraw from the ECHR, let alone not to amend or repeal the Human Rights Act. If the UK subsequently exercises its treaty right to leave the ECHR, it will be choosing, like Australia, Canada or New Zealand, to live without an international (regional) human rights court.

Whether to make this choice is an important question of foreign policy, a question with significant constitutional implications. Leaving the ECHR would not be a breach of the Agreement. It would not justify suspension or termination of agreed terms of trade. It might be a reason for the EU to terminate law enforcement and judicial cooperation, but that would be a choice for the EU to make and the EU, like the UK, is in any case free to terminate the Agreement. If the UK were to leave the ECHR, it would be prudent to provide assurances to the EU that there would be no relevant change in the protection of liberty within domestic law. But whether to leave the ECHR, and how to protect human rights, would remain for the UK freely to decide.

This is the sixth of a series of pieces from Policy Exchange looking at specific issues that arise from the Brexit trade deal.

Ranil Jayawardena: The trade deals keep coming. And today, as the new EU agreement takes effect, we look forward to more.

1 Jan

Ranil Jayawardena is Minister for International Trade, and is MP for North East Hampshire.

In 2019, I voted against Theresa May’s deal three times. Not because I wanted to leave the EU with No Deal, but because I believed we deserved better. This was the view of the British people too and, as Boris Johnson, David Frost and their team have proven, a better deal was possible. It is this deal – in force from today – that unleashes Britain’s potential, at home and around the world.

We are no longer restricted by the EU and can demonstrate our true potential on the world stage. In the last few weeks, I am delighted that we have secured trade deals with our good friends in Kenya, Vietnam, Singapore, and many more. Just this week, we signed a trade agreement with Turkey, a major win for British automotive, manufacturing and steel industries. These deals are only the tip of the iceberg in our mission to establish a truly Global Britain, leading from the front and championing free and fair trade.

In just two years, the United Kingdom has agreed trade deals with 63 countries outside the EU, from Japan and South Korea to Moldova and Mexico. This in itself is an unprecedented achievement, as no other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously.

We’ve secured preferential trading terms for some £217 billion in non-EU bilateral trade, including the deal we signed with Japan – negotiated in record time and virtually – which guarantees better provisions for our world-leading services, digital and data sectors.

Britain is – once again – an independent trading nation, free to look beyond the horizon and seize the opportunities out there. It is through trade that she can build ever stronger partnerships around the world that not only generate economic value but, importantly, support our values – protecting our natural environment, defending democracy, and helping to transform the lives of people less fortunate around the world for the better.

We have now secured 97 per cent of the trade value that we set out to reach agreements for first, beyond the EU. And there’s more to come. Trade talks – as will now be apparent to all – often go down to the wire.

Laying the foundations for ambitious new trade deals

These agreements provide a strong foundation for our future trading relationships as we look to strengthen further trade ties globally through negotiating new and ambitious free trade agreements. By working together with forward-looking, like-minded nations, we will secure ambitious trade deals that benefit great British businesses, keep consumers in mind, and drive economic growth globally.

Our United Kingdom-Canada continuity trade deal signed this month slays the foundations – and secured commitment – to begin negotiating a bespoke British deal this year.

And our United Kingdom-Mexico deal enshrines our commitment to start negotiating a new trade deal with our Mexican friends too, which will secure even more benefits for British industry, and go further in areas of mutual interest such as data, digital trade, services and intellectual property.

That’s in addition to our ongoing negotiations with United States, Australia and New Zealand.

And our deal with Kenya, delivers long-term certainty, and preferential conditions, for businesses in both countries, benefitting consumers and investors, and supporting economic development. The deal has been constructed in such a way that other countries in East Africa will be able to join it and benefit their own people whenever they are ready.

Many of these deals and negotiations are significant steps towards Britain’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) too, to which we aim to apply for formal accession in early 2021.

Joining the CPTPP would put Britain at the heart of an increasingly influential trade network of 11 dynamic economies in the Asia-Pacific region that already accounts for 13 per cent of global GDP and would rise to 16 per cent with our accession. This is a trade network that doesn’t tell countries how to govern themselves nor how they can trade with their friends – but it does help remove tariffs on 95 per cent of goods.

All of this is ultimately good news for great British manufacturers, producers and exporters, supporting jobs in every corner of the United Kingdom. But it is not just our businesses that will benefit. British consumers will be able to continue to enjoy cheaper household goods on supermarket shelves from Chilean Wine to Kenyan Tea.

We have secured all this against the odds and facing unprecedented challenges.

The deals we’ve done are just the beginning, but they do set out clearly our ambition as a free trading nation to champion British interests and push for ambitious and forward-thinking trade partnerships. And that’s why I have been getting into the detail with our friends in India and the subcontinent, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Mercosur.

Our future trading relationships, over the next few years, will be based on strong relationships and will be all about the detail.

Global Britain in the years ahead

Having served as the Conservative Party’s Deputy Chairman – and Vice-Chairman previously, with responsibility for policy – I enjoyed meeting Party members, listening to Parliamentarians, and working with the Cabinet and advisers in devising our manifesto ahead of the General Election, then campaigning on it on the doorsteps of constituencies across the country.

One of its clear promises was to secure free trade deals with countries that cover 80 per cent of our trade within three years – and it is good news that we are well on our way. All the folks at the Department for International Trade have been working flat out to strike the trade deals we have.

But it is clear that, now more than ever, we must also look to new markets, to help diversify our trade routes and supply chains in regions like Latin America, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific.

As Britain lifts her eyes for the first time in almost 50 years, our guiding principle over the next few years will remain the same; we will negotiate new trade deals that champion the interests of British businesses and the British people.

Global Britain is here, and is ready to show the world her true potential once again.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Now we will have what the British people really wanted – tariff and quota-free trade with the EU

30 Dec

Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the House of Commons, and is MP for North East Somerset.

The real surprise and significance of the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union is its normality. It is not in itself the reclamation of sovereignty, which happened in January but the expression of that reclamation.  That is why Parliament is being recalled, for although the agreement is satisfactorily comprehensive, it is the type of deal this country could do with other sovereign nations or trading partnerships.

This has been achieved because of the negotiating panache of David Frost and Oliver Lewis, who matched Michel Barnier for capability. Many eurosceptics have a striking admiration for Barnier, who epitomises Gallic sophistication, and who had successfully outfoxed previous British negotiators. Regardless of their abilities, they could not have achieved the right outcome without the backbone of the Prime Minister, making it clear throughout that he would walk away from a bad deal.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Act emphasised this point. The British were reclaiming their sovereignty, and were not interested in the typical type of international fudge that could have potentially overturned the voters’ decision. For in truth that is where the real strength and courage lay, in 2015 by voting for a referendum, in 2016 by voting to leave, in 2017 by trusting the vacuous promises of both parties that Brexit meant Brexit, and by the resounding result in 2019, the electorate ignored all the doom-mongering to demand, request and require its right. As of Churchill, so perhaps of Johnson: “it was the nation …that had the lion’s heart …I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”

Thus, this Agreement reflects what the British people repeatedly voted for” a zero tariff, zero quota, free trading agreement with the EU, outside its legal control, unbound from the EU’s treaties and courts. The Prime Minister always said a Canada-style agreement best reflected his ambitions, and this is what he has achieved.

The normality of this deal should not overshadow its landmark status. It is the largest free trade agreement that either the UK or the EU have agreed, and the first ever zero-tariff, zero-quota trade deal that the EU has signed. As with mercy, free trade “blesseth him that give it and him that takes.” For all the talk about punishment, ratchet clauses and defensive interests, this truth guided the Prime Minister and it is embedded in this agreement.

Just like any other free trade agreement, this deal is made up of a number of reciprocal agreements, overseen independently, as a piece of international, rather than European, law. Provisions such as non-regression clauses exist in such agreements across the world. It would be irregular for such a deal where each party did not agree to act in good faith in this way. Far from leaving us in a state of vassalage, this agreement is a great opportunity for regulatory competition, from which Britons and Europeans will benefit.

This is the relationship that the United Kingdom always wanted with Europe. One of understanding and close cooperation, but one in which the United Kingdom is free to follow its own path. The last few decades showed that it was impossible to do so from within the confines of the EU. Now there is a treaty that the British people welcome: not an unaccountable and opaque European Directive, but a foundational agreement that is accountable to Parliament.

From 1st January, the nation’s laws will be made here, in Parliament and interpreted by British courts. They will be free from the oversight of the European Court of Justice, which will have no role to play in either British affairs, nor relationships with the EU and its member states. At the beginning of the year, the EU insisted that European law and the ECJ would apply to our future relationship. This was intolerable. It would have tied the United Kingdom into the EU’s orbit in perpetuity, Le Goulet on steroids.

It restores the opportunity to embrace the opportunities of the open seas, and it is a national responsibility to ensure these opportunities are realised by future generations. With the newly-established Turing Scheme, British students will be able to be in the vanguard of a renewed economic and cultural exploration of the world.

This Agreement opens a great potential future for Britain. It is now in our own hands to forge our own destiny, free to pursue British interests and prosperity in our own way and to build a lasting entente-cordiale with our European friends. This will be far more beneficial for Britain and Europe alike than our increasingly tetchy relationship within the Union.

Along with this opportunity comes accountability; there are no European Directives to hide behind anymore. This is a process which will change Britain for the better, but our responsibilities to the public are greater than ever before. It is up to Parliament and the Government to ensure the fruits of sovereignty are prosperity and liberty to the British people.

Stephen Booth: This trade deal delivers both the UK and the EU’s main objectives. It gives us freedom – which comes at a price.

29 Dec

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

Much of the analysis of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement will flow from underlying prejudices. “The UK shouldn’t have left”, “we don’t need a trade deal with the EU”, “the UK should have or could have asked for X or Y”. It is, however, more instructive to assess the deal against the Government’s stated aims and, for that matter, what the EU said it wanted.

Brexit will have economic and geopolitical consequences. But, ultimately, it is a constitutional question for both Brexiteers and Brussels. In the foreword to the UK explainer, the Prime Minister cites “restoring national sovereignty” as the “central purpose of leaving the EU”.

Meanwhile, the EU’s brochure is quick to stress that, even under the new agreement, the UK will lose the benefits of membership. “This will recreate barriers to trade in goods and services and to cross-border mobility and exchanges that have not existed for decades,” it says. In other words, freedom comes at a price.

The past year of negotiations has not simply been an exercise in haggling over the price of UK legal independence from the EU system. At times, it seemed Brussels was simply unwilling to recognise this principle as part of a negotiated settlement. The EU had initially demanded dynamic alignment with EU law, enforced via the European Court of Justice (ECJ). And it demanded a continuation of existing EU fishing rights in UK waters, despite the UK’s departure from the Common Fisheries Policy.

A Brexit government with a significant majority could not have accepted such a deal. Nonetheless, convincing the EU to conclude a deal that does recognise the UK as a “sovereign equal” is a significant achievement for the negotiating team led by David Frost. The agreement is based on international law, there is no role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and no requirement for the UK to continue following EU law. Under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, ECJ jurisprudence will continue over some issues in the province. Despite this, there has been a calming of Northern Irish tensions over the issue.

As has been noted before, this negotiation was unique, since it was driven by the desire for separation rather than integration. Therefore, any agreement essentially had to do two things. First, establish the new baseline for the UK-EU economic relationship (or the degree of dislocation) and, second, address how further divergence (or convergence) in the future should be managed.

The deal’s main feature is ensuring there are no tariffs or quotas on goods traded between the UK and the EU, where they meet the relevant rules of origin. This is significant because it is the first time that the EU has agreed a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal with any other trading partner (for example, the EU retains a small number of tariffs on Canadian agricultural exports). Certainly, businesses would have liked more time to adjust to the new relationship, but the deal provides important stability for the sectors most vulnerable to a no deal Brexit, such as agriculture, automotive, aerospace and chemicals.

The UK has secured some simplifications for customs formalities and important provisions for haulage, but there will be new frictions on UK-EU trade. For example, the EU refused to reduce the frequency of checks on food imports and has insisted that some products be certified by EU rather than UK testing bodies. The provisions on services are limited. The cost of doing business with the EU will be increased as a result.

There are several issues that could evolve in future. UK professional qualifications will not be recognised at the outset, but there is a mechanism to do so in the future. Arrangements for personal data and financial services remain dependent on unilateral EU decisions, due to be taken next year, which might provide a basis for further cooperation.

On fishing, a delicate balance has been struck. 25 per cent of EU boats’ fishing quota in UK waters by value will be transferred to the UK fleet, over a period of five-and-a-half years. The Government says this will bring the share of the total catch taken in UK waters by UK vessels to around two thirds. After this period, there will be annual talks on the amount EU boats can catch in UK waters (and vice versa). The UK would then have the right to completely withdraw EU access to UK waters. However, in response, the EU could impose tariffs on fish or other goods exports from the UK. These measures would need to be proportionate to the impact of the loss of access and are subject to arbitration. This means that the annual negotiations from 2026 could yet become a difficult political battleground.

The UK probably gave a little more than it would have liked to. However, the amount of fish caught in UK waters by UK vessels will increase, the UK has maintained tariff- and quota-free access to the EU market where much of the UK catch is sold, and the agreement establishes the principle of the UK’s status as an independent coastal state. It is undoubtedly an improvement on the status quo and, at this point, it is not clear the UK has the capacity to catch all the fish available.

The other major contentious issue throughout the negotiations has been the level-playing field. The agreement is a reasonable solution to satisfy the UK’s demand for regulatory independence and address the EU’s concern that future divergence may result in distortions to trade or investment.

The UK has agreed not to lower its existing standards on employment and the environment or use subsidies to unfairly distort trade. Both sides would also have the right to take countermeasures, such as imposing tariffs, if they believe they are being damaged by future changes to subsidy policy, labour and social policy, or climate and environment policy. As such, any dispute would only concern the effects of any changes to UK legislation, rather than whether UK rules are exactly the same as the EU’s.

This “rebalancing mechanism” has the potential to get messy if it is used frequently. However, crucially, any countermeasures are subject to independent arbitration, which means there would need to be solid justification for any EU tariffs in response to UK divergence. Tariffs cannot be used arbitrarily by the EU for leverage over the UK in the future. Ultimately, a race to the bottom on standards was always likely to be a bigger EU concern in theory than in practice. The reality is that the UK is likely to be equally as ambitious as the EU in many of these areas, such as climate change or animal welfare commitments, and perhaps more so.

In summary, this agreement is a considerable political achievement, because it manages to combine independence from the EU’s regulatory system with a high degree of market access (relative to comparable trade agreements, rather than EU membership). At times, this appeared impossible and, therefore, the UK’s strategy has been vindicated.

The deal recognises that the UK-EU relationship will continue to evolve. There could be future disputes but the deal is likely to provide stability for the next five to ten years when the world will no doubt be different again.

It is equally important that the country can move on and devote its energies to the future, both with regards to domestic policy and international relationships beyond Europe.

This is the first of a new series of pieces by Policy Exchange for Conservative Home looking at the various issues that arise from the Brexit trade deal.

Alberto Costa: There are too many barriers to Britishness. Post-Brexit, it’s time for a more welcoming citizenship policy.

10 Dec

Alberto Costa is the MP for for South Leicestershire.

Citizenship, being British, plays a foundational role in our society. It is a shared bond between us. Yet successive Labour and Conservative governments have neglected citizenship policy to such an extent that it’s been hard to tell if its aim has been to encourage people to become citizens or to try to deter them. We are now presented with an ideal moment to put that right.

With Britain having left the EU and with a new, points-based immigration system in place, our Prime Minister has an opportunity, as part of his Global Britain agenda, to be banging the drum for Britishness and a more positive, welcoming approach to citizenship for those who wish to settle and contribute to the UK.

The independent inquiry into citizenship policy, which I chaired for the respected think tank British Future, publishes its report today, setting out practical proposals for reform. Discussing these issues with the inquiry panel – which included fellow Conservative MP Steve Double and Fraser Nelson, Editor of The Spectator, as well as Andrew Gwynne MP from the Labour benches and voices from civil society – has strengthened my belief that we can galvanise a broad consensus for a positive citizenship agenda.

Research for the inquiry found two thirds of the British public agreeing that if someone decides to live in Britain long-term, it is a good thing if they have an opportunity to become British by taking citizenship. So it makes sense that UK citizenship policy should welcome those who want to make this commitment to our country and who pass the various tests of eligibility: speaking good English, being of good character, and knowing about the UK’s customs and culture.

Just as the new points-based immigration system draws on the experience of Australia and Canada, we could learn much from their approaches to citizenship too. The Canadian handbook for new citizens opens with a warm message of welcome from the Queen. However, Her Majesty does not appear in our Life in the UK handbook until page 121. It is a symbolic point – but we could very simply and easily emulate that welcoming, positive tone towards those who are seeking to become British.

If we agree that becoming British is to be welcomed (and I would hope all Conservatives would welcome full integration of those contributing to our country), citizenship should not be placed beyond the financial reach of, for instance, many social care or NHS staff and their families, nor be so complicated that most people can’t apply without a lawyer. If we believe that it can aid integration, we should make it easier, not harder, for children born here to become citizens.

British citizenship is special – but we do not make it special by setting unnecessary barriers. ConservativeHome readers may be shocked to learn that the cost of citizenship in the UK is the highest in the western world. Indeed, the combined cost of applying for citizenship in Australia, Canada, the USA and France still does not add up to the cost of a single application in Britain. The fee of £1,330 is almost four times the cost to the Home Office of processing an application.

As part of the latest Global Britain agenda, as Conservatives we are now seeking to attract the brightest and the best through our new points-based immigration system. A positive citizenship agenda would encourage those whom we are now seeking to attract and who have chosen our country as the place to contribute, settle, raise a family and pay their taxes, to take that extra step and consider citizenship. It should review citizenship policy – covering eligibility, processes and costs – to secure the benefits that citizenship can bring for shared identity and integration.

And at the end of the process when people do eventually become British citizens, we should welcome them and celebrate their becoming British – not hide the events away in some gloomy council building. New, high-profile citizenship ceremonies – held in iconic British locations such as the Palace of Westminster, Edinburgh Castle or Old Trafford – would send a clear message that this is something of which we can all be proud.

Our report goes on to propose an annual, high-profile ceremony where Her Majesty the Queen and the Prime Minister award honorary citizenship to a select number of people who have been outstandingly brave or made a great contribution to life in the UK, either as an individual or because they represent a particular group whose contribution is valued, such as NHS staff or those who helped develop the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine.

Debates about migration, and who can come to the UK, have now been largely settled. It is time to focus on the people who have made their lives here, and on ensuring that a Global Britain embraces those who want to contribute to our shared society. So it is my hope that the Prime Minister, and indeed all of us as Conservatives, will seize this opportunity to take a new, pro-Britishness approach to citizenship, welcoming those who have made this country their home.

Alexander Downer: A forward-thinking UK should shift the weight of its strategic policy towards the Indo-Pacific region

24 Nov

Alexander Downer is the Chairman of Policy Exchange, a former Australian High Commissioner to the UK and former Australian Foreign Minister.

Anyone who thinks Brexit represents the UK retreating pathetically from the modern world into “splendid isolation” – and that this is how our departure from the EU is viewed by our international allies – should read The New York Times a bit less, and listen more to the voices of world leaders and friends of this country who say differently.

Three recent examples stand out for me. The first is Stephen Harper, former Canadian Prime Minister, Chairman of the International Democrat Union – an alliance of Conservative and right-leaning parties – and Chair of Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission. Announcing the launch of that commission over the summer, he argued that the “declinist” view of the UK “flies in the face of much available evidence”, noting that “Britain remains the world’s fifth largest economic power, with a proud history as a seafaring, trading nation and a commercial network that has outlasted the Empire”. He is spot on.

The second is Shinzo Abe, former Japanese Prime Minister, and the most significant Asian democratic politician of the post-war era. In the foreword to the new report from Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission, published on Monday, he says: “As a leading global power, Britain has a major role to play in the Indo-Pacific,” observing that “on the security front, the British military, and the Royal Navy in particular, will be a welcome presence in the seas of the Indo-Pacific.”

Third comes Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, who was awarded the inaugural Policy Exchange Grotius Prize, named in honour of the founding father of international law, on Monday. On the commission’s proposal for Britain to shift the weight of its strategic policy toward the Indo-Pacific, he said: “I couldn’t agree more and have conveyed the same to Boris. I endorse the report’s ‘new vision for a reinvigorated community of free and independent nations with one overriding goal in mind: to reinforce a sustainable rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region (IPR) that is resilient but adaptable to the great power realities of the 21st century.’”

There you have it. We’ve grown used, in recent decades, to gloomy domestic talk of Britain’s post-imperial decline but – as I have found in my own experience, as Australia’s Foreign Minister and latterly as the Australian High Commissioner in London – international perspectives tend to tip the scales the other way. The UK’s friends are united in their belief that there is an important role for this country to play and a whole world beyond Europe that wishes to give a very warm welcome.

Nowhere is that more true than the Indo-Pacific – home to some of the fastest-growing economies of the 21st century. Britain, out of national self-interest more than anything else, should be working hard to build new trading relationships here, backed up with diplomatic and military heft. It is a very positive sign that the first major free trade deal signed by UK Government was with Japan, the third largest economy in the world.

As Liz Truss, the UK’s International Trade Secretary, recognised at the time, the deal was an important step towards joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would, she argued, “give UK business a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region and help to increase the resilience and diversity of our supply chains”. Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission backs up that idea strongly, noting that it would link the UK to more than 13 per cent of global GDP and the world’s third-largest free trade area.

As the report also makes clear, there has been far too much focus in foreign policy circles over the last 30 years on the economic and military might of China, at the expense of the rest of the Indo-Pacific region. I firmly believe that China should be engaged with, rather than contained, and that its importance to the world’s economy has only been underlined in the past year as we have battled a pandemic that emerged in Wuhan and led to a global economic shutdown.

However, even in a year such as the one we have had, it is vital to note the huge economic transformation that has been going on in China in recent decades is part of a wider regional trend driven by other economic powerhouses, including Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, India the Association of South East Asian Nations, and Australia.

Of course, Britain cannot overplay its hand in the region as it seeks to play a greater role in what used to be called “east of Suez” in colonial times. Wisely, the emphasis in the Commission’s report – contributed to by key political and diplomatic thinkers in countries from New Zealand to Sri Lanka – is not on the UK acting as a “leader” in the Indo-Pacific, but rather as an “enabler” and facilitator for others in the region, which should take the lead.

This will apply in particular to one of the most attractive ideas in the report – a new Indo-Pacific Charter, which would in effect be a clear set of mutually shared aspirations for the future of future of Indo-Pacific relations that other major global players like the UK, and the US – which has a greater military and diplomatic presence there than any other foreign power – can support.

This charter could be as significant in the 21st century as the Atlantic Charter, signed by Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941, was in the 20th century. Suggested principles include no nation being “prevented by any other from free and full access to the high seas/global commons of the Indo-Pacific, for any peaceful purposes, including trade”. Without basic rules such as this, the region clearly will struggle to prosper.

There can be no forcing or co-opting of independent sovereign nations into submitting to such principles. But the idea, as Morrison observed in his brilliant speech accepting the Grotius Prize, is instead nations “freely submitting to such rules” around economic, security and global environmental issues “because it is in their broader national interest to do so”.

It will be in Britain’s national interest to engage more fully in the future in a prosperous Indo-Pacific. Likewise, as we have seen with Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission report and the warm response to it, nations in the region see it as in their national interest to welcome the UK with open arms.

The proposed foreign aid cut. Many Tories are against it. But Sunak has limited options as he tries to salvage the economy.

18 Nov

Given the Coronavirus crisis is estimated to have cost the UK £210 billion and counting, the Government is under enormous pressure to explain how it will pay its debt back. One of the ways Rishi Sunak is reportedly planning to do this is by cutting foreign aid, which he is expected to announce in a spending review next week.

Currently, the UK spends 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid, a target that is recommended by the United Nations and was written into law when David Cameron was in office. But the Chancellor apparently wants to bring this down to 0.5 per cent. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said of the idea: “we are looking at how the aid budget is spent, ensuring it serves the UK’s priorities and represents value for money. It is legitimate to consider where savings can be made when the public finances are under huge strain.” 

Several prominent Conservatives have opposed the move. Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, said: “The damage would be we are retreating from the global stage at the very time when we should be doing exactly the opposite.” Jeremy Hunt and Bob Neill are also against it, as is Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, apparently, who previously dismissed reports it would be cut as “tittle tattle”. Cameron’s disapproval has been made known in several newspapers.

One concern is that a reduction would harm international relations. Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary, said: “It would be an extraordinary decision at the very point at which Britain is about to take over the chairmanship of the G7, with a new administration in the White House which will strongly champion the international system”, and Anthony Mangnall, the Tory MP for Totnes, echoed these concerns.

Others point out the moral case for keeping foreign aid as it is, given that the pandemic is when the world’s poorest people need help the most. Even before the cut was suggested, the Government was due to spend less than its anticipated £15.8 billion this year, due to a contraction in the economy. When Conservatives have spent tremendous sums on the flawed contact tracing app, PPE, and other Covid projects, some might call foreign aid a drop in the ocean.

And yet, others will say the cut is necessary at a time of intense national need. Given the Conservatives won last year’s election with a manifesto based on “levelling up” the UK, by way of domestic investment and infrastructure, the Government no doubt believes voters want this to be reflected when the Chancellor plans the economic recovery.

If there is a cut to 0.5 per cent, it’s also worth remembering that the UK will still be one of the biggest global contributors to foreign aid. In 2019 and 2018, it was one of only five countries to hit the UN’s 0.7 per cent aid target (level with Denmark, but below Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden), and there’s an argument that other countries need to increase their spending. New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the USA have not reached 0.5 per cent, never mind 0.7 per cent. 

Furthermore, it is understood that Boris Johnson wants this to be a time-limited measure, with a return to 0.7 per cent. In the interim, the UK can make a sizeable difference is by helping to facilitate the global supply of vaccines.

Either way, this is just the beginning of Sunak having to make some incredibly unpopular decisions about how to salvage the economy. Having become one of the most popular politicians in a staggeringly short period of time, he is now going to deliver policies that illicit completely the opposite response to Eat Out to Help Out. There is no painless way out of this. The next few months are going to be testing for the Chancellor to say the least.