Benedict Rogers: Hunt has made a strong start in placing values at the heart of British foreign policy

From Hong Kong to Yemen to Burma the Foreign Secretary is making positive steps. There is still more to do, however.

Benedict Rogers is the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization CSW, the co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, the co-founder of the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea, the co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, and author of three books on Burma.

Jeremy Hunt is the first Foreign Secretary since William Hague to really articulate a values-based foreign policy, and a plan to implement it. Even when Brexit dominates, when the Government is fragile, and when others are more concerned with trade deals than human rights, he appears to be thinking bigger.

He wisely avoids Robin Cook’s “ethical” terminology, but speaks actively of Britain’s role in defending our beliefs. While Boris Johnson hinted at similar themes, with talk of ‘Global Britain’ and girls’ education, his tenure was so overshadowed by his ambitions, character and Brexit that he never developed the narrative. Philip Hammond’s two-year stint was associated only with bean-counting. Not since Hague as Shadow Foreign Secretary promised to put human rights “at the very heart of foreign policy” have I heard an articulation of a vision for a British foreign policy that I could wholeheartedly cheer. Until Hunt.

And it is not simply his rhetoric. The Foreign Secretary has already taken some bold steps. On his first visit to Beijing he met the wives of imprisoned human rights lawyers in China. His foreword to the Foreign Office’s six-monthly report on Hong Kong was noticeably stronger than previous reports, and his statement in response to the expulsion from Hong Kong of Victor Mallet, the Financial Times’ Asia Editor, was robust.

In his Diwali message he spoke of the “victory of good over evil” and the need to defend freedom of religion or belief, and in the Evening Standard he pledged to make the defence of press freedom a priority. His statement in response to the appalling death of Jamal Khashoggi was good. His decision to visit Burma in September was welcome, and his call for accountability for appalling crimes against humanity and genocide there, while long overdue, was further than his predecessor had gone. “What is essential now,” he said, “is that the perpetrators of any atrocities are brought to justice, because without that there can be no solution to the huge refugee problem. We will use all the tools at our disposal to try and make sure there is accountability.”

So where does he go from here?

In his recent speech to Policy Exchange, the Foreign Secretary set out his vision. Post-Brexit, Britain must establish a new role for itself as a defender of democratic values and human rights, and a builder of multi-lateral coalitions to protect liberty in an era when it is under increasing threat. As the home of parliamentary democracy, and “an outward-looking, seafaring nation,” with a network of friendships that is “unparalleled”, Britain has the opportunity and the responsibility to lead. “Our democratic values are under greater threat than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said. “We can use our influence, our reach and power to defend our values by becoming an invisible chain that links the world’s democracies.”

How will he do this? Through the biggest expansion of our diplomatic service for a generation, the opening of more embassies, increasing the languages taught to our diplomats and reform of major multi-lateral institutions – the United Nations, NATO, the World Trade Organisation and the Commonwealth. These are bold, necessary and welcome steps.

There is, however, much further to go if this vision is to develop into a lasting narrative. There will be many competing areas in which Britain could develop multi-lateral leadership, but two different but equally important focuses come to mind. Both are areas where Hunt has shown interest and could shape further.

The first is ensuring accountability for mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. In the case of Burma, will he lead an international effort to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice, either through the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc tribunal? Will he work to build international support, to invite other countries to follow if he leads?

Similarly, will Britain step up to hold China to account for its horrific repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, investigate allegations that prisoners of conscience are targeted for forced organ harvesting, and put pressure on China to stop the intensifying persecution of Christians and Tibetan Buddhists?

Will the Foreign Secretary play a leading role in ensuring that North Korea’s crimes against humanity are not swept under the carpet in the rapprochement with South Korea and the United States?

Will he hold IS/Daesh accountable for genocide?

Will he study the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s recent report on Russia – Poison, Torture, Lies and Repression: Human Rights in Russia Today – and act to end the impunity with which Vladimir Putin’s regime behaves by ensuring that targeted sanctions under the global Magnitsky legislation are implemented?

Hunt’s willingness to call on the Security Council to act to stop the war in Yemen was right, if overdue. Let’s hope such boldness can be applied to the world’s other mass atrocities.

The second area in which Britain should lead is in response to the erosion of basic freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy in Hong Kong.

Over the past five years, democratic values in Hong Kong have taken an enormous hit. Booksellers have been abducted, peaceful protestors jailed and pro-democracy legislators and candidates disqualified. I was denied entry to the territory a year ago, and the Financial Times’ Asia News Editor, after being expelled, was then barred. The undermining of press freedom, academic freedom and freedom of expression is spiralling daily. “Asia’s world city,” as its slogan puts it, is increasingly closing its doors and becoming just another Chinese city.

Here Britain has a special responsibility, as a signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration. We have a legal as well as moral duty, and it is in our own interests too. If Hong Kong’s openness, transparency, rule of law and autonomy continue to unravel, it puts at grave risk British business and trade.

But it is also a matter of international concern, and I was encouraged that in China’s recent Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations, twelve countries, including the UK, raised Hong Kong. In the previous review Hong Kong was not mentioned. In Washington DC, Ottawa, Berlin, Geneva and Brussels this year, policy-makers have indicated to my colleagues and me growing concern and willingness to work with like-minded allies to address the deteriorating situation. It is in everyone’s interests, including China’s, that Hong Kong remain an open, free international business centre.

“When we act in concert, we are strong. When we act together, the price for transgression becomes too high for the perpetrator,” Hunt said. “We must be better at standing together to defend the values we share. Whether that is: the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, the struggle against the illegal wildlife trade, or threats to freedom of expression. Because access to fair and accurate information is also something we should remember is the lifeblood of democracy.”

He is absolutely right. So I hope he will lead the international community to build coalitions of like-minded nations to ensure accountability for mass atrocities, and a coalition to ensure that the promises made to the people of Hong Kong are honoured, not trampled on. The early signs are welcome. I encourage him to go on and build that “invisible chain” to defend and promote democratic values and human rights for everyone. Not only because it is right, not only because we have a responsibility, but also because it is in our national interests to do so.

Alexander Temerko: The relationship between business and government has never been as meaningless as under May

The key to a good Brexit is empowering UK entrepreneurs to talk to their European counterparts and become ambassadors for Downing Street’s plan.

Alexander Temerko is an industrialist and a Conservative Party donor and activist.

Never has the relationship between business and Number Ten been as meaningless or fruitless as under Theresa May. She continues to repeat the mantra that she is leading a pro-business government, but that is an exaggeration. Hers is not an anti-business government – that would be a more accurate way of putting it.

A pro-business government is what Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron led in their day; it’s what Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Angela Merkel are leading today. Despite her soft-spot for SMEs, our Prime Minister is undeniably afraid of global business.

Globalisation has shown that big business and public-private partnerships (something we hardly see in the UK anymore) are the real long-term drivers of a steadily growing modern economy. The presence of global business centres is what makes the difference between a country that’s prosperous and one that’s merely surviving. Indeed, such business is the powerful locomotive, pulling along SMEs and much of the socio-economic activity in the regions.

Business leaders have always been there to support May’s Government at the most critical times. Yet our “strong and stable” leader has repeatedly shunned any direct engagement with business in favour of sporadic consultations with the trade lobby, whose academic experts’ interests have long since been prioritised over representation of any actual economy sectors.

The Prime Minister has a presidential style of leadership. Her talent is for forming small, quasi-familial groups of trusted advisers. While David Cameron was comfortable working with big diversified teams, she seems reluctant to engage with the broad meritocratic audiences whose praises she so often sings. This desire to keep discussions tightly controlled has had a negative impact on almost every key policy decision taken to date. It is time to change.

Today, not only the country’s economy but also its integrity hinges on the UK business community backing the Brexit plans proposed by the Prime Minister and her Cabinet. No-one wants Brexit to be a disaster – but how to avoid it without break-through ideas and bold compromises?

The British economy will quickly lose its appeal should financial, industrial and services majors, driven by impending uncertainty and the fear of mounting responsibility to shareholders, relocate their headquarters and investment capital to more profitable jurisdictions with more predictable regulations. This could, in turn, trigger almost instant separatist rhetoric and action by the country’s subsidised regions.

Inside the eye of the Brexit storm, this outcome would be increasingly irreversible. People will start going by the saying “Better a painful ending than endless pain”. One person will certainly be delighted with a “painful ending”: his name is Vladimir Putin. Are we willing to afford him the pleasure? The answer is clear even to Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg, both of whom have been aiding this “painful ending” by holding on to his very own wrong end of the stick.

Europe would suffer, too. Take just one example from my industry: 70 per cent of our utilities are owned by European firms. Machinery and metal products are another trade goldmine for European business. At a time of escalating conflict with the US and sanctions or restrictions in trade relations with China, Russia, Iran and others, this is key. Europe just cannot lose Britain with its import-oriented economy as well. If that happens, countries right at the heart of Europe – France, Germany, Portugal, and to some extent Belgium and Holland too – will feel the pain.

However, in these countries, business is much more influential and integrated with the operation of Government. European business wants to live and wants to live well – which makes it our best ally in promoting a sensible responsible Brexit.

Businesses talk best with other businesses. They will not waste time talking when they don’t know if they are being heard by the Government, though. Hence, the key to a good Brexit is empowering UK entrepreneurs to talk to their European counterparts and become official ambassadors for the Government’s Brexit plan.

The other key piece of the puzzle is for May to accept the Irish border backstop – provided that the EU undertakes to guarantee our country’s integrity. This would restrain any spontaneous separatist movements in the UK, at least for as long as the EU continues to exist. If accession to the EU is all but impossible for any breakaway state, withdrawal from the UK would be pointless.

What happens if our Government does not create the broad coalition of business it needs and push bold compromises through? Quite simply, if there is no deal hammered out by December, a new election will be the only option to avoid the catastrophe of no deal.

If the Chequers plan falls through, it clear to almost everyone today that Parliament will not accept any other plan – be it Canada-plus, Australia-minus or a No Deal. The European Commission for its part, will not consider any new proposals, since none of them could get a majority in the UK Parliament and Europe will itself be moving into EU Parliament elections.

All that’s left are two options. They are both domestic – either a new referendum or another snap election. It is up to Parliament and our political elites to choose. They have to choose between their two great fears: the fear of a new election which is highly likely to mean a coalition government, and the fear of a new referendum that goes against Brexit.

Syed Kamall: People in Brussels expect a Brexit deal will be struck, but fear time is running out

Meanwhile, my ECR colleagues and I continue to push for a sensible, nation-led approach to tackling the migration crisis.

Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.

Two things let you know when Brussels is hosting one of its frequent summits.

Overhead the security helicopters buzz continually across the city, often quite late into the evening depending on the world leader in attendance.

On the ground, the city’s traffic becomes even more gridlocked than normal as lanes are closed to ensure swift passage for the motorcades, the size of which is not always a reliable indicator of the occupant’s importance.

So anyone planning an early night, or hoping for a stress-free drive to work, was well advised to take some time off and head out of town as the European Union staged no fewer than seven summits in four days.

From Tuesday 16 October to Friday 19 October, the EU held: a Tripartite Social Summit; European Council summits discussing Brexit, the Eurozone plus a session on migration and security; the Asian-Europe Meeting; the EU-Republic of Korea Summit; and the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting. The latter, held over two days brought together the leaders of 54 European and Asian countries representing 55 per cent of global trade, 60 per cent of the world’s population and 65 per cent of global GDP.

While these summits were an impressive show of the EU’s internal and external diplomacy, many will ask what was achieved?

The flagship event was the set piece signing of free trade, investment, and partnership agreements with Singapore. When I was the rapporteur (lead MEP) guiding the EU-Singapore FTA through the European Parliament in 2013, I and MEPs across the political spectrum urged the Commission and Council to send it to us for ratification before the June 2014 European elections.  In the event, the EU insisted on re-opening the agreement to change the rules on investment protection, even though the agreement had been signed off.

The Singaporeans were naturally annoyed, but felt they had no choice, and are of course relieved that it will be sent to us before the 2019 elections.  However, this incident damaged the EU’s credibility in keeping its word on a signed off agreement. Maybe a warning to other future partners?

A trade accord was also signed with Vietnam. The great hope was to use the focus on these two agreements and the Asia-Europe Meeting to persuade China to ease restrictions on foreign investment, goods, and services. But talks failed to deliver a breakthrough, and a final communique omitted a call for an end to trade distortions after China insisted on changes.

Otherwise there was precious little to show for such intense diplomatic activity beyond warm words and general declarations. That was certainly true of two major challenges facing the EU: migration and Brexit. Despite both featuring on the EU Council agenda, no concrete action had been agreed when the red carpet was eventually rolled up on Friday evening.

On migration, at least the Council appears to be finally getting around to considering the policies put forward by Conservative MEPs and our colleagues in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group at the height of the crisis in 2015.

After the EU spent two years trying to force refugee quotas on often reluctant member states, EU leaders have now agreed that the way forward lies in improving the processing of arrivals to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic migrants, speeding up returns, securing borders, and seeking enhanced arrangements with third countries to stem the flow of migrants.

Meanwhile, my colleagues in the ECR group continue to push for member states to be asked how they are willing to help, rather than telling them how many people they should accept. Some countries will take in genuine asylum seekers, others will choose to help refugees closer to their homes and some will provide money to help front line countries.

If these common sense policies had been adopted sooner, and not dismissed as anti–European or populist, then the system would now be in better shape and perhaps more lives could have been saved.

The failure to make progress on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was disappointing, but came as no real surprise. Before the summit there was no real sense that we were approaching the negotiating end game, and this was confirmed when leaders of the EU27 spent just 90 minutes discussing Brexit over dinner and had little interest in listening to Jean-Claude Juncker’s briefing on preparations for no deal. Rather than negotiating into the early hours of the morning and seeking to emerge with a compromise, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and two other Prime Ministers took themselves off for a post-dinner beer on the Grand Place.

Of course intense negotiations continue behind the scenes, and my discussions with diplomats have revealed more understanding that Theresa May’s position on the Irish backstop is not simply a negotiating stance or a bluff. It is a Prime Minister defending the constitutional sovereignty and geographical borders of a nation, and protecting a hard won peace.

These talks were always going to go the distance, and the pressure of having to reach a deal before the end of the year in order to give the British and European parliaments time to consider the agreement will focus minds. In seeking a legal text that satisfies both sides, the negotiators may look to their lawyers to turn the seemingly impossible into the possible, just as they did with the Danish opt outs in 1992 and Protocol 36 with the UK in 2014.

Most people I speak to in Brussels expect a deal to be agreed by the end of the year, or at the very latest in January. There are concerns any agreement may not be approved at Westminster or in the European Parliament, but for now the biggest fear is that we are running out of time.