Ryan Henson and James Rogers: The reformed Foreign Office has a fresh chance to counter China and Russia

21 Sep

Ryan Henson is Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Global Prosperity. James Rogers is Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society.

Earlier this month, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) merged into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), a new “superministry” charged with representing and projecting British interests around the world.

Appearing before Parliament’s powerful Liaison Committee this week, the Prime Minister said that within the new department, overseas aid should serve ‘the diplomatic, the political, and the values of the UK.’ We wholeheartedly agree, for we believe the UK must continue to be a force for good in the world.

Indeed, as the international system starts to experience profound geopolitical change – a shift that looks set to accelerate over the next decade – it is in all our interests that the integration of Britain’s foreign and development policy be a success.

According to Britain’s most recent national security assessment – The National Security Capability Review (2018) – the world is witnessing “the resurgence of state-based threats, intensifying wider state competition and the erosion of the rules-based international order”, which has made “it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats.” Likewise, the assessment also emphasised the detrimental impact of climate change.

Geopolitics can no longer be ignored. For the 700 million people who still live in extreme poverty – many in dysfunctional or failed states – will be the first to suffer as authoritarian, revisionist powers continue to expand their influence or if climate change accelerates.

Make no mistake: Russia and China have burst onto the international scene over the past decade. They are deeply authoritarian powers, and their vision of how the world should look is very different to our own. Both regimes see democratic values and liberal principles as dangerous to their own existence. Both seek to extinguish them.

This can be seen by Russia’s “non-linear” offensives in Ukraine and Syria. In Ukraine, the Kremlin has fermented civil war to prevent the country from opening up and moving closer towards the European Union and NATO. In Syria, Russia has engaged in the country’s decade-long civil war to boost its own position in the Levant and broader Middle East and prevent reformers from gaining in influence.

Meanwhile, China has weaponised international development with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as its geo-economic and geopolitical push into Africa and South America. Underpinned by a US$1 trillion budget over the next thirty years, China’s efforts through the BRI provide investment for developing countries, while seeking to capture their political elites so they support, or at least do not challenge, China’s broader international objectives. This has often been achieved through the establishment of so-called “debt traps”. By providing developing countries with loans they will never be able to repay, China is able to compel them, often by stealth, into dependency.

While China’s BRI could not be more different to Britain’s lifesaving overseas aid work, it may have had more impact. It is certainly more well-known. With the creation of its new world-facing superministry, the UK ought to strengthen its position as an effective force for good in the world.

While the FCDO should retain and entrench DFID’s lifesaving development expertise, it should also better ensure that Britain adapts to both prepare for, and combat, the emerging threats to the world’s most vulnerable people. If the UK is to stand up for them, it must also stand up for their right to determine their own destiny, free of the threat of climate change and interference from foreign progenates.

The FCDO would therefore do well to initiate an internationally recognised programme of its own – an “International Prosperity Initiative” – to provide an alternative to the “aid” agendas of authoritarian rivals. In practise, this would mean the UK continuing to lead the fight against preventable diseases. Over the past 20 years DfID has helped defeat Ebola in Sierra Leone, saved 6.2 million people from dying of malaria, and immunised 67.1 million more children against preventable diseases. The emergence and spread of Covid-19 only makes this work more important.

It would also mean continuing to support girls’ education, so that the next generation of women are more able to participate as equals in society. The FCDO could make girls in school safer by rapidly and significantly ramping up efforts to eliminate violence in schools, while supporting governance, taxation, and redistribution projects that will be essential to lifting the poorest women out of poverty.

At the same time, an “International Prosperity Initiative” would seek to revolutionise poverty alleviation by combating environmental degradation and promoting more inclusive, open, and responsive, democratic government. Britain could fund more efforts to develop green technologies and help spread them to developing countries, while boosting educational programmes to encourage critical thinking in schools so that the next generation of young people are able to challenge authoritarian narratives.

It’s time to gear up for the future. The UK is not without capacity: we spend on Official Development Assistance approximately 70 per cent of what China spends per year on the BRI. It goes without saying that we should not devise an “aid” programme like China’s, but if we can seize the opportunities the new FCDO offers, Britain can strengthen its capacity to extend international prosperity. In doing so, we will save and improve lives, defend vulnerable people from authoritarian advances, and keep British values at the heart of geopolitics in the twenty-first century.

Julian Brazier: Helping Lebanon to succeed is in our interests

12 Sep

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

After the horrific explosion in Beirut last month, the dust has cleared and the world has moved on, but Lebanon matters to Britain and the West. It is at a critical junction: on the one hand, offering substantial commercial opportunity, but with the spectre of destabilising an important and dangerous region, on the other. Britain is well-placed to help steer Lebanon on the right path by building on some excellent work already in train.

Why does Lebanon matter? The country is a temporary home to nearly two million Syrian refugees, the largest concentration in the Middle East, and these people will be on the move westward if Lebanon melts down. Thanks to David Cameron, Britain is a lead provider of aid to their camps, but the geo-strategic issues and opportunities go far beyond refugees and aid.

The country sits between the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus, and Israel and Britain’s strategic bases on Cyprus just across the sea. Barely 15 miles north of its border is Russia’s naval base at Tartus, the keystone of Putin’s Mediterranean strategy.

Lebanon is staggering under Syrian destabilisation, government corruption, popular anger, Covid and now this devastating explosion. If the West allows it to go under, others will welcome the opportunity for a takeover with baleful consequences for western interests.

Yet, despite troubles which would have destroyed many nations, Lebanon remains a beacon of diversity and tolerance, with its Christian, Sunni, Shiite, Druze and other peoples. How many other countries in the Middle East have two ex-presidents enjoying retirement, in their former fiefdoms? Its universities and its media are arguably the best in the Middle East.

With its bustling and cosmopolitan capital, Beirut, its spirit of entrepreneurship and worldwide links through its highly-networked commercial diaspora all over the globe, the country offers a gateway to the wider Arab world and far beyond. This all represents an opportunity which others are recognising.

China is financing a $60 million Conservatoire near Beirut. President Macron’s high-profile visit, after the explosion, was a surprise to nobody – yet, despite its short period as a French possession, a growing proportion of Lebanese people look towards the Anglophone world for ties. Lebanon was the first Arab country to sign a post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK. More than ever, now is the time to build on our connections.

Liverpool Docks has a stake in the Port of Beirut and the programme to rebuild it will offer opportunities for our construction sector. Two hundred infrastructure projects were planned, before the explosion, utilising $11.6 billion in assistance from international donors; as they come forward, British companies should be bidding for them. On a larger scale, Lebanese ports will be central to the long-delayed programme to rebuild Syria after the destruction in its civil war; infrastructure companies from around the world are waiting for. to this.

Lebanon has a considerable confirmed off-shore oil and gas reserves yet to be exploited, offering yet another opportunity. Tourism and transport offer openings too. The national carrier, Middle East Airlines, placed a large order for Rolls Royce engines last year.

So, the opportunities are there. What is our government’s current role and what else should we be doing?

Since Cameron’s victory in 2010, Britain has recognised the importance of Lebanon and has been providing the kind of high quality, low-cost help which is as valuable as the aid to its refugee camps. Our military mission of just 30 ex-soldiers provide training for the Lebanese Army, one of the few genuinely national institutions drawing from all confessional groups. Ministry of Defence unearthed some pre-packed border strongpoints, designed for Ulster but never used, which have been installed on the Lebanese border and now play a critical role in keeping the horrors of the Syrian Civil War out of Lebanon.

We also set up the Lebanese British Tech Hub which grows small, dynamic tech start-ups to the benefit of both countries. Recently Lord Risby (Richard Spring, the former Foreign Office Minister) has been appointed as our first Lebanese trade envoy and both countries are well served with able ambassadors, Chris Rampling in Beirut, and Rami Mortada in London.

So, when the explosion devastated Beirut, it was appropriate that, in the words of Lebanon’s world famous singer, Shiraz:

“Britain was the first to arrive on the scene of the devastation, and then set a template for other countries to copy.”

With all the goodwill towards Britain, it is time for us to pull together the strands of our assistance to Lebanon and provide additional help in ways which would have a value far beyond any modest cost. This will be made easier by the welcome decision to merge the Foreign Office with the Department for International Development.

I believe that the greatest single requirement in Lebanon is assistance in making the transition to responsible, accountable democracy after a generation of corrupt leadership. The Lebanese Parliament has a finance committee led by the energetic and respected Ibrahim Kanaan. Could we send someone from the National Audit Office to help set up an organisation to assist them?

The Lebanese Central Bank has largely avoided the corruption in government but is struggling with inflation and debt. Could we lend an official to advise them and help with rebuilding the Finance ministry which is in much worse shape? Advice from HMRC on rebuilding the tax base would be valuable too. Lebanon’s Police are not respected in the way their Army is. Seconding a senior British Police officer could do disproportionate good.

Not all initiatives need to be government led. A small group of us have been trying to set up a Lebanese British Business Council, independent of government, hopefully to be resuscitated after Covid.

In summary, the multiple crises in Lebanon represent both a critical threat to Middle Eastern stability and an opportunity for Britain to build on its established programmes to promote our strategic and economic interests. What is needed is not vast sums of money but the kind of joined-up thinking which this government is instilling throughout Whitehall. The Government is undertaking the largest review to its foreign and defence policy since the end of the Cold War, against the backdrop of Brexit. Lebanon should be recognised as a key country in its region and should become a platform for western influence in the Middle East.

Richard Holden: The Government must hold firm and stay on course as the Commons returns this week

31 Aug

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Baa, Edmundbyers, Co Durham

In Edmundbyers they came en masse – well, en masse for a small village. It was the 30th or so stop out of 50 on my constituency summer surgery tour of the communities of North West Durham. Fifteen or so constituents were gathered, questions and comments at the ready, on village green.

As at other stops, some came to raise specific local issues. Some came to mention national policy. Many just came to meet their MP; put a face to the name, or to get the measure of someone they sometimes see on local telly or in the paper, who they elected last year. And, of course, many constituents just wanted to get a couple of things off their chest.

The interactions reminded me of visiting The Grey Horse, Consett for my “ask the candidate” session back in November. That “ask the candidate” was an interesting event because I came under very heavy questioning from the start.

What I learnt from the interrogation I got then, aside from a couple of Labour activists who’d been sent along, was that the toughness wasn’t really directed at me; I was just the person stood there who was taking years of pent up frustration. A deep frustration that came from years of resentment, not with me or even the Conservative Party, but with politics generally; at not having had any opportunity to speak to and question their elected representatives, or those seeking election, before.

This was rammed home time and again on my summer tour and, perhaps more tellingly still, when I attended a parish council meeting and was informed by those present, including by a Parish Councillor who’d been on for the best part of half a century, that no previous MP had ever reached out them, let alone attended one of their council meetings.

In many of the villages I visited in the last fortnight people said things like “I’ve never seen or heard of my councillor, never mind my MP in my village before.” Speaking to so many people in my constituency over the summer has reminded me of the deep sense of detachment many have felt from those they elected to represent them over many years, but also the impact an active local MP or councillor can make to people’s feeling of dislocation.

That initial reaction, as I found at The Grey Horse, is just that – a reaction. It’s the first thing that happens when presented with someone who you’re then able to ask a question of. What it isn’t is a response to you or a guide in any way to how people might vote or how they necessarily really feel.

I learnt several weeks after my grilling at The Grey Horse that people had been impressed by my clarity, honesty and the fact that I’d turned up in a heavily Labour part of my constituency without a massive entourage; that I had stood my ground and given as good, if not better, than I’d got. In fact, a good number of those present had their vote tipped in my direction on the strength of that session when compared with the other candidates they saw.

As MPs leave their constituencies at the end of the summer recess and head back to Parliament, it will serve us well to remember the difference between the initial reaction and the response, especially to those who seek to discern what the public want from polling them.

There is frustration out there at everything relating to the global Coronavirus pandemic. There is an acknowledgment that the support the Government has provided to the economy has been substantial and will need to be paid for. There is still, rightly, a lot of fear out there about the virus, but also a desire that we don’t let it unnecessarily continue to impinge on our lives more than is necessary.

The next few months in politics in the run up to Christmas and though the new year are going to be challenging. There are major issues on the table. Our future relationship with the EU negotiations, which are likely to go down to the wire. There are also multiple complex international trade negotiations with Japan, the US, Australia and others.

There’ll be a very difficult budget for our Chancellor. And a Fisheries Bill that’ll set out our post-EU fishing regime as well as other contentious legislation. These will all be set in the context of the ongoing impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic on jobs and the economy.

Internationally, the situation with China and Russia is increasingly charged. The United States faces what is set to be a potentially both bruising and close Presidential election. Even normally calm Japan, an increasingly crucial international partner and ally, is in the midst of a change, following the departure of their respected Prime Minister.

As all these things play-out, we Conservatives must not get distracted too by the initial reaction because things will be choppy. We’re in a political battle for the long-term future of our country. What’s important is the leadership we show as we look to where we want the country to be in the years ahead. In early 2016, who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now? In fact, at the general election eight months ago who’d have imagined we’d be where we are now?

What we’re crafting together in Parliament is a response to the question at the next general election: “who do you want to be governing the country for the next four or five years?” to the people in The Grey Horse in Consett and on the village green at Edmundbyers. There are many staging posts as we slowly make our way there, and through the first anniversary of the general election.

In the tumult of the next few months, the adage that a week is a long time in politics will be seen again to be all too true, but we’ve got to hold firm to delivering a very clear response to the only question that matters – one that will be answered way down the line in the ballot box.

If you back CANZUK, you should also support the D10 – an alliance of democracies

28 Aug

If by CANZUK you mean new trade deals, four of the five eyes, and stronger cultural links with some of what Churchill called “the English-speaking peoples”, we’re all for it.

If by CANZUK you mean free movement, a NATO-type defence union and a single Joe Chamberlain-style economic bloc, our advice is to lie down until the feeling goes away.

The subject is topical because Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative Party leader in Canada, sees CANZUK as “a top priority”.  His version is somewhere between the two sketched above.

The first would sit comfortably with another idea whose time has come – the D10, about which James Rogers of the Henry Jackson Society wrote recently on this site, and which Boris Johnson’s Downing Street is rather keen on.  Expect it to feature in the Defence and Security Review.

Where NATO is a hard power alliance, the orientation of which is still to confront Russia by military means if necessary, the D10 would be a soft power one, aimed at countering the influence of China.

“You might say that, we couldn’t comment,” a Government insider told ConHome, adding that “the idea is being picked up by a broad listenership, which includes Canada and Australia.”

“There’s some interest in Bidenland.  And for the medium-sized powers, there’s security in numbers.  The idea’s in the ether, but it could materialise.”

The UK chairs the G7 next year, so the stage is set for the idea to get a push then, after the Defence and Security Review sets the scene.

So: who would be in the D10?  CANZUK enthusiasts should note that three of the four potential members would be in it: Canada, Australia and the UK.  New Zealand leans towards a different foreign policy orientation.

Then turn to the G7, of which the UK and Canada are already members.  Add Australia and South Korea to the United States, Japan, and the three EU country members – France, Germany and Italy – and you have a total of nine.

Finally, there’s India.  That’s ten major democracies with different military orientations and economies – but shared democratic values.

One could seek to draw other countries in – such as Spain, for example.  But what is being looked for here is a group big enough to work, but not so big as to be unwieldy.

During the Cold War, America and western Europe tended to speak with one voice.  Post-war progress, wealth and stability was built on this alliance – expressed in its security dimension by NATO.

That organisation is still adjusting to the collapse of communism – with two members, Greece and Turkey, at loggerheads, and others, such as Turkey and Hungary, moving closer to Russia.

Which imperils NATO’s integrity – but even were it functioning seamlessly, the organisation isn’t shaped to deal with China, not only because of where it sits but because of what it does.

A soft power D10 wouldn’t be a rival to a military alliance.  It would differ in purpose to the G20, which contains not just China but Russia too, plus the entire EU.  It would take in most of CANZUK, as noted.

At a time when China is expanding its interests through the Belt and Road Initiative, the D10 would offer a counterweight, in terms of investment, capacity-building, aid and the promotion of democratic values.

It could also begin to speak with a common voice at the United Nations, and there would be an obvious crossover with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the UK is keen to join, as our columnist Stephen Booth has reported.

Downsides?  The EU countries are not on the same page as America on China – or, to strike a very topical note, on Iran, over which Britain is sticking with the EU position rather than moving towards the American one, having voted recently the former at the UN.

Doubtless part of the diplomatic thinking is the calcuation that Donald Trump may not be in place after November – which may be wrong.

Elsewhere, Narendra Modi is taking India in a different direction from its secular heritage. And it is hard to see how this alliance could conjure up a quick alternative provider to Huawei.

But if you believe that the great post-war alliance between America and western Europe was of value, you will smile on a new means of creating a modern version for a different purpose.

Terry Barnes: Abbott’s trade appointment is a masterstoke

28 Aug

Terry Barnes advised Tony Abbott when he was a Cabinet minister in John Howard’s government.

Whatever one thinks of the reported appointment by Boris Johnson of former Tony Abbott as a Co-President of the Board of Trade with Liz Truss, it is certainly one in the eye for the diminishing band of diehard Remainers.

Abbott’s putative role was greeted with disbelief and even derision among Australia’s left-leaning media elite who have little love for him, just has he has no love for them. Their reaction has been echoed by the likes of Emily Thornberry, who has not hesitated to give the former Australian Prime Minister a very undiplomatic and uncharitable, even vicious, character assessment in slamming the appointment.

Certainly, the Prime Minister has caught everyone by surprise by bringing Abbott, as a former “colonial”, into the heart of Whitehall. Perhaps it was one of Dominic Cummings’s wheezes to put the wind up the mandarins and the British trade establishment.

One person who will be very satisfied with a co-presidency of the Board of Trade – however archaic and anachronistic the Board itself is today – is Abbott himself.

A great student and devotee of British history, and especially of Winston Churchill, Abbott will be well-aware that he is following in the footsteps of one who he regards as one of the greatest figures in all history, whose presidency of the Board under Asquith was his first Cabinet post. He will also surely derive some pleasure from another previous holder of the political office being the very Viscount Sydney after whom his home city is named.

But beyond the historical parallels, and the strangeness at first glance of Abbott’s appointment, there is much to suggest that he is the right man for the job.

It is often forgotten that Abbott was not only a Rhodes scholar but is also British-born, at a time when Australian citizens were also deemed British subjects, and there was free movement and residency rights in both directions.

He retained his dual British citizenship until he stood for the Australian parliament in late 1993. Both it, and the heritage that he has always felt that his birth conferred on him, has made him more passionate about Britain, and more determined that she regains what he sees as her rightful standing in the world, than many resident Britons. He desperately wants Britain to succeed in once again venturing independently from the EU into the world of international trade free just as Australia, after decades of growing pains, eventually did the same from her mother country.

Then of course there’s Brexit. Abbott was already out of office in Australia by the time of the 2016 referendum, but from the very outset he was a passionate and influential supporter of Brexit. Anyone who has read his pro-Brexit writings will know that Abbott is full-blooded for Brexit and very, very bullish about Britain’s prospects of negotiating, just for starters, strong, effective and highly lucrative trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the European Union. Indeed, if Abbott takes up this role, the appointment will be a strong signal from Number 10 that the highest priority for bilateral trade agreements is what was once called the Old Commonwealth.

And it is not as though Abbott has no reliable form in trade negotiations. Far from it. On his watch as Prime Minister, Australia cut world-leading trade deals with China, Japan and South Korea, moving swiftly to close them where the previous Labor government had dithered.

Even with Australia’s relations with China going through a very rough patch – this week, a senior Chinese diplomat patronisingly told the Canberra press gallery that the relationship is like a bad marriage where only one partner, Australia, is to blame – the deals that Abbott signed are working, and have opened wide new markets for Australian exporters and investors across the board.

So when Abbott talks about trade deals, he knows full well of what he speaks, and can supply insights derived from experience, and an international contact book, to help substitute for the expertise and confidence about going it alone that has atrophied in Britain since she joined the then European Economic Community in 1973.

Lastly, Abbott is not part of the British, Remain-grieving, establishment. As a former Prime Minister in a Westminster parliamentary democracy, he understands how Whitehall’s machinery of government works, but he is alien to the culture of the Whitehall mandarinate. His will be a voice in the circles of government unequivocally for making Brexit not only work, but for it being a spectacular success. Like his compatriot, Lynton Crosby, Abbott will derive his greatest satisfaction from his role by proving his naysayers wrong, and delivering for all of Britain trade outcomes that will boost not only the United Kingdom’s prosperity, but its prestige at home and abroad.

On hearing of the reported appointment, the “Abbott-haters” in Australia have not hesitated to accuse him of defecting to the opposition and undermining Australia’s best interests. Looked at superficially, that is understandable but, in reality, the appointment is the opposite. Australia, and other countries with whom Britain is looking to secure trade deals, will benefit greatly if their British trade and investment grow the economic pie for both countries. Lending the expertise of Australia’s former Prime Minister to her former colonial power is an indication of a mature bilateral relationship, not a subservient or dysfunctional one.

A Canadian, Mark Carney, was appointed Governor of the Bank of England by David Cameron and George Osborne, partly to bring fresh perspectives and ideas into Threadneedle Street and the City. While his success was mixed, not least because of his opposition to Brexit, turning to Carney sent a message that not all financial and monetary policy wisdom resides in Whitehall and the Square Mile.

The same logic applies to Abbott and international trade. However his role may finally be defined, Johnson appointing Abbott to a far more than symbolic role at the Board of Trade, supporting him and Truss as they strive to fully implement Brexit in the face of a sullen if not outright hostile European Union and a Coronavirus-blighted world, may prove to be a post-Brexit masterstroke.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

Benedict Rogers: It’s time for Raab to bring Magnitsky sanctions to bear on those oppressing Hong Kong

25 Aug

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

It is not often that one sees Iain Duncan Smith, John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett, Andrew Adonis, Alistair Carmichael and the Scottish Nationalists on the same page.

Bringing the former Conservative Party leader and Brexiteer together with the former Labour Shadow Chancellor, the former Green Party leader, the former Labour minister and leading Remainer, the Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson, and two SNP MPs is an achievement – and as far as I can see it is Carrie Lam’s, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, only achievement.

Last week these politicians, together with David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, Helena Kennedy, a leading human rights barrister and Labour peer, and 12 other Parliamentarians, wrote to the Foreign Secretary in support of calls for the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials responsible for grave human rights violations and a flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Their letter follows a personal appeal to Dominic Raab by Nathan Law, the highest-profile pro-democracy activist to escape Hong Kong since the imposition of the new draconian national security law on 1 July.

In 2016, Law was elected Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator, at the age of 23, but was disqualified the following year for quoting Mahatma Gandhi when he took his oath of office. He was then sentenced to eight months in jail for his role in leading the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. In his letter, Law writes:

As a party to the legally binding Sino British Joint Declaration, the United Kingdom holds a unique position in advocating for Hong Kong. I earnestly hope that the UK government would take the important step to sanction Ms Carrie Lam and other officials involved, so to send a clear signal –– not just to Beijing, but also to other countries in the free world that we ought to stand firm against an oppressive regime which disrespects both their citizens’ rights and the international norms.  Please safeguard our shared belief in freedom and human rights as well as the pursuit of democracy in Hong Kong. Please stand with Hong Kong.”

Since the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing, Britain has responded robustly, by announcing a generous package to allow Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports to come to the UK on a “pathway to citizenship”, and by suspending our extradition agreement with Hong Kong. These are very welcome steps, but there is much more than needs to be done.

Although the new law has only been in place for less than two months, we are already seeing its dramatic impact on Hong Kong. The arrest of several prominent activists, particularly the entrepreneur and media proprieter Jimmy Lai, the police raid on his pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, and the arrest of Law’s colleague Agnes Chow and ITN reporter Wilson Li; the issuing of arrest warrants for six Hong Kong activists outside Hong Kong, including Law; and the banning of slogans, the withdrawal of pro-democracy books from libraries and the censorship of school textbooks; all indicate the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy under “one country, two systems” and the destruction of the city’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

It is right for the British Government to respond to events proportionately, and with a staggered approach. There is no point in firing all our ammunition in one go, and then having nothing left to deploy. But the events in Hong Kong in recent weeks require a response that goes beyond rhetoric. That’s why it is time for targeted sanctions.

The United States has already imposed its Magnitsky sanctions on Lam and other officials, but it is vital that the international community act in as united and co-ordinated a way as possible. Hong Kong must not become – or even be perceived to be – a pawn in a US-China fight, but rather as the front line in the fight for freedom and the international rules-based order.

For that reason, the rest of the free world has a duty to act, and as the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration guaranteeing Hong Kong’s continued autonomy, it is right that Britain should lead the way.

Our Magnitsky sanctions legislation is now in place, and so far 49 individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Burma are on the list. Raab is one of the architects of this legislation – dating back to his days on the backbenches when he championed the idea – and he is said to regard it as a legacy issue. So he has every interest in ensuring that this sanctions regime is meaningful.

To do that, those responsible for dismantling freedoms in Hong Kong, once one of Asia’s most open cities, and the violation of an international treaty – as well as those perpetrating some of the 21st Century’s most egregious atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs – must be held to account. If Lam cannot be sanctioned for presiding over a year of shocking police brutality and repression, who can?

So the 19 Parliamentarians who signed this letter are right to declare: “We stand with Nathan in this appeal.” I do too, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will act soon.

Jason Reed: History will judge us for our response to the Uyghur genocide

23 Aug

Jason Reed is Deputy Editor of 1828 and digital director at the British Conservation Alliance.

Hollow declarations of socio-political high-mindedness are all the rage in political discourse these days, especially on the Left. People love to talk about how righteous they are and how evil everyone else is. One of the virtue signallers’ favourite talking points as of late is that, had they been alive two hundred years ago, they would have publicly opposed slavery.

Slavery was the accepted norm of the time. But many on the Left love to talk about how they would have gone against the grain, selflessly sacrificing any public standing in order to become revolutionaries and voice their disgust at the unspeakable horror of slavery, even if nothing came of them doing the right thing. They insist that they would always stand up for the basic human rights to life, dignity and freedom, no matter the difficulty of the circumstances.

While we can’t put that claim to the test directly, we can achieve a close approximation by observing how those same people on the Left react to the genocide that is taking place in front of us today. Unsurprisingly, it’s not looking good.

The Chinese Communist Party is shamelessly massacring Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The proof that has emerged of the horrors taking place within the Chinese borders is overwhelming. No matter how much you might want to twist the truth, it is now impossible to repudiate what is happening in China. A genocide is taking place. Not only can it no longer be denied – it can no longer be ignored.

This ongoing ethnic cleansing represents all the very worst of humanity. Blinded by religious prejudice and racial hatred, energised by an uncompromising desire for ethnic purity, and driven by an impulsive need for total control over its people, the Chinese government is committing the single most heinous act of which mankind is capable.

Every day, new irrefutable evidence surfaces. Each batch of new information is more heart-wrenching than the last. It is now over a month since the Andrew Marr Show broadcast appalling drone footage of Uyghur Muslims being blindfolded, lined up and packed onto a train to be carted off to remote government facilities. The Chinese Government, via its ambassador in London, responded by denying flat-out on live television that which has already been proven beyond any doubt.

The Russian government also denies acts of aggression even when the world knows it is guilty, such as after the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. But it does so with a knowing smirk. Vladimir Putin likes to see how far he can push Western governments before they lose patience. He knows full well that we don’t believe a word of what he says, and he doesn’t care. One gets the impression that he even finds it funny.

But China is different. When Liu Xiaoming, Beijing’s UK ambassador, was asked by Marr to explain the footage, he seemed almost offended. How dare we interfere in China’s domestic affairs? The CCP embodies a coldness. It lacks humanity. It believes that it is perfectly within its rights to do what it is doing, and it is taken aback that we Westerners should dare to object to it.

The Chinese response to the drone footage was not a one-off. There is a clear pattern forming in the way the CCP intends to deal with these kinds of accusations. Earlier this month, a new piece of evidence emerged. A Uyghur fashion model by the name of Merdan Ghappar filmed himself handcuffed to a bed and described in detail the 18 days he had spent chained up and hooded with dozens of others in one of the government’s “centres”.

Once again, in their official response to the surfacing of damning new evidence, the Chinese authorities habitually tell total mistruths. They have no substantive counter-argument to offer, so they lie. They insist, for example, that highly secure “re-education camps” are entirely voluntary schools for anti-extremism training.

Rather than calling this behaviour out for what it is, rather than pointing to the reams of evidence incriminating the Chinese government, the left somehow chooses to equivocate. Perhaps they are motivated by the word “communist” in the CCP’s name. Or maybe they are merely keen to maintain their record of siding with all the worst regimes in the world. Either way, leftists doge the issue and engage in what effectively amounts to CCP apologism.

As a result, China thinks it can get away with anything. The Chinese government feels no shame for what it is doing. It denies completely that anything out of the ordinary is happening in Xinjiang, let alone that people are being systematically incarcerated, torn from their loved ones, sterilised and murdered because of their race and religion. It does not show a flicker of remorse as it issues its blanket denials of any wrongdoing.

That’s because the Chinese government believes the West is weak. They stare us in the face and deny what is plain to see. They look us in the eye and tell us that the sky is green, and expect us to back down. They poke and prod us relentlessly, expecting no retaliation. They think they can get away with doing whatever they want and never be held accountable or face the consequences of their actions. Why do they think that? Because of useful idiots on the Left in the West who will defend them to the death.

So, perhaps, if those on the British Hard Left truly do support human rights above all else no matter how inconvenient it might be to say so, and they really would have openly opposed slavery 200 years ago, they should prove it now by standing up for the group which is on the receiving end of the most awful violence and oppression imaginable.

If we have any conscience at all, as a nation and as a society, we simply cannot allow what is happening in China to continue. We are at a crossroads in our global political journey. As the UK leaves the European Union, the world watches on to see which direction Britain will choose. On the one hand, we could give in to the leftist, isolationist Little England vision of a reclusive UK which has no major role to play on the world stage.

Alternatively, we could make that post-Brexit Global Britain we have heard so much about into a reality. Surely, opposing genocide is one issue on which we should be able to achieve a universal consensus. A crime against humanity is taking place and history will judge us for how we respond to it. Uyghur Muslims desperately need our help. Let’s not waver or quibble. Let’s answer their call.

Stephen Booth: Why Stilton matters to the Japanese trade deal – and how talks can bring the UK closer to the CPTPP.

20 Aug

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

Global trade is the result of billions of individual decisions taken by businesses and consumers, but trade negotiations and agreements are inherently political. They not only require politicians and policymakers to haggle, in painstaking detail, over tariffs, quotas, rules and regulations; trade deals are also tools of foreign policy and in an increasingly unsettled, competitive and multi-polar world they can signify alliances between nations or groups of nations. Outside the EU, the UK’s trade agreements must therefore simultaneously address narrow economic and wider geopolitical interests.

Last week, we learnt that the UK-Japan trade talks had hit a roadblock over UK demands for greater market access for exports of Stilton cheese. The talks still seem likely to conclude successfully but the episode illustrates how seemingly small issues can play a disproportionate role in trade negotiations.

This would be a significant agreement for the UK. Japan is the third largest economy in the world and an increasingly important strategic ally for the UK post-Brexit. A UK-Japan trade deal is also an important step towards the UK’s accession to the 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Total UK exports to Japan are already worth around £14 billion, just over half of which are in services, so increasing the market for UK blue cheese exports, which is currently worth around £100,000 in Japan, might appear a strange issue to potentially derail the talks. However, the UK’s demands on Stilton have not simply come out of the blue.

Growth in cheese exports is a recent UK success story, with the Department for International Trade (DIT) noting that the UK made it into the top ten cheese exporters worldwide in 2018, selling £665 million worth, almost half of which was cheddar. Growth in Asian markets in particular has been strong, with demand in China rising from £67,000 in 2013 to £6.5 million in 2018, so it is not unreasonable for the UK to seek greater opportunities for these products in Japan.

More significantly, the UK-Japan deal will replace the EU-Japan deal, which will cease to apply to the UK when the Brexit transition period ends on January 1, 2021. The goal, largely on the insistence of Japan, has been to seek a new agreement, rather than simply copy and paste the existing EU-Japan deal. Inevitably, however, with time tight, these talks have not departed significantly from the EU-Japan precedent with regard to trade in goods (services and data are likely to be the more innovative aspects of a UK-Japan deal).

“Automotive for agriculture” was a major feature of the EU-Japan negotiations and, in this case, Japan has been targeting an immediate removal of UK car tariffs, whereas the EU-Japan agreement only provides for phased reductions over several years. The UK has understandably countered that it cannot make the concession for nothing in return.

Under the EU-Japan deal, Japanese tariffs on hard cheeses such as cheddar would be phased out by 2033. But for blue cheeses, such as Stilton, there will only be duty-free access on an agreed quota. Reportedly, the UK has also targeted a faster reduction to Japanese tariffs on pork. If the UK is successful in increasing the quota or removing tariffs faster, it will have achieved concessions the EU did not, which would have obvious symbolic significance for Brexiteers.

We don’t yet know the full details of the eventual UK-Japan deal but the likely compromise is that neither side will get as much as they would like on cars or agriculture. Ultimately, this kind of tussle is part of the theatre of end-game trade negotiations, where both sides need to be seen by domestic audiences to be fighting hard over every inch. Indeed, given the importance of getting the agricultural lobby onboard in various UK trade negotiations to come, going into bat for British agriculture now is not a bad PR move for the Government.

Some commentators have questioned whether spending political capital on trade agreements is worth the candle since the estimated macroeconomic gains from them are relatively small. DIT estimates the increase to UK GDP from a Japan deal will be 0.07 per cent over the long run, while a deal with the United States would provide up to a 0.16 per cent boost.

Putting aside a valid debate about how accurately existing models capture all the facets of comprehensive modern trade agreements, these types of numbers are not unique to UK FTAs. The EU-Japan deal (the biggest ever completed by the EU) was estimated to boost EU GDP by 0.14 per cent, a figure regarded by independent researchers as “plausible, though at the high end of the range of past estimates”.

Ultimately, for advanced and open economies, trade agreements are rarely macroeconomically significant. They are opportunities to address microeconomic issues and require trade-offs to be made between them. These decisions can be hugely important for individual sectors, which is why they can be politically controversial.

Beyond any quantifiable economic benefits, closer economic and political cooperation via trade agreements presents an opportunity to build coalitions to help shape the course of regional or global developments. Successful conclusion of the Japan agreement and accession to the CPTPP will boost the economic and political relevance of the UK in the Indo-Pacific region, which is likely to host most of the world’s economic growth in the years ahead.

Similarly, Japan’s enthusiasm to reach a deal with the UK is not only about commerce. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi’s recent trip to London also provided a chance to discuss bilateral co-operation on security and defence, including the UK’s stronger stance towards China on issues such as Huawei and Hong Kong. A trade deal is another way to strengthen strategic bonds.

It is worth keeping this mind as another round of UK-EU talks – in this case to loosen ties – get underway this week. The Remain campaign had wanted the Brexit debate to be about trade above all else, but it was always primarily about politics. All trade agreements are political, but the level of economic and legal integration in the EU means it is as much, if not more, about politics than trade. Remain lost because it was unable, or unwilling, to make the intrinsic case for political union, or at least that it should be tolerated.

Indeed, the most significant macroeconomic consequences of Brexit – leaving the customs union and the single market – flow from the political desire to “take back control” of trade and regulatory policy. Continued dependence on Brussels in these fields without a vote in the EU’s political institutions was always likely to be untenable for the UK in the long-term.

Equally, sovereignty is never absolute. The more integration the UK seeks from trade agreements with the likes of the US and the CPTPP in the future, the more the UK will face difficult political trade-offs over its approaches to various issues from agricultural liberalisation to the regulation of data. Existing trade flows and geographical proximity to the EU will inevitably play some role in how the UK takes these decisions over the long-term.

However, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Brexit means treating the EU much more like any other trade partner. It’s the politics, stupid!