Raphael Marshall: What the Foreign Office does well, what it does badly – and why the Civil Service Code needs reform.

8 Jun

Raphael Marshall resigned from the Foreign Office earlier this year, and submitted evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select over the Government’s handling of withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Last month’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on Afghanistan is a bleak litany of institutional failures. However, the report is also a vindication of our political system. Very few countries’ legislators would have produced such a detailed, apolitical, and clear-sighted report. This is British parliamentary democracy at its honourable best. Amidst the unending row about Downing Street parties, it’s worth remembering how much is right about our political system.

One of the many tragedies here is that the Foreign Office (FCDO) is often a highly effective institution. The FCDO excels in some areas, notably Russia and the Gulf. The problems with the Afghanistan response stem primarily from the weakness of the crisis structure and a failure to pivot sufficiently urgently back to a war which had slipped down the Government’s priority list.

Nonetheless I find it very hard to understand why, in the aftermath of the withdrawal, senior FCDO officials appeared to be so complacent. As well as concluding that the Foreign Office’s answers to questions were ‘at best intentionally evasive, and often deliberately misleading’, the Committee also judged that:

‘Despite the manifest problems with its role in the withdrawal, the department has been reluctant to admit to any shortcoming… The Foreign Office has sought to blame other departments for issues, claiming that delays in answering Special Cases emails were the Home Office’s responsibility. The department’s leadership has appeared to be more focused on defending themselves from criticism than on identifying and resolving issues… The Lessons Learned review does not acknowledge the scale of the problems with its response, or the fact that many were rooted in sheer mismanagement rather than in the scale of the crisis.’

It’s unfortunately difficult to disagree with this summary. That said, it’s worth remembering that behind the scenes at the FCDO there are many people who are much more thoughtful about institutional improvement than the leadership’s public lines suggest.

The Goverment is highly rhetorically committed to reforming the Whitehall machine to make it more effective. However, it is at risk of appearing to attack Whitehall rather than help it to improve. At the same time, in practice the Government can appear prone to defending the machine’s performance in specific instances rather than recognising and seeking to mitigate problems (notably Afghanistan and the initial Covid response). This is not an effective combination.

One question that the Government should consider is internal challenge and Whitehall’s internal whistleblowing procedures. There are many excellent and patriotic people in Whitehall; institutional change requires allying with them to push for greater efficacy rather than solely trying to direct change from the Cabinet Office. My experiences with Whitehall’s internal whistleblowing mechanisms last year suggests they lack rigour and could usefully be strengthened.

As described in my Committee evidence, I wrote to the Head of the Diplomatic Service, Sir Philip Barton, in August to state that the flaws in the FCDO’s Afghanistan crisis response constituted breaches of the Civil Service Code (and also that I would likely resign to provide evidence to the Committee). Reporting breaches of the Civil Service Code is the established (although rarely used) mechanism for Civil Servants to escalate concerns internally.

I want to leave aside the question of Nowzad’s dogs. The FCDO maintains that it ‘inadvertently misled’ the Committee about Nowzad on at least five distinct points over the course of four months and coincidentally deleted relevant emails. The National Security Advisor maintains he has ‘forgotten’ all relevant information. This is scarcely credible, but it’s perhaps unsurprising that Whitehall is unsure how to address alleged Prime Ministerial impropriety, so I want to focus on the broader organisational questions.

Sir Philip met me the same day and appointed a senior diplomat to investigate. In this regard, he fulfilled his obligations to the letter. The investigation concluded that there was no breach of the Civil Service Code. Sir Philip told the Committee in December:

‘The central point he made, which we looked at, was that there had been a breach of the civil service code… a very senior diplomat who had not been involved at all looked at that and found no breach. She did point to some issues, but she did say very clearly that, under huge pressure, people had done their very best to deliver outcomes around the evacuation. Overall, I think some things he said are the sort of things we will look at in our lesson learning. Other things I do not think are fair’.

This gets to the heart of things. Of course, many people worked very very hard. However ‘people worked hard’ is not a coherent response to the structural problem that thousands of emails from the UK’s former allies were not even read, and decisions as to who to evacuate were made both too slowly and highly arbitrarily. Ironically, one reason many people worked so hard is because the FCDO failed to allocate sufficient staff.

One of the concerns I raised was that FCDO staff had been placed in an impossible position by being given (de-facto) responsibility for life and death decisions for which they had no relevant expertise without meaningful instructions. Sir Philip’s response was seemingly that, when placed in this impossible position, people tried their best. This is true but, to say the least, circular.

In essence, the FCDO’s contention appears to be that the Civil Service Code whistleblowing structure only applies to problems arising from malice or deliberate impropriety. This severely restricts the utility of the mechanism. There are probably very few (if any) genuinely malicious people in Whitehall; almost all problems stem from good-faith cock-up not malice.

I find this a puzzling reading of the Code; the Code calls for civil servants to ‘deal with the public and their affairs fairly, efficiently, promptly, effectively’. The evacuation from Kabul was an urgent public affair and it’s difficult to argue the FCDO handled it fairly, efficiently, promptly or effectively. Ultimately, what the Code actually says is less important than what it is perceived to say; the Government should redraft the Code to more explicitly require that the Civil Service be reasonably effective.

To my mind there are two other problems with the internal whistleblowing mechanism as currently set-up.

The first is that the Code is perceived to be primarily concerned with attributing blame to individuals; the result is that there is no formal mechanism to address institutional failure. Sir Philip’s line was, in-essence, that by invoking the Civil Service Code I was unfairly blaming colleagues who’d tried their very best. It would be useful for the Government to clarify that institutions can collectively breach the Code without anyone specific being responsible.

Second, responsibility for investigating alleged breaches of the Code lies in the first instance with departments themselves; it’s not reassuring that departments are responsible for marking their own homework. In my case, Sir Philip appointed a senior diplomat to investigate. On the plus-side, this shows appropriate seriousness. However, on the other hand the investigator had served in the Foreign Office for 30 years and likely had at least some acquaintance with all the senior officials involved. Without wanting to blame the investigator personally, it’s not clear this is compatible with a genuinely independent investigation.

In theory, the result of a departmental investigation can be appealed to the Civil Service Commission. However, as explored in a Policy Exchange report by Benjamin Barnard, the Commission has less than 20 full-time staff despite being responsible for around half a million civil servants. From April 2019 to April 2020 the Commission conducted only four investigations. The Government should strengthen the Commission, empower it to take an earlier role in investigations, and encourage more civil servants to raise concerns with it. This would be a cost-effective way to improve state capacity.

The post Raphael Marshall: What the Foreign Office does well, what it does badly – and why the Civil Service Code needs reform. first appeared on Conservative Home.

The Government and Afghanistan. “A disaster – a betrayal of our allies.” Tugendhat’s committee’s excoriating report.

25 May

My godson claims that the Foreign Office has responded well to Putin’s war.  And that this is so for the simple reason that it devotes a lot of time, money, staff and attention to Russia.  It could scarcely be otherwise given its size as a military power, its strategic position, and the threat it poses to our allies in Eastern Europe.

In case you are wondering who he is, and whether he might be the voice of King Charles Street, I can promise you that’s not so – because he is Raphael Marshall, the whistleblower who resigned from the Foreign Office over the Afghanistan debacle, and gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into it.

Select Committee reports are more prone to generate headlines than they once were, but even by today’s standards the report that Tom Tugendhat’s committee issued yesterday is excoriating. “Missing in action: UK leadership and the withdrawal from Afghanistan”, it declares.  And that’s just the title.

“The manner of the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan was a disaster, a betrayal of our allies, and weakens the trust that helps to keep British people safe. It will affect the UK’s international reputation and interests for many years to come,” it concludes.

“There were systemic failures of intelligence, diplomacy, planning and preparation, which raise questions about machinery of Government, principally the National Security Council. The UK Government failed effectively to shape or respond to Washington’s decision to withdraw, despite having had 18 months’ notice.”

“Most damning for the FCDO is the total absence of a plan – developed in conjunction with the Home Office – for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission, without being directly employed by the UK Government. The Government was never going to be able to evacuate all—or even many—of these people.”

“But it failed to deliver the bare minimum that we owed them: a well-considered plan for who would be prioritised for extraction, and clear communications to those seeking help. The lack of clarity led to confusion and false hope, hindering individuals from making the best decision for themselves.”

“The absence of the FCDO’s top leadership—both ministerial and official—when Kabul fell is a grave indictment of the attitudes of the Government, representing a failure of leadership…Decision-making was so unclear that even senior officials such as the National Security Adviser could not be certain how key decisions were authorised.”

“The FCDO has repeatedly given us answers that, in our judgement, are at best intentionally evasive, and often deliberately misleading…the Committee has lost confidence in the Permanent Under-Secretary, who should consider his position.

“Under the leadership of a Foreign Secretary who took up her post after these events, the FCDO has had the opportunity to make a fresh start and re-commit to transparency and positive engagement with Parliament. On this issue, it has so far failed to do so.”

I wrote at the time that “the case for the defence, not so much of Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary but of the Foreign Office as an institution, is that it simply didn’t have the resources to cope. It will argue, as Raab has already done, that it had a limited number of employees with knowledge of Afghanistan.”

“To cut to the chase: if someone blows a whistle…they should do so with good cause. What’s the nub of the issue here? Is it really more than an over-stretched department not rising to events? I think so. Taken as a whole, Raffy’s account is an inside view of institutional failure.”

“For example, potential refugees were misled, according to Raphael, by being told that their emails had been logged, which suggested that these had been read when they had not. It is hard to see this device as other than a means of allowing Ministers to give a misleading impression to the Commons.”

“Elsewhere, a key refugee scheme, the Leave Outside the Rules (LOTR) scheme, was only approved four to five days after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, according to Raphael. However, the Ministry of Defence began planning for Operation Pitting, its own rescue scheme, in January.”

“It comes better out of Raphael’s account than the Foreign Office. He says that the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence communicated very ineffectively, to the extent that the Ministry of Defence was initially not informed of the Foreign Office’s evacuation plans.”

“And that the Foreign Office did not initially provide the soldiers responsible for emailing priority evacuees travel documents with working computers. There are darkly comic moments in his story – such as the British Embassy in Washington reporting an e-mail from him requesting a security clearance as a Russian phishing attack.”

“But its details, such as the fate of Afghans depending on whether the civil servants on a particular shift had entered their application on a spreadsheet or not, are no laughing matter.”  The committee wants the Government to share with it the results of its internal investigation into the failure to destroy sensitive documents at the Kabul Embassy.

It is easy for journalists, and perhaps for MPs, to damn institutions for specific failures without taking into account the wider context.  In the case of the Foreign Office, this must include Ukraine as well as Afghanistan.  Why has one worked well and the other badly?

One answer is that is because the Foreign Office must make choices about where to concentrate time, money and effort, there is an inevitable temptation to neglect second-order problems – which Afghanistan is, for all the blood and treasure that successive governments have expended on it.

If realism morphs into fatalism, one of the unintended consequences can be, say, not ensuring there are clear plans for prioritising evacuees from Kabul.  At any rate, the Foreign Office now has two months in which to respond to the Committee’s report.

P.S: for those of you with a special interest in Downing Street, the report says that “the failure to plan for the Special Cases evacuations, or to put in place a fair and robust prioritisation system, left the process open to arbitrary political interventions.” This is illustrated by the case of the Nowzad animal charity.

“Amid intense media attention, its staff were called for evacuation at the last minute, despite not meeting the FCDO’s prioritisation criteria, after a mysterious intervention from elsewhere in Government. Multiple senior officials believed that the Prime Minister played a role in this decision.”

“We have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation for how it came about.” Meanwhile, the charity’s founder was allowed to use a charter flight to rescue his animals, absorbing significant Government resources in the midst of the biggest military airlift in decades.”

Stephen Booth: Does Germany’s pledge to rearm signal fundamental change – or is it a temporary reflex?

10 Mar

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

The horror of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been shocking in so many ways. Much about what happens next is uncertain, but the crisis is clearly a pivotal moment, which the West and its allies will be grappling with for many years to come. Vladimir Putin’s appalling actions have upended long-held assumptions about the geopolitics of Europe and are leading to radical and fundamental changes in policy, most starkly in Germany.

Germany has long been the EU’s economic powerhouse but, due in large part to its history, has eschewed a leadership role in European foreign and security policy, which have traditionally been roles for France and Britain. However, faced with the new reality, the new coalition government, headed by the centre-left SDP and supported by the Greens and the liberal FDP, is now embarking on a new course.

For weeks prior to the invasion, Berlin had maintained a longstanding policy of not delivering weapons to active conflict zones. Meanwhile, Olaf Scholz, the new Chancellor, had refused to say publicly if the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline would be scrapped if Russia moved into Ukraine. This position was increasingly unsustainable, and the pipeline was eventually suspended in response to Putin moving his forces into Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

A week later, Scholz’s speech to a special session of the Bundestag was the most striking illustration of how the crisis is altering the strategic outlook. Annalena Baerbock, the Green Foreign Minister, described it as a “180-degree turn” in the country’s foreign policy.

Scholz announced that Germany will now “year after year” meet the NATO target of investing more than two per cent of GDP in defence (up from around 1.5 per cent now) and will create a one-off €100 billion fund to modernise its under-resourced military. He committed Germany to NATO’s nuclear sharing, pledging to upgrade its outdated Tornado jets, and reversed the government’s opposition to providing weapons to Ukraine.

On energy, Scholz pledged to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas, proposing new infrastructure to secure supply from other sources and providing economic support for consumers affected by the transition. There is however no plan to reverse the phase out of nuclear energy announced by Angela Merkel in 2011, which has prolonged German reliance on coal and Russian gas.

Nevertheless, the various policy announcements have overturned decades of German foreign policy and some fundamental tenets of the main political parties.

The SPD has been the party of “Ostpolitik” and has long seen engagement and interdependence with Russia as a key plank of German policy. The first gas pipeline between Germany and the then Soviet Union opened in 1973, under the then SPD Chancellor, Willy Brandt. Scholz also called on another former SPD Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, to resign from his posts at Russian firms, dismissing the argument that he is now a private citizen, noting that a chancellor’s public service doesn’t end when he leaves office.

The Greens have accepted the pledge to increase capacity for coal and gas reserves and build new liquid natural gas terminals to accelerate the move away from Russian gas. The party’s former leader, Robert Habeck, first raised the prospect of providing Ukraine with defensive weapons in May 2021, but this was controversial with the rest of his party and the increase to defence spending is a major departure from the party’s pacifist roots. The fiscally conservative FDP have accepted the need to take on new debt to modernise the military.

Equally, Friedrich Merz, leader of the largest opposition party, the centre-right Christian Democrats, and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) came out with strong support for rearmament. This is significant, since investment foundered during the 16 years of CDU-led government under Angela Merkel. The breadth of cross-party support demonstrates the level of consensus behind this new direction.

These developments have been welcomed by Germany’s international partners, including the UK, who have long called on Berlin to shoulder a greater share of the security burden and re-evaluate its stance on Russia. Speaking to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee this week, Liz Truss said, “I want to praise Germany for their change in stand, because that will have a huge impact. I want to see others follow their lead.”

Delivering the new suite of German policies is certainly more easily said than done. For example, Scholz has so far resisted any EU embargo on Russian oil, judging this too risky a step, which only underlines the country’s dependence on Russian energy. The US and the UK, which announced embargos this week, are less reliant. The EU has instead announced a plan to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds within a year.

Germany has been repeatedly criticised for free riding on others’ NATO commitments. The question is whether we are witnessing a temporary reflex to the current situation, or whether the political environment has fundamentally changed for the long-term. Just as Germany’s energy dependence on Russia cannot be reversed overnight, decades of drift into quasi-pacifism reflect a deeply embedded outlook. Will this moment mark a shift towards a new forward-leaning posture regarding security and the use of hard power as a deterrent?

But assuming it is a long-term commitment, the planned boost to German spending will make it the biggest defence spender in Europe. However reluctant it is to actively engage in geopolitics, this fact alone will matter by virtue of Germany’s size, history, and geographic position at the heart of the EU. A more assertive Berlin could potentially alter EU and wider European affairs significantly in the years to come.

Emmanuel Macron, who looks likely to be re-elected this spring, has been positioning France to take on the geopolitical leadership of Europe post-Brexit and post-Merkel. However, Scholz may yet become a more influential and decisive Chancellor than Merkel. Recent events will certainly have boosted the relationship between Berlin and Washington.

Macron’s bid for European leadership has centred on a push for EU “strategic autonomy”, but Germany, Eastern Europe, and the UK have been keener to emphasise NATO’s role in European security, which could suggest a stronger role for Atlanticism.

On the other hand, Germany is likely to be reluctant to lead from the front, and German governments have consistently sought to embed foreign policy in an integrated EU framework. The current coalition agreement proposes qualified majority voting for foreign and security policy, with a mechanism to reassure the smaller member states. If this moment marks the birth of a more geopolitical EU, its character and configuration remain up for grabs.

Meanwhile, the UK’s early role in providing military aid to Ukraine and its support for eastern NATO states has been welcomed by several EU members. Broadly, both UK and EU politicians have sought to emphasise how the crisis has demonstrated the need for and value of cooperation on fundamental issues of security and upholding democracy. Truss, along with her counterparts from the US, Canada, and Ukraine, attended the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council last week.

When pressed at the Foreign Affairs Committee, Truss refused to engage in speculation about whether new UK-EU structures in this area might be explored. However, she said, “We do need to re-look at European security architecture. It needs to be tougher, it needs to be stronger, there needs to be much stronger support on the Eastern flank.” The key part of the conversation is between the EU and NATO, she added.

For now the most pressing issue is the appalling unfolding humanitarian disaster in Ukraine, which is only likely to get worse as the violence grinds on. Meanwhile, the war’s wider economic impact will soon be felt by households across Europe in the form of higher energy prices and living costs, which will compound already high levels of inflation. Neighbouring countries will need assistance in coping with the humanitarian fall-out as increasing numbers of refugees flee the country.

However, the crisis is also likely to have profound implications for our European neighbourhood, which require careful consideration.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Raab fails to win friends and influence people

1 Sep

It is a rare gift to be able to spot the exceptional occasions in politics when all previous assumptions must be abandoned and precipitate action taken.

On the basis of Dominic Raab’s evidence this afternoon to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, nobody at a senior level in the Foreign Office possesses that gift.

The department seems to have been sunk in summer torpor as the Taliban advanced at lightening speed across Afghanistan.

Nobody in King Charles Street, or in Downing Street, had worked out that at this rate, Kabul would fall within weeks, days, even hours.

The conventional wisdom in Whitehall was that this was a time to relax, a chance to take oneself off and recover from the exertions of the past year. Even the Prime Minister had at long last departed for the West Country.

Raab himself was already on holiday in Crete, though he today refused, somewhat petulantly, to say on which day he had departed. He said he had already made “a fulsome statement” on that matter, unaware that the word “fulsome” means (as Chambers Dictionary puts it) “cloying or causing surfeit: nauseous: offensive: gross: rank: disgustingly fawning”.

Sir Philip Barton, the Permanent Under-Secretary, to whom would normally fall the administrative responsibility for responding at high speed to the unfolding disaster, by assigning the people and other resources needed to carry out the evacuation, was likewise on holiday.

Tom Tugendhat (Con, Tonbridge and Malling), the chair of the committee, sought to establish how much attention ministers had been paying not only to Afghanistan, but to neighbouring countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, through which evacuation by land might or might not be permitted.

The only conclusion to be drawn from Raab’s evidence was that almost no ministerial attention had been paid to those countries, few if any ministerial visits had been paid, and even ministerial telephone calls to their opposite numbers in those countries were almost unknown.

Nor did ministers consider it worth speaking to the British ambassadors in Kabul and neighbouring countries. That, the Foreign Secretary explained, was not how things worked: “All the ambassadors would feed in their advice.”

If any of the British diplomats on the spot sought to raise the alarm, and there is no evidence that any of them did, the message got lost as it travelled up the chain of command.

According to the central intelligence assessment in Whitehall, Raab told the committee, “it was unlikely Kabul would fall this year”.

All he could offer, as evidence that Afghanistan had not been entirely forgotten in recent months, was the curious statistic that there had been “over 40 meetings” about Afghanistan in his department between mid-March and 30th August, which meant there had been “at least one” meeting “every four days”.

Kabul fell on 15th August, so one assumes the meetings became remarkably frequent in the last two weeks of that month, leaving not very many to cover the earlier period.

Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) reminded Raab that the Foreign Office’s travel advice for British nationals in Afghanistan only changed on 6th August.

Raab is now travelling to the region. “This isn’t the time to be making best friends,” Tugendhat remarked.

“Better late than never,” Raab might have replied.

The Foreign Secretary was tense, lucid, disciplined, unyielding and isolated, and had certainly not made best friends of the committee.

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

22 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 4) Tom Tugendhat

2 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Number 13 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Tom Tugendhat

A former lieutenant colonel in the Army with ten years’ service, Tugendhat entered Parliament in 2015 in the safe seat of Tonbridge and Malling. Since then the seat has become even darker blue, last year reaching a majority of 47.3 per cent.

Since arriving, his focus has been on committee work. In just over two years, he became the youngest ever chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. His approach is a long game, focused on areas which will increasingly dominate conversation in the decades to come: diplomatic tensions with the US; violations of international law by Russia; the uncertain future of multilateral organisations.

He has butted heads with Boris Johnson enough times that a ministerial career seems unlikely in the immediate future. He was critical of Parliament’s prorogation before the 2019 general election, wrote a scathing judgement of Johnson’s “suicide bomber” jibe at Theresa May, questioned the former Foreign Secretary’s approach to diplomacy and backed Michael Gove during the Conservative leadership election.

His position has given him the freedom to speak openly and with authority where those holding government portfolios must tread lightly. He can align his stances with popular discontent, particularly with regards to China.

In areas such as Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure, Beijing’s role during the early Covid-19 outbreak, the citizenship status of British Nationals Overseas and historic human rights violations he has been outspoken. And he isn’t compromised by the diplomatic considerations of a government anxious to make friends outside of the EU.