Richard Holden: Three opportunities that open for us in an Australian trade deal

20 Jul

Maddisons Coffee Shop, Front Street, Consett

On Saturday, I did my sixth “Lockdown Litterpick”, around the beautiful Bollihope Common. A group of us bagged up five bin bags full of cans, bottles, pizza boxes and the general detritus that had been dumped in one the most beautiful spots in my constituency.

While chatting to my Association Chairman as the rubbish was collected, one of the volunteers revealed that she had emigrated from Canada to marry a Brit almost 40 years ago. Later that afternoon, I spoke with an old friend who had worked with me when I was a Special Adviser, before getting married and returning ‘down under’ to work for the Australian Government.

And later that afternoon still, on my way to my constituency office, I listened with interest to Times Radio as one of their correspondents gave an update on the New Zealand election – where the newly-elected National Party leader, Judith Collins, seems to be clipping the wings of Jacinda Ardern in an election that had until a couple of weeks ago looked as though it was shaping up to be a Labour landslide.

I mention these things because they to remind us that the ties that bind the United Kingdom with Canada, Australia and especially New Zealand are incredibly strong. Yes, they’re linguistic and historic, but they’re also based on families and friendships, and shared mature democratic systems of government underpinned by the rule of law.

As has been seen in recent years in both Australia and the United Kingdom, our Parliaments are more powerful than their premiers and the people aren’t afraid of switching out either if they’re not getting what they want. While Britain has spent the last few decades concerned over and trying to reform the nature of our relationship with the EU (which in 1980 made up 30 per cent of global GDP, but has shrunk to just under 15 per cent today) our CANZUK allies have been reaching out into the world.

I am very aware of how much with the grain some of these thoughts are in traditional conservative circles. But it’s increasingly clear to me that the opportunities presented by closer bonds with our Commonwealth allies are not some nostalgic pipe dream, but instead absolutely central to our future global ambitions, as well as the fillip our post-Coronavirus economy will need.

Our trade deal with Australia looks a though it might be one of the most comprehensive of the ones currently on the table, and there are three aspects of it that I’d like to flag.

First, Australia currently has a 20 per cent tariff on imports of luxury cars. Like the UK, the country is also right-hand drive. With our Range Rovers, Aston Martins and other top marques, surely this must be top target for negotiations.

Second, we’re much more understanding of Australians who want to come and work in the UK than the other way around. As we end our open borders with the EU and look at our Australian-style points-based immigration system, more mutual measures with our cousins in this regard must be a basis of future agreements.

Finally, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all very developed service sector economies, but even our biggest companies are dwarfed by those of our American cousins. By opening our services sectors up to each other, we’ll drive competition, lower prices, increase productivity and, crucially, enable the formation of global firms with the diversity and reach across the globe.

That’s not to mention the new security integrations between our counties as the power structures of the globe tip towards the Pacific more generally and in which Canada, New Zealand and Australia all have a massive stake. We should be looking to leverage our foreign, defence and international assistance policies more generally on these security and international arrangements, as well as looking to build closer ties with an old ally of manufacturing in the North East of England – Japan.

China’s recent actions towards Hong Kong, the Pacific island nations, the South China Sea and, domestically, to its ethnic minority populations should give us all pause for thought. At the forefront of the minds of our allies across Asia and the Pacific is Chinese outward expansionism, control and internal repression

For Britain, out into the world is our call now. The tectonic plates of geo-politics have shifted to the Pacific; away from Europe to the wider globe. The world, not just the continent, is where Britain is at home. Now we’ve got to make the most of the opportunities on our global doorstep – and that starts with building our relationships with our old allies facing a new world on the Pacific rim.

Robert Halfon: Helping our friends and allies the Kurds – beacons of pluralism and democracy in the Middle East

15 Jul

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.  He is also is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Solidarity articles usually focus on why the world should help others, but this column starts with how our friends and allies in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq help the world.

Against considerable odds, Kurdistanis proudly promote religious pluralism and liberal democracy.

The Kurds were, and still are, decisive in opposing ISIS, which detests everything they stand for.  It is an extraordinary nation, that was a victim of Saddam Hussein’s genocide and now, is literally now holding the line against ISIS barbarism, is surrounded by enemies and is a vital ally of the free world. These are just a few reasons why I care so deeply about this region’s future.

As a people who know persecution and exile all too well, Kurdistan has generously hosted over a million refugees and displaced people in the last decade.

After decades of isolation, it craves connections to the developed world in trade, science, education and health. This small country of six million people, twice the size of Wales, has over 30 universities. I have had the privilege of visiting two of them, during my six visits to Kurdistan since 2010, and have seen the outstanding higher education they offer alongside the aspiration of students to get on the ladder of opportunity.

That is why the Kurdistan Region All-Party Parliamentary Group (which I chair) argues that the UK should recognise Kurdistani academic qualifications so students can pay to continue their education here and develop academic links. We are also encouraging UK aid for projects to alleviate mental illness, which is the bitter fruit of decades of genocide and war.

Kurdistanis are going to need great resilience for a painful reform process that needs tough-minded technical expertise from us and others as well as great efforts to overcome deep-seated internal divisions. Furthermore, they have to deal with Baghdad’s often hostile and hectoring stances. Baghdad leaders have regularly turned federal budgets on and off in centralist efforts to unconstitutionally constrain Kurdistan.

Many Iraqi Kurdistanis spent years in the UK, and John Major and Tony Blair are revered for helping save them from the genocides under Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) embraced parliamentary democracy after its 1991 uprising. KRG MPs tell me that they are anxious to develop a system of Select Committees, similar to the British House of Commons.

But Iraqi Kurdistan is still saddled with typical problems of the Middle East. That includes underdeveloped institutions and civil society, big state employment rolls, political patronage, and a small private sector.

I have seen their fortunes ebb and flow for myself on my visits.  Covid-19, however, is a huge game-changer. Decisive action initially limited deaths, but a second spike is sadly claiming even more lives.

The Coronavirus has also slashed oil prices and revenues that account for over 90 percent of Kurdistani and Iraqi incomes. This further widened Kurdistan’s spending deficit and deepened its debt. Public salaries have been reduced, more for higher than lower paid employees, but payments are now five months in arrears.

Oil prices may recover but their volatility is an enduring problem and highlights the need for radical economic diversification to boost light industry, agriculture, and mass tourism after Covid. There’s untapped potential in Kurdistan’s hills, mountains, ski resorts, and plains. It could become more self-sufficient in food.

Tourism from the Middle East was flourishing before the pandemic. However, the KRG would hugely benefit from many more western visitors to this safe and stable nation. Take my word for it: you will be bowled over by the stunning beauty of the countryside, its extraordinary heritage and the hospitality of the cities.

Solar power, wind power, and turning natural gas into electricity are feasible goals. Large Kurdistani gas reserves could eventually help both Iraq and Europe diversify their supplies, long a UK and EU policy goal. Kurdistani ministers are also developing a law on exploiting its minerals sector.

Baghdad has barely helped the Kurdistan Regional Government look after a million displaced Sunni Arabs from Mosul. An Iraqi parliamentary committee is mean-mindedly demanding the return of weaponry abandoned by the Iraqi Army when it fled from Daesh in Mosul in 2014. The Peshmerga used the kit against Daesh and much of it is spent.

The Kurdistanis are, however, yet again seeking to make Iraq work, with commendable imagination and pragmatism, and have senior positions in the new Iraqi government, whose Prime Minister seems to be keen on a deal.

Baghdad needs to adopt a Better Together approach so that it and Kurdistanis can build a reliable and institutionalised relationship based on the constitution rather than whim.

The historical reflex of kicking Kurdistanis for short-term popularity should be abandoned. It is high time Baghdad proved that it wants the Kurds to remain as equals or let them go their own way. It’s also high time that the UN used its good offices to broker agreements.

This matters to us all. The awkward relationship between Baghdad and Erbil means there is a swathe of ungoverned territory between their armies where Daesh is regrouping. Increasing military co-operation and using the competent Peshmerga can stop Daesh gaining footholds that will then cost more in lives and defence spending to regain.

A reliable compact between Erbil and Baghdad is vital to UK interests and our policy of supporting a strong KRG within a strong unified Iraq.

As if that’s not enough, a wave of Turkish bombings against the PKK has killed Kurdistani civilians, made many villages uninhabitable, and disrupted the economy. The KRG rightly says that neither Turkey nor the PKK should infringe its territorial integrity. But a political solution is the key.

The Kurdistan Region has been pummeled by multiple economic, political, security, and humanitarian crises in the last decade and suffered much more in the previous century. Geopolitical volatility, see-sawing oil revenues, and regional power-plays are the norm for a people at the heart of the Middle East vortex.

Our friends in Kurdistan deserve more attention in our developing foreign and security policy as the Middle East matters massively to global peace and economics as well as emerging rivalries between the democratic and authoritarian worlds.

The world needs Kurdistan to survive and thrive as a decent and progressive beacon of hope in the Middle East.

Bernard Jenkin: The Government should not allow China a role in our nuclear industry without new safeguards

14 Jul

Bernard Jenkin MP is Chair of the Liaison Committee. He is MP for Harwich and North Essex.

There is no such thing as a truly independent Chinese company. Any involvement with Chinese companies comes with strings attached that lead all the way back to the Communist leadership in Beijing. We tried to ignore this with Huawei and the construction of our 5G network. But Chinese regime influence is an inevitable fact of any relationship with Chinese companies. And the Government still don’t seem to have learnt this lesson.

Near my constituency, a next generation nuclear power station is out to consultation at Bradwell on the Essex coast. Bradwell B is intended as a vital part of the UK’s future carbon-free base electricity supply. The British pretty well invented nuclear power, but we allowed BNFL to sell the n-power builder Westinghouse to Toshiba in 2005, so the UK has no indigenous n-power construction capability.

Dependent on foreign designs, the government agreed with China that CGN (China General Nuclear) should construct two Chinese designed reactors at Bradwell. CGN is entirely state-owned.

So the Government has agreed that the Chinese government should build a key part of our own critical national infrastructure (CNI). If this is to go ahead, the very least we should insist upon is a set of safeguards to protect our national security and CNI from malign foreign influence from a hostile government.

The Chinese government has demonstrated an established pattern of IP theft, nuclear espionage, political interference with private enterprise and cyber attacks on Western interests. Chinese companies are not the same as private companies based in Europe or the United States, or even state owned ones like the French EDF, which is building Hinkley Point.

Only three years ago, China passed a law granting itself the power to compel any Chinese citizen to cooperate with the government of China for national security purposes. CGN has itself been indicted by the US government, after US-based employees attempted to recruit American nuclear experts for projects in China.

Last year,  Dr Christopher Ashley-Ford, the US Assistant Secretary of State, said: “the Chinese nuclear industry is not a purely civilian industry, instead operating in close partnership with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)…To cooperate with the Chinese nuclear business, in other words, is thus to some extent inescapably to cooperate with the PLA.”

If we don’t want the UK taxpayer to contribute to the strength of the Chinese military, or UK based technology to mysteriously end up in Beijing, we need to act swiftly and decisively, whilst also recognising that, at least for now, we still need Chinese financing and technical expertise in order to expand the UK’s civil nuclear infrastructure.

The only safeguards currently proposed for Bradwell B are the same as for any nuclear power station. They are wholly inadequate. At present, China will finance, build, own and operate Bradwell B. The Office of Nuclear Regulation states that parent companies may not “usurp [the company’s] authority”, but what does this mean would happen if it happened? How can China “usurp” the authority of a company it owns anyway? This is either more wishful thinking about China, or more wilful strategic blindness.

The Government is proposing a new National Security and Investment law, of course, but this focuses on ‘trigger events’ – granting ministers the power to prevent, for example, a foreign takeover. The Bradwell deal signs us up to the takeover in the first place.

Nuclear espionage is already illegal, but this hasn’t stopped China so far. If we are to prevent espionage creating new crimes is insufficient. We must place obstacles in the way of those wishing to carry out criminal activities against us in the first place.

So the Government must use the new law to introduce a special regime for all foreign-owned CNI: a UK plc with a government-owned ‘golden share’, giving the Government special powers, and placing obligations on directors to inform the government of non-UK threats to UK CNI or to national security. This arrangement is based on the ‘golden shares’ introduced by the Thatcher government in 1980s for newly privatised industries, such as the defence research company, Qinetiq.

Under this arrangement, the Government would get the power to prevent takeovers and to appoint board members Senior company executives would have special responsibilities to notify the Government if they believed certain events were about to take place, including the preparation of intellectual property for transfer or sale and the employees involved. After all, any conspiracy to steal nuclear secrets that doesn’t involve senior executives would at least be more difficult to carry off successfully, even if it can’t eliminate the risk entirely.

The Government must manage the risks of foreign investment in UK CNI if we are to both build an infrastructure to secure our future as well as to regain China’s respect for our system and our values. Its huge economy and our own are interlinked in so many ways, and we should have positive and reciprocal engagement, but we must end the decades of blindness to China’s long-term aim of creating Western dependency on it.

Franco Frattini: Turkey’s actions in Libya risk another Europe-wide migrant crisis – and Brexit will not exempt the UK  

9 Jul

Franco Frattini is a former Foreign Minister of Italy and European Commissioner.

Libya’s bloody and destructive civil war has dragged on for almost a decade now, stamping out the hopes the nation held when it emerged from the brutal dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi. On Europe’s southern border, a hotspot of instability and chaos, where Islamist extremists have been free to exercise disturbing influence, has arisen.

A de-escalation in the conflict is not just in the interests of the Libyan people after years of suffering, but necessary to end the growing risk of a new migrant crisis, from which no European nation, in or out of the EU, will be immune. However, in recent months there has been one major obstacle to achieving this long sought-after goal: Turkey.

At the Berlin conference back in January of this year, before the world’s attention fixed firmly on the coronavirus pandemic, a major breakthrough was achieved, with a multilateral, UN-backed agreement to end external arms supplies to Libya’s belligerents.

Turkey was a signatory to this deal, yet it has used the following months not as an opportunity to further diplomatic efforts, but to up its supply of arms to the patchwork of Islamists, jihadists and organised criminals propping up the Government of National Accord (GNA). Indeed, with the ink barely dry on the Berlin agreement, the Turkish ship Bana had set sail with crate loads of arms bound for the port of Tripoli.

This stream of arms supplies, counter to the UN embargo, has since increased over recent months, with the Bana signalling the start of a steady flow of illegal shipments. With Europe’s attentions understandably fixed firmly on the dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak, Turkey has been allowed to get away with this largely unchallenged by the international community.

Conditions for a second migrant crisis, with the heightened conflict in Libya, have been allowed to brew unnoticed. European nations, particularly those in the south, stand to bear the brunt of a potential fresh wave of asylum seekers. The UK, regardless of Brexit, will also inevitably be dragged into the situation, having received tens of thousands of extra asylum applications per year at the height of the last crisis.

Furthermore, Erdogan has exhibited rank opportunism with the world’s focus turned elsewhere, by pumping thousands of Syrian fighters, many with links to violent extremist groups in their native land, into the conflict. With promises of Turkish citizenship, high financial bonuses and full medical expenses in return, these fighters have been all-to-eager to jump into the fray. The ultimate goal is clear – for Turkey to tip the odds in favour of the GNA, and hold unrivalled influence over the subsequent Islamist Libya that emerges.

Should that Libya emerge, EU nations and the UK can expect the flow of migrants to continue unabated, as citizens seek to escape the brutal reality of a newly Islamist, harder-line nation. As countries with deep and lasting ties to Libya and values of liberty, liberalism and democracy at their heart, in contrast to the political Islam increasingly espoused by Turkey and their proxies, the UK and my native Italy will likely be first choice for thousands of fleeing Libyans.

Libya overrun by extremist fighters, adhering to an Islamist ideology which views the West as its opponent, rather than as a partner, is now a very distinct possibility. The last thing Europe needs as it recovers from the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is a Turkey-induced migrant crisis on its southern border, but without firm resistance from the continent’s major powers, including the UK. This looks increasingly likely to become reality.

Europe and the international community must wake up to the threat posed by a destabilised Libya on the shores of the Mediterranean. Turkey’s culpability, with its reckless pumping of billions of dollars of weapons and thousands of extremist fighters into a conflict it had signed up to de-escalate is a security crisis waiting to happen on Europe’s southern flank. With attentions still firmly fixed on the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey has been allowed to quietly get away with reckless behaviour largely free of scrutiny. If this continues unabated, another migrant crisis beckons.

James Rogers: We’re in the G7 and are members of NATO. But we need a new alliance of democracies – the D10.

8 Jul

James Rogers is Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society.

Covid-19 is like a flash of lightning that uncovers a darkened landscape at night. It is, of course, first and foremost a public health emergency; but more deeply, it is a reflection of deep geopolitical change.

It has reconfirmed the Indo-Pacific zone’s growing centrality. It has revealed the authoritarian nature and untrustworthy character of China’s government. It has shown why we cannot afford to be so dependent on China – or any other country – for critical goods. And it has demonstrated why we need to work more with like-minded countries to uphold our principles and secure our objectives and interests.

Although it has been clear for some while that the so-called rules-based international system is increasingly dysfunctional, Covid-19 has confirmed the extent to which authoritarian powers have gained influence in such bodies last the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Human Rights Commission – stuffed as it often is with autocracies and systematic human rights abusers.

The reason for this is that the authoritarian revisionists – such as Russia and China – have grown in power over the past two decades. They want to make the world safe for autocracy; as they gain further in power, and unless they are resisted, they will continue to dismantle or hijack the international order that Britain and its allies have done so much to put in place and undergird.

This is why it makes sense, as Boris Johnson’s government restarts the Integrated Strategic Review, to thoroughly reappraise Britain’s membership of existing alliances and international organisations.

The problem is that most of these were born of a different age; they have grown difficult to reform; many allies fail to pull their weight; and it is proving ever-harder for the United Kingdom, like other democracies – even the United States – to secure its interests through them. It is vital to remember that multilateralism is not important for its own sake; multilateralism is important only if it helps Britain project its principles and secure its interests.

This does not mean, however, that the United Kingdom should descend into a clumsy transactional foreign policy, or facile isolationism.  What it does mean is that the government needs to be more selective about the alliances and international organisations it chooses to buttress and work with. It also means that Britain should be prepared to expand the functions of existing groups or, even, create new frameworks, to reflect new realities.

It is for this reason that reports that Johnson’s government is proposing to form a new coalition of democracies – potentially out of the G7 – should be particularly welcomed.

Notwithstanding Japan’s membership, the G7 is primarily Euro-Atlantic in orientation. It lost much of its rationale during the 2000s, as the centre of economic gravity shifted towards East and South-East Asia. The formalisation of the G20 after the financial crisis of 2007-2008 only confirmed its obsolescence.

Likewise, other organisations, even the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, have been rendered less relevant today than in the past as geopolitical competition has followed the previous economic shift towards China and the Indo-Pacific.

This is why a new coalition of democracies makes sense, particularly one that reflects new economic and geopolitical realities. Britain is said to be keen to build such a coalition – known as the Democratic 10, or ‘D10’ for short – to include the existing G7 members, alongside India, South Korea and Australia.

Ostensibly as a first step, Donald Trump suggested inviting the three countries to the upcoming G7 summit this autumn, perhaps alongside Russia – a proposal too far, which the British and Canadians, even the Russians themselves, quickly rejected.

It should come as no surprise that the concept of a community of democracies, even the D10, has been mooted in various guises for some time. That Britain is now prepared to push the idea – there will be ample opportunity during the British presidency of the G7 in 2021 – shows not only the fresh thinking Boris Johnson’s government is capable of, but also how much a new democratic coalition is needed.

An organisation like the D10 could help the democracies organise their efforts to resist the authoritarian revisionism of countries like Russia and China. It could provide a forum for technological cooperation at the strategic level, to ensure that an authoritarian power never again becomes the market or technological leader in the way that China has in relation to 5G telecommunications systems.

The D10 could also provide a platform for the democracies to coordinate the reversal of environmental degradation and their broader international development efforts, particularly as China accelerates and expands its vast £770 billion Belt and Road Initiative.

It could gradually expand to include additional democracies – such as Chile – that are able and willing to preserve an international order based on rules.  And, in time, the D10 could even facilitate greater military cooperation between its members, particularly if growing international tensions start to boil over.

Covid-19 has merely reconfirmed the fact that the democracies cannot take their security for granted. Britain’s proposal for the D10 shows that it is capable of putting the concept of ‘Global Britain’ into practice. It throws down the gauntlet to the Europeans, in an attempt to coax them out of their introspectiveness, while showing America, Japan, India and Australia that London takes their concerns seriously, particularly in relation to China. If implemented, it would rev-up multilateralism for a new age by preparing the world’s democracies for the challenges of the twenty-first century. And it proves that Britain is still at the crux of the international order – not a power shuffling away from it.

Chris Whitehouse: Raab delivers on Magnitsky sanctions

7 Jul

Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy.

Dominic Raab’s publication of the details of his new Magnitsky-style sanctions regime has been long awaited, but was worth that wait. The new scheme is another means of deploying Britain’s soft power around the world – a stick to balance the carrots of diplomacy and overseas aid.

No longer can individuals who benefit from corruption and egregious human rights breaches expect to live comfortably, free from repercussions, avoiding any unpleasant consequences of their actions. That leaving the EU means, for the first time, that the United Kingdom can act alone in bringing forward such sanctions is a further leap forward in our nation stepping up to fulfil its global potential, to play its full role on the world’s stage.

As Bill Browder, the man acknowledged by Raab in his statement as being behind the global campaign for Magnitsky sanctions, following the death in Russian custody of his business colleague, Sergei Magnitsky, told this column: “Although the UK is a relatively small country, it has an outsized role in the world, because this is where everyone from the developed world wants to buy property, keep their families safe and store their money.”

Without this sanctions regime, Browder explains: “In the past, whenever a dictator perpetrated an atrocity, the most the British government and many others did was to issue statements of condemnation, at which the perpetrators simply laughed. This Magnitsky sanctions regime creates real world consequences of which they’re rightly terrified.”

Raab, to be fair, has consistently, since 2012, declared that he was “passionate” about the introduction of a sanctions regime, believing that it would have real impact, particularly when used alongside those of other sympathetic nations.

There were some who feared that Foreign Office officials would water down his plans, this column included, and leave us with a regime that was not fit for purpose and did not strike the necessary fear into the hearts of those targeted by its restrictions on financial assets and freedom of movement. Maybe we should have had more faith, because the scheme now published puts considerable power into the hands of Ministers, provided, of course, due process is followed, to stop kleptocrats “laundering their blood money”, as Raab put it, in the United Kingdom

That we had the first designations, the historic early targets of this tough new regime and the very day it was presented to Parliament is a clear indication of the planning, the preparation and the determination on the part of Raab and his team. Rightly, some (though by no means all) of those complicit in Russia of the violent death in custody of Magnitsky, and of the state-sanctioned theft of assets from Bowder’s Hermitage investment fund are among the first to be hit. Let’s hope that others from that benighted kleptocracy follow in the future.

Rightly do we see targeted some (but again far from all) of those Saudis responsible for the shocking murder of tell-it-like-it-is journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the subsequent beheading, dismemberment and disposal of his body inside the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

Others announced include against some of those responsible for the worst aspects of the systematic mistreatment of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, and those responsible for the sending to the Gulags of North Korea hundreds of thousands of innocent people in that country.

But now that the regime is published and the criteria for inclusion within it is known, we can hopefully expect a gradual extension of the lists of not only the perpetrators of the atrocities against Magnitsky and Khashoggi, but also the inclusion of others implicated directly in the genocide of millions of Uighurs in China, imprisoned in concentration camps to wipe out their sense of religious and cultural identity. We also need to see movement against the senior Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for the now internationally recognised harvesting of human organs from members of the Falun Gong community, among others.

And closer to home, with the threat to the basic freedoms of speech, thought, association and protest of 350,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders, and the wider people of Hong Kong to whom we owe a particular moral and historic duty, should we not be bringing forward in the immediate future sanctions against that city’s puppet of the Chinese Community Party, as identified in the Commons debate by Iain Duncan Smith, namely its Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and her head of police, the latter of whom is directly, personally and professionally responsible for the sustained campaign of brutal police violence against protestors.

When it comes to eating a large slice of humble pie for suggesting that Raab risked not meeting the Conservative manifesto commitment to introduce a regime that delivered a truly effective Magnitsky sanctions regime, this column could not be more delighted than to have to ask, Oliver Twist-like: please sir, can I have some more!

In introducing the sanctions regime that he has, Raab has made a bold and decisive leap in the right direction. There is further to go, particularly into widening the scope of the regime to include a wider range, in particular, of human rights abuses, and we can only welcome his commitment to make further progress in that regard; but we can be proud as a party of what Raab has already delivered.

Roderick Crawford: We have interests in the rest of Europe, but must be free to run our own foreign policy

6 Jul

Roderick Crawford works on conflict resolution in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq, and on Brexit-related matters. He is a former editor of Parliamentary Brief.

One could be forgiven a sense of déjà vu as we enter the second round of accelerated talks, this time in London. The high hopes of breakthrough at the start of last week’s talks were dashed as they broke up on Thursday last. The same sticking points remain: the legal structure of the agreement, level playing field commitments, including state aid, and of course fisheries. Specific details have not been released, so it is hard to comment on why the progress on getting agreement on underlying principles has failed to materialise.

Though working through the underlying principles of the agreement should help identify where the barriers to agreement lie, a look at the overarching principles of the negotiating positions of the two parties may throw better light on the lack of progress.

Last month, Der Spiegel ran an interview with the Anglophile former German Ambassador in London, Peter Wittig; he provided a revealing glimpse into the EU’s perspective on the negotiations. Asked whether, in effect, the EU should accept a hard Brexit and let the UK go, he says, no:

‘We should continue to endeavour to tie Britain as closely as possible to the European Union. Europe can only survive in the competition between the USA and China if it is strong and united. I always thought it was good that the Federal Government was the voice of pragmatic reason in all these difficult negotiation phases. I advise everyone not to think about the short-term effect, but to keep a strategic eye on where Europe should be in five, ten or 15 years.’

The quote is interesting because it is part of an intra-German conversation from a friend of the UK expressing pragmatic views on the big picture in which Brexit sits. While the UK has been caught up in its own arguments and political storms – and of course running ourselves down – we have lost sight of the impact of Brexit on the EU: it has been considerable.

The EU has lost its only global city, its only global finance centre, its most dynamic services economy, 12 per cent of its consumers – more when weighted for income – and its only universities ranked in the world’s top ten. It has lost a major pillar of good governance (the UK was a consistent upholder of the EU’s rules-based system) and a source of sound counsel.

As the EU looks to develop its common foreign policy and defence co-operation, it does so now from a far weaker base. The UK was one of two EU permanent members of the UN Security Council, one of two nuclear powers.

It had the only blue-water navy capable of working with the US; China has just achieved a two aircraft carrier capability – the UK will soon be there, too. It has a battle-tested professional army and air force. The UK alone had the capability of power projection across the world – albeit with limitations – and the will to do so. The Foreign Office, despite its shortcomings, is still world class and the UK’s influence is, arguably, stronger across the world than any single EU member state.

The EU is diminished, while the fault lines on which it sits become more unstable. To its east, Russia is reviving in confidence as its actions in Ukraine, Syria, and its challenges to the West demonstrate. Turkey has become a regional player, outside of the NATO fold, and looks to a future untied to the EU. The Middle East and North Africa are unstable, and a source of potential and probable mass migration to the EU driven by demographics, economic and political failures and climate change.

The UK looks out across the North Sea to Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, and across the Channel to Belgium and France; to our west lie the USA and Canada. It is an envious position to be in, though not one deserving of complacency: we still want a secure and stable EU. We are committed to the peace and security of Europe through NATO; in these respects, our interests and obligation in NATO, we are tied in.

One of the problems in the current negotiations is that the EU has re-written history to build up its own role in keeping the peace of the last half century. One of its foundational myths is that it has been the EU that has kept the peace in Europe. It even claims responsibility for the Belfast Agreement.

But its claims to success are absent of evidence. It is the transatlantic partnership that has kept the peace in Europe; it was the Northern Irish, London and Dublin – with US support – who brought about the Belfast Agreement. The EU forgets its role in the break up of Yugoslavia, and the subsequent wars and civil wars ended only with US engagement. Its diplomatic bungle over Kosovo, when it resurrected the July 1914 ultimatum to Serbia, ended likewise – and at great cost in civilian lives. The EU has not kept the peace in Europe.

The EU’s ambitious partnership proposal is overly ambitious, based as it is on inflated ideas of its own story and present capability; the ideas of uniquely shared values and interests ignore that they are shared with the English-speaking world and beyond. When the myth is removed, and the reality of the EU’s position is seen — its risk levels, its lack of investment in NATO and its own level of defence preparedness, and its poor relations with its neighbours — it is hardly an attractive partner; more of a liability.

The EU, quite understandably, wants the UK as closely tied in as possible to its defence and foreign policy (and economy). The UK, quite understandably, does not. Present commitments through NATO provide sufficient security to the EU’s members and help balance much, though not all, of their security concerns. The UK will do more, through co-operation bilaterally with members and freely alongside the EU too.

The EU and UK can co-operate to secure shared interests, but ultimately, though the UK wants a stable and secure EU and stability and security for its member states, there are differences in interests. The UK must be free to run its own foreign policy, champion alliances that may take precedence over that with the EU and policies that the EU will oppose — even the freedom to support member state interests against those of the EU institutions. It cannot be tied-in to a punitive governance structure to prevent it exercising such choices.

The overarching principles of the EU and the UK as regards governance of the future relationship are in conflict — we can’t be tied-in and free simultaneously; papering over the differences would breed confusion and likely lead to fresh upsets in the future. The UK cannot afford to accept a single overarching governance structure or claims upon it in the field of the EU’s common foreign policy and defence.

Hugo de Burgh: We owe it to future generations of Brits to work with China

6 Jul

Professor Hugo de Burgh is Director of the China Media Centre. He is the author of China’s Media in the Emerging World Order, has held office in three Conservative associations, and stood in unwinnable seats several times.

China is our third largest market and the one with the greatest potential. China is the country with which we must work if we are to have any impact on the resolution of global problems from environment to nuclear proliferation. China can accelerate the development of African and Central Asian economies, mitigating the risks to Europe that come from population explosion there without adequate economic growth. China is the largest economy in the world and already influential in a majority of countries.

For all these reasons, it is patriotic and reasonable for British leaders to find a way to work with China, which they will only do if they understand China as it is. Among other eminent Brits who started with a morbid suspicion of China, I have accompanied Boris Johnson and Jeremy Paxman on extended visits, and watched the scales fall from their eyes as they understood the enormity of the challenges facing Chinese government and the absurdity of imagining that its leaders wasted a moment thinking about conquering the world.

The reverse is the case. They are determined not to be conquered by the world. In the past, China built a Great Wall to keep out foreigners; today China is initiating the Belt and Road initiative to secure their back as they restore their civilisation, threatened from the east.

Fantasising about regime change in China, some US politicians make outlandish accusations. Had they talked to a few Chinese punters, followed social media or watched chat shows on TV, they could not possibly claim that China is a totalitarian country. Had they read Pew’s surveys of public opinion they would realise that the Chinese are, overall, more satisfied with their governance than European citizens, to say nothing of the USA. And are you surprised? While Europe and the USA are beset by economic and political troubles, Chinese people see ahead of them only more wealth, health and social mobility.

We need to recognise that demonisation of China is a weapon with which some US politicians deflect attention from their own failings and reflect their commercial jealousy. Both our National Cyber Security Centre and GCHQ have maintained until now that Huawei’s involvement in the UK poses no security risk that cannot be managed. Otherwise why would the US trade Department last week reauthorize US companies to work with Huawei, even as Donald Trump bullies other countries not to?

Robert Zoellick, a US former Deputy Secretary of State, is among the calmer heads to remind us just how positive a collaborator China is: that it recognises climate change issues, is in the forefront of environment innovation and has worked hard on endangered species; cooperates with the IMF over stimulation; provides more UN peacekeepers than the other members of the Security Council combined.

He points out that between 2000 and 2018 China supported 182 of the 190 Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on nations which violated international rules or norms; China collaborated on the Iran and North Korea proliferation treaties.

Zoellick is not given to dire warnings about how dysfunctional it will be if the West really manages to ‘cut China off’, but they are implied in his general remarks about China, restated at a recent Henry Jackson webinar. China, he reminds us, is the biggest contributor to global growth; the fastest growing market for United States products; no longer manipulates the exchange rate; and, in response to our pleas, has improved its legal system. All in all, Zoellick tells us that cooperation with China “does produce results” but we should not take China’s cooperation for granted, “it could be very different”.

At home in Blighty, those calling for “a reckoning with China”, demanding a COBRA-like committee to mull over retaliation, wanting to “hold China to account” should ask themselves whether our businesses, for many of whom China is their most important market, want matters to become “very different”.

As to Hong Kong, the whole world must be astounded at the descendants of nineteenth century imperialists sending out paper gunboats commanding that China order its affairs according to our desires. A long time ago as a student, I demonstrated against colonial rule and police corruption in Hong Kong, and can still feel the truncheon on my back. In the face of much more vicious violence than anything we democracy activists attempted, Beijing has been restrained. In Northern Ireland, when security deteriorated, the UK imposed direct rule and fiercely rejected US interference on the IRA side. Over Hong Kong, we should try to see how interfering former imperialists look to most Asians, let alone to Chinese.

There are aspects of Chinese policies that we do not like, just as there are aspects of US policies that we abhor. The China Research Group is right to be concerned about cyber security and human rights. The way forward is to deal with China as a partner in the solution of common issues, such as terrorism in Xinjiang and Afghanistan. We have always worked with regimes with different standards when it suits our national interest. And respecting and being respected by China is in our national interest.

In the words of Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister: Over 30 years China has pulled off the ‘the English industrial revolution and the global information revolution combusting simultaneously and compressed into not 300 years but 30’. There is a lot to learn and if we are to develop and prosper in the world ahead, we must be part of this. We should also celebrate that China’s rise is bringing better nourishment, greater life expectancy, education and security to hundreds of millions around the world.

Fulminating at China’s internal affairs and rejecting Chinese investment in order to please its commercial rivals will have no effect beyond signalling our impotence and arrogance; they are of no benefit to Britain and have no place in a long-term plan for Britain to prosper in the Asian century. Our government must develop a strategic approach to China. We owe it to future generations of Brits to work with China.

Iain Dale: China’s cyber attacks on Britain. How do I know about them? Because I’ve seen the proof.

3 Jul

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

Wednesday was a sad day for every right-thinking person in Hong Kong, and one that will be full of consequence, not just for the people of Hong Kong, but for the future of international relations and the world’s dealings with China.

China has been flexing its muscles for a long time, but the West has been slow to realise it. It is the new imperial power in Africa. It has in large parts taken over the continent, raping it for its natural resources and embedding itself in different countries. It has only one aim: the furtherance of Chinese power and influence on the continent.

Just look at how it’s behaving towards India over the disputed border region. It continues to threaten Taiwan. It treats its minority Uighur Muslim population in a manner reminiscent of how the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.

And now it has imposed a new security law on Hong Kong in defiance of the terms of the 1985 Joint Declaration. Laughably, China justifies it on the basis that it was a ‘declaration’ and not a ‘treaty’. They say it is we who have broken the agreement by offering British passports to 2.9 million Hong Kong Chinese people and offering them sanctuary in the UK.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to work out that they’re talking utter bollocks. They know it too – but it will always suit their interests to create a bogeyman for all those who fall for their preposterous propaganda.

I think it is now inconceivable that the deal with Huawei can go ahead. There are now enough Conservative MPs who would be able to defeat the Government in any vote. I doubt whether it will come to that. The Prime Minister was always reluctant to go ahead with it anyway. So surely he will now be pushed over the edge.

There will be consequences, though – and one of them will be that UK universities will be targeted by the Chinese. Many university courses are now totally reliant on Chinese students (and their fees) for their existence. China will probably stop its students from coming to the UK, and that gap in funding for UK universities will be impossible to fill. In 2014-15 there were 89,500 Chinese students at UK universities. Since then, the number has risen by a third to 120,000.

It would not surprise me if the UK experiences a state sponsored country-wide cyber attack in the next few weeks, along the lines of that which Australia underwent a few weeks ago. A huge proportion of the cyber attacks launched against Britain already come from China. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen the proof. I could reveal how, but I’d have to shoot you.

The Government is entirely right to offer sanctuary to Hong Kongers. Initially, it looked as if they would only do this for the 330,000 current British Overseas Passport holders, but they have extended it to 2.9 million people who would be entitled to apply for one.

No one seriously believes that all 2.9 million would come here. There are plenty of other countries in the world that would welcome some of them too, but it’s entirely possible that maybe a quarter to a third might consider coming.

However, it is also entirely possible that the Chinese could do one of two things. They could impose a deadline for people to leave, or they could stop people leaving altogether. That would provoke a full-blown international crisis, but they’re ruthless enough not to give a damn about that.

Britain has very few levers to pull in a situation like this. Using condemnatory language is one thing we can do. Offering sanctuary is another. Bringing to a halt Chinese involvement in our national infrastructure is a third. I don’t see a trade war having much effect unless some sort of trade sanctions are imposed by the international community through the WTO.

We as individuals could boycott Chinese goods, I suppose, but given Chinese imports are worth nearly £45 billion a year, I suspect a boycott wouldn’t make much of a dent. Our exports to China are worth only half that, but there’s little doubt that they would be hit, too.

In the end, we have to do what is right and hang the consequences. What the government has done is right. There may some anti-immigration siren voices on the right who have an issue with us meeting our obligations, but they should be ignored.

We should welcome Hong Kong Chinese people with open arms. They would bring massive positives to our country. The Government now needs to try to work out how many might want to come and on what timescale. We need to think very deeply about this because if we make the same mistake as Tony Blair made in the early 2000s with immigration from eastern Europe, and fail to provide the requisite infrastructure, the consequences could be dire

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.