Interview: Frost on Johnson’s future, tax cuts, admiring Cummings, Net Zero – and the abuse he has faced as he mulls his political future

14 Jun

If anything stops Lord Frost from carrying on in politics, it will be the “shocking” degree of personal hostility he has encountered, which he describes, unbidden, at the end of this interview:

“The degree of aggression, hostility on social media and beyond, has been quite striking to me. I’ve had people spit at me in the street, push me, shout at me on trains, this sort of thing.

“So I’m now a bit edgy about any kind of public interaction. That has been a real surprise and disappointment to me.”

He observes that because he became a minister without having first been an MP, he had not become accustomed to some of the rigours of life in the public eye.

Frost resigned as a minister in December last year, in protest at the Government’s “direction of travel”, but is now considering seeking election to the Commons, in order to press Boris Johnson and his team to adopt more Conservative policies, including tax cuts:

“The trouble is in many ways the damage is done in the sense that we’ve now shown to the world we’re willing to raise taxes. You can’t put that genie back into the bottle, other than through a recantation: ‘We got this wrong, it was the wrong thing to do, we’re a low-tax Conservative Party.'”

In this interview he describes how, while serving as a career diplomat, he became a Eurosceptic, and how later he became a “big admirer” of Dominic Cummings.

He deplores the restrictions on freedom of expression during the lockdowns of recent years, and opposes the target of reaching Net Zero by 2050:

“I think we’re going at it too fast with technology that can’t yet do the job, and the risk is that we end up with rationing and demand management rather than achieving the goal.”

But he began by discussing the Northern Ireland Protocol. This interview was conducted at teatime yesterday afternoon, before the Government had published its Bill, but Frost explained the principles which should inform policy, and why it was right in the first place to sign the Protocol, and is right now to insist on changes.

ConHome: “You tweeted this morning: ‘Many are asking for my view of today’s NI Protocol Bill…The Govt is right to act but must get the detail right.’

“You say in between those quotes that you need to read and study it. You won’t have been able to do that yet, but what would getting the details wrong look like, and what are the dangers inherent in the Bill?”

Frost: “We know there’s been a back and forth over the past week internally between groups with different views on this subject, and I suppose what might be a risk would be if they found compromises that tried to keep everybody happy, tried to find middle ways that don’t complete the logic of the direction that’s established.

“Are you going to take the [European] Court out completely, or is there going to be some residual role? Is dual regulation done in a simple way, or in a complicated way?”

ConHome: “You mean they mustn’t muddle it in such a way that all the people who think it isn’t being done properly are on their back, and all the people who complain about breaking international law are on their back, all at the same time? They’ve got to make up their mind what they’re doing?”

Frost: “Yeah, I think that’s fair. This is going to cause a lot of alarms and excursions, obviously. If we’re going to go through this we need to make sure we deliver the result that’s worth having at the end of it.”

ConHome: “What do you think of the objection that this is clearly in breach of international law, the Attorney General is there because she’s a Spartan, they’ve dragged in the Treasury devil but he’s not allowed to pronounce on the legality of the proceedings…”

Frost: “So who knows what’s happened internally on all of that. I think the Attorney General, she’s the legal adviser to the Government and what she says goes, and there’s always debate around things, but I think that is decisive.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the summary of the legal position is when it’s published. It sounds as if the Attorney is convinced there’s an international law support for this course of action.”

ConHome: “Is there not a case for publishing the whole legal advice?”

Frost: “Well it’s not normally done. I don’t think it’s necessary as long as you make clear what the Attorney’s view is.”

ConHome: “One view is that the main problem for the Government is that the Bill won’t persuade the DUP to go back into government in Northern Ireland before it is passed.

“If it doesn’t achieve this end, it will simply help create further ill-will for nothing, won’t it?”

Frost: “Every course of action on the Protocol now has some risk that it won’t bring along somebody, that it won’t bring along one group or another, somebody won’t like it.

“In the end you’ve got to act and invite everybody else to react to that action. So I hope the DUP do what’s necessary and begin to come back in to the Executive after this is tabled, if it is what we think.

“But if they don’t it doesn’t make it any less valid that we should be acting as we are.”

ConHome: “Does anyone ever change their mind about the Protocol? Such a high percentage of the debate is just experts, or supposed experts, repeating their previous positions.”

Frost: “It’s such a complicated and delicately balanced document in the first place that it’s capable of accommodating various interpretations.

“I thought it was carefully balanced, I thought it would last longer than it did, I thought the EU would run it in a more sensitive way than they have done.

“So the fact that they haven’t means I’ve changed my view slightly.

“But the text itself says what is says. It was a response to events.

“And those who say ‘I wish we’d not signed this’ or ‘You shouldn’t have signed it’ have got to face up to the reality at the time.

“It’s very easy for commentators to say ‘I wish it hadn’t been like this’. But they have to say what would they have done faced with the choice of signing an improved but still imperfect Protocol, and getting Brexit to happen, or endless prolongation of the constitutional war and possibly Brexit never happening.

“Those were the actual choices, and to pretend there was some other way through is just trying to have it all ways.”

ConHome: “The objection then becomes that having signed it, you’re in no position now to try to drive a coach and horses through the very vehicle that you signed in this Bill.”

Frost: “I mean I wish it didn’t have to be like this, is the simple answer. It wouldn’t have taken much to run it in a more sensitive way. It is of course not being fully implemented even now. It can only work because of the grace periods and so on.

“I wish it had been possible to do it differently but it isn’t.”

ConHome: “At the other end there are people who say, ‘We could deal rationally with Michael Gove. Indeed we reached a settlement with Michael Gove. But we found David Frost to be a complete monster, who stuck obdurately to a UK position and is responsible for some of this trouble.”

Frost: “So I think what’s happened since I left sort of disproves that. There are two answers to that question. One we came in, I came in in 2019-20 after three years in which the UK had not been saying clearly what it wanted and had been making a terrible hash of the negotiations.

“There was a need to be clear and a need to be forceful in what we said if we were going to get anything to happen.

“Second, this year Liz Truss initially started with a completely different approach and there was a month or so when everyone said this brutish, nationalist Frost has disappeared and we’ve now got somebody who can work.

“And where are we? We’re in exactly the same position. How negotiators are to each other is only a minor element in it. The question is what is the national interest involved.

“There hasn’t been any movement on the national interest involved and that’s why we are where we are.”

ConHome: “When did you become a Brexiteer? One looks at your C.V., Foreign Office, Ambassador to Denmark, you had this key strategy role in the Foreign Office. This is not a C.V. that’s automatically associated with support for Brexit.

“So when did it happen? Did you have to keep it quiet?”

Frost: “I regarded myself as a Eurosceptic pretty soon after I went to Brussels in the Nineties. I went to Brussels with quite conventional opinions and they changed through seeing the way it worked, to be honest.

“And this was the Major Government era and all the drama of that. I think I began to think leaving might be necessary, because one forgets now leaving was really quite a far-out opinion until quite late in this process, I began thinking it might be necessary around the time I left the civil service, around then, 2013.

“I think many of us, it was only when the renegotiation failed, indeed was never seriously tried in the first place, that it seemed like OK there’s no real option left other than leave now.

“It was probably known that my opinions were, within the Foreign Office, quite sceptic. There are people like Charles Grant for example who will say that ‘I never realised he was a Eurosceptic, he never seemed to show any sign of it when I met him’.

“Well good, I was supposed to be representing the Government, that was the job. It doesn’t mean one can’t have internal convictions on things.”

ConHome: “When you did the Scotch Whisky Association job [Frost was Chief Executive 2014-16] your line in the referendum was pro-Remain. Presumably that came with the job?”

Frost: “Again, I represented the views of the members on that. Actually, I was on the Council of Open Europe at the time, and Dom Cummings, who I didn’t know, did a bit of a hit job on me in May during the referendum campaign.

“So if you look on Guido round about that time you will find some of my internal emailing leaked to him, which shows that my private opinion was different.

“That was actually quite awkward for me at the time.”

ConHome: “Is Cummings a loss to the Government, or had the position become completely impossible?”

Frost: “I think he is a loss. I’m a big admirer of Dom. I haven’t agreed with him on everything, in particular on aspects of lockdown, Covid policy, we’ve had a different view, but I think his focus and ability to look through the day to day noise, focus on the goal, work out what’s important to it, what isn’t, you know that’s quite a rare skill in government, and it’s even rarer to be given a chance to act on it.

“So I think you need somebody like that, you need people who are able to do that. Otherwise you become overwhelmed by the day-to-day noise.”

ConHome: “Do they have that in the team now?”

Frost: “Well I don’t know the current team as well as I know the predecessor. It’s not obvious from events that they have that at the moment. But if they haven’t, they ought to try to get it.”

ConHome: “Are you enjoying being a columnist? You can say whatever you like, you’re not constrained by collective responsibility. Do you enjoy it?”

Frost: “I do quite. I might get a bit weary of saying, at some point, and want to do doing again. Who knows? But at the moment I’m enjoying it.”

ConHome: “You have become a kind of right-wing poster boy. You’re writing in favour of a small state, lower taxes, you’re sceptical about lockdowns, sceptical about Net Zero, you want less regulation.

“To the members, this is a dream, and you do recognise what’s going on. There’s a lot of conversation about ‘If only they’d do what Lord Frost tells them to do, and if only Lord Frost were there to do it’.”

Frost: “Yeah, I mean it’s been a bit of a surprise to me to be honest. I’ve been a party member, off and on, for some time, obviously you can’t do much more when you’re in government, but you’re allowed to have convictions about things.

“What I say now I just regard as normal conservatism. You know, let’s get the state back down to the size it was when Gordon Brown was in power, that’s good.

“That doesn’t make you in favour of a night watchman state. It just makes you in favour of trying to shrink it when you can.

“I think lockdowns were extremely damaging and liberated some extremely worrying forces and currents of opinion that we need to do our best to put back in their box.”

ConHome: “Which are what?”

Frost: “The authoritarian state. Vaccine passports and wherever that may lead. Some of the constraints on the free expression of opinion that happened from time to time during lockdown.”

ConHome: “Anything in particular?”

Frost: “The most obvious thing is where did all this start, was it a lab leak or not, the ability to debate that. I thought it was also suggestive they took quite some time before they acknowledged the vaccines don’t prevent transmission, they only prevent symptoms.

“There was a kind of month or two where that was obvious but it was not acknowledged in official statements, and then became too obvious not to.

“I think one of the most worrying things was the inability to look objectively at the evidence, weigh it up, come to reasoned conclusions. There was much too much doubling down on ‘we did this so we must stick to doing it, even if the evidence points in a different direction’.”

ConHome: “You said last month, ‘I don’t think the Lords is a particularly brilliant place to do real politics from. I think you need to be in the Commons to do real politics, that’s obvious…if in future the opportunity comes up and the party wants me to do it, obviously I would be ready to stand down from the seat and do proper politics again.’

“Do you want to be in the House of Commons?”

Frost: “It was a new thing to me. I left out of concern about the direction of travel and the plan B. I hadn’t really intended to continue political life in a different way.

“But then there’s been this speculation about would I do it. What you’ve just quoted says what I think. The House of Lords is a great institution and I don’t want to undermine Conservative colleagues who do a good job and are very necessary to getting the business through.

“But the fact is it’s an unelected house. You can’t take controversial positions in it, you can’t easily advocate cases, and in the end you can’t and shouldn’t I think really block and change things in the Lords.

“If you aspire to shape opinion and make things happen I think it’s right that you should be in the Commons. Whether I want and will do that I’ll see.”

ConHome: “To be clear, you’re mulling the possibility.”

Frost: “Yes, I think that’s fair.”

ConHome: “The obvious critique of all this is look, here’s Lord Frost, he was quite a senior minister, which means you’ve got to knuckle down and accept things you don’t like, on Net Zero, Covid, the direction of tax and spend and all that.

“And if Lord Frost didn’t want to do that within the Cabinet, in the Lords, why would he be any good at doing it collectively with colleagues in the Commons?”

Frost: “Well I think it’s a fair question. Obviously there are quite a lot of Tory colleagues in the Commons who have the same opinions as me on quite a lot of things, and that’s not a contradiction for them.

“What we need to do is get the Government onto an agenda that more Conservatives feel they can support.”

ConHome: “Do you think that Rishi Sunak has succumbed to the institutional grip of the Treasury and isn’t bold enough about income tax cuts?”

Frost: “Well I don’t know about him personally, and I’m always a bit cautious – lots of people attributed to me thought processes and beliefs that weren’t in fact the case.

“But obviously I think that the economic situation requires loosening of fiscal policy and tightening of monetary policy, and I think that means personal tax cuts, not rises. If we could reverse out what we’ve done that would be a start.

“I do think the Treasury orthodoxy is very strong, and I wouldn’t like to say he’s been captured by it, I don’t think that’s fair, but I do think the Treasury Finance Ministry view of the world is all about getting in money, it isn’t about structural reform to increase the productive capacity of the economy.

“The trouble is in many ways the damage is done in the sense that we’ve now shown to the world we’re willing to raise taxes. You can’t put that genie back into the bottle, other than through a recantation, ‘We got this wrong, it was the wrong thing to do, we’re a low-tax Conservative Party.’

“And that should be the direction of travel. I’m not sure how likely that is, mind you.”

ConHome: “On Net Zero, what’s your view? That the target is too severe?”

Frost: “I think the way I would look at it is not to get into ‘Is it the right target?’ or ‘Is global warming scientifically justified?’ or whatever. From the political point of view, my view is that with the technology we’ve got I don’t see how we deliver the target by 2050 unless we are rescued by fusion power or some massive advance in battery power.

“But at the moment those things don’t seem likely. And I don’t see how we are going to decarbonise the grid by 2035. I don’t see how the technologies exist.

“And everybody is ignoring the fact that the intermittency of renewables (a) is a problem in itself (b) imposes huge costs elsewhere on the grid by the way of backup and inefficiency.

“I think we need more focus on security. We need a more realistic focus on the speed of the transition. I think we’re going at it too fast with technology that can’t yet do the job, and the risk is that we end up with rationing and demand management rather than achieving the goal.”

ConHome: “Lots of our readers will think all that is simple common sense, and will therefore ask, ‘What did other people say in government when you put this view to them?'”

Frost: “One other consequence before I answer the question. Net Zero affects huge parts of the economy, not just in energy prices but in systems, the way it works.

“And if you want serious post-Brexit reform that produces greater efficiency, lower costs, simpler ways of doing things, the existence of the Net Zero target is a big inhibition on that.

“You’re essentially saying large parts of the economy are off-limits for the purposes of reform.

“So that’s the context that I used to have those discussions in. Without going into detail, I think many people would acknowledge that.

“I think people reasonably point out Net Zero was in the manifesto, it was something that was campaigned on, it was one of the pledges, it should be taken seriously.

“I don’t want to speak for others. But many people have a degree of uncertainty and unease about it that is not always dealt with.”

ConHome: “What were your feelings at 9 p.m. last Monday when you heard that 148 Conservative MPs had voted against the Prime Minister?”

Frost: “Well, I was happy the PM had survived, I wasn’t that surprised to be honest the vote against was so high, reading the runes.

“I think the Prime Minister, I’ve said it, I think he’s a remarkable guy, he’s done a lot for this country, he deserves a chance to deliver and to continue with the agenda, so I’m glad he’s survived from that point of view.

“But I do think he’s got to deliver the agenda. That’s the question mark now. And I’ve worked as closely with him as anyone over the last five years, and I feel for him, the agonies of this very, very difficult politics.

“But equally, we’ve got a majority of 80, we must do something with this majority of 80 to keep improving the country.

“Can I say one other thing I meant to say, just about coming into politics?

“Most people become ministers and do controversial things in politics after they’ve been an MP. For me it all came suddenly out of the blue, and having to get used to the public exposure suddenly, without any kind of prep, has been quite shocking in some ways to me.

“The degree of aggression, hostility on social media and beyond, has been quite striking to me. I’ve had people spit at me in the street, push me, shout at me on trains, this sort of thing.

“So I’m now a bit edgy about any kind of public interaction. That has been a real surprise and disappointment to me.

“I mean it shows the passions that have been unleashed.”

ConHome: “Is it one of these things that you might rationally have anticipated, but you can’t emotionally until it actually happens? The reason you might rationally have anticipated it is you were Boris Johnson’s special adviser, so you’ll have seen the antipathy, hatred and venom that he was the target of. But until it happens to you, you can’t quite believe it’s happening.”

Frost: “Exactly, exactly. And I think if you’ve had time to get used to the idea it’s one thing. All of a sudden to find it there has been shocking.

“I mean I’m not saying I should be protected from hostile comment on social media. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely don’t think that. There are plenty of block and mute tools. I certainly don’t think we need an Online Harms Bill to protect me from comment.

“But the degree of personal hostility, and sometimes as I say face to face, has been striking. If anything stops me carrying on it’s more likely to be that and the knock-on than anything else. Which is a pity, really.”

The post Interview: Frost on Johnson’s future, tax cuts, admiring Cummings, Net Zero – and the abuse he has faced as he mulls his political future first appeared on Conservative Home.

Andrew Bowie: I’m a Conservative MP, and I ask. Where’s the big idea? What’s the offer to the country?

10 Jun

Andrew Bowie is MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and a Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party.

“People in this country are crying out for a Conservative party that is decent, reasonable, sensible, commonsense, and in it for the long term of this country. And that is the party we are going to build, and I want everyone to join in.

“If you want to build a modern, compassionate Conservative party, come and join us. If you want me and all of us to be a voice for hope, for optimism and for change, come and join us. In this modern, compassionate Conservative party, everyone is invited. Thank you.” – David Cameron, 6th December 2005

When I am conflicted about an issue, a policy or a vote; when I, not infrequently, question why I do what I do, why I am here, what drove me into politics and particularly, into the Conservative Party, I recall the words above.

I first heard them sitting in my mum’s car outside Morrisons Supermarket in Inverurie, the town I grew up in. I was 18 years old, had passed the Admiralty Interview Board for the Navy and was awaiting entry. And as the rain came down on that car in that supermarket car park, I heard on Radio 5 Live the result of the Conservative Party leadership election.

No one in my immediate family were Conservative voters in the 2000s. Not one of my friends voted Conservative in the 2000s.

But I heard those words from David Cameron. And I knew then that the Conservative Party was my party. I knew then that the country I wanted to see: a country built on positive, optimistic, compassionate, foundations, could only be built by a Conservative Party that spoke to a new generation – a generation fed up of Labour’s failures but unsure of the Tories; built with the words and actions of a new generation of Conservative MPs – Cameron, Osborne and a guy called Boris Johnson.

And that’s why I’m a Conservative. Because of those words and those people.

In 2010, I was so excited to read the foreword to the Conservative Manifesto

“A country is at its best when the bonds between people are strong and when the sense of national purpose is clear. Today the challenges facing Britain are immense…But these problems can be overcome if we pull together and work together. If we remember that we are all in this together.

Some politicians say: ‘give us your vote and we will sort out all your problems’. We say: real change comes not from government alone. Real change comes when the people are inspired and mobilised, when millions of us are fired up to play a part in the nation’s future. Yes this is ambitious. Yes it is optimistic. But in the end all the Acts of Parliament, all the new measures, all the new policy initiatives, are just politicians’ words without you and your involvement.”

This is what I believed. It is what I still believe. And those words inspired me not only to vote for, in my first general election, but to join the Conservatives.

But something has gone wrong.

Charlotte Ivers recently wrote a Sunday Times column headlined “The Tory party hasn’t had an idea since 2005.” In it she suggested that, secure in power for over a decade, we in the Conservative Party have no motivation to innovate.

Sadly, I cannot disagree.

We see evident now in the Conservative Party, my party, a strange mix of complacency, entitlement, fear and exhaustion.

Complacency bread from the fact that the Labour Party, after more than a decade in turmoil and opposition pose no electoral threat.

Entitlement bred from the comfort of office and power.

Fear bred from the nagging doubt that we might actually be wrong, and that years on the opposition benches await.

And exhaustion from twelve hard years of Government that have seen economic crises, migrant crises, an independence referendum in Scotland, Brexit, snap elections, a global pandemic and war in Europe.

It is a toxic combination. Made even more difficult by the need to keep on side the majority of that unwieldly coalition of electors that returned the Conservatives to Government in 2019.

So we end up here. Talking the talk of lowering tax whilst increasing National Insurance. Giving investment incentives to increase our domestic oil and gas production whilst imposing a windfall tax. Making the right noise about cutting the size of government not recognising it was our party that created two new departments in the last six years. Espousing the values of Global Britain whilst shrinking our diplomatic presence overseas.

Entering into a race with the Labour Party about who can spend more on x.

Where’s the spirit of 2005? Where’s the big idea? What’s the challenge to us? What’s the offer to the country?

I often say I am an optimist. Being an Aberdeen Football fan, a Scotland Rugby fan and a Scottish Conservative, I have to be. That’s why I backed Johnson for leader in 2019, because I knew he was too.

And I firmly believe, whoever is leader of my party, the Conservative and Unionists remain the only party capable to tackling the challenges that face us as a nation.

But we need to rediscover that confidence. We need to look back to our recent past. We need to reach out, think radically, be bold. Explain, again and again, that to taking our country forward requires all of us, not just Government, to make a difference.

That chucking money at a problem rarely solves the issue but that targeted investment can.

We need to be proud of ourselves and our past, but understanding of different opinions of it.

We need to build a new, positive relationship with the EU. Never compromising on our sovereignty or the integrity of our union, but working with them to resolve issues and together to tackle our shared challenges.

We need our Foreign Office to shout from the rooftops in every capital in the world how great a country, how great an enabler for change, how positive a force the United Kingdom is.

And we need to talk to a new generation in the same way Cameron, Osborne, and yes for eight great years, Boris did in London.

That is why I am a Conservative. That is why I joined this great Party – the most successful political party in the history of the world. Because I truly believe, if we start doing all this, now, our future is bright. And it is Conservative.

The post Andrew Bowie: I’m a Conservative MP, and I ask. Where’s the big idea? What’s the offer to the country? first appeared on Conservative Home.

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.

Liz Sugg: Britain must not step back in the fight against malaria

1 Jun

Baroness Liz Sugg CBE is a Conservative peer.

Earlier this month, the FCDO published its International Development Strategy. This described a new approach, with four priorities – to deliver honest and reliable investment, to provide women and girls with the freedom they need to succeed, to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, and to take forward work on climate change, nature and global health. The strategy also set out the government’s intention to rebalance its spending away from multilateral institutions – such as the World Bank – towards bilateral channels to bolster our diplomatic agenda and achieve our development aims.

I’m proud of the Conservative Party’s history of supporting developing nations to establish their own economic independence and social stability, and of our strong record on humanitarian assistance. We also have a long and proud history of tackling one of the world’s most deadly diseases – malaria. This long-standing support has contributed to significant progress on tackling this preventable and treatable disease – between 2000 and 2015 the death rate fell by 51%.

There are plenty of vaunted ambitions to end any number of diseases, but thanks to this progress and developments in science and technology, there is a realistic prospect to end malaria this generation – if there is the political will and investment to do it.

Over the years we have worked closely with our Commonwealth family and African partners to help tackle malaria. We have also made significant contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Through smart, effective health investments, the Global Fund has saved 44 million lives and provided prevention, treatment and care services to hundreds of millions of people.

But this progress on malaria is now at risk. The impact COVID-19 has had on health systems has compounded challenges faced by already stretched services. In 2020, 627,000 people died from malaria, the highest in nearly a decade. Malaria is one of the leading causes of child mortality – children under 5 accounted for around 80% of these deaths in Africa.

Later this year President Biden will host a replenishment conference for the Global Fund. Despite the move towards bilateral funding highlighted by the Strategy, I hope that our contribution to the Global Fund bucks this trend. There is a solid case for investing in the Fund –it is a highly efficient mechanism for fighting existing disease, but it also helps to keep us safe at home by strengthening health systems possibly preventing the next pandemic.

Unlike some other multilateral organisations, the Global Fund has clear, trackable results that show excellent value for money, and UK investment leverages in significant additional funding from the private sector and other donors giving a multiplier effect.

We saw the power of British-backed science during the pandemic, with innovative vaccines being brought to market in record speeds – meaning we could save lives and open up economies. The Strategy seeks to channel world class UK expertise in science and business towards development outcomes. In the last year, the UK celebrated the first malaria vaccine to be approved by the WHO, developed by a British company, GSK, and results from trials of another new vaccine made by the Jenner Institute at Oxford University are due soon. Vaccines are just one tool in the antimalaria arsenal, others include UK developed drugs and insect control– such as the new mosquito nets developed through a partnership including London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Strong investment in the Global Fund would help get these British innovations to the people who need them. In 2020, the Global Fund distributed 20 million of the new mosquito nets and funded the trials that led to the approval of the malaria vaccine.

The work of the Global Fund will help improve maternal health and end preventable child deaths. It will help achieve the Prime Minister’s ambition for 12 years of quality education for every girl by reducing missed school days. It will help women and girls fulfil their economic potential – as well as getting sick themselves, women and girls take the lion’s share of the responsibility for caring for family members. And it will boost economies – each 10% reduction in malaria incidence is associated with an average rise of 0.3% in GDP per capita.

Continued UK investment in the Global Fund is highly valued by our African partners. Malaria remains a significant public health and development challenge across the continent – last year around 95% of global cases occurred in Africa. Tackling malaria is a major focus for the Commonwealth leaders meeting in Rwanda in June.

So investment to end malaria is critical to protect our own health security, to bolster our global position in science and R&D, to give women and girls the freedom to succeed and deliver on our commitment to Africa. And this is not an open-ended need – for the first time, beating this disease is in sight.

The challenge of malaria is greater than ever, and the Global Fund has asked for a funding increase from all donors to meet the increased need. The UK has long been a generous contributor, but other donors must play their part and do more than before. But, with the possibility to end this disease in our lifetime, now is not the time for us to step back . I hope to see the UK contribute at least as much as at the last Global Fund replenishment.

The Foreign Secretary has set out her ambition to unleash the power of people and countries to take control of their own future. Our continued investment to end malaria will help to achieve this laudable goal

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.”

Henry Hill: Truss may struggle to persuade Brussels that the threat of action on the Protocol is real this time

12 May

Anyone who has followed the row over the Northern Irish Protocol for the past several years surely cannot help but be deeply wary of any suggestion that the Government might be actually about to do something about it.

For than once, Whitehall sources have strongly suggested that if talks hadn’t progressed by this or that date, ministers would have no choice but to trigger Article 16, only for the deadlines to come and go with no change.

A week ago, it looked as if this latest round of sabre-rustling was following a similar course.

Following an (almost-certainly hostile) leak of Liz Truss’s plans for special legislation to override the Protocol, Brandon Lewis seemed to pour cold water on the idea when he ruled it out of the Queen’s Speech. And indeed, no such Bill appeared therein.

But days afterwards, the Government has marched itself much further up the hill than ever before. The Daily Telegraph reports that Truss has set a deadline not weeks or months away, but of just 72 hours.

And today Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, has apparently received legal advice to the effect that it would be legal for the Government to overrule parts of the Protocol.

This is probably less seismic than it might sound, not least because, in the British system, Parliament can already legislate to whatever effect it pleases, so long as the Bill is properly drafted. Although this can be more or less in line with our international commitments, those do not trump its sovereign law-making power.

But more seriously because the main barriers to this course of action aren’t legal, but practical and diplomatic. A Bill of the sort apparently being drawn up by the Foreign Office would provide a locus for opposition in the House of Commons and likely provoke retaliation from Brussels. And a trade war would do nothing to ease the cost-of-living crisis.

This is the case even if, as has been suggested to me, the form of the legislation would not be to directly set aside aspects of the Protocol but to empower the Secretary of State to do so, basically creating a sounder legal footing for future carefully-targeted interventions such as the Government’s unilateral extension of grace periods.

(It is worth remembering that all the current problems with the Protocol are those arising whilst the United Kingdom is quietly refusing to implement significant parts of it. It would otherwise be even worse.)

Does the Government have sufficient will for this fight? It certainly seems to have got its allies in the press on board: “let’s destroy the myth that the EU’s priority in Northern Ireland is peace”, says this morning’s Sun.

But it is still far from clear that sufficient preparatory work has been done, either to ready the economy for the impact of a ‘trade war’ with the EU.

Nor to make the case for London’s (legitimate) interpretation of the Belfast Agreement, which does not mandate an invisible border on the island of Ireland but does guarantee Northern Ireland’s constitutional status, which certainly changed when key provisions of the Act of Union guaranteeing unfettered commerce were overridden by the legislation enacting the Protocol.

Still, there are reasons why the Government might think this strategy might work. The EU has not proven entirely unwilling to alter its rules in relation to the Protocol, and did so to resolve the row over medicines.

And having operated the grace periods for so long, London can reasonably ask Brussels where the evidence is for the dangerous distortions of the Single Market which allegedly loomed if British sausages were allowed to flow freely into Northern Ireland. They have been so flowing for two years. Where is the damage?

It is telling that in all the acres of coverage about the consequences of Truss’s plan, nobody seems to be suggesting that Ireland would be forced out of the Single Market. Yet if the EU truly believed the Protocol was necessary to safeguard its economy, and that London was prepared to tear it up, that would surely be on the cards.

Regardless, we will apparently know in less than a week whether or not the Government is serious this time. A 72-hour deadline doesn’t leave you with many places to hide.

The Government should explain why it changed its mind on the Zaghari-Ratcliffe ransom

22 Mar

Two things ought to be simultaneously possible when it comes to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. First, that a woman who spent six years in an Iranian jail is perfectly entitled to be bitter about that and does not owe the Government a performative display of gratitude. Second, that she is not best placed to impartially judge the UK’s hostage policy.

Alas, partisans on both sides (which invites the question ‘sides of what?’; I suppose the many-fronted culture wars) seem to be stumbling at this unimposing fence.

This won’t matter if Zaghari-Ratcliffe returns to private life. But should she decide to campaign for changes to British policy – and her comments about not being free until everybody is out of Iran suggests she might – we’re all going to have to get better at threading this particular needle. Victims deserve sympathy, not carte blanche to demand political change.

In fairness, in some ways the Government has all but invited such a campaign. The decision to pay the £400m price tag for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release lends weight to her argument. If it was right to pay it, then surely there is a strong case that it should have been paid six years ago. What benefit, if any, was secured by the delay?

Whether or not it was right to pay, however, is another question. Whilst lawyers will zero in on the fact that this was technically a debt, not a ransom, there is no wriggling round the fact that a British citizen was held to ransom to secure the money. Across the world, the cost-benefit calculation on snatching a British national has just shifted hundreds of millions of pounds in the wrong direction.

(In any event, the debt was incurred to the Shah of Iran, who purchased tanks we rightly did not deliver after the monarchy was violently toppled by religious fundamentalists. The prospect of handing the cash straight to the ayatollahs is not a compelling one.)

Iran, as Robert Jenrick outlined last week, is a dangerous and belligerent regional power. It harbours an increasingly advanced nuclear programme and sponsors terrorist proxies across the region and overseas. We don’t know exactly what Tehran is going to spend a £400m windfall on, but it isn’t going to be good.

Now come the inevitable demands for an inquiry. There is an obvious danger that it simply becomes a stick with which to beat the Government, with ‘Why didn’t you do what Nazanin said?’ as its frame of reference.

This should not be allowed to happen, because an impartial inquiry into how this decision was made could be genuinely interesting. The UK has had a consistent line on this debt since 1979, right through the Thatcher years and New Labour. It held out for six years even after Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s kidnapping. Paying up could but British citizens overseas at risk. It would be good to know what changed the Government’s mind.

State capacity failure, not conspiracy, explains why the UK has been slow on individual sanctions

6 Mar

Outside some of the most FBPE corners of Twitter, the United Kingdom seems broadly viewed to have acquitted itself well in its support for Ukraine over the past few weeks and months.

Whilst the Western alliance has latterly solidified around a truly extraordinary regime of economic sanctions (albeit with carve-outs for oil and gas, Russia’s biggest exports), the abiding image of the build-up to the war on this front is probably those maps of British arms shipments to Ukraine having to bypass German airspace.

According to polling by Lord Ashcroft, the Ukrainians themselves take a favourable view of British efforts; so too seems the Government in Kiev. The UK pushed early for Russia’s expulsion from the SWIFT system of international payments.

Yet when it comes to sanctioning individual Russians in the West, a very different picture emerges. Here it appears that Britain is lagging behind: it has sanctioned fewer individuals than the European Union (although not as few as has been suggested), and long lead-in times are allowing those affected to move their assets out of the country. Why?

To some, inevitably, it’s evidence of conspiracy: a government in hoc with wealthy donors proving slow to crack down on its mates. But after speaking to sources currently or previously involved in sanctions efforts at the Foreign Office, it seems much more likely to be a familiar story of state-capacity failure.

As it was explained by someone who used to write so-called ‘sanction packs’, existing legislation does not allow the Government to simply impose penalties on whomever it pleases; they need to be actually involved with, or controlled by, Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Government sources also say that hostile amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 restricting the executive’s freedom of action and were, contra the protestations of those who tabled them, always going to result in delays; Richard Ekins of Policy Exchange has gone into detail about the shortcomings of the legislation.

Not only can sanctions be challenged in court, but individuals subject to sanction can only spend their money on two things: subsistence (not likely to concern an oligarch) and… mounting legal challenges against the sanctions.

Therefore before sanctions are applied, the FCDO prepares a dossier of evidence – in some cases, up to 20 pages or more – which is then sent out to a lawyer to be assessed against the current legislative criteria. They then provide advice, and ministers make a decision.

Such a system produces several bottlenecks. First, the FCDO simply does not have many lawyers on hand to prepare the briefings. Second, there was likely (at least initially) insufficient bureaucratic capacity assigned to preparing the cases for assessment in the first place.

(All of which is compounded by the UK’s infamous libel laws; oligarchs are very litigious, and as a result, there is less evidence than there might be that this or that individual has dodgy connections which might justify sanctioning them.)

Add in a risk-averse institutional culture and wariness on the part of ministers of the political embarrassment of having sanctions overturned in court, and you get a recipe for delay. A cynic might also suggest this explains the puzzling ‘grace periods’; allowing assets to be moved out of the UK makes it less likely that the sanctions will be legally challenged, allowing for the appearance of action whilst minimising the risk of defeat in court.

Those we spoke to believe that the best route to a more effective sanctions regime is a new statutory instrument with less onerous criteria for sanctions. The Government has announced that new legislation will allow it to replicate the EU sanctions list. Further legislation also seems to be the preferred course for Opposition figures, as well as the above-lined Policy Exchange view.

Inevitably, all of this is getting dragged into the Brexit forever war. But setting aside the fact that the UK’s overall approach to Ukraine stands head-and-shoulders above that of many Member States, such criticisms rather miss the point. The virtue of Parliament having to make its own decisions lies not in its getting every call right, but in its having the freedom to self-correct.

Whatever you think the law should be on seizing the assets and passports of people in Britain, it should be Britain making that law.

Rachael Finch: Net Zero and energy security. If we go too fast for the first, we won’t get the second. Indeed, we may get neither.

4 Mar

Rachael Finch is a former British Army Officer and works in the defence sector. She is currently a Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation West Midlands.

When Russia is negotiating with Western countries over the crisis in Ukraine, it is doing so knowing it is in control of 41 per cent of the EU’s gas supply. Having also built up its foreign currency reserves to defend itself from Western sanctions, and with no Western political appetite to commit troops to the crisis, Moscow is in a strong position.

In the long-term, Henry Smith, writing for this website, is likely right: Net Zero, by reducing dependence on natural gas, will weaken Russia’s position.

However, in the short-to-medium-term, the transition to Net Zero will transform geopolitics before a world powered by green energy can take shape. When we consider that almost 60 per cent of Russia’s exports comprise petroleum or coal products, it’s hardly surprising that Vladimir Putin is not the world’s most vocal environmental campaigner.

Consequently, the UK Government needs to look beyond the long-term environmental challenges of global warming, and address the nearer-term geopolitical risks that are present. Geopolitical risks create uncertainty in energy markets as reliability is questioned, pushing up prices for consumers and creating resistance to Net Zero goals.

The move away from oil and gas as sources of power will not happen overnight, and during this period, petrostates will continue to profit from their exports of fossil fuels. However, the combination of pressure on investors to divest from carbon-based fuels and the uncertainty about the future of fossil fuels may result in declining investment in oil and gas.

If oil supplies fall faster than oil demand as a consequence, fuel shortages and higher and more volatile oil prices will be here to stay for a while. Notably, the current increase in UK gas prices is due to a drop in gas supply at the same time as an increase in demand.

Higher oil prices result in higher revenues for petrostates such as Russia, or Saudi Arabia. In addition, as the transition to so-called clean energy develops, the overall reduction in the demand for oil combined with the need to keep costs as low as possible may result in higher-cost producers, such as Canada, being priced out of the market. This leaves room for states that produce cheaper oil, such as Saudi Arabia, to fill the gap increasing their geopolitical clout.

The same logic applies to gas markets. And for Europe, this means an increasing dependence on Russian gas: Russia’s importance to Europe will increase in the short-to-medium term if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline eventually comes online. If Putin wants to push back against the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe, now is a good time for him to do it.

However, it’s not only fossil fuel exports that could increase Moscow’s geopolitical clout. According to the International Energy Authority, global nuclear energy generation will need to double between now and 2050 if the world is to achieve net zero emissions by the same date.

Many of the nuclear reactors planned or under construction outside Russia are being built by Russian companies. China is also a relatively large investor in nuclear power, meaning that both Moscow and Beijing will increasingly be able to influence industry norms and impose global standards in their favour.

China also controls many inputs required for clean energy technology, dominating both mining and the processing and refining of critical minerals, such as copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and rare earth metals. An increase in the demand for clean technology will further increase China’s geopolitical influence. China has previously shown its ability to (mis)use this influence when it blocked the export of critical minerals to Japan in 2010 over the disagreement about the East China Sea. It could do so again.

It may seem as though localising supply chains is a way to fix these tensions. Despite the Green Party’s utopic advocacy for reducing emissions in the UK’s imports to zero, the reality is a net-zero global economy will need large supply chains for components, products and global trade in low-carbon fuels and minerals.

Global competition is needed to encourage innovation and to develop new markets, reducing prices for consumers. But, increasing electrification, be it for vehicles or heating, will likely result in more local production due to the difficulties with transporting electricity over long distances. Although local supply chains can be beneficial for security and employment reasons, too much localisation reduces diversification, creates vulnerabilities and raises prices for UK consumers.

Moreover, China’s recent increased use of ‘home-grown’ coal as an energy source is driven in part by the shortage of gas on global markets and the need for more energy security. Germany has also found itself in a similar position after its ban on nuclear power. Localising power supply chains doesn’t necessarily result in a reduction of carbon emissions.

Decarbonisation also poses problems for developing countries. The COP26 highlighted this with lower-income countries calling for developed nations to pay for historical damage allegedly caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether you agree with this statement or not, developed and developing nations have diverging future goals which will increase tensions. The latter need growth to raise their populations out of poverty in the most economically efficient way. The former, by trying to stop the use of fossil fuels to deal with global warming, are preventing this happening. When the reality of life is a diesel-generator backed power grid that keeps blacking out, an electric car is not a sought after item.

For many developing countries, the way out of poverty may involve extracting hydrocarbon resources. However, developed nations are putting pressure on financial institutions not to support extractive projects, but by not assisting with an alternative, the tensions will grow.

China, on the other hand, is providing finance to countries like Cote d’Ivoire, helping to develop their extractive industries and by doing so is feeding internal Chinese demand for raw materials. As far as many developing countries are concerned, rolling back globalisation could do far more damage in relieving poverty and living standards than continued global warming.

The transition to a world powered by clean energy is radical and it will be messy. If, on the way to achieving Net Zero, national energy security conflicts with responses to global warming, there is a real risk of friction on the road to a green planet.

International climate leadership needs to mitigate the national security implications of a transition to green energy, in addition to making promises and signing agreements. Nuclear power and continuing investment in oil and gas reserves are essential tools in dealing with energy market volatility and the inevitable periods of disconnect between supply and demand of fuels; it’s good to see the government beginning to recognise this.

Supply chains need to be diversified to reduce reliance on one main provider – competitive markets are essential in this regard, as well as keeping prices lower for the UK consumer. And there will be a need to support communities dependent on fossil fuels, both domestically and internationally.

New green technologies will solve technical problems, but they will also encourage states to maximise their own interests and policymakers would be naive not to recognise this. However, perhaps the greatest risk of Net Zero is that if the conflict between global warming and national security is ignored, that the transition to a greener planet won’t take place at all.

Ranj Alaadin: The Ukraine crisis. Brexit Britain is proving itself an international force. Here’s what we should do next.

21 Feb

Ranj Alaaldin is the Director of Crisis Response Council, a UK and US based international affairs organisation, and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

British foreign policy is in the midst of a honeymoon period. Post-Brexit Britain is defining itself on the international stage, thanks to its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and the resettlement in the UK of tens of thousands of Hongkongers fleeing China’s repressive rule.

Irrespective now of whether a Russian invasion of Ukraine materialises, Britain’s valiant effort to push back against Russia’s aggression has exemplified resolve, conviction and moral authority, allowing the British flag to emerge as a beacon of freedom and democracy in a matter of just months.

When the Integrated Review was published last year, its critics rejected it as a pipe dream, premised on the notion that Britain could not be a “soft power superpower” outside of the European Union, but our approach to Ukraine has highlighted an ability to balance our soft power tools with our hard power capabilities: the dispatching of weapons to Ukraine and the mobilisation of our allies might just de-escalate tensions, and one could argue that our muscular approach has forced Europe to get its act together, potentially paving the way for the Russians to contemplate a diplomatic resolution that may have previously been unfathomable.

The same critics of the report who predicted Brexit would lead to a Britain less relevant in global affairs are also currently disparaging the Government for spearheading the global pushback against Russia. Opponents of Brexit warned that the withdrawal from the EU would diminish the country’s capacity to shape the contours of international affairs, but the logic of that argument meant that less Europe would mean more responsibility.

The Government has, therefore, rightly adopted a proactive and assertive foreign policy that allows Britain to be both global power and global broker to work closely with like-minded nations to address common threats.

Our approach to Ukraine should continue to set the tone for British foreign policy moving forward, namely by deploying the country’s reputational assets and global reach to address ongoing and future threats, and to mobilise our allies into action in increasingly complex and multi-layered challenges to international security. The shape and nature of long-standing and evolving security threats, which at times inter-connect, requires a re-calibration of how we combat them.

Firstly, coercive diplomacy, like that which we have undertaken with the Russians, constitutes a strategy designed to make an enemy stop or undo an action, either with or without resorting to military action. What is essential is ensuring the threat of force is credible enough to compel adversaries to comply with the coercing party’s demands.

The Government, along with its allies, has demonstrated a resolution and willingness to escalate the dispute militarily, thereby producing escalatory steps that can be either advanced or reversed depending on how the target country, Russia, responds. This differs from the conventional use of force in situations where diplomacy may be on the margins or discarded altogether and where the use of force is designed to be decisive and at times overwhelming to achieve military objectives.

In this instance, Britain’s approach has set the bar and paved the way for the likes of the Americans to step-up and assume more responsibility for a collective response to Moscow, while increasing the pressure and inducing action on the part of the Europeans, including the French and the Germans.

Second, the Ukraine crisis notwithstanding, inter-state wars are rare but proxy wars, civil-wars and hybrid warfare are on the increase, which requires re-calibrating policies to account for the reality of warfare today. Conflicts come and go but the resulting calm is often deceptive: of the countries that have suffered a civil war since 1945, more than half experienced a relapse into violent conflict – in some cases more than once – after peace had been established. These are the conflicts that inflict long-term damage to the fabric of societies and produce refugee crises that have far-reaching cross-border implications.

Re-calibrating policies to account for the reality of conflict and warfare today could not be more urgent: a paper by Stanford University concludes that droughts, floods, natural disasters and other climatic shifts have influenced between three per cent and 20 per cent of armed conflicts over the last century. One in four intrastate conflicts will result from changing climate, according to the paper.

Hybrid warfare will continue to test the rules based international order: such countries as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea will deploy and become increasingly effective at harnessing cyber and information operations to undermine the West’s interests and values. This year will see at least ten elections of note across the globe – arenas where malign state and non-state actors will look to subvert and manipulate electoral outcomes, undermine democracy and circumvent the true will of indigenous populations.

Britain should lead the push for an international framework that establishes the guiding principles for combating cyberwarfare. Its purpose would be to enable investment in cybersecurity and cyber resiliency, and to establish a framework that is similar to the 2006 commitment from NATO countries to commit a minimum of two per cent of their GDP to defence spending. Cybersecurity is underfunded, but our private and public sectors are increasingly exposed to sophisticated attacks designed to wreak havoc on our lives and national infrastructure.

Finally, to prevent and address conflicts that produce the breeding grounds for terrorists and their state sponsors, that enable the ascension of malign state and non-state actors, and that produce humanitarian and refugee crises, the government should establish a conflict-mediation unit within Downing Street, a team of dedicated experts whose sole mandate would be to empower the ability of Number 10 to navigate the tricky waters of conflict mediation. This could provide a valuable adjuvant to the work of the Foreign Office, which more often than not is ill-equipped to undertake agile and creative mediation and negotiation strategies that constitute tradecraft in their own right.

Such a unit would continue to build on the momentum that has been generated from the Ukraine crisis, a legacy builder that empowers Number 10 with sense of direction and purpose, and that allows Global Britain to stay true to its convictions and ideals as it moves to establish the country’s post-Brexit identity on the global stage.