Iain Dale: Good luck to Robbie Gibb’s prospective challenger to the BBC and Sky. And to News UK if it has a go, too.

4 Sep

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

On Wednesday, the German government declared that the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, had indeed be poisoned, and that the nerve agent used was Novichok.

Predictably the Kremlin denied any involvement whatsoever, thereby taking the West for fools yet again. Novichok appears to have become the poison of choice for the Russian Government’s Federal Security Service (FSB). For an apparently developed country to sanction the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens is both unconscionable, and tells us a lot about the ruthlessness of Valdimir Putin.

It is inconceivable that he doesn’t know it is going on, whether or not he gives the direct orders or not. After Salisbury, he could have read the riot act to his former colleagues in the FSB and said: ‘Never again’. He chose not to – and the poisoning of his main political opponent is the result.

So what should the response be? When he was Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson did brilliantly to persuade 20 countries to expel more than 130 Russian diplomats. That was fine, but it didn’t go far enough. All western countries should now impose the most severe Magnitsky sanctions possible against all senior members of the FSB and every single member of the Russian cabinet, including Putin himself.

Germany will be key here. Angela Merkel has enjoyed a better relationship with Putin than most western leaders, and Russia and Germany enjoy economic ties which Britain and Russia do not have.

For Germany to take serious measures against the Kremlin may be the jolt that Putin needs if he is to re-evaluate his ‘poison policy’. Or he may respond by threatening to switch off the supply of gas to Western Europe. If you appease people like Putin, they just laugh at you. The time for serious action is now.

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I’ve enjoyed reading Philip Collins in The Times over the last twelve years. Sadly he’s been let go as a weekly columnist, but by most standards he’s had a good innings.

He fired off a parting shot email which was particularly ill-judged and ungracious. Rather than thank The Times for giving him the space to air his views over twelve years, he complained that he’d been let go in a thirty second conversation.

Galling, yes, but it’s always better to leave with your head held high, even if you think your benefactors have made a huge mistake. Bitterness is never a good look.

All columnists, and radio presenters for that matter, know that as each hour passes, their day of departure looms ever nearer. I’ve been on LBC for eleven years now. I hope when my time comes I conduct myself with due decorum, but also  hope that day is a long way off!

– – – – – – – – – –

It is rumoured that two more news channels may appear on our screens before too long. There’s little doubt that there is growing dissatisfaction with the news coverage provided by Sky and the BBC, but there is a big question-mark over whether the news viewing market is big enough to sustain new entrants. And would a news channel with a centre-right slant be able to garner enough of an audience to make it commercially viable?

GB News (let’s hope that if it gets on air it has a snappier name) is led by Robbie Gibb and an ex-head of Sky Australia. News UK is also rumoured to be planning something similar.

Both are at pains to say their vision does not involve becoming a UK version of Fox News. Would conventional advertisers be flocking to advertise on a right of centre TV channel? They advertise in right of centre newspapers, so there is no reason why not, I suppose, but I suspect they will take some convincing.

Whoever the financial backers of these channels may be will need to have some very deep pockets indeed to get them through the initial few years. Running costs will go into the tens of millions of pounds. I wish both enterprises luck, because competition is always good, and new entrants to a market can help shake the existing channels out of their rank complacency.

I remember that when Stephan Shakespeare, Tim Montgomerie, Donal Blaney and I started 18 Doughty Street TV in 2006 how difficult it was to build an audience. In those days few people watched video, live or not, on their laptops. Smartphones hadn’t then been invented. In retrospect, we were ten years ahead of our time. Such a channel would do really well nowadays, I suspect.

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

26 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Kilcoyne: CANZUK is a bold, imaginative, and popular blueprint for a global Britain

19 Aug

In less than a year the Conservative and Unionist Party will face a threat to its existence.

Maybe not the Conservative bit, but certainly the Unionist portion. Coming down the tracks are the Scottish election and a renewed Nicola Sturgeon is positioning herself and her party to rip apart the United Kingdom.

Unionists need to offer something better. Something bigger than Scotland, frankly bigger than Britain. That offer should be Canzuk.

Time is running out. The polls are going in the nationalists’ favour. Poll after poll, in fact, shows that the Union is on the back foot. We know what Nicola Sturgeon is likely to spin Scottish independence as being natural, inevitable, and the sensible option.

Far from being shown up by a pandemic that has hit Scotland hard, Sturgeon is buttressed by an impression of strength and a compliant media north of the border, and no scrutiny south of it.

The First Minister, using all the privilege that position entails, is going to cast independence as both normal, and a reprieve from chaos. Set Scotland free with Sturgeon, or risk being bound to Brexit Britain with Boris. Tories should understand the danger of this messaging, the party used it with great success against Ed Miliband in 2015.

What worries me is that, while there may be plenty of policies on offer, there is a lack of a narrative and a lack of an incentive for Scots to choose to stick with their fellow Brits in the years ahead.

My proposition to the leaders of the Conservative party then is simple. Use something popular, something bold, and something global to counter a proposition that would sow division, narrow Scotland’s worldview, and limit the freedoms of our people.

Offer them the world. Offer them the right to live and work right across Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The North Atlantic and the South Pacific. A global alliance of modern, diverse, liberal, English-speaking democracies united by common cause, a shared head of state, institutions, businesses, academia, legal systems, and of course all important family links.

Scottish Nationalists look at the pandemic, some even at the possibility of manning the border and kicking out the Sassenach, and think their time has come. Tories should be telling them it has not, and that rather it is the hour of the Unionist instead.

For Unionists across all the Canzuk states are moving in tandem on this issue. Canzuk is now official policy of the Canadian Conservatives, it is the stated aim of the New Zealand First, ACT and National parties, and today we at the Adam Smith Institute launch a paper by Australian Senator James Paterson supporting the alliance.

His proposition should be studied carefully. New Zealand and Australia have a unique relationship in the same way that the United Kingdom does with Ireland. They treat each other with respect, understanding that lawmakers want the citizens of each to be safe and have high quality assured in the products they buy and services they procure. They recognise each other’s qualifications so teachers, and nurses, and engineers can work back and forth across the Tasman Sea.

If the EU weren’t trying to meld together ex-communist, ex-fascist, constitutional republics, monarchies, federal states and unitary government; if it weren’t pushing together 28 states with different languages and legal systems and centuries of mistrust and warmongering together, then they might try something similar. If Ireland weren’t in the EU we’d probably propose a similar idea across the whole of the British Isles.

We can, though, propose such a network between our high-trust English speaking allies. The ones with whom we share the Queen and who sit in the Five Eyes alliance. We already trust each other with the highest classified state secrets, we should be able to trust that Jenny from New Zealand can be a nurse talented enough to look after our Prime Minister without making her have to apply to have her qualification recognised.

Trust is what trade is all about, and you can trust your mates the most. We’ve fought and died together. No matter if you’re white, British Asian, Afro-Caribbean, or Cantonese, you’re likely to have family in one of the Canzuk states. In fact, 80 per cent more Brits live in CANZUK states than across the whole of the neighbouring EU, with 1.2 million Brits living in Australia alone.

Polls have consistently shown the idea is very favourably received in each of the states, with a recent poll for CANZUK International (based in Canada) showing supporting majorities in each with New Zealand highest (82 per cent in favour), followed by Canada (76 per cent), Australia (73 per cent) and UK (68 per cent). Over 300,000 people from the four states have signed a joint petition to encourage governments to commit to the idea.

Together these four states are emerging as a global force by sheer force of fact. Whether that’s challenging China over Hong Kong, or protecting the biodiversity of the oceans, or standing up for press freedom, we’re championing the liberal rules-based order that is the cornerstone of our prosperity on the global stage.

Our Canzuk states share a love for freedom, and it’s an offer that shines bright with opportunity and promise. A global future for a generation that has been disillusioned with a politics that has been inward looking. An idea that connects them to our shared civilisation, and to their own global families too.

Give Brits an offer they can’t refuse: give them Canzuk.

James Gurd: So often, views of the Middle East are out of date. As this historic deal between Israel and the UEA shows.

19 Aug

James Gurd is Executive Director of Conservative Friends of Israel.

The Covid-19 news cycle was interrupted briefly last week with a historic development from the Middle East: the announcement of intentions for full diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The agreement includes the key tenets of an unremarkable bilateral relationship – from the opening of embassies to passenger flights – but this was no ordinary announcement.

It represents the most significant development between Israel and its Arab neighbours since Jordan’s peace agreement with Israel in 1994 and, if fulfilled, it will become only the third Arab nation to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish State. While the agreements with Egypt and Jordan have largely brought a practical but crucial peace, this new relationship will be founded upon friendship and expanding mutual interests.

Unthinkable to many, the momentous announcement has in fact been in the offing for some time.

The rules of the ‘old Middle East’ have been changing for over a decade. The great Arab nations have seen an increasing number of high-profile Israeli delegations travelling through. Discreet at first, these visits have become increasingly regular and overt, with Benjamin Netanyahu officially visiting Oman in 2018, and Saudi news publishing an unprecedented 2017 interview with Israel’s IDF Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot, in which he publicly offered to share intelligence on Iran.

In a sign of the changing times, extraordinary reports emerged a couple of years ago of tensions between two Gulf states (reportedly Bahrain and Oman) over who would first host a visit from Netanyahu.

Rightly, much of the focus behind last week’s announcements has centred upon the strategic alignment between Israel and the UAE (as well as its Gulf neighbours) over the threat posed by Iran. Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions have long cast a shadow over the region, and Sunni Arab leaders now recognise that Iran’s nuclear programme and destabilisation of multiple countries via its terrorist proxies represent an existential threat to more than just Jerusalem.

Its reported firing of ballistic missiles (inexplicably omitted from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal) at a critical Saudi Arabian oil facility last year showed beyond doubt how far Tehran is prepared to go. Israel represents a crucial and dependable ally against Iran, especially at a time of shifting U.S. policy interests.

The resource-rich economies of the Middle East will also have their eyes on their economic futures. With finite supplies of fossil fuels, changing consumer habits likely accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and increased environmentalism, the leaders of these countries will be acutely aware of the need to diversify away from natural resource revenues. Israel’s remarkable success as a tech powerhouse offers a valuable blueprint.

The move towards peace can also be understood against the tumult of the ‘Arab Spring’. Throughout, many regional leaders desperately resorted to that old clarion call: ‘Your hardship is a consequence of the evil Zionist entity’.

But if that period taught us anything it was that the Arab people sought basic freedoms and personal securities, thereby conclusively putting to bed the misguided notion that regional stability hinged solely upon resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. While this outdated world view continues to shape the thinking of some Western capitals, in reality the Israeli/Palestinian issue has been low on the agenda for Arab leaders and officials meeting with their Israeli counterparts in recent years.

The Israeli media is now awash with speculation over the possibility of further regional states moving towards formal ties with Israel. While Bahrain and Oman are presented as the prime candidates, Sudan is a possibility, and formal ties with Saudi Arabia are no longer unimaginable.

Crucially, a decisive movement away from historic Arab-Israeli enmity offers an opportunity to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. While the Palestinian Authority was predictably quick to denounce last week’s announcement as a betrayal, many Arab capitals are understood to be growing weary of the intransigence that has seen off multiple viable peace deals. This perhaps explains their cautious welcoming of Donald Trump’s attempt to rethink the Oslo paradigm – held increasingly as a failed formula by politicians and commentators of all stripes.

While Arab leaders may not agree with every aspect of Trump’s proposal, by seriously engaging with the peace process and by actively encouraging the Palestinians to return to talks, the UAE and other Arab countries may finally help unlock that most elusive peace agreement.

The ramifications of these shifting sands extend far beyond the region. Under consecutive Conservative Governments, the UK has been deepening its own ties with Israel – with record trade, deep security links, and even historic first official visits to the Jewish State by the Duke of Cambridge and Prince of Wales. As Arab states move towards publicly recognising Israel as a valuable regional ally, and given our shared concerns over Iran and Islamist terrorism, the UK should use its historical links to encourage the change and maximise the ample opportunities for new regional trade and security initiatives.

The UAE’s Foreign Minister reflected Saturday that “clearly, 70 years of not communicating with Israel has led us nowhere”. It is a conclusion that will lead others to follow the UAE’s historic decision to move to a future of friendship, not one of hostility.

Ryan Henson and Katherine Mulhern: We must maintain Britain’s reputation as an international development superpower

15 Aug

Ryan Henson is Chief Executive at the Coalition for Global Prosperity. Katherine Mulhern is Director of the Conservative Friends of International Development.

An effective development budget, alongside an active diplomatic and defence strategy, helps keep Britain at the forefront of saving lives, alleviating poverty, and bringing freedom, security, and prosperity to all.

The international system is experiencing profound geopolitical, economic, and financial change. Authoritarian states hostile to British interests are actively seeking an increasing influence in world affairs. This means that democratic processes, and more fundamentally basic human freedoms, are coming under increasing threat.

But Britain can make a difference. Our proud history of fighting totalitarianism, combined with our membership of the UN Security Council, NATO and the Commonwealth and our hosting of the G7 Presidency in 2021, means we are uniquely placed to protect human rights, democracy, and freedom of the press, particularly in emerging and fragile states.

Britain’s international development expertise makes Britain and the world safer, stronger, and more prosperous.

When we tackle Ebola in Sierra Leone, prevent drug trafficking in Tanzania, and train Lebanese forces to fight Daesh, we help to prevent disease, drugs, and extremism from landing on Britain’s streets. When faced with no jobs, conflict, or disease, those in poorer countries are more likely to seek refuge in Europe or be attracted to extremist organisations.

Education, healthcare, jobs, underpinned by fairness, transparency, and a respect for the rule of law, are key to tackling the root causes of mass migration, destabilisation, and radicalisation, helping to make us all safer and our great country stronger.

The success of the new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, which will officially launch on 1st September, will depend on the extent to which our hard-earned, world-leading reputation as an international development superpower, is retained within the new department.

Countries can and should be empowered to stand on their own two feet, but to do this they need support to help them move through the stages of development and become partners in free trade and investment. In Britain, global free trade cuts the cost of living for working people and promotes choice and opportunity. The free market has been a pillar of human progress for centuries. Aid and development can unleash it, driving prosperity for all.

Britain should not be apologetic about seeking long-term diplomatic relationships that work in the national interest of both sides, but to bring about the trade that generates wealth, many countries need aid.

For as long as people stay poor, they will struggle to stand on their own two feet. Without an education, employers will not hire them. Without good local healthcare, they will be vulnerable to pandemics. And as we all know by now, pandemics don’t stop at borders. Regular sickness or injury will decimate a workforce and slow or halt economic growth. Without jobs people will struggle to take care of their families while paying little or no tax to their local authority. That means poor or non-existent health and education services, and so the cycle continues.

Focusing aid spending on poverty elimination is therefore not just morally right, it makes good economic sense too. The sooner we equip people with education, healthcare, and sustainable jobs, the less need there is for overseas aid in the long term.

We are eight months into a new decade, where Covid-19 and the resulting economic and political shocks have created opportunities for authoritarian regimes to push their agendas. As a result, human rights, individual freedoms, and the British values that have shaped the world are increasingly threatened.

It is in our national interest to counter that authoritarianism, win the battle of ideas, and stand up for the international rules-based system which Churchill and Thatcher did so much to shape and defend. It is also in our national interest to tackle the root causes of poverty.

Britain has always been a force for good: transforming lives, unleashing opportunity, and creating enormous British soft power. The new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office will have the potential to not only promote British values in a dangerous world, but also to turbo charge the tackling of the many root causes of poverty. If we get it right, both Britain and the world will be all the better for it.

Rob Sutton: Dame Barbara Woodward ­– An appointee who can test the limits of British influence at the UN

7 Aug

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

The UK’s Ambassador to China, Dame Barbara Woodward, has been announced as the next permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. Woodward is a career civil diplomat who has been at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) since 1994.

Her distinguished record includes five years in Moscow, as Second then First Secretary, Commercial and Political. She has served as Deputy Head of the Human Rights Policy Department of the FCO, International Director of the UK Border Agency and Director General, Economic and Consular of the FCO.

Despite a career path which seems quite typical of what would be expected of such a senior diplomatic appointment, the contrast with previous representatives is notable. Dame Karen Pierce, whom Woodward will take over from, worked in Japan, the USA, Ukraine, Belarus, Switzerland and Afghanistan. Before her, Matthew Rycroft spent much of his FCO career in Geneva, London, Paris and Washington.

The significance of Woodward’s experience relates to the body of the UN in which the UK bears the most influence – the Security Council. The Security Council contains 15 members, of which five are permanent: China, France, the USA, Russia, and the UK – the so-called ‘P5’.

The considerable influence of the P5 is due to their powers of veto for all Council resolutions. Thus, these nations are the key players around which Britain must skilfully manoeuvre.

How much Woodward will be able to achieve is of course constrained by the limitations of the UN itself, its lack of moral leadership and its inability to intervene on the most pressing international crises. For an organisation which positions itself as a leader of leaders, the failings of the UN during the most trying international crises reflect the difficulty of building and implementing consensus at a global level. The response to the coronavirus pandemic is just the latest in a long series of failures of leadership.

At the lofty heights of the P5, leadership could hardly be further from the ideals envisioned by Churchill and Roosevelt when they spearheaded the UN’s formation. Secretary-General António Guterres has also received fierce criticism for his toothless approach to challenging human rights violations.

Even amid such company, we have been timid where we should have been bold, and our future influence is in doubt. Britain has not used its veto since 1989. Since then, Russia, China and the USA have used it on a total of 45 times. We’re sitting at the grown-ups’ table, but we act as though we have no right to be.

By placing Woodward at the table, we can be assured that our representative will be completely comfortable with the competition. China is not a cultural mystery to her. Russia is no riddle wrapped in an enigma. Woodward understands the nuanced politics of our most serious rivals in the P5, and that experience is invaluable. Following her appointment, she spoke of joining the UN at “a time when the rules-based international system faces pressing global challenges”, so we might hope that she will speak out on the numerous egregious violations committed by these nations.

The challenge in shaping Britain’s role as an international player is due in large part to our antagonistic aims. Seeking trade deals across the globe becomes considerably more difficult when one seeks to also criticise these partners when they stray outside international law. So we could opt for business as usual. We could quietly talk Britain up in the back rooms and decline to use our veto or publicly criticise our rivals for fear of being exposed as a lesser force than we were in the immediate post-war years.

Or we could seize this opportunity. Woodward has the skill, experience and support to be a key voice as we seek a renewed national identity amidst a decaying rules-based international order. A respected, principled, and industrious diplomat who is unafraid to articulate the importance of an open society may go some way to helping the UN and the UK rediscover their moral authority.

Iain Dale: In the aftermath of the Beirut disaster, my memory of Lebanon.

7 Aug

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

This week’s terrible events in Beirut brought back a lot of memories for me. The dust filled streets were reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11, in which I feared a friend of mine had been killed. My friend, Jacqui Smith, the former Labour Home Secretary, is a regular visitor to Beirut, and she told me the hotel she stays in has been totally destroyed.

I am glad the UK government is sending £5 million in aid, along with medical equipment and supplies. It’s good to see that the Israeli government has offered aid too, although it remains to be seen whether it will be accepted.

But the main memory it brought back was a trip I made to Beirut in the early 1990s, not long after the British hostages had been freed. Indeed, I was told I was the first Brit to have ventured there following John McCarthy’s release, a bit of a coincidence as John McCarthy lived in the next village to me in Essex. Had I known this before my trip I suspect I might well have chickened out of going.

The reason for my trip was equally bizarre. I was working as transport lobbyist at the time, specialising in various forms of transport privatisation. I got a call from the Foreign Office asking if I would be interested in speaking at a conference on the subject in the Middle East as no one in the Department of Transport could go. Never having been to that part of the world before, I was naturally rather keen.

‘Where is it being held?’ I asked. ‘Er, Beirut,’ came the response. I began to understand why Department for Transport diaries were curiously full. But my own curiosity and sense of adventure got the better of me and a few weeks later I was travelling to the Lebanese capital courtesy of a first class ticket of Middle Eastern Airlines. ‘This is the life,’ I thought to myself.

I had been told by the Foreign Office that when I got off the plane I would be met by officials from the British Embassy and that I wasn’t to talk to, or go off with, anyone but them. When I started descending the rather rickety steps, all I could see were Lebanese army soldiers surrounding the plane toting AK47s. It was at that point I did wonder to myself if this had been such a good idea.

When I got to the bottom of the steps a black Mercedes with darkened windows pulled up. A man wearing dark glasses got out, approached me and said: ‘Mr Dale? You come with me.’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m being collected by the British Embassy’. ‘Mr Dale, you come with me,’ he repeated in a manner which seemed rather determined. Being a complete coward, I got in the car and travelled a couple of hundred yards to a shed where he demanded my passport.

Eventually I gave up asking where the British embassy officials were and decided that doing what I was told was the best way forward. Once the passport formalities were complete, he told me he would take me to my hotel, which was about half an hour’s drive away. I knew that the airport road was not exactly the safest part of Beirut, but I wasn’t in much of a position to argue.

On the way to the hotel I had a running commentary of all the people who had been killed or kidnapped on this road. Just what I needed. The whole area seemed to resemble Dresden after a bombing raid. Rubble everywhere, people nowhere. As we approached Beirut itself it was quite clear that this had once been a truly beautiful place.

The hotel was comfortable, if not luxurious. But looking out of the reception window it was impossible to ignore the armed guards who surrounded its perimeter.

At last I heard the sound of British voices. I turned round and saw four khaki dressed soldiers approaching. They apologised for missing me at the airport and asked if I was ready. ‘Ready for what?’ I asked. ‘You’re guest of honour at a dinner at the British Embassy in an hour,’ they informed me. ‘Nice of someone to tell me,’ I thought.

I have to admit I am not the kind of person who is used to Embassy dinners or cocktail parties. Indeed, I had never been to one before, and haven’t been to another one since. But it’s not the dinner that sticks in my mind from that memorable day. It was the 45 minute drive from the hotel to the Embassy.

We were in a convoy of two armed land rovers, each with soldiers almost hanging out of the windows, carrying guns. We drove at breakneck speed through down Beirut, up into the hills. I did wonder if it was such a good idea to have a Union Jack flying from the front of each Land Rover but didn’t like to say anything. We got to the embassy and negotiated the 200 yard long chicane of concrete blocks which was supposed to protect the building from suicide bombers, I imagine, and I arrived to be greeted by the Ambassador and his wife who had invited a selection of local businesspeople and journalists to meet me. Not only that, it turned out they were expecting a speech. Nowadays, that wouldn’t particularly phase me, but it did then! Somehow I got through it.

The next day I spoke at the Transport Privatisation conference, which was being shown live on TV throughout the Middle East, therefore telling every terrorist organisation in the region that a new Brit was in their midst. Thankfully I wasn’t told that until I was about to leave. The speech went well and I then had the best part of a day to myself. I had been told I wasn’t to set foot outside the hotel without ringing the embassy and getting their permission and a guard.

They provided me with a driver for a visit I wanted to make to the port area. I was shown round by the port manager whose English was only slightly worse than my French. They were still trying to clear the harbour area of wreckage so the port could start to function again properly. I suspect the explosion has meant they will have to start all over again. Given Lebanon is a country that relies entirely in imports, they will need to get the port up and running pretty quickly.

On the way back I tried to ask my driver where I could buy some souvenirs. Feeling quite proud of myself for making myself understood in French I was horrified when I found him driving off the main road through some backstreets. He understood I needed to change some dollars but the first place we went to couldn’t do it. I then found myself walking down the main shopping street in Beirut behind this man feeling rather conspicuous in my western suit. All eyes were on me – well at least I thought they were. I changed some money and bought a few vases and then scarpered back to the hotel.

But the best part of the trip was about to happen. A man from the organisers of the conference asked if I would like a tour of the countryside surrounding Beirut. I said I didn’t think the Embassy would allow me to, but I let myself be persuaded (the follies of youth) and spent the next two hours in his company being drive round the mountains and valleys that surround Beirut, including the famous Bekaa valley. He even took me to meet his family.

It really was a trip that will be forever etched into my memory. I was utterly stupid and irresponsible to go. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.