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.

Kathleen Henehan: If fewer workers migrate to Britain, our own will need greater mobility

18 Feb

Kathleen Henehan is Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation. She is the author of Under New Management: How immigration policy change will, and won’t, affect the UK’s path to becoming a high-wage, high-productivity economy.

One of the main benefits often cited of leaving the European Union was that the UK regained control of its borders, with the Prime Minister arguing that bringing in a more controlled migration regime would be key to enabling the UK to become a high wage economy. Others fear that the shift to a new, more restrictive, migration regime could render the UK economy less innovative and productive in the longer term, alongside damaging the public finances.

Both sides are right to recognise that migration has an important role to play in the economy. Before the pandemic, migrants comprised nearly one-in-five people in the labour force; and they contributed to more than three-quarters of all labour force growth between 1995 and 2019.

And both sides are also right to want a high wage economy. To get there, however, we need an economic strategy: how much will a new migration regime give us that strategy? That depends on how much the new regime affects the number, and type, of migrants coming to the UK.

Most EU citizens wanting to come to the UK for work will now, like their non-EU counterparts, require a skilled worker visa (SWV), limited to mainly mid- and higher-skilled roles, with wage criteria that varies by occupation but at a minimum of £25,600 (unless specific conditions apply). So we’d expect the number of EU citizens moving to the UK to fall.

For non-EU citizens however, the new work visa is more liberal than the last. And with new visa routes, including those for some Hong Kong residents, being introduced, it’s likely their numbers will rise. On balance, we’d expect to see immigration levels be lower, and the educational composition of migrants be higher, than they were before the EU referendum.

And this has acute short-term implications for some firms and sectors, especially those with high staff turnover and reliant on lower-paid EU migrants, such as food manufacturing, driving and hospitality. These pressures are already becoming apparent, with sectors such as food and accommodation (who rely on EU-workers in SWV-ineligible roles for 10 per cent of their workforce) having seen vacancies double as the economy reopened post-pandemic.

Over the longer-term, the impact of migration policy changes on the UK economy is more nuanced, and uncertain. In the past, the UK’s ability to freely hire migrants from the EU has enabled the workforce to respond quickly to meet shifting economic needs. EU migrants are more likely than UK-born workers to move across the country, sectors and occupations, and this is especially true for those working in SWV-ineligible roles. With fewer mobile workers, the economy will be somewhat slower to adjust to change.

Building up the UK’s economic resilience under the new regime – which will be necessary to successfully respond to the wider challenges posed by Brexit, the Covid recovery and the UK’s transition to net zero – will therefore require sustained improvements in UK workers’ job mobility.

And despite claims from both sides of the debate that the new regime will either improve or exacerbate the UK’s lower-wage, low productivity growth challenges, it’s unlikely to have a big impact in either direction.

For example, critics of the new regime suggest that reducing immigration will have a large negative impact for the public finances, as there will be fewer migrants to contribute to the state via taxation. Getting a clear handle on what would happen is difficult, because it depends how policy changes really do affect the number, and composition of migrants moving to the UK.

Evidence from Office for Budget Responsibility found that the new migration regime could result in £2 billion savings to the public finances by 2024-25 – a positive amount, but one that’s small in comparison to big ticket public expenditure. (For example, it’s equivalent to the Government’s planned spend on its Cycling and Walking Strategy.)

And although past evidence has shown that migrant workers can boost individual firms’ productivity, there is no strong evidence across advanced economies that having an increased share of migrants in your workforce leads to overall productivity growth. Furthermore, there is little research to suggest that shifting to a system with lower levels of migration, but more highly qualified migrants, will turn the dial on productivity – either for the better or worse.

It’s also unlikely that the new migration regime will drive up wages in the longer-term. Having more highly-qualified, higher-paid migrant workers in the economy would drive up wages on average – but not necessarily for individuals.

Moreover, the pay rises recently seen off the back of labour shortages in migrant-reliant sectors aren’t certain to last over the longer term. Labour shortages in these sectors will indeed put pressure on firms to increase pay. But the evidence suggests that where firms can replace labour with technology they will do so – pushing up productivity and raising pay for the few remaining workers, but with the number of workers in those sectors falling by design.

And where automation isn’t possible, for example in some agricultural picking, firms can raise wages to attract labour, but ultimately prices will have to rise pushing down the real value of wages for everyone else. In the end, people will buy less of the product on offer – meaning production, and thereby employment will fall.

Stepping back, if policy makers want to to get to a high-wage, high-productivity economy, they will need to take tough decisions on industrial policy, understanding which sectors can drive economic growth and get them to where they want to go. They’ll also need to have a clear trade strategy, knowing which goods are better produced at home and imported from abroad.

And of course, they’ll need to think hard about underpinning domestic policy: how to build the country’s human capital, boost innovation and encourage job mobility.

Migration policy can complement an economic strategy, but it can’t stand in for one.

Benedict Rogers: We must not forget the people of Myanmar, living under military rule

1 Feb

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, Senior Analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign.

Today is the start of the Lunar New Year, Year of the Tiger. It is also the first anniversary of the bloody coup in Myanmar (Burma). A year ago today, the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s military, Min Aung Hlaing, overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, unravelling a decade of fragile democratisation and plunging that beautiful but benighted country back into the nightmare of brutal military dictatorship.

As we mark these two dates, we should reflect on the tragedy in Myanmar, and our response. We should also consider the role of the Chinese Communist Party regime in repressing its people, propping up other dictatorships and increasingly threatening freedom around the world. And we should resolve to develop the characteristics of the Tiger – fearlessness and courage.

It is said that this Year of the Tiger symbolises recovery and growth, both much needed following two years of Covid-19. But let this be a year of recovery and growth not only economically, but also for democracy, human rights and the international rules-based order, all increasingly threatened.

Myanmar is facing a dire humanitarian, human rights and economic crisis. The military, known as the ‘Tatmadaw’, has conducted over 7,000 attacks on civilians. Villages have been subjected to heavy artillery shelling and air strikes. In a country that, even during the past decade of quasi-democracy, still faced civil war – as it has for 70 years – this represents a shocking 664% increase over the previous year. Almost 1,500 people have been killed, including 100 children. Over 330,600 people have been displaced since the coup, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Tatmadaw’s bombardment of civilians has been accompanied by gruesome atrocity crimes. In one township on 7 December last year, soldiers tied up 11 civilians, tortured them, then burned them alive. Among the victims were five teenagers. On Christmas Eve, in a village in Karenni State, at least 37 people, including women and 10 children, were massacred. Again, their hands were tied and they were burned to death. They included two Save the Children aid workers.

Ten years ago, political prisoners were being released in Myanmar. But since the coup, the junta has arrested at least 11,776 people. Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint remain in jail, likely to be locked up indefinitely. At least 432 members of their party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), are in prison. Twelve have died in custody, some from Covid-19, others from torture.

At least 114 journalists have been arrested, and 43 remain behind bars. Before the coup, there were no journalists imprisoned, but today, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Myanmar ranks second only to China for jailing the most journalists.

The coup and the conflict have led to a humanitarian crisis in a country already suffering from Covid-19. The military has compounded the crisis by blocking or stealing humanitarian aid. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has warned that 46.3% of the population will be living in poverty and 14.4 million people – including five million children – will need humanitarian assistance this year.

In the face of this tragedy, what has the world done? The United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Canada have imposed some targeted sanctions on the military, which is welcome. But apart from that, there have been strong statements and much handwringing, but little else. There is a need to do much more.

The goal should be two-fold: to cut the lifeline to the Generals and provide a lifeline to the people. That means more sanctions, and – crucially – enforcing an arms embargo. Russia and China – already major challenges to the free world – are the key providers of arms to the junta. We should explore every avenue to expose and penalise them for their complicity with Myanmar’s mass murderers.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – whose response has been low-key and lacklustre – needs to step up. He should mobilise a diplomatic effort and a humanitarian coalition to provide aid along the borders. Britain and others should increase aid, and fund cross-border delivery.

Crucially, pressure should be put on China to stop keeping this junta alive. China is the junta’s primary provider of diplomatic cover and financial support. China is no friend of human rights, obviously, but it does not like instability on its doorstep, so we should try to persuade Beijing to help prevent a humanitarian disaster in Myanmar. Sustaining the Generals in power while Myanmar’s economy collapses, is in no one’s interests.

In three days, Beijing will host the Winter Olympics. A regime accused of genocide, dismantling Hong Kong’s freedoms in breach of an international treaty, repression in Tibet, persecution of Christians and Falun Gong, forced organ harvesting and an all-out assault on freedom at home and abroad, is not one that should have been accorded this honour.

It is right that several countries, including the United Kingdom, have imposed a diplomatic boycott. It is now right that we use the Games to spotlight the atrocities in China – and the regime’s complicity with crimes against humanity in Myanmar – and shame the butchers of Beijing.

In this Year of the Tiger, let us rediscover the courage of our convictions. Even as we face the most immediate challenge to freedom in Ukraine, let us not forget Myanmar. Indeed, let us stand up for the peoples of Myanmar – and China – and for freedom everywhere.

Garvan Walshe: Four ways in which democracies can fight back against China’s state gangsterism

23 Dec

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party.

Peng Shuai, a Chinese Tennis player, accused a former Chinese vice premier of sexual assault on the Chinese social network, Weibo.

The post then disappeared, and so did she. Six weeks later, she gave an interview to a pro-Beijing Chinese language newspaper denying she had ever made the allegation. Far from clearing things up, this stage-managed recantation reeks of state gangsterism.

The behaviour is part of a pattern of violence and intimidation that has intensified since Xi consolidated power in China. It goes beyond traditional targets of Chinese policy like Hong Kong and Taiwan, and takes in anyone that dares to cross the regime’s leadership.

Sometimes it is absurd (demanding that all Amazon reviews of Xi Jinping’s new book shown in China receive five stars), but more more often it is sinister – as demonstrated by the sanctions applied to Lithuania, the attempts to intimidate German companies that use Lithuanian suppliers, and the politically motivated prosecutions of Canadian businessmen Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were only released after legitimate charges were dropped against a Huawei executive.

China has turned globalisation into a weapon, and Western democracies need to develop a systematic defence. During the 1990s and 2000s, a combination of wishful thinking and greed allowed China to enrich itself through a globalised economy while maintaining an ideology hostile to the rules on which the international order was based.

Democratic countries have started to understand and correct this error in individual cases: Australia has sought stronger security guarantees from the United States through AUKUS. The UK has removed Chinese involvement in British nuclear electricity infrastructure, and the new Czech government, for instance, is likely to adopt a more sceptical approach to Huawei’s provision of 5G infrastructure.

While these changes are welcome, it is time to consider a more systematic approach. A first mistake of the 1990s was to think that economic growth would lead to democratic change. Though there may have been merit in the theory that wealthier middle classes are more likely to demand accountable government, it was unwise to base policy on a “law” among whose exceptions may be counted Russia and Turkey, as well as China.

A second, less well-understood error was to think it possible to depoliticise business in authoritarian states. Instead, the opposite happens: businesses, which need to make money after all, are being held hostage to the regimes’ agendas, whether these matters are as trivial as reviews of the Xi Jinping’s book, or as geopolitically pointed as Lithuania’s support for Taiwan.

Western foreign investment is subject to extortion, while authoriarian investment in the West is used to finance strategic corruption. Western libel laws are then used to attempt to silence its exposure (as Catherine Belton, who has successfully defended her Putin’s People from a fusillade of lawsuits can attest).

The lesson is that the globalisation of finance is only reliable when mechanisms exist to enforce the depoliticisation of business, whether through domestic courts that enforce international agreements, or Investor State Dispute resolution agreements when domestic courts cannot be trusted.

This applies equally to sport, where athletes should not be compelled to follow regime agendas either, and should be free to seek justice for crimes committed against them by the regimes.

That we instead have had to rely on the courage of HarperCollins, Belton’s publisher, or the Women’s Tennis association, which has stood by Peng Shuai, is not good enough. Democracies, acting together, need to start thinking about how to protect their sports organisations and busiesspeople from capture and extortion by powerful dictatorships.

There are four things democracies should do.

First, ensure protection from arbitrary retaliation, such as that China is trying to impose on Lithuania, by establishing automatic means of retaliation. To work well, these need to be done by democracies together. The EU is proposing an “anti-coercion” instrument for this purpose. The UK, US, and other democratic states should follow suit, and include countries like South Korea, which are too small to resist Chinese pressure on their own.

Second, sporting and research organisations could be supported, or compelled, make competitions and research cooperation conditional on ensuring the political independence and academic freedom of participants. Democratic countries dominate these areas to ensure such conditions are upheld. Even FIFA, happy to sell out to non-footballing Qatar would have to pay attention — who would watch a world cup in which democratic countries didn’t participate?

Third, in a sort of “democratic preference,” future economic integration should be focused on democratic countries, and could include snap-back clauses to remove priveleges if democracy decays.

Finally, democracies should act collectively against strategic corruption, leaving kleptocrats without a safe place to stash their money.

Peng Shuai’s treatment by the Chinese regime should reinforce the warning delivered to Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig. Neither celebrity or foreign citizenship can protect you from becoming an instrument of the regime’s intimidation. The naive globalisation of the 1990s has become a liability. Democracies need to beef up their defences against the Chinese dictatorship.

Omicron or no Omicron, high-income nations should have promoted a more equitable distribution of vaccines

29 Nov

After a fairly “relaxed” few months in the Coronavirus wars, many of us were dispirited last week to learn of the emergence of a highly transmissible new variant, Omicron, which was first identified by scientists in South Africa

In a joint press conference on Friday with Patrick Vallance, England’s Chief Scientific Adviser, and Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, Boris Johnson levelled with the nation about its seriousness – and what measures the UK would take to combat it, from the re-introduction of compulsory mask wearing and a new PCR test requirement for people arriving at airports. Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, has today expanded on the threat it poses.

Whether the Government’s steps are enough will be the subject of many questions over the next few weeks. But perhaps the most important is what Omicron symbolises for the international community; specifically around whether the distribution of vaccines has been as equitable as it could have been.

From the early stages of the crisis, prominent experts and the World Health Organization have warned of the importance of equitable vaccine distribution, first for moral reasons, but also because an imbalance could leave a vacuum for new variants to develop, and evade vaccines/ treatment. The emergence of Omicron has only added to that concern – due to the fact that it emerged in a part of the world with low inoculation rates (only 24 per cent of the population in South Africa has been inoculated).

That the variant was discovered in South Africa does not mean it is where it originated (rather, its scientists have some of the best detection tools); indeed, there are cases in Hong Kong, Canada and the UK. But it has nonetheless opened up the debate on whether more even vaccination rates around the globe could have made a difference, and how many new variants will take off elsewhere without better-protected communities. 

There are still shocking statistics on inoculation rates worldwide; only 2.5 per cent of the population in low income countries, for example, have received full protection, with 3.5 billion people across the globe waiting for their first dose of the vaccine. At the same time, 66 per cent of high-income countries have been vaccinated, with many onto their booster jabs and plans to inoculate children.

Could high-income countries do more? It’s worth saying that many have gone to extraordinary efforts to get vaccines out. In July this year, for instance, the UK began donating millions of vaccinations as part of the international Covax scheme, and has pledged to donate 100 million overseas by June 2022. 

As of September, the United States had donated approximately 140 million doses to around 83 countries, making it the highest donor, followed by China, Japan, India, the UK, France, Canada, Spain, Sweden and Poland

But even these staggering figures – Covax’s initial goal is to provide two billion doses of vaccines worldwide in 2021 and 1.8 billion doses to 92 poorer countries by early 2022 – may need to be improved upon. There will also be pressure on countries to be more flexible about vaccine patents; the European Union is being asked to share more information with others.

Furthermore, some countries may need help overcoming logistical challenges to rolling out their vaccines, from having difficulties with storage, to experiencing shortages in health workers who can administer inoculations. It is not a simple case of more jabs, job done; governments have to consider these additional barriers.

Either way, it’s clear that equitable distribution will become much more of a talking point with the new variant; it is a reminder that the world is in it “together” when it comes to beating the virus. This often seems to be forgotten in all the talk about booster jabs – and it’s a shame that it only gets brought up when growing variants hit home. Even before Omicron, developed nations had a duty to do more here.

Benedict Rogers: Leaders have 24 hours to send a clear message to the CCP on its human rights abuses

28 Oct

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, an adviser to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign.

Over the next 24 hours in Rome, as G20 world leaders gather for their summit, an unprecedented meeting of legislators and campaigners from around the world is taking place, focused on the biggest challenge the world faces: China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) was only formed just over a year ago, and yet already includes over 200 Parliamentarians in 21 legislatures across five continents.

Crucially, it is one of the most global and cross-party coalitions ever, drawing together politicians such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the British Conservative Party, and Senator Marco Rubio, former US Republican Presidential candidate, with Robert Menendez, senior Democrat Senator, Reinhard Butikofer, the leader of the German Greens in the European Parliament, Kimberley Kitching, Australia’s Labour Senator, Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former Attorney-General and parliamentarians from countries as diverse as Norway, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Japan, Uganda and beyond.

Many of IPAC’s members arrive in Rome today for a gathering that will hear from Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, the ‘Sikyong’ Penpa Tsering, Tibet’s political leader, Nathan Law, Hong Kong’s exiled former legislator and political prisoner, and Rahima Mahmut, the Uyghur campaigner – all the voices Beijing tries relentlessly to discredit and silence.

The reason this alternative summit is so important is that it is designed to send a clear message to the G20: the Chinese Communist Party regime must not be given a free pass, its human rights atrocity crimes cannot be allowed to go unchallenged and the international community must set out clear consequences for Beijing’s flagrant breaches of international treaties. Kowtowing must end, the climate of impunity must cease and Xi Jinping’s regime must be held to account.

The IPAC gathering will make clear that the genocide of the Uyghurs, the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms – happening before our very eyes – as well as the persecution of Christians, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, human rights defenders, citizen journalists and civil society activists – must not be forgotten.

Already, even despite Amnesty International’s closure of its Hong Kong office on Monday and the statement by 43 countries at the United Nations last week about the plight of the Uyghurs, these issues are being sidelined.

As COP26 begins this Sunday in Glasgow, the message should be clear: climate change is a big challenge of our time, but human rights should not be sacrificed on the greenwashing line.

Indeed, climate change and human rights should go together, for what good is freedom if our planet is dying, yet at the same time what good are blue skies if humanity is in chains? And, one might add, how trustworthy anyway is the world’s biggest polluter, China, when its regime lies and breaks its international treaty promises?

And then there’s Taiwan. Xi Jinping has ratcheted up not only the rhetoric but the fighter jets, plunging the region into the most dangerous period in decades. The free world – indeed the entire international community – needs to be clear about what it will do if China invades Taiwan: and it must spell it out unambiguously to Beijing as a deterrent.

The mood in the free world is clearly shifting. President Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have already indicated that concerns over the Chinese Communist Party’s repression and aggression is a bipartisan matter, perhaps the only topic that unites Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The European Union shows some signs of shift, with Josep Borrell, its policy chief, defending closer ties with Taiwan. And Liz Truss, Britain’s new Foreign Secretary, has given multiple messages that while trade with China could continue, we must reduce strategic dependency, diversify supply chains and cement an alliance for democracy around the world.

The direction of travel for the free world is clear. It is simply a matter now of accelerating the pace. IPAC’s gathering in Rome is designed to urge the G20 on.

Let’s not wait for an invasion of Taiwan. Let’s act now to stop Beijing’s genocide against the Uyghurs, dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, repression in Tibet, persecution of all its critics and aggression towards freedom itself, including our own. And Britain, together with our allies, should lead this fight.

What lower immigration?

8 Oct

If wages rise, productivity doesn’t, prices do, unemployment does too and interest rates go up, the economy will experience downturn and perhaps recession.  At which point immigration will presumably fall, as it did in the wake of the financial crash – or else perhaps not rise much from its present condition.

Which in the year to March 2021 saw an 87 per cent fall in arrivals and a 78 per cent reduction in visas (including a 37 per cent reduction in work visas).  That’s the effect of Covid and lockdowns for you.

So what will happen if wages rise, productivity does too, prices don’t (or at least not as fast as they would have done otherwise), unemployment falls and interest rates stay stable?  Boris Johnson is suggesting that in these circumstances immigration won’t rise much, either: that’s the thrust of his argument about lower migration, a levelled up economy and higher wages.

Such an outcome is unlikely.  Certainly, net migration to the UK from the EU fell between 2016 and 2019 to 49,000 – close to the lowest level since 2003.  The Prime Minister is holding his line on HGV drivers by issuing only 5000 visas, largely for European lorry drivers, while Keir Starmer wants 100,000 issued.

However, net non-EU immigration rose between 2013 and 2019, reaching 282,000 by the end of that year – the highest level ever recorded.  The year to March 2020 showed an overall net migration figure of 313,000.

The Government has, of course, abandoned a net target altogether, going instead for its beloved “Australian-style points-based system“.  There is now no annual limit on semi-skilled work permits;  qualification requirements and the salary threshold has been lowered; an unlimited number of foreign students can stay on for up to two years; the obligation to first advertise jobs in the UK has been dropped.

All in all, the open secret of government migration policy is that it is relatively liberal, at least compared with what came before.  There is merit in the broad, strategic nature of the change. The net target made little sense – since, after all, government can’t control outflow.  And the Australian-style branding, as Dominic Cummings grasped, appeals to voters.

Sunder Katwala has argued on this site that “a long-term softening of public attitudes has continued during the pandemic”.  Forty-six 46 per cent of the public seeing migration as positive and 28 per cent negative, he reported, “a direct reversal of the position in 2015-16”.

The mere fact of “taking back control”, and the impact of Brexit on EU migration, is likely to have affected attitudes.  And it stands to reason that the growth of Britain’s ethnic minorities should impact on attitudues to immigration – at least in terms of race.  However, evidence suggests that concern about the issue rises when numbers increase.

According to YouGov, immigration / asylum is now third equal with the environment among voters’ concerns, with 55 per cent of Conservative voters naming it, “a startling rise of 24 points since the start of the year”, according to MigrationWatch.  Your guess about why this has happened is as good as ours (which, for the record, is: channel boats).

Maybe attitudes to immigration will stay relatively relaxed, even if Hong Kongers turn up in larger numbers than anticipated.  But whether they do or not, and despite the obscurity of the figures, the pre-Covid evidence suggests that, bar a downtown, net migration will grow.

If this is so, we don’t see where the Prime Minister gets his suggestion of lower immigration from.  Yes, it will be lower than it would be under Labour.  And, yes, EU migration looks set to remain relatively low by recent standards.  But overall, net immigration seems to us more likely to rise than not.  Which is one more reason to be sceptical of the case that Johnson is putting.

Terry Barnes: The significance of this new U.S-UK-Australia security pact – and Johnson’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific

17 Sep

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

It may have been missed in Britain midst the excitement of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle and the attention-greedy Sussexes making the cover of Time, but this week’s announcement by Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Scott Morrison of a ‘trilateral security partnership’, to be known as AUKUS, is hugely significant.

It is to be a relationship of defence, technological and security cooperation. While it essentially formalises existing exchanges between three traditional allies, that in itself has historic strategic and geopolitical implications.

Here in Australia, this announcement is huge news. Not only is Australia formalising a security pact with her two greatest and closest traditional allies, but she is also being admitted by the US and UK into a very select club: countries operating nuclear-powered submarines. Morrison’s government is thereby walking away from a costly but irretrievably dysfunctional contract with the French to co-build a dozen conventional next-generation submarines, exposing itself to billions of dollars in termination costs.  But this hasn’t been a deal-breaker.

That AUKUS was announced, within eight months of the next Australian general election, is even more significant. It’s one thing for a conservative government to sign such a security agreement and pursue nuclear submarines. It’s quite another for a traditionally anti-nuclear and US-skeptical Labor party opposition to endorse such a radical reshaping of Australia’s national security framework. Yet it has – today publicly committed itself to the agreement should Labor win next year’s election, a possibility if opinion polls are right.

Furthermore, just weeks after marking its 70th anniversary, the joint announcement confirms that the ANZUS alliance of Australia, New Zealand and the United States is officially dead.

New Zealand suspended ANZUS almost 40 years ago, because it refused to allow US nuclear-powered ships into her ports: this week, Jacinda Ardern insisted that this bar would apply to nuclear-powered Australian submarines as well. Since New Zealand’s inflexible opposition to nuclear-powered ships sits with Ardern’s refusal to join any Five Eyes strategic arrangements that might antagonise China, AUKUS effectively kills off whatever vestiges of ANZUS are left.

Australia, on the other hand, has been increasingly vocal about the Chinese regime’s geostrategic muscle-flexing, as well as its internal behaviour. Morrison was the first world leader to demand that China account for the origin and escape of Covid-19 from Wuhan, and has given his MPs free rein to criticise China’s strategic ambitions and human rights record – despite the regime’s wolf warrior bullying diplomacy and trade retaliations. AUKUS reminds Xi Jinping that ‘little’ Australia has great and powerful friends, and that she does not stand alone in calling out his bullying.

Jinping certainly should sit up and take note of this critical new development. The two great Anglosphere powers are joining a third, Australia, in making it emphatically clear to China and the world that the Pacific and Indian oceans are not Chinese lakes. The UK and US giving Australia nuclear-powered submarine capability – with the speed, endurance and stealth that this capability ensures – means that there will be a local nuclear-powered, if not nuclear-armed deterrent straddling the approaches to busiest blue water sea-lanes in the world running through the South China Sea.

But from Britain’s perspective, this is a truly remarkable strategic development, the significance of which may not be immediately realised outside Whitehall.

AUKUS is not just sending HMS Queen Elizabeth through the Indian and Pacific Oceans to make an important but nevertheless symbolic freedom of navigation gesture to demonstrate Britain’s resistance to China’s increasingly bellicose aggression. For the first time in the half a century since she withdrew a standing presence from east of Suez, the United Kingdom is joining a formal geostrategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific.

That sends not only a starkly clear message to China: it reassures the entire Indo-Pacific region, and especially India, Japan, and South Korea – and Hong Kong and Taiwan – that their security interests are also British interests. Johnson, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss – fresh from negotiating, with Australia, Britain’s first post-Brexit free trade deal – have grasped the importance and necessity of the UK re-engaging in the Indo-Pacific strategically as well as economically.

And the United States benefits, too, in that strengthening the offensive as well as the defensive capability of a key regional ally in Australia will, in time, ease the burden of what Paul Kennedy years ago called ‘imperial overstretch’. Biden may have forgotten Morrison’s name in the leaders’ announcement hook-up, but surely realises how strategically important a politically stable, but strategically-strengthened, Australia will be to the overall peace and stability of the entire Indo-Pacific region.

To be sure, in Britain this announcement was overshadowed by other events. But in the longer term, AUKUS may well be part of any tangible and lasting legacy of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Sunder Katwala: Immigration. Our latest polling suggests that control and integration matter more than numbers.

14 Sep

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

Immigration was central to the Brexit referendum debate of 2016. Without the loss of public confidence in the handling of migration from Europe over the previous decade, there would have been less pressure on David Cameron to hold a referendum – and it would have been less likely that the knife-edge campaign would result in a narrow victory for the Leave campaign.

The opposing sides saw the issue of EU free movement differently, yet the lessons of the result for immigration were contested within as well as across the rival campaigns.

Many on the losing side saw the result as evidence of an irrational upsurge of nativist sentiment, while Leave advocates took different views. For some, the referendum was a mandate to cut immigration sharply, to demonstrate that the message had been heard. Others saw the referendum outcome as a rational assertion of control that might come to rebuild public confidence in the contribution that immigration can make to Britain.

Five years on, there have been significant shifts in attitudes to migration. The latest 2021 wave of an in-depth tracker project from Ipsos MORI, published by British Future today, shows that a long-term softening of public attitudes has continued during the pandemic.

This detailed evidence of how public views changed supports the argument of those who argued that control was not simply a question of how low the immigration numbers could go. The public are more likely to see the contribution of immigration as positive (46 per cent) than negative (28 per cent), overall. This is a direct reversal of the position in 2015-16.

Asked to prioritise, control (44 per cent) is chosen over reducing numbers (24 per cent), with another fifth of respondents choosing neither of these as a priority. The proportion of the public wanting to see immigration reduced overall is now at 45 per cent, its lowest level in this series, or in British Social Attitudes surveys over a much longer period.

A similar proportion is content for numbers to remain at current levels (29 per cent) or increase (17 per cent). That 46 per cent of people would like to reduce migration shows that numbers will continue to be part of the debate. Conservative voters are more likely to prefer overall reductions. But many reducers are selective balancers: 17 per cent would like to reduce immigration “a little” while 28 per cent would hope to see larger reductions.

Because these are not ‘one size fits all’ views, there are much broader public majorities for choices that would increase migration, with two-thirds support for the government’s offer of a new visa route for people from Hong Kong. Having ended free movement, Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has tended to make liberal choices on student and post-study visas, and on non-EU migration for work.

The attitudes evidence does not tell ministers what the right policy mix is to deal with labour and skills shortages – whether of lorry drivers, construction workers or fruit-pickers – in the short, medium and longer-term. What it does seem to suggest is that a government which chose to blend domestic training with flexibility in the points system where there are key gaps would be able to secure pragmatic permission from the British public.

So the immigration policy debate is not primarily about numbers, but about the choices that Britain makes, and what we do to make them work. If the post-Brexit debate has primarily been about who gets a visa to work in Britain, policy needs to focus more on what happens next. The Government has taken more proactive initial steps on Hong Kong than any previous wave of migration, which could be foundation for a more positive approach to citizenship and integration more broadly.

But if shifting attitudes create an opportunity for more light and less heat when we talk about immigration, significant challenges remain. There is still low trust in government on immigration – a perspective shared by broad majorities of those with liberal, restrictionist and balancer views, almost certainly for a range of contrasting reasons.

The two major parties both need to engage the balancer middle, but will often strike those balances differently, reflecting distinct electoral coalitions. Attitudes towards asylum are more polarised, though again the balance of attitudes has shifted. By a small margin there is public sympathy, rather than no sympathy, for those crossing the Channel in small boats – though nobody on any side of the debate would see the images of dangerous crossings as exemplifying a well-managed migration or asylum system.

The findings suggest that a debate about “control” versus “compassion” will produce a deadlocked stand-off, with a quarter to a third of the public on each side of a polarised argument. The key to securing the balancer majority on refugee issues is not to increase the temperature of the debate, especially if headlines over-promise and under-deliver – but to marry control, compassion and competence.

That means investing in an effective asylum system at home, cooperating with France over Channel crossings, and forging a multilateral response to those fleeing Afghanistan. Civic society critics of this government face a parallel challenge – to engage both liberals and balancers to unlock broad public support for a managed system of asylum that is effective, fair and humane. That could involve entrenching the majority support for Britain’s contribution to Afghan resettlement, and making the argument that all asylum seekers should have a fair hearing for their case, however they arrived in the UK.

How far these long-term shifts in immigration attitudes are now reflected in a new political and policy debate will depend on how the public debate is led. But politicians may need to steer a course that runs with the current of public opinion now, in 2021 – not that of a decade before.

Garvan Walshe: Just as in Hong Kong and Belarus, the UK has a duty to stand up for freedom in Tunisia

5 Aug

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party.

As in Belarus and Hong Kong, democratic freedoms are under attack in Tunisia. But 10 years after its revolution, the powers that be are weaker, and strong foreign support for Tunisians’ freedoms can tip the balance.

“I will not become a dictator” insisted Kais Saied, the Tunisian president, as he shut down parliament, put the army on the streets and stopped Al Jazeera broadcasting.

Not since Egyptian general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appeared in military uniform in the summer of 2013, denying that the events which would make him president were a coup, or when Jeremy Corbyn said he was “present but not involved” at a wreath-laying ceremony for terrorists, has North African denial been so implausible.

Tunisia is the last survivor of the Arab Spring revolts of 2011, but a decade on, its democracy is looking shaky. Ten years of fractious politics haven’t yielded the economic progress freedom was supposed to bring. The pandemic, and the disruption of the vital tourist industry it produced, has made things worse.

Tunisia is supposed to have a political system where power is shared between parliament and the president, but last week the president, a former academic who doesn’t belong to any political party, invoked emergency provisions of the constitution to suspend parliament for 30 days. But while the constitution allows periods of emergency presidential rule, they are conditional on the parliament being in session to keep an eye on him.

A constitutional court would have reaffirmed this, but one hasn’t been set up yet. In its absence, Saied, despite being a former professor of constitutional law, just used the security forces under his command for a power grab. Though he likened himself to de Gaulle, it would be fairer to compare him to Cromwell dismissing the Rump.

Nonetheless, unlike Sisi’s in Egypt, Saied’s coup looks far from a foregone conclusion. Elected with 72 per cent of the vote in 2019, Saied’s approval ratings have fallen to around 40 per cent, and it’s best to describe him as the single most popular figure in a crowded field.

The successor pparty to the old regime, known as the Free Destourians, heads the polls with around 30 per cent support, followed by the genuinely moderate post-Islamist Ennahda, with 20 per cent. Various left-wing and secularist groups, and Islamist groups make up the rest.

This contrasts with Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood were extreme, saw democracy as a means to an end, and against whom the Army was the only force in society capable of standing up to them. Unable to win on their own, Ennahda, who now describe themselves in as “Muslim Democrats” in conscious analogy with Angela Merkel’s CDU, have become moderate (a hardline faction split off to form its own “Dignity” party). Though Saied can argue that his opponents are dysfunctional, there is no threat of an Islamist takeover in Tunisia.

Islamist weakness has been reflected in the US position, with Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser, insisting that Tunisia return to the “democratic path.” The US may also be motivated by concerns about increasing Chinese influence in the country, which is only 200 miles from Sicily.

The Foreign Office has so far been rather more perfunctory, issuing a statement so anodyne it is worthy of the department’s caricature in Yes, Prime Minister. There is a need to get a grip on the situation, and the Foreign Secretary should use the opportunity to lead.

Just as in Hong Kong and Belarus, the UK has a duty to stand up for freedom in Tunisia. It has been heavily involved in the democratic transition since 2011, supporting civil society, offering practical assistance and considerable sums of aid. Unlike France it is not burdened by colonial baggage there. And it has an opportunity to outflank the EU which is hampered by the requirement for unanimity in foreign affairs. The UK has an opportunity to convene a response by the world’s democracies.

The most important task is the resolution of the constitutional crisis and a return to the normal democratic process.

In the first instance, the army should be taken off the streets, and journalists be allowed to report openly. Parliament should be reconvened (after all that is what the Tunisian constitution requires even during an emergency), and the parliamentarians that have been arrested freed immediately.

In the medium term, agreement is needed on a constitutional court, and measures to ensure full international observation of future Tunisian parliamentary and presidential elections to ensure their legitimacy.

In the longer term, reforms are needed in Tunisia’s army, intelligence services and police, to ensure oversight by all elements of Tunisia’s political system, as is normal in presidential democracies. They may be under the command of the president, but need to be subject to laws enacted by the parliament compliance with which is monitored by parliament and enforced by the judiciary.

Finally, priority should be given to Tunisia’s economic recovery. The country is still extremely poor, despite reasonable levels of education, a large French-speaking population and a geographical location extremely close to the European market. A good investment climate and the rule of law should put it in a position to leapfrog its neighbours in Algeria and Morocco. Further aid needs to be made conditional on progress towards a stable, and free, political and business environment.

The only democracy to emerge from the 2011 Arab revolutions needs our help. Unlike in Hong Kong and Belarus, autocratic forces lack a powerful patron. Unlike in Egypt, choice isn’t between authoritarianism and Islamism. And unlike in Lebanon, the country has not been overtaken by sectarian dysfunction. We can make a difference in Tunisia. It would be unforgivable to take our eye off the ball.