The campaign to oppose the 0.7 per cent aid cut will gain very little support from Party members

10 Jan

Here is a ConservativeHome members’ panel result that is unsurprising (so much so as perhaps to explain why it missed out on publication last month), but which it is nonetheless important to record.

The Government is in no place simply to suspend the target.  It was enshrined in law during the Coalition years, and Ministers seem to accept that, while the legislation allows the target to be missed unintentionally (and for the Government then to explain what it will do in future to hit it), it doesn’t allow it to be missed intentionally.

That will mean a Bill, to be debated before Covid-19 has fully receded, and with an unknown number of Tory MPs opposed.  Harriet Baldwin gave a preview of the arguments they will deploy on this site recently.

We will be surprised if the number of dissenters hits over 40, at which point the Government risks losing part or all of the Bill, though sources within their camp are bullish.  What’s clear if our survey is correct is that they will have very little support indeed from Tory members.

Edward Leigh: If Pakistan won’t crack down on the kidnapping of young girls, we should cut off aid

24 Nov

Sir Edward Leigh is Member of Parliament for Gainsborough.

On 13th October, in Karachi, Pakistan, 13-year-old Catholic girl Arzoo Raja, was kidnapped in broad daylight by a 44-year-old man called Ali Azhar. Her parents were told she had converted to Islam and decided to marry him.

Her parents went straight to the police and produced a National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) birth certificate showing she is 13. They argued the marriage was invalid in line with the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, that forbids marriage to anyone under the age of 18.

Yet, on 29th October, the Karachi High Court ruled that she was neither abducted nor had she been forced to marry.

Three days later, after protests and international criticism, the court changed its mind and Arzoo was “recovered” and placed in a women and girls’ shelter. There was a medical examination of Arzoo which found she is “around 14 years of age”. Her abductor is now on judicial remand and Arzoo is still in the shelter.

Unfortunately, cases such as Arzoo’s are not uncommon in Pakistan. In April, another Catholic girl, 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz, was bundled into a car at gunpoint by three men during the lockdown in Madina Town, near Faisalabad.

As with Arzoo, Maira’s mother was told her daughter had married one of the men who abducted her, Mohamad Nakash Tariq, and converted to Islam.

Maira’s family also went to the police with a NADRA birth certificate. This time it showed she was 14. Nakash said she was 19. The case went to court and eventually the Lahore High Court ruled in Mr Nakash’s favour. The marriage was valid. She had “embraced Islam”.

Two weeks after this decision, Maira escaped Nakash and went straight to the police. She told them:

“I found myself at an unknown place where the accused forced me to have a glass of juice that contained some intoxicant. I was semi-conscious at that moment and the accused raped me forcefully and also filmed me naked. When I came to my senses, I started shouting and requesting them to release me…They threatened to murder my whole family. They have also shown me my naked video and pictures which they have taken on their mobile while raping me.”

Maira is now on the run, with extremist mobs going door-to-door looking for her. In their eyes, she is an apostate and they will kill her if they find her. This is why for #RedWednesday this year, Aid to the Church in Need have launched a campaign calling on Maira to be granted asylum to the UK so that she can rebuild her life free of this threat. They have launched a petition which has been signed by over 8,500 people.

Sumera Shafique, her lawyer, said: “Maira’s life is in constant danger because she is condemned as an apostate by her abductor and his supporters. Unless Maira and her family can leave Pakistan they will always be at risk of being killed.”

These are not isolated examples. The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan calculate that every year in Pakistan, up to 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted.

Pakistan is the biggest recipient of UK aid. It is reported that we pay an estimated £383,000 per day in aid to Pakistan. Over 20 years, it adds up to £2.8 billion. In 2019/20 we sent £302 million. In 2018/19 it was £325 million. Should we really send such a large sum of taxpayers’ money to a country where women are treated so poorly? What message are we sending by funding a country that treats its religious minorities so abhorrently?

Cases like Arzoo and Maira’s are endemic in a society that has serious issues with its treatment of women and religious minorities. To be both a Christian and a woman in Pakistan is a double jeopardy. The ostracisation they face on a daily basis puts them in a dangerous position. They are soft targets for predatory and rapacious men. For example, Maira had been forced to drop out of school and work because her family are so poor. That she also has no father around made her more vulnerable.

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore spoke to ACN about the kidnappings of these girls, condemning it as a “crime”. He said: “Yes [abductions of under-age girls] are happening” and added that “there have been many kidnappings recently.”

He added: “Kidnapping is a crime. It has to be treated as one. This is the only way to stop it. The girls are usually 14, 15. The men often already have one wife. They can be 25 or older. They can be younger, more like 20.”

As Archbishop Shaw rightly points out, both Azhar, Arzoo’s abductor, and Nakash Tariq, Maira’s abductor, were middle-aged and already married with children. Nakash Tariq has two young children. Archbishop Shaw also raised another motivation for the men. He said: “It is lust. They think ‘she is pretty I want her’. It is a crime. But it has a possible religious component too.”

According to these men, the girls, of their own volition, decided to convert and get married. Yet, a number of questions arise. Why is it only ever young girls so desperate to convert to Islam? Why never young boys? Why never middle-aged women? Why never middle-aged men?

Further, quite why Maira would need to be bundled into a car at gunpoint – an event captured on CCTV – when she was converting of her own desire is unclear. And if Arzoo was such a willing convert and would-be bride, why was she only taken as soon as her parents left for work?

The evidence suggests that the problem of abduction, rape, and forced marriage and conversion to Islam of underage girls of religious minorities is a serious problem in Pakistan. ACN told me that their contacts estimate that there are probably far more than 1,000 cases each year, but families are too scared or too poor to raise them.

The UK needs to use its position as a global power, and generous benefactor of Pakistan, to deal with this problem. It is unclear to me the wisdom of sending such an administration vast sums of money. Perhaps for the government of Pakistan to bring about the requisite change, we need to hit them where it hurts: their coffers.

Robert Halfon: Who’s up for a Southern Research Group?

18 Nov

Political fusion

Is it really true, as has been suggested over the past few days, that Conservatives can only appeal to either blue-collar voters or the professional classes – but not both?

Those who know me will not doubt my commitment that the Conservative Party should be the party for workers; indeed, I’ve written that about the Workers Party many times on this website.

But, my passion for the Workers Party does not mean that we cannot, nor should not, appeal to the public in cities, as well as towns – the Putneys as well as the Pudseys.

It seems to me there is confusion about so-called metropolitan views. Of course, there is left-of-centre “wokeist metropolitanism” – a school of thought that is unlikely to ever vote Conservative, whatever policies the Government come up with.

But, protecting the NHS, cutting taxes for lower earners, freezing fuel duty, boosting skills and apprenticeships, helping small businesses, offering affordable housing (such as the £12.2 billion investment announced recently by Robert Jenrick) and Help to Buy schemes are policies that transcend the ‘somewheres’ and the ‘anywheres’ divide, as noted by David Goodhart.

Even measures on environmental issues, for example, can have widespread appeal, so long as they are not balanced on the backs of the poor (such as ever-increasing energy bills due to “green” taxes) and are focused on a cleaner, greener Britain (including cleaning up our beaches, tackling litter and safeguarding our forests and countryside). Those who are more sceptical about Brexit might be a bit more optimistic if they could see the reduction in VAT once we’re out of the transition period and we control our own VAT rates.

Similarly, Overseas Aid. At a time when our public services at home are financially strained, spending huge amounts on international development is extremely frustrating to many voters. However, it could be made more palatable if taxpayers money was used to fund thousands of British apprentices to work overseas in developing countries, or even to support our armed forces in some of their peacekeeping roles.

It is dangerous if we are perceived to be identifying solely with one group of citizens or class over another. If the Conservatives are truly the One Nation Party, the Government needs to find political fusion. Whilst, thanks to Boris Johnson, the Conservatives have a solid majority, to be diminished as we are in the great cities like London is neither healthy nor desirable for our party in the long run. Yes, absolutely a Workers Party…but a Workers Party that represents young professionals as much as white van men and women.

Please don’t forget the Southern side of the Blue Wall either

I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t read the words “Red Wall” in a national newspaper. Don’t get me wrong, I am as delighted as any Conservative by how we won so many seats in the North. All the more extraordinary given the long-standing Labour MPs that were deposed. I would, of course, prefer it if the media wrote about the “Blue Wall” rather than red.

But, my point is a different one. Both the Government and the media classes should not forget the Southern side of the ‘blue wall’ either. The politicos and the press seem to be under the illusion that the South is paved with gold; that there are no road, rail and infrastructure issues; that every pothole is magically filled, and that no one lives in poverty.

What about the deprivation and lower educational attainment in the Southern New Towns, coastal communities, inner cities, rural coldspots?

The Centre for Education and Youth’s 2019 report, ‘Breaking the Link? Attainment, poverty and rural schools’, found that in areas designated as “countryside living” – a vast proportion of the South West – the correlation between the proportion of pupils on Free School Meals and their attainment 8 scores was 0.58 – the highest of all types of local authority area. In other words, “rural schools have particular difficulty breaking the link between poverty and low pupil attainment”.

Seaside village Jaywick, in Essex, was named the most deprived area overall for the third time in a row in 2019. We also know, from the Social Market Foundation’s 2019 research, Falling off a cliff, that average employee annual pay in coastal communities was about £4,700 lower than in the rest of Britain in 2018. These areas also saw “much weaker economic growth since the financial crisis than other parts of the country” which will demand urgent Government attention as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Does the South not feature in policy making? Perhaps if there was a Southern side-of-the-wall Research Group, then these MPs might be invited to breakfast at Number 10 and policy meetings with Ministers.  Anyone for another MP Whatsapp group? Perhaps we have enough already.

As I wrote in the first section of this article, we must be careful not to ‘politic’ or govern in silos. We should not Balkanise the Tory Party. Conservatives must genuinely be a One Nation party for all our country – not just parts of it.

Home education

Given the name of this website, I suspect many readers are fully in favour of home education if that is what a parent decides. Although personally I think a child is better off at school – not just for daily education, activities, wellbeing and socialisation with other pupils, I also believe in a free society by which we support parents’ decisions about educating their child. Clearly, many parents who teach their children at home give them a wonderful education. However, this is not always the case across the board.

The Department for Education has a duty to ensure that every child has a proper education – that doesn’t stop just because the child is learning from home. There should be a national register or regular inspections to ensure that these pupils are getting the education they need for their futures. Perhaps, each home educated child could be linked to a nearby school for this purpose. These are all matters that my Education Select Committee is considering as we begin an inquiry into home education.

Rightly, schools are held accountable for the learning and environment they provide, whether that be through Ofsted, local councils, the regional school commissioners or the Department for Education (DfE).  So, too, must there be transparency and accountability for parents providing an education to their children at home. The DfE should have a national register of all home educated children and gather data to assess levels of attainment.

In a recent report on home education, the Local Government Association stated:

“Using evidence provided by councils, school leaders and parents, the LGA estimates that in 2018/19, 282,000 children in England may have missed out on formal full-time education – around 2 per cent of the school age population – but this figure could be as high as 1.14 million depending on how ‘formal’ and ‘full-time’ is defined…. gaps in the coordination of policies and guidance around pupil registration, attendance, admissions, exclusions and non-school education is allowing children to slip through the net, with children with additional vulnerabilities – such as social, behavioural, medical or mental health needs – most at risk of doing so.”

Whilst many parents educate their home educated children to the best of their ability, and with much success, there are too many children falling through the cracks. It is right that there are changes.

Anthony Mangnall: How the Prime Minister can make British overseas aid spending more effective

13 Nov

Anthony Mangnall is MP for Totnes. His new report on Global Britain and Development for the One Nation Caucus of Conservative MPs is available here.

There is a great deal to welcome about the election of President-Elect Joe Biden. After four years of scandal, trade wars, and denigration of international institutions, we can look forward with a greater degree of certainty and comfort as a resurgent America restores its commitment to global leadership.

Biden was elected on a platform which puts social justice at the heart of his foreign policy. He has committed to returning America to a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls, both at home and abroad. Moreover, as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, I am delighted that Biden has included tackling gender-based violence internationally a key tenet of his foreign policy priorities.

In the United Kingdom, Biden will find a staunch ally of his proposed humanitarian programme. Britain is an international development superpower, one of only a handful of countries to meet the OECD target of spending 0.7 per cent of income on aid, with a proud record of supporting the world’s poorest.

Since 2015, as a direct result of the 0.7 per cent target, the UK has helped almost 52 million people access clean water or improved sanitation, vaccinated 76 million children, and provided 14 million children with a decent education.

The vast majority of us within the rank and file of the Conservative Party recognise the significant, important, and essential work carried out through our development budget. Leaving aside our moral duty to the world’s poorest, we recognise our aid spending pays for itself by tackling the root causes of expensive and intractable issues that directly impact our country, from conflict and terrorism to mass migration. We understand that aid is a core tenet of what modern compassionate conservativism is all about.

That said, it is fair to say that aid spending has not always been spent as effectively as it could have been. It is vital that our international development budget is targeted both to support those most in need and to deliver value for money for British taxpayers.

The recent decision to merge Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) affords us with an excellent opportunity to reinvigorate our approach to aid. To that end, supported by two former Foreign Secretaries amongst other colleagues in my party, I have produced a new report for the One Nation Caucus exploring the ways in which we can capitalise on the merger and deliver a more effective aid and development programme.

One of the most important aspects of our aid policy that we need to get right is the 0.7 per cent target. Speculation around the viability of the target has set hares running amongst those who have long understood the value of a Global Britain. But as outlined in a recent report by Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the annual target can mean projects are left with little time to spend their budgets, resulting in poor spending decisions.

While maintaining the target and our commitment to the world’s most vulnerable, we should reform how it operates. That is why our new report calls for a multi-year 0.7 per cent target, in order to remove artificial spending deadlines and provide the certainty needed to make long-term strategic decisions.

Turning to the policies of the new FCDO, the widespread cases of gender-based violence, both at home and abroad, should be a clear indicator that empowerment of women must be at the very top of the new department’s priorities. As outlined in our report, the Government should create an international mechanism to document crimes of sexual violence, support survivors, and lead legal action so as to shatter the culture of impunity.

Taking inspiration from Biden’s call for reimagining existing foreign partnerships and designing new frameworks, our new report also calls on the Government to push for further reform of OECD rules to allow greater spending on peacekeeping missions. The UK could also convene a meeting of nations with a commonality of purpose in aid and development to better co-ordinate our aid strategies and outcomes. For example, a CANZUK consensus on how and where to spend aid would lock in respective development spending commitments, develop international cooperation, and improve outcomes.

Many of us in the Conservative Party still refer to the ‘golden thread’ theory of international development; that you only get real long-term development through aid if there is also a golden thread of stable government, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. By adopting some of the proposals in the One Nation Caucus’ new paper, the Government can recast this golden thread into a golden rod that breaks the vicious cycles of poverty, conflict and impunity.

Anthony Mangnall: How the Prime Minister can make British overseas aid spending more effective

13 Nov

Anthony Mangnall is MP for Totnes. His new report on Global Britain and Development for the One Nation Caucus of Conservative MPs is available here.

There is a great deal to welcome about the election of President-Elect Joe Biden. After four years of scandal, trade wars, and denigration of international institutions, we can look forward with a greater degree of certainty and comfort as a resurgent America restores its commitment to global leadership.

Biden was elected on a platform which puts social justice at the heart of his foreign policy. He has committed to returning America to a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls, both at home and abroad. Moreover, as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, I am delighted that Biden has included tackling gender-based violence internationally a key tenet of his foreign policy priorities.

In the United Kingdom, Biden will find a staunch ally of his proposed humanitarian programme. Britain is an international development superpower, one of only a handful of countries to meet the OECD target of spending 0.7 per cent of income on aid, with a proud record of supporting the world’s poorest.

Since 2015, as a direct result of the 0.7 per cent target, the UK has helped almost 52 million people access clean water or improved sanitation, vaccinated 76 million children, and provided 14 million children with a decent education.

The vast majority of us within the rank and file of the Conservative Party recognise the significant, important, and essential work carried out through our development budget. Leaving aside our moral duty to the world’s poorest, we recognise our aid spending pays for itself by tackling the root causes of expensive and intractable issues that directly impact our country, from conflict and terrorism to mass migration. We understand that aid is a core tenet of what modern compassionate conservativism is all about.

That said, it is fair to say that aid spending has not always been spent as effectively as it could have been. It is vital that our international development budget is targeted both to support those most in need and to deliver value for money for British taxpayers.

The recent decision to merge Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) affords us with an excellent opportunity to reinvigorate our approach to aid. To that end, supported by two former Foreign Secretaries amongst other colleagues in my party, I have produced a new report for the One Nation Caucus exploring the ways in which we can capitalise on the merger and deliver a more effective aid and development programme.

One of the most important aspects of our aid policy that we need to get right is the 0.7 per cent target. Speculation around the viability of the target has set hares running amongst those who have long understood the value of a Global Britain. But as outlined in a recent report by Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the annual target can mean projects are left with little time to spend their budgets, resulting in poor spending decisions.

While maintaining the target and our commitment to the world’s most vulnerable, we should reform how it operates. That is why our new report calls for a multi-year 0.7 per cent target, in order to remove artificial spending deadlines and provide the certainty needed to make long-term strategic decisions.

Turning to the policies of the new FCDO, the widespread cases of gender-based violence, both at home and abroad, should be a clear indicator that empowerment of women must be at the very top of the new department’s priorities. As outlined in our report, the Government should create an international mechanism to document crimes of sexual violence, support survivors, and lead legal action so as to shatter the culture of impunity.

Taking inspiration from Biden’s call for reimagining existing foreign partnerships and designing new frameworks, our new report also calls on the Government to push for further reform of OECD rules to allow greater spending on peacekeeping missions. The UK could also convene a meeting of nations with a commonality of purpose in aid and development to better co-ordinate our aid strategies and outcomes. For example, a CANZUK consensus on how and where to spend aid would lock in respective development spending commitments, develop international cooperation, and improve outcomes.

Many of us in the Conservative Party still refer to the ‘golden thread’ theory of international development; that you only get real long-term development through aid if there is also a golden thread of stable government, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. By adopting some of the proposals in the One Nation Caucus’ new paper, the Government can recast this golden thread into a golden rod that breaks the vicious cycles of poverty, conflict and impunity.

Ryan Henson and James Rogers: The reformed Foreign Office has a fresh chance to counter China and Russia

21 Sep

Ryan Henson is Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Global Prosperity. James Rogers is Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society.

Earlier this month, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) merged into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), a new “superministry” charged with representing and projecting British interests around the world.

Appearing before Parliament’s powerful Liaison Committee this week, the Prime Minister said that within the new department, overseas aid should serve ‘the diplomatic, the political, and the values of the UK.’ We wholeheartedly agree, for we believe the UK must continue to be a force for good in the world.

Indeed, as the international system starts to experience profound geopolitical change – a shift that looks set to accelerate over the next decade – it is in all our interests that the integration of Britain’s foreign and development policy be a success.

According to Britain’s most recent national security assessment – The National Security Capability Review (2018) – the world is witnessing “the resurgence of state-based threats, intensifying wider state competition and the erosion of the rules-based international order”, which has made “it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats.” Likewise, the assessment also emphasised the detrimental impact of climate change.

Geopolitics can no longer be ignored. For the 700 million people who still live in extreme poverty – many in dysfunctional or failed states – will be the first to suffer as authoritarian, revisionist powers continue to expand their influence or if climate change accelerates.

Make no mistake: Russia and China have burst onto the international scene over the past decade. They are deeply authoritarian powers, and their vision of how the world should look is very different to our own. Both regimes see democratic values and liberal principles as dangerous to their own existence. Both seek to extinguish them.

This can be seen by Russia’s “non-linear” offensives in Ukraine and Syria. In Ukraine, the Kremlin has fermented civil war to prevent the country from opening up and moving closer towards the European Union and NATO. In Syria, Russia has engaged in the country’s decade-long civil war to boost its own position in the Levant and broader Middle East and prevent reformers from gaining in influence.

Meanwhile, China has weaponised international development with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as its geo-economic and geopolitical push into Africa and South America. Underpinned by a US$1 trillion budget over the next thirty years, China’s efforts through the BRI provide investment for developing countries, while seeking to capture their political elites so they support, or at least do not challenge, China’s broader international objectives. This has often been achieved through the establishment of so-called “debt traps”. By providing developing countries with loans they will never be able to repay, China is able to compel them, often by stealth, into dependency.

While China’s BRI could not be more different to Britain’s lifesaving overseas aid work, it may have had more impact. It is certainly more well-known. With the creation of its new world-facing superministry, the UK ought to strengthen its position as an effective force for good in the world.

While the FCDO should retain and entrench DFID’s lifesaving development expertise, it should also better ensure that Britain adapts to both prepare for, and combat, the emerging threats to the world’s most vulnerable people. If the UK is to stand up for them, it must also stand up for their right to determine their own destiny, free of the threat of climate change and interference from foreign progenates.

The FCDO would therefore do well to initiate an internationally recognised programme of its own – an “International Prosperity Initiative” – to provide an alternative to the “aid” agendas of authoritarian rivals. In practise, this would mean the UK continuing to lead the fight against preventable diseases. Over the past 20 years DfID has helped defeat Ebola in Sierra Leone, saved 6.2 million people from dying of malaria, and immunised 67.1 million more children against preventable diseases. The emergence and spread of Covid-19 only makes this work more important.

It would also mean continuing to support girls’ education, so that the next generation of women are more able to participate as equals in society. The FCDO could make girls in school safer by rapidly and significantly ramping up efforts to eliminate violence in schools, while supporting governance, taxation, and redistribution projects that will be essential to lifting the poorest women out of poverty.

At the same time, an “International Prosperity Initiative” would seek to revolutionise poverty alleviation by combating environmental degradation and promoting more inclusive, open, and responsive, democratic government. Britain could fund more efforts to develop green technologies and help spread them to developing countries, while boosting educational programmes to encourage critical thinking in schools so that the next generation of young people are able to challenge authoritarian narratives.

It’s time to gear up for the future. The UK is not without capacity: we spend on Official Development Assistance approximately 70 per cent of what China spends per year on the BRI. It goes without saying that we should not devise an “aid” programme like China’s, but if we can seize the opportunities the new FCDO offers, Britain can strengthen its capacity to extend international prosperity. In doing so, we will save and improve lives, defend vulnerable people from authoritarian advances, and keep British values at the heart of geopolitics in the twenty-first century.

Julian Brazier: Helping Lebanon to succeed is in our interests

12 Sep

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

After the horrific explosion in Beirut last month, the dust has cleared and the world has moved on, but Lebanon matters to Britain and the West. It is at a critical junction: on the one hand, offering substantial commercial opportunity, but with the spectre of destabilising an important and dangerous region, on the other. Britain is well-placed to help steer Lebanon on the right path by building on some excellent work already in train.

Why does Lebanon matter? The country is a temporary home to nearly two million Syrian refugees, the largest concentration in the Middle East, and these people will be on the move westward if Lebanon melts down. Thanks to David Cameron, Britain is a lead provider of aid to their camps, but the geo-strategic issues and opportunities go far beyond refugees and aid.

The country sits between the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus, and Israel and Britain’s strategic bases on Cyprus just across the sea. Barely 15 miles north of its border is Russia’s naval base at Tartus, the keystone of Putin’s Mediterranean strategy.

Lebanon is staggering under Syrian destabilisation, government corruption, popular anger, Covid and now this devastating explosion. If the West allows it to go under, others will welcome the opportunity for a takeover with baleful consequences for western interests.

Yet, despite troubles which would have destroyed many nations, Lebanon remains a beacon of diversity and tolerance, with its Christian, Sunni, Shiite, Druze and other peoples. How many other countries in the Middle East have two ex-presidents enjoying retirement, in their former fiefdoms? Its universities and its media are arguably the best in the Middle East.

With its bustling and cosmopolitan capital, Beirut, its spirit of entrepreneurship and worldwide links through its highly-networked commercial diaspora all over the globe, the country offers a gateway to the wider Arab world and far beyond. This all represents an opportunity which others are recognising.

China is financing a $60 million Conservatoire near Beirut. President Macron’s high-profile visit, after the explosion, was a surprise to nobody – yet, despite its short period as a French possession, a growing proportion of Lebanese people look towards the Anglophone world for ties. Lebanon was the first Arab country to sign a post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK. More than ever, now is the time to build on our connections.

Liverpool Docks has a stake in the Port of Beirut and the programme to rebuild it will offer opportunities for our construction sector. Two hundred infrastructure projects were planned, before the explosion, utilising $11.6 billion in assistance from international donors; as they come forward, British companies should be bidding for them. On a larger scale, Lebanese ports will be central to the long-delayed programme to rebuild Syria after the destruction in its civil war; infrastructure companies from around the world are waiting for. to this.

Lebanon has a considerable confirmed off-shore oil and gas reserves yet to be exploited, offering yet another opportunity. Tourism and transport offer openings too. The national carrier, Middle East Airlines, placed a large order for Rolls Royce engines last year.

So, the opportunities are there. What is our government’s current role and what else should we be doing?

Since Cameron’s victory in 2010, Britain has recognised the importance of Lebanon and has been providing the kind of high quality, low-cost help which is as valuable as the aid to its refugee camps. Our military mission of just 30 ex-soldiers provide training for the Lebanese Army, one of the few genuinely national institutions drawing from all confessional groups. Ministry of Defence unearthed some pre-packed border strongpoints, designed for Ulster but never used, which have been installed on the Lebanese border and now play a critical role in keeping the horrors of the Syrian Civil War out of Lebanon.

We also set up the Lebanese British Tech Hub which grows small, dynamic tech start-ups to the benefit of both countries. Recently Lord Risby (Richard Spring, the former Foreign Office Minister) has been appointed as our first Lebanese trade envoy and both countries are well served with able ambassadors, Chris Rampling in Beirut, and Rami Mortada in London.

So, when the explosion devastated Beirut, it was appropriate that, in the words of Lebanon’s world famous singer, Shiraz:

“Britain was the first to arrive on the scene of the devastation, and then set a template for other countries to copy.”

With all the goodwill towards Britain, it is time for us to pull together the strands of our assistance to Lebanon and provide additional help in ways which would have a value far beyond any modest cost. This will be made easier by the welcome decision to merge the Foreign Office with the Department for International Development.

I believe that the greatest single requirement in Lebanon is assistance in making the transition to responsible, accountable democracy after a generation of corrupt leadership. The Lebanese Parliament has a finance committee led by the energetic and respected Ibrahim Kanaan. Could we send someone from the National Audit Office to help set up an organisation to assist them?

The Lebanese Central Bank has largely avoided the corruption in government but is struggling with inflation and debt. Could we lend an official to advise them and help with rebuilding the Finance ministry which is in much worse shape? Advice from HMRC on rebuilding the tax base would be valuable too. Lebanon’s Police are not respected in the way their Army is. Seconding a senior British Police officer could do disproportionate good.

Not all initiatives need to be government led. A small group of us have been trying to set up a Lebanese British Business Council, independent of government, hopefully to be resuscitated after Covid.

In summary, the multiple crises in Lebanon represent both a critical threat to Middle Eastern stability and an opportunity for Britain to build on its established programmes to promote our strategic and economic interests. What is needed is not vast sums of money but the kind of joined-up thinking which this government is instilling throughout Whitehall. The Government is undertaking the largest review to its foreign and defence policy since the end of the Cold War, against the backdrop of Brexit. Lebanon should be recognised as a key country in its region and should become a platform for western influence in the Middle East.

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.

Andrew Selous: This pandemic has left more people exploited by ruthless traffickers

13 Aug

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire

The Government can rightly be proud of the great strides that it has taken against modern slavery in recent years.

Since the publication of its Modern Slavery Strategy in 2014, and the subsequent Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK Government has pioneered efforts to eradicate the worst human rights abuse of our time, both domestically and around the world. The UK is now rightly considered a leader on the global stage, and the Government is to be commended for its success in increasing international awareness and focus on the need to prevent this awful exploitation.

In my own constituency, I have seen major incidents of modern slavery with, on one occasion, the police freeing 24 slaves, 19 of whom were British and some of whom had been kept on the site for nearly 15 years.

This year, World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, on July 30th, marked a pivotal moment for the anti-trafficking and slavery movement.

The establishment of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office presents an opportunity to take stock of the good work which has been done, and consider what needs to happen next to swiftly and sustainably eradicate modern slavery.

The FCDO must, of course, do so in the context of a global community which is seeking to overcome the crisis of COVID-19 and rebuild a sense of normality.

Experts estimate that there are 40 million people around the world held in slavery. More than at any other time in history. One in four are children. Sadly, the COVID-19 crisis means that increased numbers of people are likely to suffer trafficking and exploitation. Life has become harder for many people due to financial hardship and prolonged isolation, making them more susceptible to ruthless traffickers who prey upon vulnerability. The World Bank estimates that 49 million more people will be forced into extreme poverty this year. Without urgent action, increases in violence, slavery, and other forms of brutal exploitation, could become another pandemic.

There has never been a more crucial moment to build on the powerful momentum of the Government’s action against slavery in recent years. The FCDO must make accelerating our efforts to eradicate modern slavery a priority. There are four key principles which I believe ought to form the basis of the new department’s strategy for tackling this devastating problem.

Firstly, we must bring an end to impunity. The adage that modern slavery is a low risk, high reward crime remains true in many places around the world. Whether it be a lack of resources, expertise, or political will, too often justice systems fail to hold traffickers to account, and vulnerable people are exploited without consequence.

When public justice systems are equipped to enforce anti-slavery laws, dramatic change is possible. International Justice Mission, an NGO which works alongside local authorities to build their capacity to respond to trafficking, have seen this first-hand. In cities in which they have worked in the Philippines, the number of children available for commercial sexual exploitation fell by up to 86 per cent – an astonishing result.

If the FCDO is to develop a robust anti-slavery strategy, tackling impunity and strengthening the rule of law must be at its centre. Approaches like this could see slavery stopped at source, protecting millions of people and making everyone safer.

Secondly, those who have experienced modern slavery must play a pivotal role in shaping our response. Survivors hold an expertise which most of those who develop anti-slavery laws and policies cannot begin to understand.

Across South Asia, the Released Bonded Labourers’ Association has played a pivotal role in helping workers out of exploitation. Earlier this year, I read of 13 families who had been released from forced labour in a brick kiln, thanks to the RBLA’s advocacy which began in June 2018. The families, 42 people including 13 children, had been forced to work for up to five years to repay false debts. Many of them were injured or malnourished, having had no access to good food or medical care. Several of the women were pregnant, and the children worked alongside the adults turning the baking bricks in the hot sun.

Survivors are uniquely placed to understand the circumstances which led to their abuse. We must listen to them if we are stop others falling victim to the same brutal exploitation.

Thirdly, we must see a joined-up approach across government. Modern slavery requires a multifaceted response both at home and around the world. The FCDO will have an essential role to play, but its approach must be aligned with other government departments.

Take, for example, the need to address exploitation in business supply chains. British businesses often source and manufacture goods in communities where forced or bonded labour is widespread. The FCDO through our Embassies and High Commissions, the Department for International Trade, and the Home Office, must work together to create an environment in which business can thrive without the risk of perpetuating exploitation.

Finally, accountability and transparency are key. The British public must have confidence in the new department. The well-respected international aid network, Bond, are correct in saying that ‘aid only works well when it is accountable to parliament’. DFID was subject to close scrutiny by the International Development Select Committee, and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact helped to ensure value for money for the British taxpayer. Such scrutiny must be maintained to ensure we continually strive to be as efficient and effective as possible.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, and as the Brexit transition period comes to an end, the FCDO has a responsibility to be a powerful force for good on the world stage. There are a myriad of pressing issues requiring urgent attention, but tackling the causes of modern slavery must remain upmost in the Government’s priorities.