After Covid-19: Where is Britain’s Foreign Policy Going?

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: After COVID-19: Where is Britain’s foreign policy going?

DATE: 1 July 2020, 2:00pm – 3:00pm

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Sarah Champion MP, Tobias Ellwood MP, Tom Tugendhat MP




James Rogers  00:03

Welcome to our first online discussion of the week. Thank you all for joining us. I’m James Rogers, director of the global Britain program at the Henry Jackson society. Today we’re going to focus on the implications of COVID-19 for Britain’s role in the world. Most strategic analysts agree that the pandemic will compound existing issues and have a long-lasting impact. At the very least it has interrupted the government’s integrated strategic review, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said will be the deepest review to be conducted since the end of the Cold War. In light of the pandemic, and the growing international competition, it has revealed many questions are being opened up. For example, how should British policy towards China change as Beijing adopts an increasingly revisionist international posture shown only yesterday with the imposition of draconian new security laws in Hong Kong? How should Britain work with the United States, its closest and most powerful ally, as it focuses more on the Indo-Pacific? And what does this mean for our relationship with France, Poland, Japan, Australia, Canada, and other British allies and partners? Equally, how should present International Development Strategy evolve, particularly now that the government has decided to merge the Department of international development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? And how should Britain utilise its instruments of power and influence its different acts, its military personnel, and its aid workers to shape the world in accordance with its principles and interests? To share the insights on questions such as these, we have assembled the three chairs of the respective parliamentary committees charged with scrutinising the government foreign defence and aid policies. That is to say, I’m delighted that we have with us today the chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the defence Select Committee and the International Development Select Committee. First, I’m pleased to introduce the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, the Member of Parliament for Tonbridge and Malling since 2015. Prior to his political career, Tom served in the British Army, gaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. While in Afghanistan, he worked with the Foreign Office to help establish the Afghan National Security Council. Next, I’m delighted to introduce the chair of the Defence Committee, the right honourable Tobias Ellwood, the Member of Parliament Bournemouth East since 2005. From 2017 to 2019, Tobias served as the parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for defence and from 2014 to 2017. As the parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs. Prior to his political career, he served in the British Army as well going to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. And last but not least, I would like to introduce the chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, the Member of Parliament for Rothram since 2012. Previously, from 2016 to 2017, Sarah was Shadow Secretary of State for women and equalities, and from 2015 to 2016. She served as Shadow Minister for preventing abuse and domestic violence as part of the Shadow Office team. Thank you all for joining us. But just before I hand over, I would like to point out to the audience that you will have the opportunity to ask questions throughout this discussion. To do that, please ask your question using the question-and-answer feature, which can be found at the bottom of your browser’s window. You can type your questions there throughout this discussion, which will let us know that you would like to ask one. If your question is selected, we will then invite you to ask it during the question-and-answer session later. As time for questions will be short, we asked you to keep your question as succinct as possible. Thank you. Well, over to you, Tom. Tom, how will COVID-19 affect the world and Britain’s foreign policy? And how should we respond to changing circumstances?

Tom Tugendhat MP  03:27

Well, this is a conveniently narrow subj- No, it’s not. This is about as broad a subject as you can get. Look, you asked me to dive into a whole range of areas. So, I’m actually going to narrow the question myself. Because COVID-19 is going to affect any number of different things from people movements in Sub Saharan Africa, to trade imbalances in South America, but I’m going to focus on what it means for the UK’s relationship with countries around the world. Now, I can tell you what I hope it will mean, and you can extrapolate from that whether or not you think it’s likely. What I hope it will mean is a growing internationalisation because there is a danger with any emergency like this, that it pushes people into a national bracket. We’ve seen already in the European Union; the Four Freedoms have been broken during the COVID emergency as various trading goods or a movement of peoples have been suspended in recent months. So, there is a possibility that there’ll be a reaction of COVID and a renewal of nationalism in an isolationist sense. I hope that’s not what’s going to happen. Instead, what I hope is going to happen is countries like the United Kingdom are going to take the lead. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to engage with countries around the world and realise that dependence on one or two countries is no longer a valid global strategy. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for the British people. It doesn’t work for anyone. And so, what I’d like to see is I’d like to see a much greater investment in building up and defending the network, the sort of spider’s web of interlocking relationships and agreements, treaties and trade practices that we’ve seen grow broadly speaking in peace over the last seven decades, becoming more defended more embedded. Now, this means taking on some quite serious vested interest, not just in China, which I’m sure we’re going to come to later, and which has seen its reputation suffer very severely over the COVID crisis. But also, actually the United States who has continued down an increasingly isolationist path – isolationist may be too strong a word actually – an increasingly separate path over the last decade. This isn’t simply a Trump phenomenon. As we know, Obama had it, Bush the second had it, and others have had it too. But this integration of the world system that the United States has been resistant to and not naming judges to the World Trade Organisation, for example, to its appellate body, is something that I think the UK and many other countries around the world needs to stand up to. I call this a network strategy that looks again at the world, remembers that actually, countries like Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and any number of others, who are not hegemons, who are not China, or the United States really do rely on each other, not just for trade, but to protect each other’s rights and to defend each other’s interests.

James Rogers  06:22

Thank you for that, Tom. And now let’s hand over to Tobias. I’m very interested to know how you think our military posture should evolve in light of COVID-19.

Tobias Ellwood MP  06:30

Well, can I just echo Tom’s opening remarks, and thank you very much indeed, for inviting us. I think we’re in a very interesting but dangerous situation. The world from a security perspective will look very different after COVID-19. We need to recognise that people are taking advantage of the fog of COVID, if you like, the distraction that has been caused, not least China, which Tom already mentioned. It has exposed as we’re seeing with the news today, a more ambitious, more aggressive China that we need to wake up to. I see a reaction today, no doubt we’ll discuss it further, is to offer those British National overseas, actually, a home here in the UK and understandably won’t want to support that. But it actually plays into China’s hands. Economically, technologically, and militarily, it’s becoming more and more powerful. And essentially, during COVID-19, the gloves have been taken off in what it wants to do, and where its ambitions will head. We had hoped many years ago that as we knew China would grow, it would mature into a responsible global citizen. But that actually hasn’t turned out to be; it wants the status of superpower, without any of the responsibilities that actually comes with being a global leader. And as Tom alluded to now, there is actually an absence of international leadership. We’re seeing countries take a lead, in fact, the United States to become more populist, more isolationist, retreating from global exposure, particularly with supply chains and so forth, possibly because of the pandemic as well. And that’s actually very dangerous scenario, similar perhaps to the 1930s, when you had global international architecture unable to arbitrate, unable to answer the problems, the challenges, and bring countries together; countries retreating and becoming stronger and more isolationist, and of course, an economic recession happening at the same time. A very volatile equation that we actually face. And I fear a bipolar world is looming ahead of us as China becomes more powerful; it’s One Belt, One Road programs getting countries more indebted; other countries becoming entwined with its technology, such as Huawei, and so forth, with little alternatives, they have to buy into China’s way of thinking. And so that leaves a big question as to what there is for Britain. 75 years ago, or a little bit more than that, the United States and Britain recognised that there was a requirement for a new rules-based order. And that started the talks, which eventually resulted in the Atlantic Charter, and then the Bretton Woods organisations. And I think if we actually serious about recognising the trajectory of where things are actually going with China and Hong Kong today, soon it will be Taiwan, we’re seeing what they’re doing in the South China Sea, and elsewhere, but we can’t simply just blame it on the rise of China, there’s been a demise of what it is to be part of the West, what do we stand for? What are our values? What are we willing to defend? And that goes back and another example is Syria, in 2013/14, where we actually stood back and allowed Russia to then move forward and fill that vacuum. So, we have some big soul searching to do and I think I’d echo Tom’s comments that there’s a real opportunity for Britain to embrace, step up, play a role on the international stage. I fear that I’m yet to be excited, and I’ll be honest about it, to really see it, you know, hear that message from number 10, that that’s exactly what to do. We make the right noises, but it really has to be like a Lord Salisbury approach here to say, foreign policy Britain determined to move forward. If we do that, we will find many countries that look up to us for leadership and see us as an exemplar on the international stage willing to follow. But I’ll be honest, I’m yet convinced we’re at that point.

James Rogers  10:40

Okay, thank you very much for that, Tobias. Let’s have Sarah, what would you like to comment in relation to that? What is Britain’s role in the world in relation to trade policy?

Sarah Champion MP  10:52

I’d actually like to use this as a shameless pitch for the wonders of UK aid and the benefits it brings. And I want to start by challenging the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and indeed the Secretary of State in that diplomacy is not development, they are two very, very different things. And whilst it is completely in the gift of the government, how they wish to rearrange the machinery of government, I really want them to hold this in their mind, the strength of aid is, well, morally, there’s the reason for it. But also, what I hope to demonstrate in the next couple of minutes when I speak is the actual practical benefits that we get, the international standing that we get from it and to be quite honest and quite blunt about it the soft power that we are able to influence because of the recognition that we get for our aid program. And I fully understand, except appreciate, that having a joined up foreign policy is something that we absolutely ought to have. But I don’t want to do the ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and lose the good things we’ve got, by overlooking the benefits that are very clear and distinct aid policy can bring to this country. I’d like to start by giving you some stats if that’s okay. With recently the International Development Committee that I chair done a report is the first part of the report into the effectiveness of UK aid. And it was leading up to argue why a merger was a bad idea. But unfortunately, events taken aboard have gone forward on that. And I’ll come back to what a good merger ought to look like in a bit if that’s okay. So, but specifically looking at what the UK aid secures in terms of impacts through its aid program; on humanitarian assistance from 2015 to 2019, UK aid reached 32.6 million people with the humanitarian assistance we are able to give; on immunisation, again, from 2015 to the end of 2017, UK supported an immunisation program that reached 56.4 million children, saving an estimated 990,000 lives on education, which we know is a key priority of this government education of girls that is, but education in general; between 2015 and 19, UK aid supported 14.3 million children to gain a decent education. And when we look at our foreign policy, something like the education of girls is a key pillar in that because it’s not only doing it for the right reason, it also enables those girls to reach their potential and no less their economic potential, which has then the ability to lift that whole country out of poverty. And I have to mention the merger. It caught all of us by surprise. Maybe not you James, I know that you’ve been at this for a long time. But it was I would argue the worst possible timing for the impact on the world when we look at the spread of COVID-19. It’s the time now when COVID-19 is really starting to grip the developing world. It’s the time when both FCO staff and DFID staff are absolutely stretched to their limit trying to prevent but also to shore up existing healthcare systems. And we all know that a merger does take time and also psychologically, it takes up a lot of space. So ,I still don’t understand and I’m still pushing the Foreign Secretary why it had to happen now. I do understand the arguments that a joined-up policy is a good thing. But trying to create a joined-up policy, while delivering a joined-up policy, while trying to fight a global pandemic seems challenging, I will say. It’s also and I think this meeting was first brought together because the government was going through an integrating strategic review with the three departments that you have represented here by the select committee chairs that was paused formally in April, and was due to start again in the autumn. We now know it’s been restarted, but the restart happened after the merger was decided, which seems sort of the wrong way round to do things like this. There’s been very little evidence gathered, very little consultation gathered, by the merger. And so, I think it is something that we have the opportunity going forward to try and position, and I hope that this debate does that. What UK foreign policy can be and the practicalities of making that happen. In terms of COVID-19, I can only paraphrase what the Secretary of State for International Development said to our Select Committee: that COVID-19 threatens to undo 20/30 years of the UK’s investment in the developing world. It is presenting a very bleak outlook for the developing nations, and therefore is something that we should all be concerned about. I think it actually highlights the argument of why we should have a joined-up foreign policy, for example, we’re getting increasing notification that extremist groups in the developing nations, particularly around the Middle East, are looking to exploit the frustrations the citizens have against government, the poverty, the loss of jobs created by COVID, and use that to push their extremist views. So, having a joined-up view when it comes to aid, when it comes to foreign policy, when it comes to defence, I do understand the logic of that. I’d like to ask the 373 people who are watching this, and hopefully some more who will see the recording, to look at the report that the international development Select Committee published on the ninth of June, titled UK aid, the effectiveness of UK aid. It does go through all of these arguments, and I’m very grateful that, James, you came and gave evidence to us. The key recommendation was to have a standalone model for International Development. And whilst that has been overtaken, I do think that there are significant steps that the government needs to take to make sure that aid is administered correctly, and it also needs to be as transparent as we can possibly make it. So, next section of the report, which we hope will be coming out in the next two weeks, is looking at what the government needs to do next, to create this sort of mega Foreign Affairs Department. So, we’ll be looking at the management of the transition to the new department, the principles that should be underpinning UK aid, and also the future scrutiny arrangements for ODA spending. For me, I’m chairing the select committee. Parliamentary scrutiny of where our aid goes is really, really important to me. But we also have, by statute, an independent Department called ICAI independent organisation, which job is specifically to scrutinise wherever that overspend goes. And I really hope the government will make the decision to keep both of those methods of scrutiny because transparency is how we gain that international reputation. UK aid and the national interest. This was a continuous theme in the inquiry that we did. The UK voluntarily adheres to the international recognition recognised definition of aid, the official development assistance, which is basically the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective. UK aid is bound by parameters set in the International Development Act in 2002. But also, it puts poverty alleviation at the very heart of the UK aid program. And I really am reassured that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, is reiterating that they will continue with a commitment to the 0.7 ODA and that they will keep within the OECD, that definition, of making sure that the primary aim of UK aid is the prevention of poverty. But I think we also need to recognise that in 2015, the UK aid strategy did introduce a more explicit focus on using aid to promote the national interest and propose that a greater proportion of that will be administered by other departments through cross government funds. That’s good, but we also need to recognise that when other departments are delivering aid, unfortunately the value for money and the transparency of that is not so good. I have to be very proud and ‘blow the trumpet’ that DFID consistently for the last seven years has come in the very top across the world of a transparency. But unfortunately, the FCO, the department that is being merged with, tends to come well, at the bottom of fair, I think is the accurate description of where it comes. So, we need to make sure and I’m very grateful that Tom keeps on arguing this, that all the best things of DFID are transferred over into FCO, because there is an awful lot that government departments can learn from DFID and I really hope that that’s not lose. And the other thing that we need to recognise is that by its very nature, UK aid is administered in the most challenging environments where monitoring impact is by its very nature difficult. But this shouldn’t preclude the departments that will be administering ODA from setting objectives aligned to a UK aid strategy, and seeking to monitor and evaluate that in this challenging climate. It is possible to be able to do that. Just to give you some sort of understanding of the spend; UK is one of the largest ODA donors, we are third to the US and Germany, and this year we’re spending 15.2 billion on ODA, meeting our naught point seven of GNI spending commitment. And so, it’s a sizable amount of money that we have here, which is why the scrutiny needs to be as intense as we can make it. Currently DFID is the largest department spending UK aid, with 73% of it, but the share has been decreasing over previous years, and now more than 100 million of ODA is spent by different departments. What’s interesting on that, though, is the non-DFID aid spend has a very different geographical profile, with around three quarters of that money going to middle income countries, including China, and I raised in the FCO statement today that actually, the FCO gives China half a million pounds specifically for promoting human rights, so I wonder what they’re going to do with that money going forwards. But also, as well as China, India, and South Africa is receiving aid money. One of the concerns and recommendations of International Development Committee is that because the UK aid focus has shift towards middle income countries, that are primarily of interest to the UK from a security, climate change or economic perspective, we need to make sure that that shift doesn’t keep on going, otherwise we’re going to start to be in breach of the four pieces of legislation that ties it to reducing the poverty of those most in need. So, the future, I really think that there is, of course, the potential for a joined-up strategy. I would like to see that strategy be brought forward as soon as possible, so that both the departments know the position to be going for; so that all scrutiny by our committees know what we’re meant to be monitoring against; but also internationally, so that people know what the expectations are. There is vast potential for moving forward with a combined foreign policy. But there are also pitfalls, and it’s my job and the jobs of the other chairs to keep reminding the government of those pitfalls and raising them to the public attention if they do fall short. Thank you, James.

James Rogers  23:44

Thank you very much for that, Sarah. And so, we have some time for a few questions, I think for me, and I’d like to get a bit of interaction between the panel. I think, as I understood it, one of the key things that Tom mentioned was the role of the rules based international system and the way in which COVID-19 might disrupt it. That’s something that I think is very important, particularly to a country like the UK, which as you’ve all I think agreed, is not a superpower, but nonetheless is a country with some significant weight behind it that needs to work with other like-minded countries to try and maintain a system that’s favourable to international peace and security. So, one of the ideas that I have heard quite a lot about recently, and I think it’s actually quite an interesting idea, is for the development of what’s been called the kind of D-10 group or a group of democracies that might come together, countries like the UK and France and Japan and Australia and Canada and South Korea and India – it doesn’t necessarily have to be constrained by the established sort of Western institutions – that might be able to work together to help uphold international peace and promote the ideas that we all believe in. So, I would love to hear a little bit more about what you think of that proposal and how you think it could improve and sort of reinforce the rules based international system and the sort of role that Britain might play in facilitating that? So that’s my first question. I suppose that’s geared more towards Tom. My second question is a little bit more towards Tobias. And that is the issue of defence resources. Because if we’re going to play a role on the world stage, we have to be prepared to underpin it, and there’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the extent to which we’re able to or willing to provide the resources to maintain a strong defence. Now, it’s been discussed recently in Australia, that there’s going to be a significant uptick in written resources, and our focus increasingly on the Indo-Pacific. I wonder what you thought might occur in the years ahead in relation to the UK military capability? But my final question, which goes more to Sarah, and it’s more related to aid in international development, and that is, I wonder how, or to what extent you think we need to be prepared for countries like China and Russia, that are using in some respects, I would say, or even weaponizing international development to secure their interests? How can a country like the UK, which rightly places emphasis on international development and helping the world’s poorest people, how can it use its aid programs more effectively to ensure that those kinds of countries that seek to revise the system are not running (inaudible) in the international arena using international development? So perhaps we could switch over to Tom and let him have another say, and sort of respond to my questions and point out anything in addition that he thinks is important?

Tom Tugendhat MP  26:38

James, thanks very much. I’d start off by saying, what do you mean by superpower? Because if you mean in the traditional sense, now, I’d agree with you the UK is not, is not does not have the world’s largest standing army, or does not have forces deployed in every continent, or, although we do have quite a lot. So, in that sense, no. But I would argue that in diplomatic terms and in aid terms, and indeed, in international trade terms, we are, in many ways, a superpower. And I think we should realise that that gives us a particular responsibility and that’s why I was arguing in favour of defending the international rules-based system. Now, you mentioned the D-10, I started off with this idea, as you know, very well, James, a little while ago talking about a sort of an update, if you like, of the G-7. And the reason I left it at 20 is because you can be vague on 13 extras, you’ve got to be quite specific when you’re down to three extras so I just left it at 13 because then it’s quite clear I mean Japan and I mean India, that’s pretty obvious. But who’s the third seat for the D-10? And I think that’s a difficult question for the, for the UK, Foreign Minister to answer, which is why I left it suitably vague. You may think that’s cowardly, but I think it wise in diplomatic terms. I think there’s a real opportunity here for us to shape the defence. And it’s worth pointing out that, you know, while the United States has gradually backed away from the position of leadership, but many of us and you won’t find more pro-Atlanticist than me, many of us wish the United States would step up and take again, because very, very keen to have US leadership of international institutions. There is a fundamental difference between American gradual withdrawal from international institutions and Chinese undermining of them. And so I think we need to look at this in very different ways, we should be encouraging the US to come back to the table, which you know, it hasn’t left everywhere; still a very active member of the UN, very active member of NATO, very active member of many international organisations, indeed, an amazing American who I know Sarah will think very highly of, as do I, David Beasley, former governor of South Carolina, who leads the World Food Program demonstrates that US leadership in UN agencies can be hugely powerful. So, it’s not that America has completely withdrawn; that would be that would be an absurdity. No, it’s that America isn’t playing quite as much of a leadership role as it once did, and I wish it would. Whereas with China that’s something different. What we’re seeing there is a deliberate attempt to undermine the networked effect of these international institutions, instead to translate into a binary relationship as sort of hub and spoke if you like, we’re at the centre of the bicycle wheel is Beijing, and everybody else is on the rim. And so, I think that the UK playing that role, as I would argue a diplomatic superpower, is one of the things that we really could do, we could make a huge difference. And by the way, I think this would be unarguably in the interest of the British people, but actually, I think it’d be unarguably in the interests of the Japanese and the Indian, Brazilian, I could list country after country as I go on here. And fundamentally, it would also, by the way, be in the interest of the Chinese people, because actually any system of cooperation that does not treat people does not treat countries as relatively equal and say relatively because of course, the UN Security Council system already has sort of three layers if you like you have permanent members, temporary members, and then the General Assembly. So, it’s not total equality, let’s be honest, but any system that doesn’t at least attempt to have some form of relative recognition that different countries need to have a voice, if it translated into a simple binary power game between an imperial state and its satellites, its satrapies and its vassals, then you end up with a very different world, and actually a much more fragile one, and one that I think was fundamentally in the long term, not in the interest of the Chinese people, and certainly not in the interest of many other people around the world.

James Rogers  30:51

Okay, thank you very much, Tom. So maybe we can turn to Tobias since he could have a stab at my question in relation to defence resources. Tobias, can you just turn on your microphone, please?

Tobias Ellwood MP  31:05

Yeah, just to add on to what Tom was saying, I think I absolutely agree that there needs to be some like-minded nations that do step forward, and recognise the trajectory of what’s actually happening. The rules-based order has served well, but I’m afraid it’s now being abused, in fact, by countries in also including China, to further their own agendas. And so that does need to be addressed. In getting 10 countries together, I think the starting point, and think Tom alluded to this, is that you’re getting two countries together, you need the United States and Britain to work together. And at the moment, we’re not as close as we should do. And I don’t think we’re going to get there until after the November election, because you know, we speak about the world becoming more isolationists, more populist, that has been led by the United States during this difficult period. So, it is important, whether you like it or not, if you are a superpower, and you want world order which is in your own interest, then you do have to exert some influence and support the international mechanisms. And so that is something that I think we do need to address. But ultimately, there will be people to exploit the gaps, the vacuums as I touched on, and that’s why we ourselves need to invest in our hard power. We have this 2% commitment. I fear, though, that with an economic recession coming around the corner, that you might find the government saying: “Oh, yes, we’re gonna, we’re gonna acknowledge and recognise that 2%”. But actually, the value of that 2% will go down in real terms. And I have to say, this is, you know, may come as a surprise to some of the listeners and viewers, but we actually promote, and I did this as a minister, we perpetuate this myth that Britain because of what we did in the Second World War, and so forth, you know, can fight above its weight, and so forth. When you knuckle down and look at our actual capabilities of hard power, we have some very high-tech kit, but we are simply not on the scale, which means that we can do what we used to do in the past. In the Gulf War, we had 36 fast jet squadrons, we’re down to six now. The Chinese navy is growing the size of our Navy, every single year. And we now have, the character of conflict is changing dramatically. It’s not just the in the terms of the conventional the air, sea and land. But also, as we know, it’s moving into the cyber, and indeed, into space as well. And we are extremely vulnerable there. And I fear that, you know, people like Tom, myself and others, make this case regularly to number 10. But because it’s not politically charged, it seems that the money doesn’t come. With the first budgets that I fear might be cut in relation to us trying to balance the books over the next sort of 10 to 15 years, will again be defence. And you look at you know how successful the NHS budget has increased just because the people the population was behind it. And I think we need to have a more frank conversation. And it goes back to Sarah’s point again, about who actually we are in this world, what do we actually want to achieve? Now if it’s the case that we want to step back and let others make the decisions and sit with Belgium in allowing the world to be shaped around us, then we need to accept that. But if it’s the case, I believe, which I believe that it is, that Britain absolutely wants to lead in the way that we’ve done in the last couple of 100 years. If we want to play a more influential role in leveraging that soft partner as well as our hard power, then we actually must increase that defence budget, we must be clever about how we spend it, who we spend it with, in order to protect what’s important to us.

James Rogers  34:47

Thank you very much, Tobias. And maybe my last question, would Sarah to have a go?

Sarah Champion MP  34:53

Yeah, thank you very much. I think it’s very relevant and I’m sure many people listening in on this have been around the world and have seen China and the footprint that it’s leaving, particularly in developing countries, and I’ve seen it a lot in Commonwealth countries. It presents as aid helping countries to build roads, put in utilities. But actually, what it’s doing is it’s buying a piece of that country up. Alongside the project, which they almost exclusively bring Chinese workers in to facilitate and then rent back to the country on ridiculously long leases. It tends to put in Confucius schools within the universities as a condition. The Confucian school almost becomes a mini embassy within that campus. It is very dictatorial in the way that students can interact with it. It is it is not aid, as I would recognise, it is at best tide aid, which this country has been burnt over in the past and has made a commitment not to do in the future. So, it does concern me greatly. But I think the thing that, it links things other people have been saying, the thing that concerns me is China does have a long-term strategy here. These are all very deliberate; the countries that it’s targeting the commodities that it’s targeting, and for too long, we just sat back and let that happen. So, one of the things I was looking down through the questions, Patrick Nikolas said, are we likely to lose being a force for good and I really hope that that position isn’t lost with the UK aid, I really think that we don’t want to become a China, we don’t want to be buying access to countries, we want to be going forward on that moral high ground. And then Nicolas Brezhinsky, had asked about aid to China. And yes, it does concern me, I don’t think a priority of UK aid should be middle-income countries.

James Rogers  36:57

Okay, thanks very much for that, Sarah. And we’ve now got the opportunity to move to the questions that have been asked, and I’m going to ask a number of people to come forward. The first question that I’d like to hear from is from Lord Blencathra. Would you like to ask your question, please?

Lord David Blencathra  37:15

Yes, thank you. Yes, thank you very much. My question is this. Would the panel like to see NATO extended to the 40s to take in Australia, and New Zealand, Singapore, perhaps, India, Taiwan, possibly South Korea. But I think as long overdue that NATO now needs to look at partners in other parts of the world, particularly the Pacific area. That’s my question. Thank you.

James Rogers  37:43

Thank you very much for that. Would the panel like to have a go at that one? Yes, Tom.

Tom Tugendhat MP  37:48

I’d be delighted to answer that. It’s worth remembering that the North Atlantic Charter, which set up the NATO Alliance, was one of the pillars for the United Nations when it was first drafted. Indeed, one of the drafters of the human rights chapter of the UN, in that, in those early stages, was an extremely impressive Chinese diplomat, a Mr. Chang, who included quite specifically the individual rights that we now recognise in that document. So, China’s involvement in the UN has been absolutely seminal, right from the beginning, and absolutely key. Of course, we also remember that China, for all the damage and for all the hurt it suffered in the Second World War was the first given the honour and privilege to sign the UN Charter. So, I think it’s worth putting that in context before I say, yes, NATO should also have a role around the world. Now, of course, in many ways, it already does, you know, Australia, New Zealand, not only members of the Five Eyes community, but they’re also they have associate status, they have an observer status at NATO, as do a few countries in the Middle East. And of course, the UK’s role as a member of the Five Party defence accord is also important. But look, I would like to see a much deeper, much closer, defence alliance with South Korea, with Japan, with the democratic states in the region, and reaching out to help other countries to defend their rights. And I think that’s something that we should be all working on. Now. I recognise that India, Japan, Australia, and the United States have stepped up to work together as a quadripartite pact. And that’s something with again, I would like to see wider NATO cooperation with; whether I mean India should join NATO, first of all, I don’t think it would apply. I think it would run against India’s principle of neutrality. But cooperation, I think would be very welcomed, certainly from our part, and I don’t know whether India would welcome it but I think joint exercises or some form of cooperation might be something we could work on. But I think that the important thing is that NATO becomes really seen for what it is which is a guarantor of the international rules-based system, an alliance for the defence of free people, not an aggressive, or in any way a posturing force designed to hurt others. And that’s why I would draw the line at Taiwan. Now while I think that there’s an awful lot more that the UK should do in terms of supporting Taiwan, and recognise that Taiwan is now on its second term of a president whose spoken about Taiwanese status as an independent country, rather than part of the Republic of China, which, of course, is what it states that it is at the moment, if Taiwan changes its status, then I think that the UK and others should recognise that free people can freely associate and freely define their own status. But I don’t think that’s quite the same as a NATO membership at this stage.

James Rogers  40:44

Thank you for that. Tom. Does any of the other panellists wish to say something in relation to this question? Yes, Tobias.

Tobias Ellwood MP  40:58

The idea of NATO expanding, I think the premise of the question is, is recognising how insecure the world is actually going and the importance of whether NATO is then that vehicle that can provide the solution. I think some of the challenges you’re seeing in the Pacific are different to Europe. As a, as Tom alluded, the genesis of NATO itself was European security. And we dismiss or ignore the importance of retaining European security at our peril. I’m concerned about Donald Trump, you know, wanting to withdraw troops and things like that. It’s important for the United States to make sure the West stays strong. I mentioned that before, the West gets weaker if Europe security-wise becomes weaker. They’ve now introduced I think, the second fleet, the US, into the North Sea, because of what Russia is doing. Therefore, I think it’s important that NATO as an alliance, which shows protocols and shares procurement programs and so forth, remains a tight knit, fluid organisation. Let’s just take an example of Turkey, when Turkey started purchasing weapon systems from Russia, the S400 air defence system, it put it in contrast to some of its NATO agreements. And that I’m afraid will be repeated again and again and again if we started having detailed alliances. If there’s a threat, it’s a coalition that comes together of the willing, and that doesn’t always mean that every NATO country turns up for the fight anyway.

Sarah Champion MP  42:40

I think it will make an awful lot of sense. But I also think that that should be part of our overarching policy. Because from an aid point of view, a lot of our money is going to the EU, and I’m assuming that that is going to be changing. I do have concerns that a lot of our money does go to the sort of the big multilateral organisations. And I know I’ve spoken to a number of countries, Singapore being one who would really like to partner with us in our aid program, and currently, we don’t tend to do that. And I think going forward, we need as many friends as we can possibly get so I would be very open to expanding NATO.

James Rogers  43:19

Okay, thank you very much. So the next question we have is from David Thompson, would David Thompson like to come forward and ask his question, please.

David Thompson  43:42

If the USA is known for its military, China, for its growing economic might, what do the panel think the existing strengths of the UK are and what it might do to capitalise on them in order to maintain a presence on the world stage of the next decade.

James Rogers  43:59

Okay, thank you very much. Who would like to take that first? All of you Okay, I’ll go to Tom first.

Tom Tugendhat MP  44:10

David thanks very much for the question. Look, I think there are various strengths that the UK has, and I’m sure Sarah is going to cover international aid as a great strength. So, I’m going to gloss over that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with her. I do. I’m just I’m just allowing her to answer that. But I think diplomacy is a huge strength of the UK has, you know, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that we do sit at most international tables, we are represented all the way from the UN Security Council down to very small international alliances, many of which are too often forgotten. And so, we are a very, very global power in that sense. But I think there’s an area that we often overlook and that’s the rule of law. I mean, it’s always worth looking at yourself, and wondering how others see you and for the UK, you don’t have to look very far to realise that a lot of people interact with the UK and our systems through our services. And our services really underpin, they are the scaffolding the architecture, if you like that underpins the international rules-based system, and you may not like the plumbing, you may not see the scaffolding, but the truth is it holds up the entire structure. And all of that is fundamentally underpinned by the rule of law, much of which we have created, and is either represented directly by the number of foreign court cases that come to our own courts, or by the fact that a lot of British trained lawyers and judges sit in arbitration around the world. And so, I think that’s one of the areas where we undervalue ourselves. And I think we really could do a lot more. So, I think I think that’s an extremely important part of our soft power.

Sarah Champion MP  45:54

Thank you, of course, I’m going to say UK-aid! Tom, how did you know? Because we seem to do it for the right reasons. But I’d also, building on what Tom has said, say our parliamentary system. I’m a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and we work with many Parliament’s around the world, sort of sharing the legislation and the systems that we’ve got. And I think, because we have so many partners in the Commonwealth that do have the same parliamentary system to us, there is that sort of commonality and shared understanding. And I think the more that we can sort of take that as our sort of taking the moral position, the transparency of what we do, and the accountability of what we do, I think that’s how we maintain our position in the world.

James Rogers  46:44

Thank you, Sarah. And how about Tobias, what about the defence component?

Tobias Ellwood MP  46:49

I actually thought the question was focusing on a defence component, and maybe I misunderstood it, because of course, Britain has very many strengths. But from the defence perspective, and I touched on how small our armed forces have become, the one thing that we can still pride ourselves on, is the cognitive thinking, the strategic training that we do. You start off at Sandhurst all the way to Shrivenham. At every level, and in every discipline, every service, we have some of the most professional thinkers, dealing with emergencies, being able to respond to, having greater situational awareness than most other countries around the world. It is why the United States likes having us at the table in difficult situations, because we offer an understanding of what’s going on the ground. And that actually links in with what Tom and Sarah said, an appreciation, an overview, insight into what is happening in every corner of the globe, whether it be the Gulf, whether it be the Far East, Africa, through our Commonwealth connections. You know, the huge grasp of understanding is by far the best I think, in the world. One of my, not heroes, but certainly one of the military leaders I’ve studied is Field Marshal Sir John Dill, many of you will never have heard of him. He’s the only person, Brit, to be buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC. And the reason why he got that accolade is because he was the start of the special relationship. He was sent to Washington, DC, he could have been Montgomery, but Churchill chose Montgomery to perhaps compete with Patton to get to Berlin. So, he sent Dill the other way to Washington, to be his eyes and ears, and to really spend a lot of time drinking whiskey with Marshall and Dulles. And they’re the ones that worked out to say: “Hey, listen, don’t go straight into Calais for that, you know, D-day landing, let’s try Normandy instead.” It’s understanding and appreciation. I think that’s what we really do well, and if I can share that with the domestic frustration, I’d love to see greater involvement of our armed forces, senior strategists dealing with COVID-19 on a domestic basis. They’ve been kept out of the room. And I think in reflection, we will realise that actually many lives could have been saved had we brought them in for swifter decision making, better command and control, and informed communications to the nation if we’d included the armed forces, but I think people in number 10 are scared of anybody that turns up in a uniform.

James Rogers  49:28

Okay, thank you very much, Tobias. Now, I’m conscious that we’re running out of time. So, I’d like to take two further questions. The first from Craig Oliphant, please. I understand that you have three questions, but I wonder whether you could just condense them all down or you could just ask the first one.

Craig Oliphant  49:48

I wanted if you could each say how the merger referred to furthers more generally the project of ‘Global Britain’ and I suppose just as a follow on, we hear now about the mooted cuts as required by the Treasury to ODA, up to 30%, and I’d just be interested if any of the panellists could give any insights of where they feel the brunt of those cuts might fall.

James Rogers  50:21

Okay, thank you very much for that. And the next question is from Paul Maddrell.

Paul Maddrell  50:30

My question is can there be any effective British foreign policy if Britain is as it is now; no longer a member of the EU? Why bother to have a British foreign policy at all? Why don’t we just abandon it?

James Rogers  50:47

Okay, that’s quite provocative. Thank you very much for that.

Tom Tugendhat MP  50:55

I’ll start with the second point first. Look, I voted to remain in the European Union, as many of many of you will know. But that doesn’t mean that I think the UK is nothing without the European Union. You know, we have an ongoing and important relationship with France with Germany, with Denmark, Estonia, I can list pretty much every one of the 27 states and describe the depth of our binary relationship. I can also talk to you about 100 or so countries around the world and talk again, about the proximity of our relationship. But I think it’s worth pointing out that we are a permanent member of the UN Security Council, we have diplomatic relationships with more countries than any other except the United States, we are truly already a global in that sense of power. And I think that the idea that, you know, what our relationship to 27 of our nearest neighbours is, is the defining status, I think, I’m afraid is not true. It is an important element and I’ve been arguing for close cooperation with the European Union and with our 27 neighbours on a bilateral basis and I think that the demonstration at the Lancaster house, the depth of the relationship with the EU we have already with Germany, and indeed the bilateral treaty that my opposite number and I are calling for are all important elements. But you know, to claim that we don’t have a role when, you know, the Estonian government regularly states exceptionally clearly how important Britain’s involvement in the defence of Estonia against Russian aggression is, is I’m afraid, not credible, and look on ‘Global Britain.’ The reality is that it’s a nebulous concept. It’s a good political phrase that doesn’t have an awful lot of meat to it. And we know that and that’s, that’s true, because politics is partly about pointing a direction and not just explaining the detail. And I’m very hopeful that the integrated review, which has been prepared by number 10 at the moment is going to put a lot of meat on that bones. And you know, we’ve spoken a little bit about what that would look like, you know, I’ve called for, as you know, a sort of T20, as it were of a much larger relationship of equal trading relationship that builds on the G7. Something like if you like, the early days of the GATT, where GATT was set up in the 1940s in order to create a trading relationship between free states in order to balance off against the Soviet alliances, the communist alliances, that had already begun to threaten. So, I think that we can look at a better way of injecting or upgrading global trade between rules-based countries. I think we can look at, as already, David, or Ben Catherine mentioned, expanding our military partnerships. And I think there’s a huge number of cultural elements that we can build on too. Look I really wants to see a much greater intellectual cooperation between us and India, I think there’s a huge partnership that we can deepen there. I would like to see a real change on relationship with Nigeria, which is going to be a hugely significant country in coming years, and is already increasingly important. You know, the ability of the UK to play a global role and to play it, alongside in partnership with and in cooperation with many of our European partners, is enormous.

James Rogers  54:23

Thank you. Let’s go to Sarah next. And I’m sure she has a few words to say on the question relating to aid. I know we’ve only got two or three minutes left until we have to close so can I ask both panellists to keep it quite short.

Sarah Champion MP  54:38

No problem. And so, the merger, I think it’s daft. All the evidence that the committee received backs that up. Personally, I think it’s much more useful to have two tools in your toolbox when you have a problem rather than just one. in relation to the cuts, there doesn’t appear to be an overarching strategy, there are objectives that are being asked to be considered, and one of those objectives is that the organisation’s facing the cuts don’t have a strong media profile, which I think tells you all you need to see. My two concerns are that contracts are not protected when grants are the easy low hanging fruit. I think it should be even handed. And I’m also I’d like to reiterate my concern about money going to middle income countries, I think it ought to be prioritised to the most in need, and the EU question, I just find that an odd question. Yes, we’re a little island, but I really want to be part of the global world, thank you.


Thank you very much, Sarah. And finally, on those Tobias?


Well, I really want to see Britain play a more important role on the international stage. My worry is there are four plates spinning at the moment that’s keeping Downing Street busy; you’ve got day to day government, which on any day is tough and demanding; you’ve got this enduring emergency of COVID 19; you’ve got a gargantuan economic storm is coming around the corner, and Rishi Sunak is doing an incredible job in preparing us for that; and then we have this looming change in global architecture, the shift of power from the west into the east. And it’s that which I fear we’re not spending enough time focusing on and it’s really pleasing to see Henry Jackson Society and others, you know, writing about this discussing it and so forth. I so want number 10, to recognise that there is some leadership, some good British leadership to be had here. I fear that the revolution, if we can call it that, Dominic Cummings, is domestically focused, that’s where his mind is set on. We need the same energy, whether you like what he’s doing or not, but that same sense of vigour on the international stage, and if we don’t do it, I’m afraid we will continue to be participating in events rather than leading them. And the biggest test right now is the Hong Kong one, you know, this is the active, this is live, and our response is to give home to the very people that we should supporting to not leave their home, because China wants to push them out. So, I really believe we need to raise the bar.

James Rogers  57:24

Thank you very much for that Tobias. And thank you to the panel and to our audience for signing in to listen to this fascinating discussion. We have a ‘Global Britain’, but we still have to fill it with content. And if we want to have a bigger role in the world, then we’re going to have to resource it and think a little bit more carefully about how we slot the different components together, the foreign policy dimension, the defence dimension, and of course, the international/aid dimension. So, thank you all for joining us, and I bid you all a good afternoon.


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