Lord Grimstone of Boscobel debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 18th May 2022

Queen’s Speech

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Excerpts
Wednesday 18th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Portrait Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury
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That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which was addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for International Trade (Lord Grimstone of Boscobel) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great honour to open this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech on the important issues of foreign affairs, defence and trade. I am also delighted to be joined by my noble friend Lord Ahmad, who I know will employ his trademark expertise and erudition to good effect.

When my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lord Ahmad stood at this Dispatch Box a year ago to open and close the same debate, they spoke of a changing global dynamic: a world recovering from a pandemic that changed everything; a world of rapidly advancing technology; and a new era of systemic competition. They warned that with this changing dynamic has come an increasingly divided and unstable world. They warned of an increasingly assertive Russia, in a world where hostile states sought to destabilise the international order. They warned of a world with increased militarisation, and a world facing the ever-growing impacts of climate change. This is the world we see around us today.

We are witnessing the illegal, and utterly brutal, invasion of Ukraine by the Putin regime. Day after day, we hear of Russian forces’ war crimes: family homes turned to rubble; murdered civilians in mass graves; and despicable testimonies of rape and torture. These acts reverberate far beyond Ukraine—they threaten the security of Europe and the world. The aggressors must fail, and that is why we have been resolute in our response. The Government are using all their diplomatic, defence, humanitarian and trade levers to support Ukraine, and we will keep going until they prevail.

When it comes to defence, our personnel have been delivering across the world. Last year, Royal Navy sailors travelled 40,000 nautical miles to the Indo-Pacific on our carrier strike group’s maiden mission, projecting influence and engaging with allies. In May, UK troops on the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali seized crucial weapons from suspected Daesh terrorists, and in August, our aviators undertook the largest airlift since Berlin to help evacuate thousands of people from Afghanistan. But those events now seem to belong to a different era, confronted as we are by Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine.

The integrated review identified Russia as a primary threat, and that has proved true. In response, we have donated more defensive weapons to Ukraine than any other European country, as well as providing logistics support for international aid. More broadly, we are reinforcing NATO allies understandably alarmed at the savagery occurring mere miles from their border. We have doubled our troops in Estonia to 1,700, sent personnel to support Lithuanian intelligence and reconnaissance efforts, deployed 350 Royal Marines in Poland, increased our presence in the skies over south-eastern Europe and sent offshore patrol vessels and destroyers to the eastern Mediterranean. Closer to home, the Navy is now leading the operational response to small boats in the channel, ensuring control of our borders and cracking down on people smugglers.

Looking to the future, defence is modernising to counter these multiplying threats. We are investing an extra £24 billion over four years in our forces, providing them with state-of-the-art tanks, sixth-generation fighter jets and Dreadnought nuclear submarines. We have also launched the first space command in Wycombe, set up the National Cyber Force in Preston and opened an artificial intelligence hub in Newcastle. Meanwhile, we have ring-fenced £6.6 billion of defence spending for research and development so we can fast-track the most cutting-edge technologies. However, our greatest capability remains our people. That is why we are upgrading our estate, investing in healthcare and training and recruiting talent which truly reflects the diverse society we serve. Taken together, this is the most significant transformation in UK defence since the end of the Cold War. In an ever more dangerous world, it has never been more necessary.

Alongside military support to Ukraine, we are leading the way in the diplomatic response. Our package of humanitarian, economic and military support is worth $2 billion. We are isolating Putin on the world stage. The UN General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council and 141 UN member states voted to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Putin and his forces will be held to account for their barbarity. Our state party referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court is now backed by 40 states. We are cutting funding to Putin’s war chest through sanctions and crippling his war machine. The UK is introducing the most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, covering a record 1,600 individuals, entities and subsidiaries.

Putin can be in no doubt: his illegal war has strengthened European unity, strengthened NATO unity and strengthened the very idea of what it means to be Ukrainian. Putin has forged a resolve among democratic countries to remove the tentacles of Russian influence and interference. He has created an alliance in support of Ukraine that is determined to face down tyranny, in Russia and beyond. Putin’s war challenges us to find a model for international partnerships that is more cogent and more equitable, a model that stands up to aggressors, in defence of sovereignty and self-determination.

The Foreign Secretary describes those alliances as a network of liberty. This Government will strengthen that network in the years ahead, to demonstrate that respect for the rule of law, fair play, free trade and co-operation is the surest route to peace. We will do this by shoring up our collective defence, galvanising our economic security and deepening our alliances around the world. We will do it with the billions we spend each year to help the world’s poorest, with humanitarian aid, development assistance and support for women’s inclusion and, most importantly, girls’ education. We will do it by helping countries rebuild from the pandemic and grow resilient for the future. And we will do it by promoting British values and standing up for human rights. Partnerships such as NATO, the G7 and the Commonwealth are at the heart of this effort. Partnerships are of course living things, which grow and evolve over time.

In Northern Ireland, our first priority is to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions: it is a triumph of compromise after decades of instability. However, the practical problems of the Northern Ireland protocol weigh heavily and are upsetting that balance. The UK has proposed what we believe to be a comprehensive and reasonable solution that would meet both our and the EU’s original objectives for the protocol. It would address the frictions in east-west trade while protecting the EU single market.

However, the challenge is that this solution requires a change to the protocol itself. Our preference, of course—we have made this very clear—remains a negotiated solution, but we must allow the Executive to be restored and assure peace and stability. That is why, yesterday, the Foreign Secretary announced our intention to legislate for changes to the protocol in the coming weeks, protecting the elements that work and fixing those that do not.

This legislation is lawful. Proceeding with this Bill is consistent with our obligations in international law—and in support of our prior obligations to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We are crystal clear that the EU will not be negatively impacted in any way. However, we must live up to our commitments to all the communities of Northern Ireland, and we must reframe the protocol with an equal respect for both unions: the UK and the EU.

To return to the war in Ukraine, our trade relationships are our absolute lifeblood, and the Department for International Trade knows that the same is true of Russia. The work the FCDO and the MoD are doing cannot be done in isolation. The DIT is also doing its part in weakening Putin’s war machine. We announced further sanctions on 8 May, targeting £1.7 billion-worth of trade. Those sanctions included import tariffs and export bans, with the import tariffs covering £1.4 billion-worth of goods, hampering Putin’s ability to fund his war effort. Meanwhile, the export bans intend to hit more than £250 million-worth of goods in sectors of the Russian economy most dependent on UK goods. It has brought the total value of products on which full or partial import and export sanctions will apply to more than £4 billion.

Of course, the actions we have taken require a collective approach with partners, and my department has sought to strengthen the relationships we have as an independent member of the WTO and through our FTA programme. In 2021 we signed our agreement with Australia and the EEA/EFTA countries, and this year we have signed our FTA with New Zealand and our digital economy agreement with Singapore. Additionally, we launched negotiations with Canada in March. We will be continuing negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership and have completed three rounds of negotiations with India. We are also preparing to begin negotiations on new trade deals with Mexico and the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is our objective to put the UK at the centre of a network of modern deals spanning the Americas and Indo-Pacific. We have also tabled legislation required for the Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements to eventually enter into force.

The Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill provides a power to make changes to UK procurement regulations to implement the obligations in the government procurement chapters of the Australia and New Zealand FTAs. The Bill delivers on a key Brexit benefit of having our own independent trade policy and of course supports the Government’s levelling-up agenda, with all nations and regions of the UK set to benefit from the deals.

However, FTAs are not the only tool my department is using to support the Government’s levelling-up agenda. In November last year, the Trade Secretary announced a refreshed cross-government export strategy for the whole of the UK, at the UK’s first International Trade Week. In my own ministerial portfolio, the Office for Investment has been working tirelessly to attract big strategic investment into the parts of the UK that need it most.

In conclusion, the world faces significant challenges, and the UK is stepping up on the international stage to tackle them with our partners and friends. As I look around the House, with distinguished former Foreign and Defence Ministers present, not to mention an illustrious miscellany of noble Lords with acknowledged expertise in these areas, I look forward to today’s debate.