The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and President Zelensky’s commitment to reform and fighting corruption. We have provided financial support to the tune of £38 million this year, across multiple areas, and we lead robust sanctions on Russia for its attacks on Ukraine’s sovereignty. We look forward to welcoming President Zelensky to the UK as soon as a date can be found.
My right hon. Friend is a doughty champion of Ukraine’s determination to look westward and be a modern European country. We will certainly welcome, as soon as we can, the ratification of such an arrangement, and I congratulate the President on his announcement on visa-free access for UK nationals. That will certainly help trade with the UK, which we want to ensure is successful, but we also need to protect our own borders. The Home Secretary is responsible for border control, but we keep our border policy under constant review, and visas to and from Ukraine is something I discuss with her regularly.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work in this regard. It is important we send a clear message that BBC journalists—any journalists, and specifically British journalists—cannot be bullied in this way any more than our diplomatic staff. In fact, when I was in Canada with my Canadian opposite number, we launched a new award for those who champion and protect media freedom. Not only are we looking at this individual case, but there is an international campaign to make sure that we provide protection for journalists around the world who, in very difficult circumstances, are willing to speak truth to power.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course we will be fully plugged in and, indeed, a driving force in the international effort to make sure we get the right answers in terms of the investigation. This point is even stronger now that the Government of Iran have accepted at least a measure of responsibility, but it is crucial that the investigation is fully independent and has an international component so that people can feel confidence in the outcome and the answers. We will work with all our international partners on all the issues he raises, and I certainly want to see justice for the incredible number of people who are still mourning and grieving this terrible loss.
It is interesting that, in answering my question, the right hon. Gentleman relies on spending that has happened since 2012. I accept that in 2014 the budget was £15 million and there were 34 staff. My point is that now, in 2020, under this Government, the budget is £2 million and there are four workers, one of whom is an intern. That is the point. We cannot just keep rolling back to previous things. My point is that this started well, but is now trailing off and is no longer a priority. That is an indictment of the current Government. This is what being held to account looks like—[Interruption.] The point is what they are doing now, today; that is what is important. They cannot rely on what happened eight years ago.
If I might move on, I have a fifth point, which is on Iran. I echo everything my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) said in response to the urgent question earlier. As he rightly said, the rest of the world cannot sit back and wait and see what happens. As we saw with the disgraceful shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner, we are now only one misdirected missile away from not just further appalling loss of life, but an escalation of violence and brinkmanship that could finally topple all of us into war with a country that is five times the size of Iraq and nine times the size of Syria and that has a population of 83 million people. That cannot be allowed to happen.
Hard as it is, I believe that the UN and the EU need to go back to the drawing board, get all the parties around the table, and discuss how we can revive the process of engagement, starting with getting the nuclear deal back on track. What actions are the Government taking to that end?
In closing—I will not take any further interventions—I said at the outset that I have been looking at my past debates with the current Prime Minister, and I note that he is to the art of prescience in foreign policy what Basil Fawlty was to customer service. I looked back at our Queen’s Speech debate in 2017—I believe it was the only one in which he took part as Foreign Secretary—and what is so depressing is that, just like today, I had to point out that there were no new policy initiatives to discuss: a total vacuum where British global leadership should be; no solutions on Iran, Yemen, Syria, North Korea or Libya; silence on Russia, China, Iraq, Afghanistan and the middle east; and a pathetic paucity of action on climate change.
I closed my speech two and half years ago with words that I will repeat now. Unlike the current Prime Minister, every word I said has been proven utterly true and is just as depressingly relevant today. I said:
“Why is…this Tory Queen’s Speech such a blank space with regard to foreign policy?...their sole foreign policy ambition is to stay in lockstep with Donald Trump, whatever hill he chooses to march us up next. That means we are left with a Government who no longer know their own mind on foreign policy because they are beholden to a President who keeps changing his…we could have a Britain that actually has a foreign policy of its own—a Britain ready once again to be a beacon of strength and security, prosperity and values for every country around the world. This Queen’s Speech does nothing to advance that. This Government are doing nothing to advance that.—[Official Report, 26 June 2017; Vol. 626, cc. 424-25.]
Two and a half years later, as someone once said, absolutely nothing has changed.
The gravity school of economics argues that we always trade more with those closest to us, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the history of the past 200 years suggests the opposite? We have taken beef from Argentina, we have had a closer economic relationship with the United States than with any other single country, and we have incredibly close relationships with India, to which we sold cotton, and with Australia and Canada. Does he agree with me—this is the point he is making—that the gravity school of economics is really rather flawed?
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous. I fear that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) is confusing gravity with geography. Of course, it is entirely possible to trade with nations around the world, but the issue in today’s integrated supply chains is the speed with which parts can be delivered into advanced automated manufacturing. Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that it is equally quick and efficient to get a part from Chicago as it is to get it from Munich, for example?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is making an excellent speech and many points with which I agree. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), does my right hon. Friend agree that our focus will rightly be on negotiating a good trade deal with the EU after Brexit day? However, our ability to negotiate with the US is just as important. Both are vital to increase export opportunities for UK businesses, but the US trade agreement is important so that we can increase our leverage with the EU.
Will my right hon. Friend add the Commonwealth to his list of organisations that will be increasingly important? We have a number of very close ties with the Commonwealth, to which we need to add free trade ties. We will be able to do that once we are no longer represented by the European Union, which has not done it. In connection to that, does he think it would be a good idea for Her Majesty’s Government now to offer practical help to Australia at her time of trouble? A lot of people in this country feel we have close links with Australia and ought to show our sympathy in a more practical way.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an excellent contribution on the BBC World Service. Does he agree that part of the current issue in Iran is the worrying pressure that BBC Persian journalists are being put under due to the current chaos in Iran?
Order. Before I call the SNP spokesman, may I say to colleagues that I hope we can manage this afternoon’s debate without having a formal time limit? I would particularly like to do that because several maiden speeches are about to be made and it is a much better atmosphere for a maiden speech if the clock is not being watched for every second. We will manage to do it if everybody limits their speeches to around about nine to 10 minutes, which is quite a long time. I hasten to say that if colleagues cannot say it in nine minutes, perhaps they should think about whether to say it at all. It can be done, and if it is, it will show wonderful discipline and show those making their maiden speeches just how the Chamber can work at its best. In mentioning nine minutes, I make no particular criticism of the speeches that have already been given, particularly from the Front Bench, but also from everyone else. [Interruption.] I am digging a hole, so I am going to stop. We have been very disciplined so far; I am sure we will continue to be disciplined.
It was genuinely a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) express himself in such fluent and consensual terms. The fact that he says his party is willing to agree with Government Members does not come as a surprise to me, because I know from my experience on the last two iterations of the Defence Committee, where I had the pleasure of serving alongside two Members of the SNP, that that is exactly true. That is how it was that, on a cross-party basis, all three parties represented on the Committee were able to agree at quite an early stage that defence expenditure is too low, and that something in the order of 3% of GDP is a more realistic target if Britain is to hold her head up in the world with safety.
Before I develop that theme, however, I want to pick up one point from the excellent speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), and that is his reference to the BBC, in which he concentrated on the World Service. In about 2011, when the then Sir Ming Campbell and I were both members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I remember that we learned with alarm of the coalition Government’s plan to stop the ring-fenced funding not only of the BBC World Service but of the vital BBC Monitoring Service based at Caversham Park. We expressed the view at the time that the result of putting that funding on the shoulders of the BBC in return for allowing the BBC to have its usual requested rise in the licence fee would come back to bite us—and so it did, because both those budgets were badly squeezed, and I think I am right in saying that in the end the Government felt it necessary to restore separate funding for the BBC World Service, but sadly not for the BBC Monitoring Service.
Yes, but the trouble is that no such grant was made to the BBC Monitoring Service, which is our principal source of what is called open-source intelligence—or, as the BBC prefers to say, open-source information. The Defence Committee produced a hard-hitting report entitled “Open Source Stupidity”, because that was entirely our opinion of the effect of that cutback by the coalition Government. It led directly to the closure of Caversham Park, and although BBC Monitoring continues to do very good work, it is a shame and a disgrace that it is not specially separately funded, as it used to be.
Coming back to the main topic, this is, as we know, a debate on Britain’s future place in the world. However magnified, however static or even however reduced our future place in the world may be, we have to be able to keep our country safe. As I never tire of explaining to the House, the basis of any sensible defence policy depends on three concepts: deterrence, containment, and a realisation of the unpredictability of future conflicts. The examples I always give—I fear that people will start joining in in a chorus if I do it again, but I do so nevertheless—are the Yom Kippur war in 1973 that took hyper-sensitive Israel by surprise, the Falklands war in 1982 that took us by surprise, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that took everybody by surprise, and the 9/11 attacks in 2001 that took the world’s then only superpower by surprise.
What do I conclude from the fact that most wars in the 20th century—I could give many more older examples —are usually not predicted significantly in advance? I conclude that if we are going to have an adequate defence policy, we have to be able to defend flexibly against a whole spectrum of future potential threats because we do not know which of those threats is going to materialise.