Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:12 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Meyer Baroness Meyer Ceidwadwyr 5:12, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is an honour to follow my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool. In today’s world, it is difficult to separate the domestic from the external, and the economic from the political. We have seen this in many crucial issues, such as climate change, immigration, free trade agreements, and, of course, Brexit, to name a few.

Brexit was about what kind of relationship with continental Europe best serves our national interest, but this debate has been going on for at least 1,000 years. What has changed since then is that the national interest is equally abroad as it is at home. The dilemma today is what to do when the security and prosperity of our citizens clash. What should we do when the Chinese Government invest in key British infrastructure and in our universities? Should the economic argument override security concerns? What about human rights? China has been suppressing democracy in Hong Kong, trying to eliminate the Uighurs, and supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, yet it is our fifth-largest trading partner. How do we reconcile the idealism of how we would like the world to be with the realism of how we find it?

In March 2021 the Government published a sweeping review of their foreign, defence, development and security policies. It named Russia as

“the most acute physical threat to our security”.

Several months later, Russia invaded Ukraine. In response, an updated version of the integrated review was published in 2023 stressing the need to build economic and military resilience.

Far from ending, as Francis Fukuyama proudly predicted in 1989, history is back—and with a vengeance. It is far worse than a return to the Cold War. In those days, it was a regulated conflict; it was the politics of détente, with far less economic interdependence. Today the world appears to belong increasingly to dictators.

Russia and China argue that their brand of authoritarian government allows them to act decisively while their democratic rivals debate, dither and fail to deliver on their promises. There is some truth in this. Organisations founded after the Second World War under US leadership—the UN, NATO, the IMF, the WTO and even the EU—have lost their way, while the United States is taking an increasingly isolationist stance. But because our relationship with the United States is based on both countries’ national interests, as an independent country we will have the opportunity to play an important role, whoever wins the United States presidency. Since leaving the EU, we have not forfeited our global leadership opportunities. We have hosted COP 26 and the G7 summit, played a crucial role in AUKUS, become a CPTPP member and led the way in responding to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. We may no longer be the superpower we once were, but we can still help shape history.

Does my noble friend the Foreign Secretary not agree that we must first regain our confidence, stop apologising about our past and stop bickering about Brexit? We should instead focus on what we have excelled at for centuries—pragmatism, wisdom and a strong sense of purpose—and use our diplomatic might to work towards a workable peace.