FCO and DfID merger
I agree that international development is extremely important and my supporting it was one of my main motivations for wanting to enter the House of Commons in the first place.
I am Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethiopia & Djibouti, Vice Chairman of a number of other Groups for developing countries and Chairman of the Westminster Africa Business Group. A while ago I held my own debate in Parliament about the work of DfID and I regularly contribute to debates and questions in the Commons on such matters. I have visited a number of developing countries and seen the benefits which aid brings to people there, through health, education, water supplies and many other projects.
I have mixed feelings about the merger. One the one hand, when I have visited developing countries I have held meetings with the FCO, DfID and DIT and have wondered if it would not be better if they worked as one. I do agree that, sometimes, we should use aid as a lever to help bring about better government in countries where the governments are the problem. And many people in this country do feel that our aid should benefit the UK as well as the recipients of it.
On the other hand, the delivery of aid is more complicated than that now. It rarely is given directly to governments for budget support, but is provided to aid agencies and other organisations working on the ground and to organisations such as the World Food Programme. And often the people in the greatest need are those living in war-torn areas or in countries with the worst governments, such as Yemen and Somalia, and the need is therefore to go in under the radar to help those people.
On the day of the announcement, I raised the whole matter with the Prime Minister in the Commons, emphasising that helping the world’s poorest people is in the UK’s interests, but that we should do that for humanitarian reasons anyway. I asked him to guarantee that, following the merger, we would continue our poverty reduction programmes across the world, and continue to provide health and education projects, particularly for girls, and he agreed that the latter in particular was one of the most important things we could do.
So, I can see the benefits of the merger but also the possible drawbacks. I will, therefore, continue to make representations to the Prime Minister and other Ministers to try to help ensure that we continue to do our best to help poorer people across the world and I am grateful to you for raising the matter with me.
US Trade deal
It is very encouraging that the USA has said that they very much want to do trade deals with the UK when we leave the EU, probably sector by sector to start with. This will provide even more export opportunities for the UK in our biggest single export market.
More trade is essential if the UK is to overcome the unprecedented economic challenge posed by Covid-19, and new trade agreements are an important part of the long-term economic recovery. Our analysis shows that a US trade deal could lead to a £15 billion increase in trade, benefit every region and nation of the UK with a majority of sectors set to benefit including agriculture, automotive, consumer goods such as ceramics and services industries.
Over 31,600 small British businesses are already exporting goods to the US. The Government will seek to include a specific SME chapter in a US free trade agreement to support and further stimulate this trade.
Our team of negotiators will drive a hard bargain for all British industries and people and are committed to our red lines – the NHS, the price it pays for drugs and its services are not for sale. There will be no compromise on high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. It is in the interests of both the UK and US to reach an agreement, but we will walk away from the negotiating table if the right deal is not on offer.
The Government is committed to transparency and will ensure that parliamentarians, UK citizens and businesses have access to the information they need on our trade negotiations.
US Trade and Food/ Animal Welfare Standards
First and foremost, I would like to assure you that I strongly value the UK’s agricultural sector and our high domestic standards relating to food and animal welfare.
There has been some misunderstanding regarding the Agriculture Bill having the potential to reduce animal welfare and food standards. However, this is simply not the case.
The government have been clear that they remain firmly committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards outside the EU. All food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements. At the end of the transition period the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book and as we go forward we can, if we wish, strengthen those standards.
These import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and set out that no products, other than potable water, are approved to decontaminate poultry carcases. Any changes to existing food safety legislation would require new legislation to be brought before this Parliament.
The UK’s food standards, for both domestic production and imports, are overseen by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. These are independent agencies and provide advice to the UK and Scottish governments. They will continue to do so in order to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards. Decisions on these standards are a matter for the UK and will be made separately from any trade agreement. Given this, I’m not sure that we need an extra body to oversee our standards, but I will, of course, keep this in mind.
Withdrawal Agreement- Refugee protection
The purpose of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is to deliver on the withdrawal agreement. The role of this bill It is not to set out the future of negotiations but to allow UK to move forward into these negotiations. I agree that we should continue to help child refugees but do not feel that this was an appropriate place to legislate for this.
The UK’s resettlement schemes are an integral component of our humanitarian response. The government are fully committed both to the principle of family reunion and to supporting the most vulnerable children. Over the past five years, the government have granted over 26,000 family reunion visas to family members of refugees. More than half of those resettled under the governments existing programmes are children, the majority of whom have been resettled with their families.
It is important to remember that the UK has already signed up to the Council of Europe’s action plan which enhances the integration of child refugees into host societies. Under the Dublin regulation, children will continue to be reunited with their families during the implementation period. Both commitments remaining in place without the need of amendment 4.
The debate that took place showed that there is strong support on the Government Benches for the principle of family reunion and steps are already being taken to ensure we continue to help those most in need. The Home Secretary wrote to the European Commission on 22nd October to start negotiations with the European Union on future arrangements and will continue these discussions in the coming months.
The government recognise the importance of family reunion for refugees and will continue to support this where possible.
Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by the Australian bushfires.
The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Minister for the Commonwealth, the UN and South Asia, have been in contact with their Australian counterparts to offer our condolences and stress our readiness to help in any way that they need.
The Australian Government have agreed an offer by the Foreign Secretary to deploy an expert support and assessment team of specialists from defence, health and fire. This team have now been deployed and will be on site in the coming days.
The UK recognises the staggering environmental and agricultural impact that these bushfires have had. Almost half a billion animals are thought to have perished, and there are concerns that some species found only in certain areas of Australia may have been wiped out altogether. We stand ready to support Australian authorities to address the ecological damage in due course, and this is something that our support and assessment team will cover.
We stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the people of Australia and are ready to help in whatever way they need.
EU Citizens rights in the UK
On 6 December 2018 the Government confirmed that the EU Settlement Scheme will continue to operate whether the UK leaves the European Union with or without a negotiated deal. This ensures that the rights of EEA and Swiss citizens resident in the UK before it leaves the EU will be protected in every outcome. Those granted settled status under the scheme will retain that status for life, unless they allow their leave to lapse by being absent from the UK and the Islands (the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man) for a period of more than five years, or that status is revoked or cancelled, for example as a result of serious criminality.
The government are working extensively with a range of stakeholders to ensure that all those who are eligible to apply do so by the deadline of 30 June 2021 for those resident in the UK by the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020 (or, in a no deal scenario, by 31 December 2020 for those resident in the UK by exit). The latest internal figures show that more than one million EEA and Swiss citizens and their families have been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme, just a few months after the Scheme opened. This significant milestone sends a clear message to EU citizens; they are our friends, family and neighbours and we want them to stay. The government have made clear that departments will take a proportionate approach to anyone who misses the deadline and will make provision for those who have reasonable grounds for doing so to apply after the deadline. Those who apply before the deadline but whose application is not decided until after the deadline will have all their rights protected until their application is concluded.
British Nationals Abroad: EU Countries
Following extensive engagement by the Government, all Member States have now made commitments to protect the residence rights of UK nationals in a no deal scenario, albeit to varying degrees of detail. The EU Commission has published details at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/brexit/brexit-preparedness/citizens-rights_en.
Member States have also made some unilateral commitments to protect the right to work, study, and access to benefits and services in a no deal scenario. For example Poland has committed to offering permanent residency covering the right to work and Malta will create a new ‘ad hoc’ status allowing UK nationals to work without a permit. To understand the extent to which each Member State has put in place protections, UK nationals should visit the FCO “living in guides” on gov.uk and the relevant web pages of their host countries.
The government will continue to engage with our EU counterparts to encourage full reciprocity of our offer to EU citizens in the UK, in which they will continue to be able to work, study, and access benefits and services in a no deal exit as they can today.
Persecuted Christians Worldwide
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is committed to defending Freedom of Religion or Belief as a universal human right which should be enjoyed by everyone. The UK regularly raises this issue with governments across the world and funds projects that promote respect for all people of different faiths.
In January 2019, the then Foreign Secretary launched an independent review led by the Bishop of Truro, into FCO support for persecuted Christians. The report has identified specific steps the British Government can take to address the issues faced by persecuted Christians around the world. The government has accepted the recommendations in full and will work to implement them. This work will include exploring how best to deliver a new Security Council Resolution on protecting Christians in North Africa and the Middle East; and sanctioning those who persecute people for holding a religion or belief.
Children in conflict
The government are committed to protecting children effected by armed conflict, including ending the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The UK is an active member of the United Nations Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict (CAAC), which leads the international response on the issue of child soldiers and child protection. In November 2019, the UK will host an international meeting on preventing sexual violence in conflict. One of the key focuses will be how the UK can better support children born of sexual violence in conflict, including tackling stigma.
The Department for International Development (DFID), run education programs in nations effected by conflict. Alongside these education programs, DFID are the largest bilateral donor to “Education Cannot Wait” an organisation that protect access to education for children in conflict zones. The education programs that DFID run and donate to support children’s psychological well-being and promote inclusive an education systems which minimise the negative effects of conflict.
I fully support the great work that DFID do in conflict zones to enable children to have the start in life they deserve.
Universal health coverage
The UK is a strong advocate for universal health coverage. The government provides funding to the World Health Organisation through the universal health coverage (UHC) partnership programme, along with the EU, Japan and other donors. The UK is the world’s second largest health donor, investing around £1 billion per year through bilateral aid programmes. This aid goes to projects in areas such as reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health. Our support to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has contributed to the safe vaccination of over 700 million children.
I believe that everyone has the right to access to healthcare and will continue to support this in parliament where possible.
Protection of Palestinian health workers
The government remains concerned about the use of live ammunition and excessive force by the Israel Defense Forces. While Israel has the right to self-defence, it is vital that its actions are proportionate and seek to avoid civilian casualties. The UK have stressed to Israel the need for independent and transparent investigations into these deaths however Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories remains a human rights country of concern.
The primary responsibility for prosecuting those who attack humanitarian workers in any context lies with the state authorities. In a conflict context, where the state authorities are unable or unwilling to do this, international accountability mechanisms may be invoked, as appropriate. The UK supports international mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court or ad hoc tribunals acting within their mandates when grave violations of international humanitarian law are suspected, and the state is genuinely unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute.
I believe that no aid worker should be at risk of violence. They must have the protection they need from the responsible authorities to allow them to do their jobs safely.
Protests in Hong Kong
The recent protests in Hong Kong have shown the strength of feeling among its people. The UK supports the Hong Kong people's right to peaceful and lawful protest. It is imperative that any protests are conducted in a peaceful manner, and that the authorities' response is proportionate.
Hong Kong's success is underpinned by its high degree of autonomy, independent judiciary and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Joint Declaration. However, recent events have demonstrated increasing pressure on this high degree of autonomy and Hong Kong's rights and freedoms. It remains the British Government's view that, for Hong Kong's future success, it is essential that Hong Kong enjoys, and is seen to enjoy, the full measure of its high degree of autonomy and rule of law as set out in the Joint Declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law, in keeping with the commitment to 'One Country, Two Systems'.
The government have noted the announcement of a special inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Council into recent events in Hong Kong and look forward to reading the results.
The Government takes its defence exports responsibilities extremely seriously and operates some of the most robust export controls in the world. The UK only approve equipment which is for Israel's legitimate self-defence, when we are satisfied that this would be consistent with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and other relevant commitments. A licence will not be issued if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression, or if there is a clear risk that it would provoke or prolong conflict. The government continue to believe the best way to achieve peace is through substantive peace talks between the parties leading to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
The Government publishes Official Statistics (on a quarterly and annual basis) of licences granted and refused for military exports on GOV.UK, which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/strategic-export-controls-licensing-data
Export licence applications are carefully assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. A licence would not be granted if to do so was inconsistent with the Criteria. The policy remains as announced to parliament in a Written Ministerial Statement on 25 March 2014 (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140325/wmstext/140325m0001.htm#14032566000018) and updated with an additional policy, as announced in a Written Ministerial Statement on 13 September 2018 (https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-09-13/HCWS957/).
I have also raised the issue of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and will continue to do so.
Libyan detention centres
The government remain deeply concerned by the situation in Libya and the conditions in Libyan detention centres. All parties to the conflict must do all they can to prevent any further loss of life, including by respecting their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, and engage with the UN and humanitarian community. This is essential to ensure aid can reach those in need and to allow for civilians, including refugees and migrants, to be immediately evacuated to safety.
The UK has announced a contribution of £1 million to the UN Flash Appeal. This includes funding to the World Health Organisation to deliver life-saving medical care, and funding to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to improve humanitarian access for agencies on the ground. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has released $2 million to provide life-saving assistance to civilians caught up in the fighting, including vulnerable migrants and refugees. The UK was the biggest donor to the CERF in 2018, providing £114.3 million.
The detention centres in Libya are the responsibility of the Libyan authorities however, the government will continue to press the Libyan authorities to pursue alternatives to detention and implement a better functioning migration system that respects human rights.
International Development - Aid Budget
I am very supportive of the excellent work our Department for International Development carries out and have visited projects in Ethiopia, Nigeria and other countries to see how this work is changing lives on the ground. Of course, our aid budget must be transparent and properly targeted on projects which assist in saving lives, starvation, illness and building capacity in the poorest countries across the world. Fostering stability in areas of deprivation across the world enhances the security of us all.
I recently lead an Estimates day debate on this topic which can be viewed here
Loans to developing countries
The UK is working through the G20 to promote sovereign debt transparency and sustainability, particularly for low income developing countries. UK-based lenders are subject to extensive prudential disclosure requirements under UK prudential and accounting law, including for material loans made to foreign Governments, which appropriately reflect firms’ exposures. Compliance with these requirements are independently assessed by the relevant UK regulator during their supervisory activities.
UN Global Compact on Migration
The UK Government is supportive of the UN’s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, both as a step forward in international co-operation to tackle irregular migration and as a framework to help us deliver our commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals.
Our participation in the Global Compact will not affect our continued ability to determine and implement our own migration policy in the national interest. The Compact is a ‘non-legally binding, cooperative framework’, which reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy.
The Migration Compact aims to bolster international cooperation by providing a framework to implement regular and managed migration through effectively managing our borders and returning those with no right to remain.