Keynote address by Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP on Foreign Policy for the 2020s

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  •  Wednesday, 5 June, 2019
     8:30 - 9:30

Keynote address on Foreign Policy for the 2020s by Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP.

75 years ago this week, Allied Commanders launched Operation Overlord: unleashing by air, land and sea the forces of over twelve allied nations, united in one purpose: the defeat of Nazi Germany and liberation of Europe.

D-Day is woven into the personal history of millions of British families.

It is an enduring source of national pride, and a symbol of sacrifices made with our allies.

From the men on Sword beach and Gold, to the boys of Pointe du Hoc.

I think of the words of that great President, Ronald Reagan at the 40th anniversary:

“These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

The debt we owe my grandparent’s generation becomes more awe-inspiring with the passage of time:

They secured our democracy against Nazism and Fascism.

They created the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, that has kept peace in Europe.

They built the United Nations, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”.

Above all, they gave us the sense of confidence, through their example, that when our backs are up against the wall as a country, we have the resilience and grit we need to prevail.

“Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”

Our predecessors in World War Two knew that they and their allies were fighting for democracy and freedom.

It was an existential struggle.

Today we are confronted by no such singular threat.

We face the complex and shifting landscape of an increasingly multipolar world, with the pressures and strains introduced by globalisation, rapid technological change, mass migration and climate change.

But still, our starting point is the same. We have to ask and answer certain fundamental questions: what kind of country do we want to be? What matters most to our citizens? What would we be prepared to die for? What must we protect, defend and build upon in our generation? And how do we best achieve this?

This is not the easy course of action. National security considerations, economic links, the position of our allies – all these must be taken into account. But without values, foreign policy is a mere calculus of interests; it has no anchor.

I want to see a Britain that is the best place to live in the world:

At our best we are an open, tolerant, diverse and outward-looking society, in which our young people can benefit from the great opportunities of the 21st century, while being insulated against its worst risks and dangers.

I want our citizens to be safe from threats at home and abroad and our nation to be respected internationally; as a country that speaks up with confidence for what’s right, and can back those words with action.

I want a Britain in which we, the citizens, are optimistic about our place in the world, and confident and fearless in our dealings with other countries.

And so I believe we need a foreign policy that creates the conditions for trade and economic growth, that resists protectionism, that defuses threats before they can become dangers on our streets, that upholds our values and that contributes to a secure global environment.

In short, we need a foreign policy that is a source of security, opportunity and pride for our whole country.

There is no doubt that over the last three years, foreign policy has been overshadowed by the difficulties of implementing the EU referendum result.

The most urgent task of the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is to resolve this deadlock, so that we honour the outcome of the vote, in a way that brings people together.

As Prime Minister, I would seek to do this on the basis of an agreement with the European Union – not only because of Parliamentary arithmetic, but because I believe that is what is best for our country and the interests of all our citizens.

A credible plan to deliver Brexit must be grounded in reality. And the reality is this: there are hard truths.

The first hard truth: no deal is not a credible policy choice available to the next Prime Minister. As the Speaker has made clear, Parliament will block it, as it did in March.

That means the alternative is either a deal to the leave the EU, or a general election, a second referendum and potentially no Brexit at all.

Second hard truth: renegotiating the Political Declaration on the future long term relationship will be easier than re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement, and more important too. We must cast the whole debate forwards from the vehicle of exit to the ambitious future we want to see.

Third: we have to level with people about the trade off between sovereignty and market access.

Given these realities, my Brexit Delivery Plan is the only credible way to leave the EU by 31 October.

If I win the contest, I will treat my election as a mandate for the Conservative Party to vote for a deal to leave the EU.

I will then immediately enshrine EU citizens’ rights in UK law. Our European residents have faced uncertainty for far too long.

As the basis of our future relationship, I will propose a Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. In addition, I strongly believe that we should secure a deep security partnership with the EU too. I will offer to make this a central pillar of our long term future alliance.

Crucially, we need an answer to the Irish border question to make Brexit work for the long term.

To establish the administrative, political and technological solutions to the challenge of how to make an independent UK trade policy compatible with avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, I will set up an Irish Border Council. The Council will involve the UK, the EU, the Irish Government and all the parties in Northern Ireland.

We must win the consent of the North-South border communities to make Brexit work.

And finally, as part of this package, we will seek a time limit on the backstop to ensure there is an endpoint to the whole process.

This plan is deliverable. My conversations with EU colleagues before and since I published it at the weekend give me confidence it can be negotiated, and I believe it will command a majority in the House of Commons so we can leave the EU by 31 October.

My approach to Brexit is principled, based on the values that we hold dear – peace, security, prosperity – clear about what we want to achieve, and based in reality.

But there is so much more to UK foreign policy than Brexit.

And for wider, long term foreign policy, my approach is the same.

I reject any choice between pragmatism and values.

We do good in the world when we understand it, and hold in our minds both the world as it is and as we want it to be.

Deal with the world only as it is, and we fail both to achieve clear goals or to uphold our values.

Deal with the world only as we would like it to be, and we may bask in the warm glow of appearing to stay true to our values, but in truth we betray them, by opting for magical thinking over the hard choices and trade-offs that reality requires.

The West’s foreign policy of recent years has all too many examples of this magical thinking.

In Syria, for example, where we wanted the forces of democratic opposition to succeed, we failed to follow through with promised support, and were repeatedly disappointed when they didn’t live up to our hopes. The West’s retreat over Syria has contributed to an advance by our adversaries they have sought for decades.

Or Libya, where we did a better job of getting rid of an evil dictator, we didn’t face the realities of the commitment needed to replace him with the stable, democratic regime that we had hoped would follow.

So we need to be clear as we face each foreign policy dilemma, and ask ourselves honestly and truthfully:

  • what are we trying to achieve?
  • is it the job of a year or twenty years?
  • do we have the means, the allies, the international coalition, the legal basis, the influence to succeed?
  • do we know not just how we are going to start, but how we are going to finish?
  • can we explain what we are trying to do convincingly to Parliament and the public?

I want to see Britain engaged in the world, forceful in defence of British interests, ambitious in promoting our democratic values, on the basis of the best foreign policy analysis, grounded in reality, and backed by the commitment and resources to see the job through.

Think of the assets we already have as a nation:

The fundamental strength of our economy, the 5th largest in the world;

The protection and assurance provided by our Armed Forces, diplomats and intelligence agencies, who are second to none;

The security we derive from our membership of the world’s most powerful military alliance, NATO, and our Five Eyes intelligence partnership with our closest allies;

Our influence as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council;

Our international development programmes, one of the largest of any country in the world bar the United States;

And the attractive power of our language, law, culture and history.

So we have every reason for confidence and optimism about our country’s place in the world.

A government I lead would pursue a foreign policy guided by five core principles:

First, we need a foreign policy that benefits all of our country, supporting jobs, investment and security in all parts of the United Kingdom.

We have a responsibility to preserve and defend the Union through which, together, our country is greater than the sum of its parts.

Building a new consensus about Britain’s place in the world should be a major focus of the next British government, starting with Brexit but going far beyond it.

In particular, as we leave the EU, our role within NATO becomes more important.

So second, the government that I lead would work to strengthen the North Atlantic Alliance and the transatlantic relationship, and our ability to think and act together on the major strategic questions of the 21st century.

NATO is an essential part of our response to the challenges posed by threats in cyberspace, international terrorism, and insecurity in Europe’s near neighbourhood and beyond.

None of our adversaries or competitors can draw on the kind of values-based alliance that we have in NATO.

And nothing would hearten them more than any weakening of the security of Europe or the Transatlantic Alliance.

Britain can exert influence in Europe and in America, and when Britain is strong both sides of the Atlantic look to us to build the common ground.

A key opportunity to do just that will come in December, when the UK will host the next NATO summit. As Prime Minister, I would focus on bringing together the United States and Europe to reinforce our alliance.

A government I lead would have no hesitation in expressing a distinctive viewpoint, and working with the US and our European allies to find agreement and grounds for a common approach to urgent issues. But we must remember that as allies we share far more in common than anything that may at times appear to divide us.

My third principle is that Britain should lead the West’s response to China’s strategy to win the fourth industrial revolution.

The second half of the 20th Century was dominated by an arms race. The first half of the 21st Century is already being dominated by the technology race.

China has a clear and determined strategy.

The West does not. And we need one fast.

The most effective response to long-term planning by our competitors or adversaries is to forge a long-term strategy of our own.

And when it comes to technology, communications is the defence industry.

In traditional defence industries, British companies are global leaders.

We need a communications British champion and the government should create the market conditions for one to develop.

This insight has very practical consequences.

We need our communications systems to be secure, and we have worked with Huawei to ensure that in the current, 4G, technology, they are.

Yet questions are being raised about Chinese equipment on the next generation of technology.

Simplistic answers abound that underplay – or ignore – the full extent Huawei are already embedded within current technology.

But we know that Huawei technology is not the best, and we would like more assurance over our systems.

But, we can’t just ban without a replacement. And we shouldn’t shirk from having that replacement – preferably British.

The question of whether we should have Chinese equipment on our 5G networks is asking the question the wrong way round. The question should be: why don’t we have a home-grown solution?

To put it another way, we should beat Huawei with a British champion of our own. A champion that can become a global leader.

As Digital Secretary I oversaw the decision to keep the Chinese state-owned communications provider ZTE off our systems.

And I know this: a British communications infrastructure champion would increase our economic potential, give important security assurances, and increase our soft power.

The same is true by the way of our response to China’s Belt and Road initiative. We should not complain about it, we should match it from the West with our own global strategic investment strategy. Let us finance the roads and the ports and the networks of the rapidly developing world.

This focus on communications also leads directly to cyber defence.

It’s not just that our adversaries are attacking us in cyberspace. Here we must be ready, and we are better placed than most nations, thanks to our National Cyber Security Centre which I set up as Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Those with a different view of the world are doing their best to bend the very rules of the internet towards state control and censorship.

The Russians, Iranians and North Koreans are constantly looking for vulnerabilities in our networks, whether to spy on us, steal our IP or position themselves so they can mount a cyber attack in the future.

The Chinese and Russians are building international support for a different vision of the internet, not global, and not free.

They want an internet in which states are sovereign. We have seen the implications for freedom just this week, with a crack down on messages around the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

And if we are not careful, we will wake up in a few years time and find they have succeeded, by winning the debates in international organisations like the UN and WTO, setting the technical standards, and building an international coalition behind them.

I believe we should defend freedom online as robustly as we stand up for it in the real world.

We must make sure that the freedom that is such an essential part of the internet, and an essential of ours, is preserved.

This does not mean unfettered freedom, just as Britain having free speech doesn’t mean you can incite violence or stir up racial hatred.

Democracies like ours need to have the confidence to set rules for freedom online just as we have offline.

We need the confidence as a free society to move the basis of the internet from libertarian to liberal.

Britain can lead this globally. And as Prime Minister, I would make sure that we do.

That leads me to my fourth principle. A government I lead would invest in Britain’s diplomatic influence and capability.

Our country’s ironclad commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence is an essential part of our commitment to NATO, and as our economy grows we should have an ambition to increase it.

I also support and will uphold the longstanding principle of spending 0.7% of GDP on international development.

Entirely missing from this equation has been the question of the resources needed to give maximum strength to the diplomacy and trade policy of the United Kingdom.

Foreign policy exists to address conflict and insecurity at its root to reduce the need for either military intervention or open-ended humanitarian assistance.

The value of our Embassies, Residences, and High Commissions overseas cannot be measured on the Treasury spreadsheet. The same is true is of the resources of our soft power: our culture, our heritage, or indeed the BBC, with its unparalleled ability to project British values and objective fact worldwide.

All these must be woven in and inextricably linked to our values based, yet hard-headed assessment of foreign policy.

So we need the strongest possible diplomatic firepower alongside our military and intelligence capabilities, and a government I lead would urgently assess this as a matter of national urgency.

Some have suggested a new target, that security and defence spending together should reach 3% of GDP, and we should examine this idea seriously.

Because the future lies not in siloed services but in a full spectrum, first tier, day one capability: special forces, cyber, intelligence, working alongside the potential to project conventional hard power, combined with softer persuasive power, harnessed by a foreign policy steeped in the statecraft of diplomacy.

This investment in diplomacy includes strengthening our ties with our longstanding partners, such as Japan, and continuing to build our links with the emerging democratic powers of the 21st century like India.

After all, over the coming decade we will see an even greater contest of ideas between the western liberal democratic model and the authoritarian model of governance represented by the rise of China.

An estimated two-thirds of people living under democratic systems today are in non-western and developing countries.

Deepening our existing political and economic links with our fellow democracies outside NATO is a great strategic prize for which we should be aiming. Liberal democracy is a precious thing: those of us who are lucky to have live in freedom should come together to defend freedom.

We have to retain faith in our democracy and the rule of law, and not allow either to be eroded from within by the forces of narrow nationalism.

Of course, while we must do all we can to promote liberal democracy, we need to know that progress can often take time and calls for the strategic patience to see our commitments through, from the Western Balkans to Afghanistan.

Requiring results in time for the news cycle, or even the Parliamentary cycle, can often guarantee that the enterprise fails. Developing sustainable democracy is never just about making sure there is an election.  Security peace and overcoming the legacy of conflict is the work of decades. We need to show sustained commitment.

Had we simply walked about from Germany in the 1950s, only a few years after the end of the war, it would not be the prosperous, stable democracy it is today.

The fifth principle that would guide my foreign policy is that we must reject the false choice between our interests and our values, and maintain human rights and the protection of liberal democracy as part of the essential DNA of our foreign policy.

Our starting point is always our national interest. But our interests should not come at the expense of our values, whether in the area of trade, countering terrorism, addressing illegal migration or building alliances to tackle global warming.

If in order to deliver Brexit we were to change who we are as a country we would have failed.

Although we are leaving one union, we must double down on our membership of and commitment to other rules-based global institutions.

It’s in our interest to uphold a rule-based global order in trade, warfare as much as human rights. As Prime Minister, whether it’s the UN or the WTO, I would look to strengthen the fabric of institutions that make up this order.

A government I lead would also take a hard look at all our bilateral relationships to make sure that the balance is right on crucial decisions affecting human rights.

And at a time when we see concerted efforts to roll-back gains made in women’s rights and LGBTQ rights internationally, any British government must rally like-minded nations to protect and preserve the advances that have been made and go further.

And as Health Secretary, I have seen the critical importance of universal access to healthcare as part of the advancement of women’s rights, and this would be something I would continue to determinedly champion as Prime Minister.

We also know that younger people in our country see climate change and the protection of our environment as the central global challenge that they expect world leaders to solve.

They believe – and I believe – that we must build a world for future generations, not just for our short term needs.

That means concerted action to reduce our carbon emissions by bringing the United States back into the Paris Agreement, getting China and India to reduce not just air pollution, but their greenhouse gas emissions too.

Promoting our trade should sit alongside from urging all countries to do more to rid our air of pollution and our oceans of plastic.

Foreign policy is not a hobby for diplomats or a pastime for prime ministers. It is the strategy we pursue to achieve the very best for each of our citizens and for our country as a whole.

We need a foreign policy that focuses on security and opportunity for the whole of the United Kingdom and of which our whole country can be proud:

A foreign policy that delivers Brexit but is not consumed by it;

That secures new trade and jobs opportunities for Britain but not at the expense of human rights and democracy and the values that matter to our people;

That deepens the transatlantic alliance but also builds the new deep partnerships we need for our economy and our security;

We should be a country that doesn’t question whether we punch above our weight but simply pulls our weight, as we have always done, on international peace and security and the good of our own people.

Speaking before the Second World War and anticipating the inferno to come, Winston Churchill said of our country that:

“in all the great struggles in which we have been engaged we have survived and emerged victorious not only because of the prowess of great commanders or because of famous battles gained by land and sea, but also because the true interests of Britain have coincided with those of so many other States and nations, and that we have been able to march in a great company along the high road of progress and freedom for all”.

Seventy-five years since D-Day, we can see how far our country has come along that high road.

Let us have confidence in our values, in support of our interests, and let us travel that high road once more.

Thank you very much.

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