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Foreign Secretary's speech, Birmingham 2010

William Hague (Conservative)

Location: Birmingham

This nation's foreign policy is an enormous responsibility, and I am lucky to have a very able team in David Lidington, Jeremy Browne, Lord Howell, Alistair Burt, Henry Bellingham and my PPS Keith Simpson - give them a round of applause.

 

This week, in this great city of Birmingham, we have shown how this party, once again in government, is addressing the enormous challenges this country faces.

 

The challenges abroad are no less profound. Always in the forefront of our minds must be that as we work, eat or sleep 10,000 British men and women are doing their utmost to bring order and stability to southern Afghanistan. 339 have given their lives. I will not hide from you that their work remains extremely difficult and dangerous, and it will not be the approach of this Government to encourage false optimism or hopes that are dashed.

 

But from the first hours of our new Government we have worked together to do better for our brave troops. We have doubled their operational allowance, hugely increased the development aid which helps Afghans to build up their own ability to run their country, and given our strong support to the reconciliation process essential to future peace. They have never let us down: let us resolve that we will never let them down.

 

And we have made clear, given the plans for Afghan forces to lead their own operations by 2014, that British involvement in combat in Afghanistan will come to an end by the year after that.

 

In our early months we have also given much of our attention to Pakistan, a country struck this summer by tragedy. The scale of the devastating floods has been beyond our imaginations, and we can be proud that the British Government and the British people have led the way in responding. Along with the United States, our great ally, we have been among the most generous of nations in bringing humanitarian relief, and in Europe the Prime Minister and I secured agreement to grant Pakistan vital trade concessions, knowing that humanitarian aid can bring short term relief but trade is the foundation of lasting progress.

 

We say to the people of Pakistan: we will be there as long-term partners, we will be with you in improving your schools, and we will support your democratic institutions so that your great country can one day enjoy a peace and prosperity it has never yet known.

 

In the last Government, the Foreign Office and the Department of International Development sometimes went their separate ways. By contrast Andrew Mitchell and I work together just as Liam Fox and I work together as the closest of colleagues and we expect our departments to do the same, knowing as we do that using foreign and development policies to prevent conflict costs far less in human life and money than intervening in conflict when it is too late.

 

That is why we are now energetically engaged together, not only in Pakistan, but also in Yemen, taking an international lead to bring support from outside and reform inside that fragile state; and in Sudan, where the danger of renewed conflict looms once again.

 

It is also why this Government gives its strong support to the Middle East peace process, and to a two-state solution which brings security to both Israelis and Palestinians. That is why in recent days we have been pressing the Israeli Government to hold back the settlement building which makes talking harder and therefore the long term position of their own country less secure.

 

And it is because we seek to prevent conflict that we continue to seek a global, legally-binding deal on climate change, for the scientific consensus on climate change tells us that it could give rise to the wars of the future. Even for those out there who might be sceptical, this is too great a risk not to act.

 

It is also why we play a full part in working towards multilateral disarmament: in May I announced for the first time the number of nuclear warheads in our possession and that we would not henceforth exceed that number, but it is also why we oppose so strongly the spread of nuclear weapons and must renew, for the next generation, Britain's own independent nuclear deterrent.

 

Two weeks ago I met the Iranian foreign minister and made clear our approach to relations with them. We have no quarrel with the Iranian people and no wish to be an enemy of Iran. It has a natural place as a leading nation in its region. But as long as the Iranian nuclear programme is pursued in defiance of the world and without a clear peaceful purpose, this country will continue to lead the way, as we did this summer, in imposing tighter sanctions on Iran both at the United Nations and in the European Union.

 

Those sanctions are beginning to bite and Iran has said it will negotiate. We look to its leaders to do so in a serious and meaningful way.

 

In our work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - and by the way we have put the 'C' back into FCO, we take the Commonwealth seriously for a change - much of our time is spent fully focused on these immense and immediate issues. In doing so we see a great deal of the work of our intelligence agencies, and I can tell you that I am beyond admiration, and we should record it here, for the unsung, unknown but indispensable work they do to keep this country safe. The last Government left Britain open to accusations of complicity in torture. In our first weeks we decided to establish an inquiry and published the guidance we give to our intelligence personnel for if we are to speak of our values to others we must show that we uphold them ourselves.

 

But we are conscious that a real foreign policy means something more even than dealing correctly with these problems. It means taking advantage of longer term trends to seize new opportunities for Britain, it means reviving old friendships and adding many more, it means the whole of government organising itself to promote the talent, the ingenuity, the culture and the businesses of British people and being unashamed about doing so in our own national interest, it means doing what the last Government never stirred itself to do, which means having a distinctive British foreign policy to maintain and advance our influence in the world.

 

Labour left Britain on a path to decline, with no vision, no coherent decision-making, and no grip over the finances of defence or diplomacy. Sloppy decision-making from the Downing Street sofa hampered our diplomats and armed forces in achieving their goals.

 

On our first day the Prime Minister established the National Security Council so that all relevant ministers consider these issues together with all the expert advice available to them. And the Foreign Office is back where it belongs at the centre of Government, able to lead in constructing a foreign policy which runs through the veins of all government departments. For we now live in a networked world, where we must not only be highly active in the UN, the EU, the G20, and the G8, but must also build strong bilateral relationships directly with the world's emerging powers and do so not only in diplomacy and between governments but also in culture, education, sport, commerce and between civil society and peoples.

 

Imagine what a nation that has all the advantages of language, education, values, history, connections and location that we have can achieve in the world, imagine the millions of educational experiences, personal friendships and jobs in British businesses that can flow, if the leaders of the country actually organise themselves to promote these things wherever they go on the planet; and that is what the last Government never did and it is what we are now doing every day.

 

And so our foreign policy is certainly to deal with today's conflicts and to prevent new ones, to tackle climate change and promote free trade, to advance our values and at all times seek the protection of human rights abroad as we do at home - it is all these things, but it is also something else - to energise our relations and alliances in a broad and enduring way to bring new opportunities and horizons to British people for decades to come.

 

This is why we have not only placed great importance on our economic and strategic dialogue with China, but also launched a new special relationship with India, elevated our relations with the Gulf states and sent ministers already to Latin America and South East Asia. This is why I have already visited Japan, still the world's third largest economy and why in a few months I will be the first British Foreign Secretary in twenty years to visit Australia. This is why we have already forged a closer partnership with Turkey, Europe's fastest growing economy. And this is why we have placed commercial objectives, seeking jobs for Britain, at the core of the work of all ministers travelling overseas, so that every one of them has in his or her pocket the business that is at stake, the British products that can be sold, the exports that can be earned in the country they are visiting.

 

The last Government did not connect the conduct of foreign affairs with the prosperity of our people; we understand that each depends intimately on the other.

 

In Europe too we will be the foremost advocates of free trade and of pushing further the single market that this party championed from the outset. There are those who think that a fortress Europe of protectionism and laws on working hours can hold off the challenges of globalisation. We say that is backward-looking, pessimistic and bound to fail.

 

The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Europe and I have all in the last five months created firm friendships around the capitals of Europe. We can only achieve our objectives on trade, development and the environment by working closely with our partners, and the action we take on Iran or to maintain peace in the Balkans - crucial objectives for this country - is vastly more effective for being based on Europe acting together.

 

We will support effective co-operation not navel-gazing, determined action not institutional empire-building - that is the hard-headed approach others can expect from us in Europe.

 

The EU has many faults: it interferes too much, and the Lisbon Treaty has left it beset by rivalries in Brussels, as indeed we warned. And we cannot forget that its democratic legitimacy was undermined by Labour's disgraceful failure to hold a referendum.

 

Such a denial of democracy must never be allowed to happen again. This coalition is agreed that we will not agree to move more areas of power from Britain to the EU. And as we promised at the election, before this year is out we will introduce a bill to make it the law that if any future government wishes to sign a treaty giving away more areas of power, it will be put to a referendum by law.

 

This will be a referendum lock, and a lock to which only the British people will have the key. And because the Lisbon Treaty was, in part, a self-amending treaty, where its ratchet clauses amount to the transfer of an area of power, there too, any government that proposes to agree to such a change will require permission in a referendum.

 

There was a further commitment we made on Europe at the election: to reaffirm once and for all the sovereignty of our ancient parliament.

 

EU law has effect in this country because - and solely because - Parliament wills that it should. Parliament passed the 1972 European Communities Act. That was the act of a sovereign parliament - a parliament which is and remains sovereign.

 

I can tell you today that we will legislate this autumn to underline that. A sovereignty clause on EU law will place on the statute book this eternal truth: what a sovereign parliament can do, a sovereign parliament can also undo.

 

It will not alter the existing order in relation to EU law. But it will put the matter beyond speculation. And it will be in line with other EU states, like Germany who in a different constitutional framework give effect to EU law through their own sovereign act.

 

This clause will enshrine this key principle in the law of the land.

 

And so, active but robust in Europe, daily engaged in addressing conflicts and their causes, strengthening our values by upholding them ourselves and championing development, human rights abroad, and giving our country the myriad of connections which will allow twenty-first century Britons to prosper and succeed; this is our foreign policy. Pursued energetically in the years to come it will help keep our people and many others successful and safe even in a more dangerous world. I believe that in handling our foreign, defence and security affairs just as much as handling our domestic affairs, we can surely claim that we are truly working together, together in the national interest.

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