Foreign affairs

15 Jul 2010 08:58:15

Votes from Tory MEPs were "decisive" in speedy expansion of the EU's foreign service

KEEPINGanEYE Last Thursday, on the orders of William Hague, the ECR group in the European Parliament, that includes Tory MEPs, voted to support the formal creation of the European External Action Service. I write formal because the EEAS has been in effective existence for some time. The EEAS is a deliberately bureaucratic name for what is the EU foreign service. It has, blogs Dan Hannan, a budget twenty times larger than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It has 7,000 staff members, operating in 130 global embassies.

Last week's ECR votes were decisive in seeing the EEAS motion pass*. Without ECR support, reports EurActiv, there would have been no decision until the autumn - time, some believe, that could have been used to dilute the EEAS' powers.

Charles Tannock MEP, the ECR's Foreign Affairs spokesman, told EurActiv:

"We were opposed to the creation of the EEAS but we are now reconciled to engaging constructively within the new architecture in the best interests of our countries."

That is an EU-constructive rather than an EU-sceptic position. This is the latest example of the Coalition government engaging with the EU in what it calls a "constructive" rather than "sceptical" way. The ambition is to make arrangements work better rather than delay or frustrate.

This morning's Telegraph reports that the EU desk will be moved to the centre of the UN General Assembly as part of a "back down" by William Hague:

"Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign minister or "High Representative", will be given a special seat alongside a new European UN ambassador with "the right to speak in a timely manner, the right of reply, the right to circulate documents, the right to make proposals and submit amendments (and) the right to raise points of order". EU sources told The Daily Telegraph that William Hague, the foreign secretary, was forced to "back down" and accept the plan as part of the creation of a Brussels diplomatic service under the Lisbon Treaty."

Lidington In the House of Commons yesterday, Europe Minister David Lidington explained this enhanced EU role at the UN:

"Supporting the EU in having enhanced rights in the UN General Assembly is a good example. We want the High Representative to be able to do what the rotating presidency used to do: to speak and act in support of an agreed common position. The Foreign Secretary explained that policy in more detail in a written ministerial statement earlier today. If the General Assembly agrees, the High Representative will have the rights necessary, and no more than the rights necessary, to fulfil the representational role previously carried out by the rotating presidency. That includes the right to speak after the member states have spoken, but not the right to a seat among individual UN members and certainly not the right to vote in the General Assembly. These arrangements will not give EU delegations enhanced rights in United Nations agencies or in other international organisations."

Mr Lidington was also warm about the relationship that the Coalition wants with Baroness Ashton, the "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy":

"The High Representative has made a very good start to her challenging role. She has an impossible job-almost three jobs, in fact: High Representative, British Commissioner in Brussels and chair of the Foreign Affairs Council. She has been criticised for not being at two different ministerial meetings that were held in two different countries at the same time, but that seems more than a little unfair. I am told that she has 400 days of appointments in the year, and she does not yet really have a proper department to help her. The Conservatives wished her well when she embarked on her task and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are already working closely with her."

Labour MPs were delighted at Mr Lidington's contributions yesterday. Labour's former Europe Minister, Chris Bryant welcomed Mr Lidington's "conversion". And this from Michael Connarty MP:

"I am sensitive about intruding on private grief, but I am witnessing the acting out of a scenario in which a Minister who takes a very positive approach to issues relating to the European Union is surrounded by a large number of Eurosceptic Members of Parliament who had previously imagined that they were serving under a Eurosceptic Government. The words "a cosy consensus" have been used, but I am not sure that what is happening. I see it more as the sweet breeze of EU realism blowing through the Conservative Government."

CASH WILLIAM In the debate William Cash spoke for Eurosceptics:

"I regard this whole decision as a triumph of European aspirations and European parliamentary ambitions over reality. I am deeply worried about the manner in which this game of multidimensional chess will play out, and I have already indicated to my hon. Friend the Minister my concern about the overlapping functions and the contradictions that will emerge between the necessity of maintaining our bilateral relations with other countries and the extremely ambitious proposals in this decision on global reach. It is phenomenal to imagine an external action service on this scale that would in any way be regarded as not interfering with our domestic diplomatic service."

Tim Montgomerie

* Not all Tory MEPs voted for the EEAS. Dan Hannan, Nirj Deva and Roger Helmer, for example, voted against. I also understand that Geoffrey Van Ordern MEP abstained.

7 Jul 2010 14:12:41

Fox confirms that US forces will take charge of Sangin "by the end of this year".

Liam Fox Commons As trailed earlier today, the Defence Secetary told the Commons this afternoon that UK forces will hand over responsibility for Sangin to the U.S military within the next six months.  He said that they will then concentrate on areas in central Helmand, that the mission was essential to our national security, and he paid tribute to British services serving in Afghanistan.

Dr Fox said that “We face many challenges; progress has been slower in some areas than others, particularly on the political side," adding that "we expect progress in counter-insurgency to be gradual and cumulative."  However, he insisted that good progress was being made in developing the Afghan security services, and said that successful counter-insurgency would take time.

He added that he had authorised a request from ISAF that the UK deploy its theatre reserve battalion, which is currently stationed in Cyprus. Dr Fox said this battalion will withdraw from Helmand once the handover of Sangin is complete.  “Counter-insurgencies are about progressively winning the confidence of the local people and US marines are well placed to succeed,” he said.

Patrick Mercer, who recently contested the Defence Select Committee elections, warned earlier today that the Taliban could spin the redeployment as a victory, but insisted that "a great deal has been achieved in Sangin".  Reporting the move earlier today, the Independent suggested a more stark view, drawing parallels with the British withdrawal from Basra in Iraq, while the Guardian asserted that the Prime Minister's always been sceptical about the Sagin deployment. (Both papers claimed the story exclusively.)

It makes sense for the U.S to take over the Sangin mission, since they have the troop numbers required if it's to stand a chance of working fully.  Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the Defence Staff and Conservative Defence Adviser, said earlier today that our forces in Sangin were "like flies in a honey pot".  Today's announcement bolsters my view that David Cameron's seeking a way out of Afghanistan as fast as possible.  In responding for Labour, Bob Ainsworth sought to exploit differences between Cameron and Fox over withdrawal timing for the mission as a whole.

Paul Goodman

2 Jun 2010 16:11:09

Hague attacks Israel's "unwise" blockade of Gaza

Highlights, not verbatim.

Screen shot 2010-06-02 at 15.39.02In a statement to the Commons, William Hague says it is vital for there to be "unfettered" access to Gaza. Hamas, he says, continues to pursue an ideology of violence. Hamas must cease their attacks immediately and back The Quartet principles. The only long-term hope is a Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel.

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Miliband calls Israel's attack on the flotilla "self-defeating". The blockade does nothing to weaken the grip of Hamas - in fact Hamas benefits from taxes on smuggling.

Responding to Miliband, Hague says support for the people of Gaza is "bipartisan" in the Commons. He agrees that Israel's policy on the blockade "tightens" Hamas' grip on Gaza.

William Hague responds to a request from Ming Campbell that Hamas be brought into the circle of talks. Addressing "his honourable friend" the Foreign Secretary says Hamas must first recognise Israel, honour past agreements and abandon violence.

Labour MP Louise Ellman becomes first MP to speak in sympathy with Israel. She invites William Hague to understand how Israel can be assured that its security won't be compromised if the blockade is lifted. Two questions later Sammy Wilson (DUP) invites the Foreign Secretary to say how Israel's security can be guaranteed - and arms shipments avoided - if the blockade is lifted. Hague replies that the international community must provide Israel with such assurance without saying 'how'.

Sir Nicholas Soames calls the blockade "cruel" and invites William Hague to agree that it is illegal. William Hague says that he think the blockade is unwise and the challenge is to persuade Israel that it is not in its interest. Anne Main attacks what she describes as Israel's use of "selective footage" of the flotilla incident in the media. Another Tory MP Julian Brazier describes the blockade as "brutal". He says that smuggling tunnels into Gaza can now accommodate 4x4 vehicles.

Screen shot 2010-06-02 at 16.05.45 Robert Halfon invites the Foreign Secretary to acknowledge that Israel is allowing millions of tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza and there is a risk that Iranian-supplied weapons could reach Hamas if the blockade is lifted. The Foreign Secretary says the comments bring balance to the discussion so far.

Ann Clywd calls on William Hague to adopt a hobnailed boot policy towards Israel. End the pussy footing she said and end the illegal settlements. William Hague replies that he still has faith in Israeli democracy and that the nation can be persuaded to change course.

Tim Montgomerie

6 Apr 2010 07:00:00

David Curry predicts the Conservatives will be less reluctant Europeans, once in government

Yesterday we featured David Curry's striking warning about difficult years ahead for local government. In his valedictory speech to the House of Commons he also issued a warning to his party about Europe and Britain's place in the world.

Britain is still in search of its place in the world: "One of the reasons why I came into politics was a feeling that my generation had inherited a country that was in rapid transformation and, in many ways, had not come to terms with it. Britain was the sick man of Europe in my youth, when I was at university. When I was 18, in 1962, Dean Acheson, the American Secretary of State, made a speech in which he said:

"Great Britain has lost an Empire and not yet found a role."

I am leaving this House 48 years after Dean Acheson made that speech, and I believe that that dilemma for the United Kingdom remains unresolved."

Obama has further downgraded the UK-US relationship: "We cling to an increasingly asymmetric relationship with the United States. I would not want us not to have a particular relationship with the United States, but increasingly we cannot sustain it on the basis of that old idea that something very special is at its heart. The current President has less interest in that idea than some-perhaps less than any other-of his predecessors whose roots went back to Europe."

Tories need to be more positive about Europe: "Benches, given my party leadership's decision to have constructive engagement on Europe, and its extraordinarily elegant and, from my point of view, extremely welcome climbdown on the referendum pledge. We are perennially reluctant Europeans, yet no sane party has come up with a plan B on Europe. I look forward to seeing, from the perspective of my greenhouse, the changed reaction towards Europe of Conservative Back Benchers if they sit on the Government Benches, as opposed to the Opposition. I know that Europe has huge problems. In a sense, its bluff is being called: how can one create an economic union without the political union that goes with it? But the ability of the Europeans to cobble something together that works is absolutely astonishing. In a sense, there is something rather British about being able to put something together on an improvised basis that manages to carry on."

Britain needs to stop punching above its weight, but at its weight: "We talk about punching above our weight, but a person can only punch above their weight for a certain number of rounds, and then they get flattened. I do not want us to punch above our weight. I want us to work out what our weight is and punch at it. I do not want to go a gram above our weight. We send our young soldiers to die in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we do not have the means to sustain over a long term the total support that means that we can carry through those missions with complete success. If we are honest, we ended up in Iraq, in Basra, not in a glorious episode, but in a somewhat humiliating one. When it comes to the intervention in Afghanistan, I want to be able to say that we will see things through, so that I can say that those young people did not die in vain. If we cannot sustain those operations in the long term, we should not embark on them. I would say to an incoming Government: look hard at the UK. Look at us from the outside as well as from the inside. Turn the telescope around sometimes, and look through both ends. What can we really do? What is it reasonable to ask our citizens to sustain? What is the effective power or weight of the United Kingdom in the modern world, where we spend all our time talking about the impact of globalisation? In the end, of course things boil down to budgets and economic performance, but we need to look honestly in the mirror of our national identity and national capability. If we do that, the next Government will perhaps be able to answer the challenge that Dean Acheson set 48 years ago, which, in many ways, has governed my political life."

Source: TheyWorkForYou.

21 Jan 2010 12:32:57

David Lidington challenges Labour on cuts to counter-terrorism operations

In the Lords yesterday Baroness Kinnock gaffed with an acknowledgement that foreign embassies and related activities were facing budget cuts across the globe:

"We have had staff redundancies in Argentina, Japan and across the United States. Programmes in Afghanistan in counter-narcotics have been cut, capacity building to prevent conflicts in Africa, counter-terrorism and radicalisation in Pakistan, the list goes on."

Screen shot 2010-01-21 at 12.31.28 Tory foreign affairs spokesman David Lidington took up the issue in the Commons an hour ago:

“The Rt Hon Friend Baroness Kinnock explained to the House of Lords that his government was cutting Foreign Office expenditure on counter-terrorism programs in Pakistan and anti-narcotics programs in Afghanistan, not from any reassessment of strategic priorities, but because of the movement of exchange rates and the Government’s overall debt crisis, which is not the way to run an effective foreign policy. Yesterday we had the spectacle of Gordon Brown standing up in the House of Commons talking about fighting terror, while in the House of Lords his Minister was admitting that we are cutting spending thanks to the Labour's debt crisis. It suggests that we have a government, and in particular a Prime Minister, which is indifferent to the point of negligence towards the global interests of the United Kingdom.

“I have three questions for the Minister [Chris Bryant MP].
“First, how did the government get itself into this mess ?  We know that the problem started with the decision to end the Overseas Price Mechanism transfer exchange rate risk from the Treasury to the Foreign Office. Did ministers not understand at that time what harm might be done to Britain's international interests and why did the present Foreign Secretary allow this to happen on his watch?
 
“Second, what is the scale of the damage done so far? Can the Minister confirm the figure given to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee by his Permanent Secretary that the cost to the FCO in 2008/09 was £60 million, and Baroness Kinnock's statement to the House of Lords yesterday (20 January 2010, column 992) that the shortfall has risen to £110 million in the current financial year and is set to rise further in 2010/11?
 
“That figure adds up to about a quarter of the budget for the FCO's core activities, once you strip out the ring-fenced budgets for the British Council and the BBC World Service.  We know from the Permanent Secretary's evidence that as a consequence the FCO has now "stopped most training" and put some staff on involuntary unpaid leave or four day weeks. We know from Baroness Kinnock that there have been reductions in conflict prevention work in Africa and in climate change programmes.
 
“Isn't it time for the government to come clean about what it is doing and make public a full list of the cuts which it is imposing as a result of its exchange rate policy?
 
“Third, what are Ministers' intentions for the future?  I have seen an internal FCO memorandum which says that "further cuts could and should not be achieved by salami slicing" but instead by stopping activity, closing posts and reducing staff numbers.  Officials have been instructed to grow its work up contingency plans for substantial cuts which could be implemented soon after the election".  The memorandum states that this plan was discussed with the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team on the 21st of December.  Did the Minister and his colleagues approve this strategy?  In particular how far has work now proceeded on a contingency list of British posts overseas which might be closed?""

15 Oct 2009 08:28:52

Gordon Brown's neglect of foreign policy exposed in Westminster Hall debate on Russia

Greg-hands_415x275 In a Westminster Hall debate yesterday Greg Hands MP noted that Gordon Brown has not met Vladimir Putin since he entered 10 Downing Street:

"Incredibly, to the best of anyone’s knowledge—this seems to be confirmed in parliamentary questions—our Prime Minister has never met Vladimir Putin since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister two and a half years ago. The last time that we can be sure that the two men met was in 2006, at a meeting of the G8 Economic Ministers in St. Petersburg. We cannot be entirely sure on this, because 10 Downing street seems to have had a policy in recent times, under the current incumbent, of not answering parliamentary questions about visits or meetings."

In an intervention Labour MP Tom Watson protested that "the President of Russia is actually President Medvedev".  Mr Hands insisted that Putin remains the real power in the nation:

"Of course it is important also to engage with the current President, but no one should be under any illusion as to who is really in charge in Russia. I was going to say that our Prime Minister has met President Medvedev at perhaps three different international summits in the past two years, but to the best of my knowledge, there have not been proper bilateral meetings at any of those summits."

Continue reading "Gordon Brown's neglect of foreign policy exposed in Westminster Hall debate on Russia" »

15 Jun 2009 16:18:17

David Cameron: Iraq Inquiry risks looking like an "establishment stitch-up"

Many Labour MPs stayed away from the Commons for
Brown's Iraq Inquiry statement.Picture 18


David Cameron welcomed the Prime Minister's statement on the importance of good relations with democratic Iraq, Prime Minister Netanyahu's embrace of a 'two state solution' and the need for scrutiny of Iran's elections.

The Tory leader then expressed concern that the inquiry won't build public confidence because of its restricted terms of reference, limited membership and the fact that it will meet in private.

Mr Cameron raised four broad concerns (not verbatim):

  • Timing: This inquiry should have started six months ago.  By delaying it until now (although British troops are still in Iraq - the Government's original excuse for delay) and prolonging it for a year (much longer than the Franks Inquiry into the Falklands War) there will be suspicions that it has been "fixed" so no conclusions are published until after the next General Election.  He urges the Prime Minister to produce an interim report so that the Government can be held properly to account.
  • Inquiry membership: It is a mistake not to include political representation as Franks did.  It risks looking like an "establishment stitch up".
  • Coverage and content: Why does the Prime Minister say the inquiry should not "apportion blame"?  If mistakes were made we need to know who made them and why.  Will the Inquiry be free to invite foreign witnesses to give evidence? On scope will he confirm that the Inquiry will cover relations with the US, use of intelligence, post-conflict planning and coordination between DFID, the FCO and the military?
  • Openness: Shouldn't there be some open public sessions in which British families affected by the war can be heard and feel involved?  Mr Cameron ends by comparing the Franks report - the terms of which were debated in the Commons - to this Inquiry - the terms of which are announced to the House by a Prime Minister who only last week was promising a new era of democratic accountability?

Responding Brown says the Opposition has got the Franks-style Inquiry it wanted. The Inquiry covers eight years, can interview any witnesses and has access to all official documents.  Franks, in contrast, only covered the run up to the Falklands War and was announced in a written answer.  Mr Brown said that he was excluding politicians because of the contentious exchanges of the last eight years.  He invited the Tory benches to question the knowledge and expertise of any of the individuals that would sit on the Inquiry.

Tim Montgomerie

7.45pm WATCH: William Hague attacks Brown's terms of reference for Iraq inquiry

1 Apr 2009 12:05:47

What can be done to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power?

Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP Yesterday saw Foreign Office questions.

Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones and former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind both asked about Iran's nuclear ambitions:

"The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report of 19 February shows that Iran continues to refuse to suspend its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and has not granted the IAEA the access that it seeks as required by five UN Security Council resolutions. We, and the international community, will continue to press for Iran to fulfil its international obligations and restore confidence in its intentions.

Mr. Jones: Does the Secretary of State agree that while President Obama’s recent outreach to Iran is welcome, diplomatic overtures must be backed by a readiness on the part of the United States and the EU to impose such further sanctions as are necessary until such a time as Tehran can demonstrate to the unequivocal satisfaction of the UN inspectorate that it has abandoned its ambitions to develop a military nuclear capability?

David Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enunciation of the policy, which I think has support across the House. It is the so-called dual-track policy, which is that we should seek to engage with Iran, that we should make it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people and that the choice of Government in Iran should be a matter for them. However, whatever the Government in Iran, they need to abide by their international responsibilities. If they refuse to do so, there are costs associated with that decision.

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are responsibilities on the EU and the US, but the responsibilities go wider. The international coalition, which is right to fear an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, goes wider than the EU and the US. Russia, China and the Gulf states have responsibilities, too, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to join me in working to ensure that they are part of a global coalition against an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: With North Korea, it has proved useful to include its neighbours, Japan and South Korea, in the negotiations to discourage it from going down the nuclear weapons route. Should not Iran’s neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, be invited by the Security Council to join the negotiations over Iran, especially as the Iranians need to realise that those three countries might themselves go nuclear if Iran ends up as a nuclear weapons state?

David Miliband: Only up to a point. The multilateral negotiations are not being conducted under a UN framework—the E3 plus 3 is not a UN body, but it is recognised to have a global coalition behind it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might have an important point, which was at the heart of the E3 plus 3 offer agreed under my chairmanship last May in London. It concerns what will happen in the future if Iran ceases its nuclear weapons programme or restores the confidence of the international community that it does not have a nuclear weapons programme. There are important regional political issues about Iran’s legitimate interests in the region, but no discussion of those issues can take place without the involvement of the countries that he has mentioned."

Continue reading "What can be done to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power?" »

20 Mar 2009 16:38:26

Edward McMillan-Scott welcomes end to Tibetan hunger strike

Edward McMillan-Scott MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament and an MEP for Yorkshire and Humber, has commented as a hunger strike by three members of the Tibetan Youth Congress ends today. It has taken place outside the Chinese Embassy in

Brussels. Mr McMillan-Scott visited them on Wednesday.

He comments:

"I am relieved that this hunger strike after eleven days is ending before any further suffering or even deaths are laid at the door of the Beijing regime. This courageous protest shows the depth of despair among Tibetans inside and outside that tragic and beautiful country".

Update: Here is a video of Mr McMillan-Scott meeting the hunger strikers:


13 Mar 2009 13:07:16

Charles Tannock says UN should force Sudanese President into exile or bring down full force of law

Charles_tannock_mepCharles Tannock, the Conservatives' foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, has called on the UN Security Council to issue an ultimatum to Sudanese President Bashir. Having been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Bashir expelled nearly half the aid workers in the region.

Dr Tannock commented:

"Issuing an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state places the UN Security Council into some uncharted waters. While it is an important and welcome gesture, it will not have any impact unless it is clearly backed up by the resolve of the Security Council.

It is regrettable that China has been a lone voice in defending Bashir, or more importantly in defending its own economic interests in the region. However, the only way we can bring effect to the gestures of recent weeks is if it is clear Bashir will face the full force of international law.

The Security Council should give Bashir one last chance to leave the country and stop the killing, in exchange for which they would strike down the indictment. This would not be supporting a climate of impunity for crimes against humanity. Impunity would be allowing him to stay in Sudan and carry on perpetrating massacres of innocent people."

10 Mar 2009 09:57:28

Edward McMillan-Scott condemns Government on Tibet

Edward_mcmillanscott_mepEdward McMillan-Scott MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament, has indicated his deep displeasure with Foreign Secretary David Miliband, on the fiftieth anniversary of China's occupation of Tibet. In October the Foreign Secretary presented a written ministerial statement outlining the Government's position:

"The Dalai Lama has made clear that he is not seeking separation or independence. He has said repeatedly that he is seeking a resolution to the situation of Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution, a point he made explicitly in an interview with the Financial Times on 24 May during his visit to the United Kingdom. He said: he was “not seeking separation, not seeking independence, but within the framework of the Chinese constitution, meaningful realistic autonomy [for Tibetans]”. He has maintained a clear opposition to violence.

...

We have made clear to the Chinese Government, and publicly, that we do not support Tibetan independence. Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China. Our interest is in long-term stability, which can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans."

Mr McMillan-Scott, who has a longstanding interest in Tibet, comments:

“The world must not forget this tragic, beautiful and occupied country.  The way that Beijing has treated Tibet since its occupation in 1959 rightly remains an international scandal.

Tibet deserves independence from China as it is culturally, ethnically and geographically distinct.  I look forward to the EU taking a tougher line on the so-called 'talks' on Tibet’s future between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s representative.

Instead of giving the EU a lead, given Britain's earlier role in Tibet, David Miliband's treacherous statement last November fatally undermines the position of most Tibetans, who are desperate for freedom.

At a stroke he condemned a nation. It is lamentable that the British government should mark the 50th anniversary of international abandonment of this unique and spiritual people by effectively conceding to Beijing. This is a new low point in British foreign policy.”

2 Mar 2009 14:03:51

How hard is Tony Blair working as Middle East envoy?

Tobias_ellwoodTony_blairTobias Ellwood, Bournemouth East MP and a Shadow DCMS Minister, has posed a written question that is all the more interesting in light of the fact that Tony Blair has just visited Gaza for the first time since being appointed Middle East envoy for the EU, Russia, UN and US in June 2007.

"Mr. Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 2 February 2009, Official Report, column 893W, on Tony Blair, how much has been paid from the public purse towards the running of the office of Tony Blair as Quartet Representative; what arrangements there are for accounting to Parliament for such expenditure; and if he will make a statement. [256782]

Bill Rammell: Our answer given on 2 February 2009 sets out the Government support to the office of the Quartet Representative. Standard arrangements exist for accounting this expenditure to Parliament."

Here is the 2 February answer:

"Mr. Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much the Government has contributed towards the salary of Tony Blair for his work for the Quartet in the Middle East. [248083]

Bill Rammell [holding answer 15 January 2009]: Mr. Blair does not draw a salary in his role as Quartet Representative. The Government do support the team for Mr. Blair through a £400,000 contribution to the UN Development Trust Fund, which supports the Quartet Representative’s office in Jerusalem. The Government also provides four secondees and funding for a political analyst."

It has to be said that Mr Blair does not seem to be working particularly hard in his role. He is, however, able to command over £150,000 for a 90 minute speech. As a professional speechwriter, far be it from me to begrudge him that. But it does prove - if proof were still needed - that he's no socialist. And maybe he should pull his finger out on the other stuff.

Tom Greeves

27 Feb 2009 17:15:16

Lord Howe says the Foreign Office is underresourced

Lord_howeLord Howe of Aberavon, better known as Geoffrey Howe, spoke in the House of Lords yesterday about foreign affairs. Here are some highlights from his speech:

"I start with a word about defence. We have long been accustomed, in government or out of it, to being able to fulfil our central objective, which is the availability of first-rate, world-class strategically mobile conventional forces. We have seen that displayed from the Iranian embassy in London to the Falkland Islands and the Gulf War. Today, however, despite the sustained, wholehearted commitment of our forces to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, one gets the increasing impression of repeated delays and inadequacies of equipment in almost every direction. Sadly, that is accompanied, as my noble friend pointed out, by a decline in morale and even, indeed, reputation, which is largely undeserved. The whole of this was summed up by an Economist headline the other day: “Overstretched, overwhelmed and over there”.

...

In today’s complex world there can be no doubt about the huge importance of having a high-quality Diplomatic Service, for which we are traditionally renowned. French Foreign Secretaries have constantly said that our Diplomatic Service is “second only to our own”. I have heard similar tributes paid to our Diplomatic Service by Chinese Foreign Ministers with whom I have negotiated. This House is filled with noble Lords who are lively exhibits in support of my proposition. However, there is no doubt now about the erosion, as a result of pressure from the Treasury, of that quality. In short, there can be no doubt that there is an imbalance between the underresourced Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the much larger DfID budget. That imbalance is quite literally crippling our diplomatic efforts. I say that without being insensitive to the importance of the DfID budget, which was well spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. However, the slogan “Making Poverty History” attaches a magic to that half of the equation, leading to an imbalance that inhibits our capacity in other respects."

I wonder if the front bench will welcome Lord Howe's call for greater spending. Regardless, he has more than earned the right to have his say.

Tom Greeves

25 Feb 2009 09:38:53

Are the Government doing enough to tackle the Chinese on human rights?

DhaWells MP David Heathcoat-Amory asked a challenging question of the Foreign Secretary yesterday:

"Is the Secretary of State aware that when North Koreans try to leave that dictatorship, they often cross into China, where they are rounded up and sent back to North Korea in defiance of all China’s obligations as a signatory to the UN refugee convention? The fate of these returnees to North Korea is extremely gruesome, so will the Secretary of State ensure that his new love-in with China—whether via Mrs. Clinton or anyone else—does not prevent him and the Government from raising this issue with the Chinese Government as a matter of urgency, or does he think that China is too important and large to merit such criticism?

David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is one that we have raised with the Chinese. I think I should write to him with a report on how those discussions have gone and what the latest stage is. The importance of our engagement with China is precisely that, because we engage with the Chinese, we are able to raise all issues, including human rights issues, openly and frankly. That spirit of candour has been developed over the past few years in our relationship with China. Respect for China does not mean the relegation of our concerns to a subsidiary role. In fact, I would argue that the respect that is afforded to China is the basis for proper engagement on issues that concern us."

I tend to agree that frequent discussion with other governments is usually preferable to silence. But I wonder what meaningful pressure is being applied on the Chinese government. I rather suspect none whatsoever. Might we expect something else from a Cameron administration? If so, what?

Tom Greeves

9 Feb 2009 10:19:10

Mark Pritchard secures debate on UK-US relations

Mark_pritchardTomorrow in Westminster Hall there will be a debate on UK relations with America. It has been tabled by Mark Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin.

The 90 minute debate will begin at 11am. Mr Pritchard's office says that it is the first time in nearly a decade that there has been a dedicated debate on the USA in the House of Commons.

Topics expected to be discussed include: bi-lateral relations, anti-Americanism, Iran, Europe and Turkey joining the EU. Other issues may be raised, such as extraordinary rendition, US intelligence activity in the UK and the sharing of intelligence between the two countries.

Mr Pritchard is to be commended for securing this debate. The United States of America matters a great deal to most of us, not least the team at ConservativeHome. Please check out America in the World.

Tom Greeves