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William Hague says the international community must "prepare for all eventualities in Libya" as he updates Spring Forum on the Government's record to date in foreign affairs

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By Jonathan Isaby

William Hague was due to be delivering a rallying cry to the Spring Forum on the issue of the AV referendum this morning, but instead it was announced as he came onto the stage that he would be speaking in his capacity as Foreign Secretary.

Referring to the current events in the Middle East and North Africa, he said:

"Britain and other like minded countries must help give every incentive to these countries to make decisions that bring freedom and prosperity. That is why at the European Council next week we will be calling for Europe to change its thinking and set out a programme to bring down trade barriers, set clearer conditions for the help it provides, and marshal its resources to act as a magnet for positive change. It is time, as I agreed with the French Foreign Minister in Paris on Thursday, for European nations to be bold and ambitious, and at next week’s European Council, without patronising the people of Arab nations, show that Europe will be the lasting friend of those who put in place the building blocks of strong civil societies, economic openness and political freedom.

"And as one of the world’s oldest democracies and the world’s oldest political party, we can offer help in building the foundations of democratic societies, which is why I announced a new UK-Arab Partnership Fund to support democracy projects in the region. We will not seek to dictate how they should run their affairs. But nor will we stay silent when a regime turns its arms on its people. That is why we have led the way in international action against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in Libya."

After highlighting the swift actions of the British Government against Gaddafi in recent days (such as seizing banknotes destined for Libya and stripping Gaddafi's diplomatic immunity), he emphasised that the international community must "prepare for all eventualities in Libya, by doing the planning now to deal with ever greater violence if it arises in the days to come":

"Those who may be committing, or considering committing, crimes and abuses in Libya should know that the reach of international justice can be long. Let them be warned again that if they do such things, countries such as ours will do their utmost to see that they are held to account. As the Prime Minister has said, we should prepare for all eventualities, particularly if Colonel Gaddafi strikes out still harder against his own people. So it is right that we are looking at contingency plans for a No Fly Zone, and discussing the options with our allies in NATO and with Arab nations. Any actions we take must be necessary, legal and have international support."

The Foreign Secretary also took the opportunity to take stock of how the Government has been doing what it promised it would do in the field of foreign affairs:

"First, we pledged to get our foreign and defence policy back onto a sound financial footing, and we have taken the hard decisions the previous government shirked to ensure that we retain the full spectrum of military capability into the future.

"Second, we promised a distinctive British foreign policy that never neglects to pursue what is right for Britain and that extends our country’s influence beyond our important alliances in Europe and North America. And so we are an active and independent voice at the UN in climate change negotiations and in the G20, and we are forging the new relationships and new means of influence with the rising economic and political powers of the 21st century that will help our country long into the future:

  • We have already built closer ties with Turkey, Europe’s largest economy and an important partner in foreign affairs and defence.
  • We have called a halt to Britain’s diplomatic retreat in Latin America, and are forging closer links with Brazil and Chile.
  • We are drawing up proper plans for the first time in a decade for the future of the UK’s Overseas Territories and we have put the ‘C’ back in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, believing as we do in the reinvigoration of the Commonwealth.
  • And we have pursued with vigour a plan I announced on my first day in the Foreign Office, to elevates British ties with the governments and peoples of the Middle East – in diplomacy, health, education, commerce and civil society – which recent events have shown to be exactly the right thing to do.

"Third, we promised to promote our democratic values and to stand up for real human rights, believing passionately that everyone from Burma to Zimbabwe to Tahrir Square in Egypt has the right to freedoms we enjoy, and knowing that we cannot seal off our nation from the consequences when tyranny prevails and human rights are trampled.  

"And we said that our foreign policy would protect the interests and needs of the British people – not just their security but also the exports and inward investment on which jobs in our communities and growth in our economy depend. So we have Ministers fanning out overseas as never before to support the British economy, and the Foreign Office is geared up more than ever to promote Britain."

Finally, on the issue of Britain's role in the European Union, he insisted that British foreign policy is "standing up for our sovereignty while being an active member of the European Union".

"We are energetic in playing a leading role there, making the most of the great opportunities it offers to promote trade within Europe and globally and to exercise the nations of Europe’s collective weight in the world to full effect. Yes, the European Union has much to offer this country, but the fact remains that in my view it has too many powers over our national life, and has come by them in ways that lack full democratic legitimacy. The full rigour of democracy should be brought to bear on any future changes, so next week I will move the 3rd reading of the EU Bill that brings in a referendum lock. If it had been in force all the recent Treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon would have been subject to a referendum, with no room for Ministers to wriggle out of it. Never again should the powers of the British people be given away without their consent."


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