If ‘Global Britain’ is to mean anything then our country must have the moral authority to lead by example.
It is therefore extraordinary that in the UK parliament on Tuesday the Tory government rejected an amendment to the Trade Deal which would prevent the UK from doing trade deals with countries committing genocide. 33 Tories voted against the government, but the government edged the vote 319-308.
Here is my speech on why UK politicians should stand firm against genocide:
I rise to speak in favour of the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Lords Alton and Collins, the driving purpose of which is to root our foreign and trade policies in the values and principles that our country and our constituents hold dear.
According to the British Foreign Policy Group’s polling, more than eight in 10 of the UK public believe that the UK should sometimes or always lead the way on global issues, while across this House we know that if global Britain is to mean anything, our country must have the moral authority to lead by example. That authority will be fatally undermined if we end up sacrificing our ethics and values on the altar of tawdry trade deals with genocidal states.
The term “genocide” evokes harrowing memories of Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and, of course, the holocaust. If ever there is a time for Britain to show global leadership and stand up for our values, it is at the very moment when we witness those early, chilling signs of genocide. On that note, the nation was collectively aghast when we saw Andrew Marr show the Chinese ambassador a video of shaven-headed Uyghur Muslims being forcibly loaded on to trains, the video accompanied by moving accounts of women being sterilised and the horrors of forced labour camps. The Jewish community knows all too well that comparisons with the holocaust should be used sparingly, so when the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews writes to the Prime Minister to draw parallels between events in Xinjiang and Nazi Germany and then calls for the Prime Minister to support the Alton amendment, the Government must surely take note.
I turn now to the profoundly misleading and disingenuous arguments that the Government are deploying against the Alton amendment. First, the Foreign Secretary claims that the amendment is unconstitutional because it would allow the High Court to frustrate trade agreements. That is nonsense, as it has been the settled policy of UK Government for decades that judges, not politicians, rule on genocide; so the Alton amendment is entirely consistent with that principle. The only difference is that we would be empowering, through that amendment, our esteemed British judges to make such a ruling, rather than the judges in an international court.
Secondly, the Foreign Secretary claims that the evidentiary bar for genocide is simply too high, and that the Government would set their own threshold far lower, by which to determine whether the UK would be entering into trade deals. Well, fine—then the Government should cease their attempts to defeat the amendment, as the amendment should surely be seen as purely an insurance policy against future backsliding. Moreover, if it is indeed the case that the Government are seeking to adopt an even more progressive approach, then Conservative MPs should also be supporting the Collins amendment, which rightly sets out why the UK Government should apply a human rights assessment to all negotiations.
Thirdly, the Foreign Secretary argues that the amendment would give rise to vexatious claims—again, disingenuous nonsense. The High Court has a well-established process for filtering vexatious claims out of its system. For far too long, the international community has allowed authoritarian regimes to hold the international human rights legal order hostage. Russia and China wield their vetoes cynically and ruthlessly, and that is why the UK Government have never succeeded in recognising a genocide while it is ongoing since the Nuremberg trials, 75 years ago.
If this House votes with the courage of its convictions tonight, we will be grasping the opportunity to lead the world in standing up to those regimes and breaking the stranglehold that they currently have on our system. Let us show some global leadership. Let us back Alton and Collins this evening. Let us send a message to the world about the type of country we really are.