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  1. Champions of international liberalism

    Our national interests are European and they are global. So, as we continue to work to stop Brexit, we Liberal Democrats will also look ahead and develop a proper national strategy on the basis of a clear understanding of what our interests are. We must act and decide on our future, because if the UK fails to do so, if through fear and timidity we dither and do nothing, there are consequences of inaction.

    In 1948 British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin set out a foreign policy which would appeal to the ‘broad masses of workers’.  It was a belief in a robust national defence married to a passionate commitment to social justice. At home, the interest of working people was the national interest, and it stood for a balance of power between capital and labour.

    We Liberal Democrats will look ahead and develop a proper national strategy on the basis of a clear understanding of what our national interests are. There are consequences of inaction.

    Abroad, we sought cooperation amongst the democratic nations to defend our democracy against threats we face. He based it on Winston Churchill’s description of three overlapping majestic circles among the free nations. These were: the English speaking world and the United States; a united Europe; and the Empire and Commonwealth.  Britain was at the juncture of all three and our leadership would combine European values and American power to link these circles together into a powerful democratic alliance. I believe that the three majestic circles are still our best guide to our geopolitical interests and so to the foreign policy we need in the years ahead.

    These circles were underpinned by the international rules based order established in the aftermath of the Second World War. Bevin, Clement Attlee and Churchill helped to shape the Atlantic Charter of 1941 which set out the aims and values of this post-war order. All countries would have the right to self-determination. All people the right to freedom of speech, of expression, of religion, and freedom from want and fear. All of these being classic liberal values. And here they struck a chord with Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ - nations would collaborate to ‘improve labour standards, economic advancement, and social security’ for all. 

    These are, of course, bedrocks of social democracy.  The Charter led to the institutions which still govern us today: the United Nations – its first meeting held in London in 1946; the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that became the World Trade Organisation; the Bretton Woods conference that founded the IMF and what became the World Bank; and NATO to defend our democracies.

    Liberal Democrats believe in the values of this order, but it has lost the moral energy of its birth in the Second World War.

    It has become a feeble version of the original and it now belongs to Davos Man with his sense of privilege and entitlement. The idealism of the West has been tarnished. We need leadership to renew our country and an international activism to rebuild an international order based on social justice and democracy. This requires Britain to first of all prioritise ensuring the closest possible relationship with the Europe - as members of the EU - and security in Europe to safeguard the continent. Second, to sustain our bond across the Atlantic with the United States, and third to renew our global role. Within each circle we must concentrate our national resources and capability, particularly where they overlap.                                                                              

    Europe

    Britain’s economic, political and security interests dictate that we have the closest possible relationship with the European Union.  Its members are not merely our nearest neighbours but we share the same values, have common interests, and can achieve more together than we can alone in a global economy that does not recognise borders. So stopping a “no deal” Brexit is vital but insufficient - we are committed to the UK remaining in the EU. 

    Britain's interests dictate that we have the closest possible relationship with the European Union.

    This means that we do not facilitate Brexit but give the electorate a People’s Vote in order to stop Brexit if they so wish.  Whatever emerges out of the Brexit chaos, we will not cease to make the case for the UK’s EU membership and will argue for the closest possible relationship with the EU. Any future progressive manifesto will need to be mindful of the realities of the UK’s situation at the time of the next general election when determining policy.

    In or out of the EU we are a major European power.  We need to strengthen our commitment to the security and defence of Europe. Alongside France we are the most capable military power. Our intelligence gathering capacity remains indispensable. Our membership of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership makes us a global leader in the fight against terrorism. In NATO Britain holds the position of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander. We need to increase NATO’s conventional deterrent and help develop the application of Artificial Intelligence.

    Cybersecurity is now a first tier threat and Britain has a key role to play in the integration of internal security and external defence to meet the new challenges of hybrid warfare. We must provide credible deterrents that convince Russia NATO is committed to Europe’s collective defence. And by increasing our commitment to NATO we are more likely to keep the United States engaged in Europe.

    Britain led EU expansion. We have a long history of involvement with eastern European countries like Estonia. We went to war for Poland and have a close relationship with their people through migration. Ukraine wants our support in helping to build its democracy. These countries have looked to us to provide a more balanced Europe and we have a special responsibility for creating alliances with them.

    We need a long term strategic response to Islamist terrorism, not piecemeal reactions. This must include standing by our global commitment to the UN's ‘responsibility to protect’ and supporting the development of the weaker states to the East and to the South. Our failure - and Syria’s refugee crisis is a warning - will only lead to Russia’s continuing destabilisation of the borderlands, more Islamist terrorism and increasing flows of refugees across the Mediterranean.

    The United States

    The United States is our ally and the Atlantic remains our strategic frontier. Our historic relationship is far bigger than whoever holds the office of President of the United States at any one time. Labour has swung from uncritical support for US foreign policy with disastrous consequences in Iraq, to its current anti-Trump hostility. The Conservatives under Boris Johnson not only wish to ape Trump domestically but seem quite happy to become his poodle internationally. Neither approach benefits our national interest over the long term.

    Our historic relationship with the United States is neither special nor is it just sentimental. But it is based on hardheaded interests. Our mutual sharing of intelligence and the interoperability of our nuclear submarine forces makes it more than just a transaction. Our army, navy and air force is designed to fight alongside the US in a supporting role. The relationship gives us security, and it amplifies our capabilities.

    But Britain cannot settle for just being a useful component of US military and security strategy. It undermines our sovereignty and leaves us over reliant on American knowledge and resources. And with President Trump, America is unpredictable.

    As Prime Minister Attlee remarked to Ernest Bevin in a Cabinet meeting discussing the nuclear deterrent, ‘We ought not to give the Americans the impression that we cannot get on without them; for we can and, if necessary, will do so.’ Harold Wilson demonstrated this during the Vietnam War when he resisted the intense American pressure for British support. ‘Lyndon Johnson is begging me even to send a bagpipe band to Vietnam’, he told his Cabinet in December 1964. 

    Global power

    Britain’s unique history requires us to remain a global power. London is the historic commercial centre of the shipping industry and we have obligations to keep open the world’s shipping lanes. Our naval base in Bahrain has been revived, recognising that East of Suez is once again of strategic global importance. We are a signatory of the Five Power Defence Arrangements along with Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia which has a focus on counter terrorism and maritime security. France has expressed an interest in joining and this provides us with an opportunity to strengthen our military and security commitments with the French.

    We should consider renewing attempts to expand the UN Security Council to include India, Brazil, Germany and Japan, and to promote the idea of a Rapid Reaction Force under its control, however difficult this might prove to be. Our two new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales along with the French carrier could play a leading role in a naval version.

    Britain must reinvent this circle of influence by combining our hard power with a role as a democratic leader, a social connector, and an ideas maker. A priority is tackling climate change and its impact on water and food security. Drought, falling crop yields and the storms show why we need a global and cooperative response.

    The international system is changing. A new order is taking shape amongst the world's major powers. Britain has a role to play but only if we have the political will.

    Amongst our greatest assets are our language, our culture and our history. The strongest relationships a country can make comes through cultural association. We must nurture our global pre-eminence in soft power. But we must be wary of not using it to avoid tough decisions or disguise a lack of will.

    The international system is changing. A new order is taking shape amongst the world’s major powers. Britain has a role to play, but only if we have the political will. Our world class diplomatic corps is a major force for British strategic power and influence, but it is underfunded.

    Our defence spending as a percentage of our GDP dropped to 1.8% in 2017/2018. Cultural influence and social exchange is now as necessary to projecting national influence as the willingness to use military force, and yet we are cutting back here as well, reducing the budgets of the British Council and BBC World Service.

    This government is not spending enough to meet the risks, threats, nor the opportunities identified in its own National Defence and Security Strategy. For the avoidance of doubt, now is not the time for the UK to unilaterally dispose of its nuclear deterrent given the threats we face.

    One of the priorities for a progressive government must be a Strategic Defence and Security Review to give the electorate, our allies and our potential enemies a clear message of our intent and purpose. We should consider increasing our spending commitment above NATO’s two per cent of GDP, lifting it incrementally to 2.5 per cent over a five-year period. This will allow us to maintain our conventional forces at an adequate level. Being clear about our commitment to our independent nuclear deterrent is important.  Developing the role of the National Security Council will be crucial to coordinate and implement the national strategy across Government. Progressives should be proud not ashamed of such goals.

    If we fail to act, if we leave Britain broken and divided, if we allow tyranny and illiberalism in the world to grow, there will be consequences and they will hurt us.

    Britain still retains considerable global influence. We are a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the G7. The G20 gives us a relationship with emerging powers. We have influential roles to play in the European Security Council, in NATO, and in rule making bodies such as the Basel Committee on Banking Regulation. And we are the second largest bilateral donor in the world with a strong track record on development issues like universal education and health care.

    We are a big country but sometimes we can act and behave as if we are small. We need to renew our own country and play our part in rebuilding a global order based on democracy and the rule of law. If we fail to act, if we leave Britain broken and divided, if we allow tyranny and illiberalism in the world to grow, there will be consequences and they will hurt us. In short, we must be resolute in remembering, defending and advocating that cooperating with others makes Britain a bigger and stronger nation state. 

     

    In June Russia’s Vladimir Putin told the Financial Times that liberalism has become “obsolete”. Nonsense.

    Liberal values could not be more relevant in an international context – Liberal Democrats will be their champion.

     

    Chuka Umunna

    Shadow Foreign Secretary
    & Liberal Democrat MP for Streatham

    This blog piece is adapted from Chuka’s pamphlet, “What are progressives for?”, published by the Progressive Centre UK in March 2019.

     

     

  2. Now more than ever, people are crying out for a new vision for our country.

    They want an alternative to creeping nationalism and populism. People want a new vision for our country, and only the Liberal Democrats can supply that. That's why today, we're announcing our new Shadow Cabinet to stop Brexit.

    People want a new vision for our country, and only the Liberal Democrats can supply that.

    The Conservatives want no deal Brexit, no matter the cost. Labour is more interested in winning a General Election than remaining in the EU. Only we can be the real alternative our country so desperately needs.

    This is a team that's ready to offer solutions to the big issues people are facing, like rampant inequality, the climate crisis and a cash-strapped NHS. But Brexit has starved these issues of oxygen. And whenever we do head into the next General Election, we'll do so as the biggest, strongest Remain party. Our new Shadow Cabinet is ready to secure a People's Vote - and win it.

  3. With every announcement, the government is making clear that they intend to leave the EU without a deal on 31st October – and EU citizens are going to be left in the lurch.

    Over the weekend, the government announced that they intend to end Freedom of Movement on October 31st – despite promises from Theresa May’s government that there would be a two-year transition period.

    At the moment, there are 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, and 2 million have not yet got Settled Status.

    Service providers, landlords and employers will become responsible for distinguishing between EU citizens who do and do not have Settled Status.

    If they don’t have Settled Status, employers could be fined for giving a job to an EU citizen.

    If they don’t have Settled Status, landlords could be fined for renting a home to EU citizens.

    If they don’t have Settled Status, EU citizens, many of whom work in our NHS, could be charged for accessing healthcare.

    This is the UK’s hostile environment policy in action.

    The government isn’t kicking out every EU citizen from the UK come October 31st – but they might as well be.

    Many EU citizens have lived in the UK for decades, paid their taxes, contributed to their local communities, and made the UK their home.

    Nobody should question their right to stay in the UK.

    Agree? Back our campaign.

  4. There are plenty of similarities between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery - maybe it's Johnson's way of sucking up for that trade deal. Which probably makes him the only person in the country looking forward to chlorinated chicken.

    In fact, in a speech a while, Trump said "they call [Johnson] Britain Trump and people are saying that's a good thing. They like me over there."*

    *poll after poll has found that British people definitely do not like him.

    Trump's administration has been open in how much they want Johnson's no-deal. They can't wait for American corporations to get their hands on our NHS and flood our supermarkets with low-quality produce. 

    Anyway, another one of those similarities is their history for remarks ranging from dodgy to flat-out bigoted. So here's our challenge to you: Trump or Johnson, who said it?

  5. Coming straight off the back of the Brecon and Radnorshire campaign, we launched our election campaign for Sheffield Hallam at the weekend, with more than 100 people who joined us to knock on doors, deliver leaflets, and help with clerical work in the office.

    It seems like promising Lib Dem by-elections are like buses – you wait for a long time and then two come along at once!

  6. People are fed up of seeing politicians arguing for things that put their party’s interest above the country. We have to come together to prevent Boris Johnson crashing us out the EU without a deal. I'm proud of the work that the Liberal Democrats have done with MPs from all parties and none to make stopping Brexit a real possibility.

    I have made several suggestions of a way forward. From amending legislation that already exists to new laws, or an emergency government led by the two most experienced MPs in the House of Commons.

    Jeremy Corbyn's demand to lead any emergency government shows that he's only willing to oppose no-deal on his own terms.

  7. In just eleven weeks, however, our country faces an immediate crisis: crashing out of the EU without any deal. The most cavalier and catastrophic of Brexits: putting at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs , public services including our NHS , and even our national security.

    So in this moment of national emergency, I stand ready to work with anyone to stop Boris Johnson and his hard-line Brexit government.

    Despite saying that No Deal was a million to one chance, that is clearly the destination Boris Johnson is headed towards.

    He was prepared to say anything in his selfish quest to become Prime Minister at all costs. And there will be costs. Because let’s be frank – a no deal Brexit is an utterly irresponsible pursuit.

    No decent public servant should even contemplate risking that level of damage to our country.

    A no deal Brexit will be a bad deal for our public services and our economy.

    So bad that we’ll have to stockpile medicines, accept food shortages, and spend taxpayers’ money bailing out otherwise healthy businesses.

     

    Read the full text of the speech here.

  8. After very careful thought, I have come to the conclusion that I can best serve the interests of my constituents by joining the Liberal Democrats.

    Brexit has not only sucked all the political oxygen from government over the past three years, but it has also consumed the funding and energy that should have been invested in local communities, tackling climate change and supporting the workforce and infrastructure of our NHS, schools and transport.

    Just as we could and should have been benefiting from economic recovery after years of austerity, that has been put into reverse because of the march to No Deal.

    There is still no agreement either in Parliament, or across the country, about what Brexit should look like.

  9. I can think of about 350 million reasons why a promise from Boris Johnson isn't worth the paper (or bus) it's written on.

    The Government promised that the rights of EU citizens wouldn't change after Brexit. So did Vote Leave - many of whose senior figures are now Government officials.

    But now we're hearing that if Brexit happens, the Government plans to make EU citizens pay to use the NHS.

  10. As I spent my first week in Westminster on my induction programme, in the forefront of my mind is that there are less than 80 days until Boris Johnson tries to take us out of the EU without a deal. So, of course, my first priority was to learn my way around so I am able to find Boris Johnson like I said in my victory speech:

    Entering parliament as a new MP, the sheer size and sense of history of the place is overwhelming. Corridors that seem to go on for miles, walking underneath Big Ben, and working out which lift goes where is something I still need to come to terms with.

    Boris Johnson needs to hear about the real effects his Brexit plan will have and he needs to stop playing with the lives of people across the country.

    Part of my induction was a tour, learning which line I go in to vote yes or no and how to find the department to help me with tabling an amendment and a motion. But what hit home was being escorted into the chamber from behind the Speaker’s Chair, walking past the green benches and a real sense of duty struck me. I'm here to represent the people of Brecon and Radnorshire and give them a voice in our country’s highest body.

    I wasn’t able to find Mr Johnson this week, so the hunt continues. But when I do find him, I’ll tell him in no uncertain terms that he needs to meet with Welsh lamb farmers. He needs to hear about the real effects his Brexit plan will have, and he needs to stop playing with the lives of people across the country.

    It’s simple. Take no-deal Brexit off the table.

    So there's much to do, and now I know my way around, I'm going to find Mr Johnson wherever he is hiding. And then I'm going to do what I am there to do; be a voice for people in Brecon and Radnorshire.

    I look forward to the work ahead!

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