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David Cameron Blames Foreign Office And Home Office Disconnect For Historic Failures On Immigration

David Cameron made his first appearance in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee (parliamentlive.tv)

5 min read

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said he "blamed" his own government for allowing the Foreign Office and Home Office to pull against each other when trying to tackle illegal migration.

Cameron appeared in front of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday afternoon for the first time since being reappointed to government, the session having been postponed from its original date in December. As he is a member of the House of Lords and therefore cannot speak in the House of Commons, committee hearings are one of the only opportunities for MPs to scrutinise the foreign secretary directly.

Asked by members of committee what he was interested in doing differently as foreign secretary, the former prime minister praised his predecessor James Cleverly, now Home Secretary, but said he wanted to prevent the two departments pulling against each other on domestic issues such as migration.

“Too much in the past – and I blame my own government for this – the Foreign Office is going in one direction and the Home Office is going in another," he said.

He said that he would be looking at "trying to get them to work together on things like stopping migration upstream and helping stabilise countries and using all the tools you’ve got in the toolbox".

Cameron said he also wants to use his position to help the Department of Trade deliver "important trade deals" and get inward investment into the UK.

He set out the Foreign Office's top priorities as supporting Ukraine, aiming for a stable Middle East, enhancing UK security, helping international development, and boosting prosperity and jobs.

Cameron added that he wanted to see the "merger" between foreign affairs and international development within the FCDO work better, as he claimed there were too many international gatherings “where I was worried Britain wasn’t fully represented every time” on the matter of international development. He therefore wants to see more separation between his role and that of Andrew Mitchell, Development Minister, with departments working on development matters reporting directly to Mitchell.

The foreign secretary said the world looked “very different” today to when he left university, and that he therefore wanted to try to help Britain "maximise its security and prosperity in a very dangerous, difficult and uncertain world".

He described the global conflict picture as “extremely disturbing”, particularly referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

“Our objective above everything is to try and help achieve some stability in the Middle East," he said, noting that he had already visited the region twice since becoming foreign secretary in November.

He confirmed that two British nationals remain as hostages in Gaza, but said he would not comment further for security reasons. He also confirmed, alongside Sir Philip Barton KCMG OBE, FCDO Permanent Under-Secretary, that no British citizens had yet been returned.

Cameron refused to clarify whether the Foreign Office believes that Israel is occupying Gaza, and also refused to answer definitively whether he had received legal advice on whether Israel has broken international law. 

Insisting it was not a "yes or no" answer, Cameron said the matter was a "question mark" that had been raised.

The foreign secretary reiterated the UK government position that the long-term aim is for a two-state solution between Israel and Gaza, arguing that defeating the ideology of Hamas would take more than armed conflict.

“Defeating an ideology is going to take a lot of other things, including progress towards a political solution," he said, adding that it was important to show that "politics can work".

Cameron said he did not believe the conflict in the Middle East is damaging UK-Arab relations.

Asked whether he could do anything to help ease tensions over the conflict among communities in the UK, Cameron said it was important for the FCDO to show British Muslims that "we are an aid superpower”, with the UK having doubled its aid support for Gaza in October by granting an extra £20m. He also said that it was important to show Jewish people in the UK that the government understood what an “appalling event October 7th was”.

Tory MP and committee member Bob Seely asked Cameron whether he believed the Israel-Hamas war was hampering international support.

"It's certainly taking attention away from Ukraine, which I think is a pity, and I think it's the job of the strongest supporters of Ukraine – of which I would say Britain is rightly one – to do everything we can to keep it as high up the agenda as possible, to keep the partnership and coalition of countries that back Ukraine as strong and united and as purposeful as possible," Cameron replied.

He added that the UK would "absolutely" continue to support Ukraine, and that unlike in the US and some other countries, it was "not an issue of contention in British politics".

The committee also asked Cameron why he had agreed to take the role when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak invited him back to government.

Cameron said that while he had been taken by surprise, he took the role as a “chance to serve”.

The former prime minister was also questioned on his previous approach to China, with Labour MP Graham Stringer saying Cameron had taken a "very optimistic view" of the country during his premiership.

"There seemed to be an opportunity to have a better relationship with China, and we achieved that" he admitted.

However, he said that "a lot has changed since then", including examples where China had become "a lot more assertive and aggressive", such as interventions in Hong Kong and the persecution of the Uighurs.

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