Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair: Candidates' elevator pitch
The Foreign Affairs Select Committee will not be short of issues to investigate in the coming parliament. The three Tory candidates for the post set out their stall below.
"The gap in work caused by the election makes it all the more imperative that the committee hits the ground running”
Over the last two years I have delivered both a respected independence of view to foreign affairs and a committee team working across party lines. We have raised the profile of the committee and made a bigger impact on the foreign affairs issues of the day with measurable successes across a range of issues.
Notably, the committee’s report on airstrikes in Syria set out the issues that the government needed to address before undertaking military action. Its significance was recognised by the BBC’s parliamentary correspondent, Mark D'Arcy in his review of the 2015-17 Parliament: “At times they [select committees] have exerted real leverage over governments…There was the astounding sight of prime minister David Cameron having to publicly court the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, when he sought Commons approval to join the military action against ISIS in Syria.”
The committee gave a unanimous and unsparing critique of senior decision makers for the conduct of the Libya intervention, pressed the government to restore the prominence of Human Rights in British diplomacy, and examined Brexit and its implications for foreign policy in three unanimous reports adopted by a committee profoundly divided on the issue itself. Other inquiries included FCO funding, the UK’s management of political Islam, ISIL financing, and bilateral relations with Russia and Turkey.
The gap in select committee work caused by the election makes it all the more imperative that the committee hits the ground running and resumes its work programme and scrutiny of government. I would hope that the new committee will resume our inquiries on UK-China relations and the UK’s role in the Middle East peace process. In addition, there is work to do on areas of foreign policy affected by Brexit and relevant to parliament, such as the adaptation of the UK’s sanctions legislation, as well as the future for UK-EU cooperation on foreign and defence policy. I believe the committee can make an important contribution to the design of the future security relationship, which could find consensus across the House and beyond.
I hope to take the lessons from the committee’s work on Syria in the previous parliament to ensure that, ahead of any future decisions, we have an appropriate process for debate and consultation between parliament and the executive. This is being thrown into stark view with the prospect of further US action against Syrian targets if chemical weapons are used again.
Going forward, the committee needs to be fleet of foot as events develop, particularly with the ongoing crisis in the Gulf, and tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea. I hope my colleagues will judge that I have the experience and energy to continue to chair an effective Foreign Affairs Committee, scrutinising the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during these times of great change on the international stage.
Crispin Blunt is Conservative MP for Reigate
“By creating a deputy chair I would encourage all sides to play their essential role in shaping our future”
Foreign policy has rarely been more important to the future of our country. After the vote last year to leave the European Union we need to reaffirm alliances and renew the confidence of our friends. This isn’t just a job for the government but for all of us in parliament. We can show allies that we are dependable partners by the approach we take to foreign affairs.
That means having a strategic approach. We must be considered and deliberate as we work with friends to promote the values we share with so many. That means reinforcing our work in many groups, like the UN, to ensure our voice is heard. And it means reforming the Committees on Arms Export Controls to ensure our actions match our words.
Diplomacy isn’t just about trade. Our relationships are based on families, values, history and culture and run deep through our society. We must ensure our policies reflect those and take advantage of our rich past to achieve the aims we need to promote our interests.
Having served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, I know the cost of failure and the importance of using diplomacy to stop unnecessary military action. As I wrote in a paper with our friend Jo Cox last year, we must have the option to intervene, but it should be a last resort.
Instead, we can achieve our aims by magnifying our voice through cooperation. That means resourcing our foreign policy and writing a strategy to guide our envoys. That means understanding. More than ever we need to know the real interests our friends are trying to defend so that we can work with them to achieve our own.
That cooperation should continue at home. By creating a deputy chair I would encourage all sides to play their essential role in shaping our future. I have worked with many from across this House and I’m grateful to have the support of many from the committee in the last parliament and members from across the political spectrum including Angela Rayner, Keir Starmer, John Spellar and Dan Jarvis from Labour and Jacob Rees-Mogg, Owen Paterson, Tracey Crouch and Richard Harrington on my own side.
Today, more than ever, we need to review our interests and focus our efforts to ensure our nation’s allies know where we stand – a firm friend and a trusted partner. Parliament has a huge role to play in achieving this and I would welcome the opportunity to champion our views.
Tom Tugendhat is Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling
“My backbench debate compelled the government to confirm it would require parliament’s consent before lethal support was provided”
In standing for chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), my intention would be to strongly uphold the committee’s reputation for objective and independently-minded scrutiny of the FCO’s work. Having resigned as a Shadow Minister in 2003 in order to vote against the Iraq War; opposed the Helmand intervention; voted against intervention in Libya in 2011; and having helped lead opposition to our proposed Syrian intervention in 2013 as well as in 2015, I have been prepared to take an independent stance on foreign affairs.
Our new parliament contains a wide range of views on Britain’s role in the world, especially when the implications of Brexit are considered, and how best to approach global challenges. If elected, I would ensure that the committee works in an inclusive manner, to ensure all Members’ opinions are raised, regardless of party affiliation. Select committees’ important constitutional role of holding the government to account is enhanced by cross-party working and unanimous reports. Such an approach also best serves the interests of the House of Commons.
I also believe I would bring considerable experience to this position. During my 16 years in parliament, I have taken a strong interest in foreign affairs. This stems in part from my international upbringing – which included spells in Singapore, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Iran– and also from my former career as a soldier, during which I served on operational tours, including with the United Nations in Cyprus.
Furthermore, in addition to my work on the FAC since 2010, I have consistently raised foreign policy issues in parliament – my backbench debate in 2013 compelled the government to confirm it would require parliament’s express consent before lethal support was provided to the Syrian rebels. In part because of this, the BBC recognised me as their ‘Parliamentarian of the Year’ for 2013/14. I have also spoken at conferences on international affairs, founded and chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group for an EU Referendum – which had some success – and contributed extensively in the media.
Looking forward, whilst continuing to address the issues of the day, I would encourage the FAC to be proactive in its use of reports and evidence sessions to explore important themes which do not always feature in debate – the increasing importance of soft power and resource scarcity as a driver of foreign policy being two such examples. I would welcome other suggestions.
In recent years I have consistently raised the challenges caused by falling budgets at the FCO, and have very recently authored a report on this issue published by the Politeia think tank. Sustained budget cuts, under successive governments, have led to a reduction of skills, deep knowledge and capacity at the FCO, which goes some way to explaining why we embarked on misguided interventions. I believe the FCO’s budget should be increased to address these shortcomings and, if elected, would make the case for this as chair.
John Baron is Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay