The Conservatives "do as I say, not as I do" attitude is damaging our global reputation
We should be using a forum like the G7 to co-operate and collaborate with other countries to tackle the big problems facing the world, but this Conservative government is falling far short.
This week, our Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has been playing host to the foreign ministers of some of the largest economies in the world. The G7 has been meeting in London, and in person for the first time since the pandemic broke out.
It is the start of a year in which the eyes of the world will be on the United Kingdom. This week’s meeting will be followed next month by the full G7 in Cornwall. And then, Covid permitting, Glasgow will host the crucial COP26 climate talks this November.
Yet in a year when the UK has the opportunity to deliver so much, this Conservative government is falling far short.
It is true that Raab talks a good game. The programme for the meeting is a comprehensive breakdown of the key foreign policy challenges facing the world in 2021 – from the Covid-19 response, to the climate emergency; from women and girls’ education in developing countries to the threat of Russian interference in our democracies.
How can the UK ask other countries to do more to fight the pandemic across the globe, when it is yet to contribute vaccines doses to the Covax scheme
And yet on each of these issues, the government’s actions do not live up to the standards set by its rhetoric. Take girls’ education, an area which the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have made a priority. In the meetings this week at Lancaster House, you can be certain that as Dominic Raab stands up to extol the UK’s aid spending on girls’ education, all the other foreign ministers present will be thinking one thing: if this is such a priority, why have you cut the amount of money spent on girls’ education by £200 million this year?
The same is true of the international response to Covid-19. We should be using a forum like the G7 to co-operate and collaborate with other countries to tackle the big problems facing the world. To its credit, the UK is now sending ventilators to India, where the Covid-19 situation is truly awful. But we cannot live in an endless boom and bust of Covid-19 worldwide. We need preventative measures – that means vaccines. How can the UK ask other countries to do more to fight the pandemic across the globe, when it is yet to contribute vaccines doses to the Covax scheme, set up to make sure poorer countries receive vaccines too?
And the new focus – driven by President Biden – on democracy and the international rules-based order is hugely positive. But it is hard for the Foreign Secretary to be taken seriously when back in the Autumn, his government seriously - and openly - contemplated breaking international law.
In a year when the UK is playing host to so many important events, the Conservatives have created a real sense of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. It will do a huge amount of damage to our global reputation.
That’s why I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues have today written to the Foreign Secretary, asking that he ensure that the UK’s actions match up with its words.
– buy scrapping the cut in the aid budget and making sure the UK puts its money where its mouth is. That means not just sending ventilators to India – but embarking on a global parallel vaccine rollout straight away. We’ve got more doses than we could possibly put in arms in the UK right now, and they should be going to those countries where they are needed most. And it means acting with integrity, with transparency and with honesty in all the government does – not playing fast and loose with our democratic norms to get what you want.
Liberal Democrats desperately want the UK to be a champion of equality, democracy and human rights across the world. This week, the government should commit to standing by those values in its actions domestically.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs and international development.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.