William Hague MP at Conservative Party Conference
7th October 2012
Conservative Party Conference: Foreign Secretary William Hague’s speech in full
Thank you also to my outstanding team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sayeeda Warsi, David Lidington, Hugo Swire, Alistair Burt, Mark Simmonds, Stephen Green and my PPS Keith Simpson. Give them all a round of applause.
And we should always thank our country’s trusted diplomats, tireless aid workers, superb intelligence agencies and brave Armed Forces. They help Britain walk tall in the world and do immense good for others, so let’s show our appreciation for them.
This summer when we hosted our inspirational Olympic and Paralympic Games we showed the world what Britain can do and what we stand for.
Ours were the first Olympic Games in which women competed in every sport, the first Paralympics to be sold out, the first Olympic Truce which every UN member state supported, the first Games to be celebrated as the greenest ever, and the scene of Britain’s greatest sporting success in over a hundred years. Visitors were bowled over by the warmth of our volunteers, by the good sportsmanship of our crowds, and by the brilliance of our ceremonies. And yes, let us be proud that it was one of ours, Seb Coe, who brought the Games to Britain and made them such a triumph.
Our coalition government is determined to help liberate that ingenuity and talent across our national life and to carry it all over the world.
Whatever the crisis, whatever the danger, however steep the path, we in Britain should never be downhearted. Think of the immense assets and advantages that are ours.
The English language, connecting us to billions of people; links to every other nation on earth through our history and diverse society; skills in financial services, engineering, science and technology that are second to none; the British Council, BBC World Service and our historic universities beacons for democratic values around the world. And this is achieved, let us note, not by England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland separately, but by the United Kingdom, including Scotland, together.
Nor do we stand alone. We belong to NATO, the strongest military alliance the world has ever seen. We enjoy the benefits of the world’s largest single market the European Union. We have our place in the 21st century’s most diverse and vibrant network of nations, the Commonwealth. And we possess a bond with the United States of America that I believe must never break.
Many of our greatest successes have come from learning from and working with other countries in the world, so we should never be arrogant, never be complacent, and never be inward-looking. But these are some of the many means we have to seek out opportunity for our country, and always to be a force for good in our work with others.
We helped Libyans to win their freedom and are sticking by them as they work to secure the peace. We are a leader in sending aid to Syrian refugees driven from their homes by a tyrannical regime. We are helping to feed and educate some of the world’s poorest people. We are always on the side of those seeking their freedom and democracy.
When Aung San Suu Kyi came to the Foreign Office in June she thanked us in Britain for never forgetting her during twenty years of oppression and struggle, even when others lost interest or heart. And let us pay tribute to her – generations, perhaps centuries from now, her constancy, her humility and her refusal to compromise with dictatorship will remain an inspiration to humanity.
These are the attributes of our country, and our Government wants Britain always to be a country with a global role and global interests, unafraid to take a lead when it is needed and tireless in striving for a more peaceful and stable world.
But like many others we now face the great test of this generation. The world has changed. Many Western countries are slipping back as emerging economies push ahead with energy and drive. Some will make the transition to this. But others will struggle with it for decades.
We have to make sure that Britain makes that transition. That is why George’s Osborne’s steady reduction in corporation tax is exactly right in an intensely competitive world. That is why Michael Gove’s reforms of education, which have been needed for so long, are absolutely essential. And it is why Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, creating a culture of work not of dependency, are vital to our country.
These measures have in common that they are vital for our future, that they are proposed by my outstanding colleagues, and that they are all opposed by a Labour Party that in its addiction to borrowing, belief in higher taxes, domination by unions, and hostility to public service reform has shown no visible sign of noticing that while they were ruining this country the world had changed around them.
Theirs is a party that would carry on in the same high spending, over-regulating, top-heavy journey to national bankruptcy where Gordon Brown left off.
How dare they pose as the champions of house building when in their last year in office house building in England fell to its lowest peacetime level since 1924?
How dare they claim to be about rebuilding Britain when they not only failed to fix the roof of our island home, but by the time we and the voters had dragged them out the door they had mortgaged every brick?
We Conservatives know that there are moments when political parties rise to the changing needs of their times.
This is what Labour did in the 1940s, it is what Conservatives did in the 1970s and it is what our Party has done with David Cameron’s leadership. Thanks to our Prime Minister we have the strength to take the tough decisions that this country needs to succeed.
But Labour today is not one of those parties. It has a Shadow Chancellor who would bankrupt the country again with more spending, more borrowing and more debt, it has Trade Unions that are running amok again, and a leader that is not strong enough to control any of them.
Last week he made claim to be Disraeli. We know a little more about Benjamin Disraeli, a great Conservative Prime Minister, than he does. Disraeli was defined by changing his party for the late 19th century while Ed Miliband will be defined by refusing to change his Party for the 21st century.
Disraeli believed in fiscal discipline, in self-reliance, in building on historic strengths, in this country paying its way and in taxes being kept down. He was no deficit spender, but was careful to budget for a surplus
To borrow a turn of phrase, we were led by Disraeli, our predecessors knew Disraeli, Disraeli’s beliefs were Conservative through and through, and, Ed Miliband, you are no Disraeli.
And my vision is that when British people benefit in the coming decade from education standards that are world class, a culture of work which the welfare system underpins instead of undermines, a tax system that attracts investment rather than repels it, they will also find that their diplomatic network connects them more thoroughly and effectively to the most dynamic economies in the world.
I believe that the shrinking of our diplomacy under the last government, which saw the closing of 33 of our diplomatic posts and a retreat from Latin America and much of Africa, something Disraeli would never have done, was wholly and fundamentally mistaken.
In the 21st century the world will have more centres of decision-making than ever before and a country that believes in its future needs to be present in more of them.
And not only present, but working hard to support British jobs and businesses. The expansion of trade is an essential national priority. Last year we increased our exports to Brazil by 18%, to China by 21%, and to India by 34%. This summer, for the first time in decades, we exported more outside Europe than inside Europe, and we need to work ever harder on both.
In the Foreign Office we have to save money like everyone else, but at the same time we are represented in more places, we are going to more places, and we are doing more when we get there. I am determined that in this Parliament we will put beyond doubt that ours is the best diplomatic service on earth, an asset to be used for generations to come. And so, our diplomats are once again taught a culture of excellence, required to be expert in the society and culture of our nations, and to champion British business wherever they go.
The language school of the Foreign Office was closed by the last government. This was a totally short-sighted act and next summer I will reopen it.
We are the only European country setting out to be present in many more countries not fewer. Already we have more posts in India than any other country possesses, by next month we will be represented in all 10 states of ASEAN, already 60 more of our diplomats are based in China, already the retreat from Latin America and Africa has been reversed, and now we are embarking on agreements with close friends such as Canada to co-locate our Embassies when it makes sense for both countries to do so.
There is no contradiction between forward-looking diplomacy creating new and equal partnerships around the globe and also being proud of our historical connections. That is why in already visiting 134 separate countries my Ministerial team is careful to go back again and again to those long neglected, among them some of our strongest allies. I am the first Foreign Secretary since we were last in government to visit some strife-torn countries which are the focus of our help such as Yemen and Somalia, but I am also the first since then to make bilateral visits to Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
This year we also produced a long overdue strategy for our Overseas Territories. How we help them really matters, and symbols also matter: I decided earlier this year that on each of their national days the flags of Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and all the other Overseas Territories will fly in Whitehall over the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
We are using this reinvigorated diplomacy in a clear-headed way to advance our prosperity, protect our security and take care of British Nationals overseas.
As the same time as building stronger relations with countries around the world we are using our leadership in every multilateral forum – from the UN and EU to NATO, the G8 and the G20 – to help solve the problems of our age and to shape the world we bequeath to the next generation for the better.
We are at the forefront of efforts to bring peace and stability to Yemen and Somalia, where seven months after our London Conference terrorists are on the retreat, piracy is down, and Somalia has a new and legitimate government.
Every day we continue the search for a solution to Syria’s tragic conflict, but faced with the vetoes of other powers at the UN we have not yet succeeded. In July on the Jordan/Syria border I met families fleeing the fighting – mothers with children who had walked for days to escape oppression and murder.
As of today, it is a serious failure of the United Nations Security Council that we cannot resolve the crisis that has caused these families to flee. But we do help to lead the way in providing the food and shelter they need, documenting the human rights abuses they have endured so that justice can one day be done, giving equipment to Syria’s opposition that will save lives, and preparing for the day after Assad when Syrians can at last have a democratic and peaceful future.
And to Assad’s ally Iran we send this message. We will continue to offer our actual assistance with a programme of peaceful nuclear energy. But a programme of secrecy, deception and breaches of UN resolutions is very different. We have not tired of negotiations. But be clear that nor will we tire of maintaining and intensifying the pressure of sanctions. Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East would be a disaster, perhaps most of all for the people of Iran.
The people of Syria and Iran are caught in crises of their leaders’ making. But elsewhere we can join in helping peoples of other troubled nations to seize new opportunities.
In Afghanistan we will keep building up the Afghan forces and the Afghan state, promoting the reconciliation and durable political settlement the country needs and that our troops have worked to hard to make possible. This is one of many reasons we will continue to intensify our relations with the people and leaders of Pakistan.
We will help new governments in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to entrench lasting political and economic reform in their countries. And we applaud the governments of Jordan and Morocco for the peaceful reforms that they have begun.
It is easy to misunderstand the events of the Arab Spring. This is a massive change affecting hundreds of millions of people in countries that are vastly different from each other, with their own cultures, political systems and traditions we must always respect, confronting problems it may take years to address. This change will throw up many crises and conflict, and when we see the tragic deaths of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues it could be easy to form the impression that it has all gone wrong.
I’ve visited these countries many times in the last eighteen months. I’ve been twice to Benghazi where these killings took place, and my view is that the true face of the Arab Spring is not the murderers who attacked the US consulate, but the tens of thousands of Benghazi residents who took to the streets to demand an end to militias and violence.
If you had met as I have the injured young men in hospitals who were clear they were fighting for their freedom, and shaken the outstretched hands of people in the streets thanking Britain and our allies for the help we have given them, and seen the messages flowing into our Embassy in Libya saying that attacks on Westerners were not in their name, then I know you would join me in resolving to work with the vast majority of the people in Libya and of these countries who simply want a better life. They are as entitled to dignity for their countries, security in their communities, justice in their courts and choice in their elections as we are, and we must keep faith with them.
For us the test of new governments in North Africa and the Middle East will be whether they ensure that the rights of citizenship belong to those who do not share their religious or political views; whether they extend the rule of law to Christians and minorities and ensure a full role for women in society; and whether they respect the democratic process by not clinging to power if they lose the consent of their people. If they do these things, the pride and prosperity they have fought for in their countries will truly be theirs.
This goes hand in hand with our firm belief in a negotiated two state solution to the Middle East Peace Process, in a State of Palestine living alongside the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as their shared capital and a just settlement for refugees. After the US elections we will urge the United States to lead the international community in bringing this about with no time left to lose.
In each of these countries and regions Britain is hard at work. But on great issues that cross borders and societies we can and will use our national standing and influence to bring lasting change.
This year we have come tantalisingly close to success in our efforts to ensure the world gets a grip on the illicit arms trade, through more effective international regulation. The United Kingdom will now propose as a matter of urgency a second conference to secure at last a strong, legally binding Arms Trade Treaty that upholds international humanitarian law and human rights, and we will strain every sinew to attain it.
An Arms Trade Treaty is in our reach because ten years ago thousands of people began to speak out and campaign for it. Its time has come, but the time has also come to launch a major new effort to end unspeakable suffering.
Two weeks ago in New York I launched a campaign that will be a major initiative of our Presidency of the G8 next year: saying to the world that it is time to act on the horror of sexual violence in conflict. It is time for all governments to say that rape is not something that just happens in war, it is a weapon of war, and this should no longer be silently and tacitly accepted.
We are doing this because of the 50,000 women raped in Bosnia, who have only seen thirty of the men responsible ever convicted for it, because of 64,000 women and girls raped in Sierra Leone and 400,000 in Rwanda, because of all those in Colombia, Darfur, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo who endured this unthinkable violation, and for all the men and boys who have also been subjected to rape in conflict and have never known justice for it.
For them and for millions like them who might be affected in the future, it is time to shatter this impunity. It is time to make it possible to mount many more successful prosecutions. The specialist team we are assembling will be ready for deployment by the end of this year, and we will call on other nations to join us in giving the UN and other agencies the support they need. I hope that across this party and across all parties people will join me in this campaign and take it to their hearts so that we can create a momentum that cannot be stopped and a lasting step forward in the condition of humanity.
And we are also leading the world in calling for a new consensus to head off the abuse of cyberspace. We have put £650 million in new funding into Britain’s cyber capabilities. We will make sure that this country is going to remain a world leader in cyber security, with the technology and with the brilliant brains to protect ourselves and our allies today as we did during the Second World War.
To remind us all of this, next week I will go to Bletchley Park to announce the unlocking of funding for its restoration, to preserve the memory of some of the greatest intelligence achievements in our history and at the same time launch new schemes to recruit the brightest mathematicians of the future. When Britain has built up a key skill or advantage in the world we must always do our utmost to develop, retain and enhance it.
Of all the challenges we face in the world, few are as pressing as those closest to home. In Europe the epochal change that I have described, this great challenge of competitiveness faced by every Western country, is most glaringly apparent. Every country is being tested by it. Some, like Sweden and Germany, will clearly succeed, with dynamic economies and sustainable public finances. But a question mark hangs over others.
This has been made greatly worse by the crisis in the Eurozone. Even its greatest enthusiasts now acknowledge that the Single Currency’s structure was deeply flawed. Most of us here campaigned against membership of the Euro and we were right to do so: membership would have been a disaster for Britain. But we must take no comfort in the grave difficulties of our friends and neighbours. Whatever the difficulty of the choices facing us as we debate our future role in Europe, the choices facing our friends in the Eurozone are far harder and more fundamental.
Many of the solutions to the crisis – and which solutions they choose are for the Eurozone countries to decide – point to new and serious limitations on national democracy, particularly for the weaker economies. And for the stronger economies there is the possibility that they will have to provide financial support to the weaker, perhaps for decades.
So over the next few years the Eurozone is likely to change, perhaps in profound ways, and that will mean that all the countries outside the Eurozone, including Britain will also face big choices. As Europe changes to meet the challenges of the eurozone, so our relationship with Europe will change, too.
I believe the British people have firmly made up their minds that they do not want to become part of some kind of European federation.
And under the European Union Act we passed last year they can no longer be made to do so against their will.
Our first priority must be to see the crisis resolved, since nothing would do more for growth in our economy. But over time we must take the opportunities for Britain to shape its relationship with Europe in ways that advance our national interest.
Unlike some of the federalists, I have never believed that judgments about Europe have to be a matter of everything or nothing. We should aim for what we have always wanted: being part of the Single Market that has done so much for our prosperity, using the collective weight of European nations to advance our common interests, in free trade, open markets and co-operation on climate change and other great issues facing us.
And we should always uphold what I think is the EU’s greatest achievement: the spread and entrenchment of liberal democracy and the rule of law across most of the continent of Europe, work that is crucial to the future of the Western Balkans.
Yet some people look at the crisis and say more Europe is the only answer. I profoundly disagree. Sometimes less is more, less is better. So we want less bureaucracy, less pointless or damaging interference, less meddling in the issues that belong to national democracies.
Our work on this has begun.
Our efforts to keep down the EU budget have already saved the British taxpayer many hundreds of millions of pounds compared to what the Labour government signed us up to.
We have succeeded at last in ensuring that the EU is cutting the burden of red tape on small businesses, something that should have happened long ago
Most important of all, while the Labour government in its dying hours signed up Britain to financing Eurozone bailouts even against our will, the Prime Minister succeeded in negotiating that as the European Stability Mechanism was established, such liability for the British taxpayer for any new bailouts has been brought completely to an end.
This month we will give more details of the review of the balance of competences I have announced, the most comprehensive analysis of the balance between European and national law-making any country has yet undertaken. This will be the basis of an informed debate and a vital debate.
In our Party we are looking towards the establishment of a new settlement in Europe, and that will in time mean, just as it will for other nations of Europe in or out of the Eurozone, a big choice for Britain which must be a real choice for Britain and which will require the fresh consent of the British people.
So this will be our approach, making the most of Britain’s great advantages in the world in a systematic and determined way, forging new connections including with old friends, extending Britain’s influence at a time of rapid change, staying true to our values including the universality of human rights, and always being at the forefront in supporting democracy, freedom and peace around the world.
This is a foreign policy for the whole nation. But because it is a foreign policy founded on making the most of our own natural strengths, it is one which Conservatives are especially suited to lead. Our opponents on the political left place so much faith in their abstract principles and in the imposition of socialist or semi-socialist ideas on all societies that they find it hard to find a place in their beliefs for the special role of a nation.
But for Conservatives, believing as we do in building on what works, and in particular in nurturing the successful habits, traditions, institutions and culture of a nation, national identity is unashamedly at the root of a foreign policy of responsibility, generosity, cooperation, partnership and respect.
For us, to build on the virtues of British national identity is nothing narrow but quite the opposite, for it is to build on the vibrancy, creativity, warmth, adventurousness and solidity which are the hallmarks of our country, the United Kingdom.
If we draw on the best of our nation, preserve the greatest, extend the finest, transmit our richest traditions, and unleash the ingenuity and innovation which has always driven Britain’s success in the world, our country can and will reinvent itself to thrive in the 21st century and we can play our full part in creating a more stable, just, prosperous and peaceful world.”