Monday 20th July 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lisa Nandy Portrait Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab)
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I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it. May I be clear that the Opposition strongly welcome both of the measures he has announced today? He is right to ensure that Britain does not allow our exports to be used against the people of Hong Kong, and I thank him warmly for taking this step forwards.

I am particularly glad that the Government have listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, and suspended the export of surveillance equipment alongside the suspension of the export of crowd control equipment, which was demanded of the Government by the Labour Opposition last year. Will the Foreign Secretary go further and also review the training of the Hong Kong police by the College of Policing and other UK police forces to ensure that we are playing a part in helping to uphold, and not suppress, the rights of the people of Hong Kong?

May I also welcome the indefinite suspension of the extradition treaty and the safeguards that the Foreign Secretary announced today? It affords protection to the Hong Kong diaspora community here in the UK, and particularly to the brave young pro-democracy activists, whom I recently had the pleasure to meet.

We believe it is vital that the world shows a co-ordinated front on this issue. I was heartened to hear that the Foreign Secretary had discussions with our Five Eyes partners. Canada, Australia and the USA have already taken this step. Will he speak to other key allies, including Germany, to ensure that there is a co-ordinated international response? He also made no mention of our Commonwealth partners. Has he reached out to those Commonwealth countries that have extradition treaties with Hong Kong, to ensure that BNO passport holders and pro-democracy activists can travel freely without fear of arrest and extradition?

The Foreign Secretary could take a number of other steps. He made a commitment today that the UK will not accept investment that compromises our national security. Will he confirm that that will extend to the proposed nuclear power project at Bradwell, and will he tell us what assessment the Government have made of the security implications of Sizewell C?

Elections are due to take place in Hong Kong in the autumn, and we are concerned that, just as in the case of Joshua Wong, the Chinese Government may seek to bar candidates from standing. A clear statement from the Foreign Secretary today that candidates selected through the primary process are legitimate and must be allowed to stand in those elections would send the message that, as he says, the world is watching. I also ask him to work internationally to ensure that independent election observers are allowed into Hong Kong to oversee those elections.

The Foreign Secretary was a little irritated by my suggestion yesterday that the UK ought to impose Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials involved in persecuting the Uyghur people and undermining basic freedoms in Hong Kong, but I gently say to him that we have known that Uyghurs have been detained in camps since at least 2017. Has any work at all been done on that by the Foreign Office? Given that the USA has already imposed similar sanctions, is he working with our US counterparts to build the case for UK sanctions, and will he discuss this with the US Secretary of State tomorrow when he meets him?

The Foreign Secretary may not have done the groundwork to enable him to impose Magnitsky sanctions now, but his Government have the power right now to take action. He could, as the US has done, bar Communist party of China officials from the UK. Why has he not done that? The Chinese ambassador said yesterday that he reserves the right to take action against British companies. What discussions has the Foreign Secretary had with British companies operating in China to offer advice and assistance? I have asked him a number of times whether he has had discussions with HSBC and Standard Chartered about their stated support for the national security law. He must condemn that support. We should be showing the best of British business to the world, not the worst.

I was pleased to hear that the Foreign Secretary had discussions with Australia and New Zealand about their making a similar offer to BNO passport holders, but we are concerned, after asking a range of parliamentary questions, that there are serious holes in this offer. We have been told by the Government that BNO passport holders and their families will not receive home status for tuition fees, will not have access to most benefits and will have to pay the NHS surcharge. That seems wrong.

We are welcoming BNO passport holders to the UK for similar reasons to refugees, but these measures are completely out of step with that. Without serious action before these proposals are published, we will essentially be offering safe harbour only to the rich and highly skilled. That may benefit the UK, but it lacks the generosity and moral clarity that this situation demands. The Foreign Secretary will also know that many young pro-democracy activists are too young to be eligible for BNO passports. The Home Secretary said last week that she was considering a specific scheme for 18 to 23-year-olds. Will those details be published before the summer, and can he provide more detail today?

Finally, this must mark the start of a more strategic approach to China based on an ethical approach to foreign policy and an end to the naivety of the golden era years. If it does, the Foreign Secretary can be assured that he will have the Opposition’s full support. Like him, our quarrel is not with the people of China, but the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, the actions of the Chinese Government in the South China sea and the appalling treatment of the Uyghur people are reasons to act now. We will not be able to say in future years that we did not know. I urge him to work with colleagues across government to ensure that this marks the start of a strategic approach to China and the start of a new era.

Dominic Raab Portrait Dominic Raab
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I thank the hon. Lady for her response and in particular for her support for the two measures that we are taking today: suspending the extradition treaty arrangements and extending the arms embargo. I note that there is a drastically different tone being taken by Opposition Front Benchers from that taken even a few weeks ago, but we welcome her support, and do so in a spirit of cross-party endeavour and the importance of sending a very clear signal to Beijing, and indeed to our international partners, about where we stand.

The hon. Lady asks about the review of policing. Of course she is right about that: it is a question of balance. We will keep that under constant review. She mentions a range of details on BNOs, and they will be set forward by the Home Secretary shortly in the way that I have described. I urge the hon. Lady to wait for the detail before critiquing it. The Home Secretary and the Home Office have been doing a huge amount of work since September last year on all that, and of course we also need to bear in mind the offers that other countries quite rightly and usefully will be making.

I welcome what the hon. Lady says on international co-ordination. She is right about the importance of working with my German opposite number. I am seeing him this week, and it is something that is squarely on the agenda. We have also, through the Five Eyes membership, already touched base with a number our Commonwealth colleagues, but I will continue to do that. She is right that it needs to be more than just the Europeans and the UK with the North Americans—the traditional Five Eyes and Europeans—because there is a whole range of non-aligned countries out there that are very much influenced by what China is doing and saying. We want them to support us in upholding the international rule of law, which in all areas, including, as she mentioned, the South China sea, will be very important.

We rigorously review not just all investments into this country from a security point of view but whether our powers are sufficient. That is something that we will keep under review, and I know that the Secretary of State for Business is looking at it very carefully.

The hon. Lady is right as well about the September LegCo elections. I have made it clear that we want to see them allowed to take place in the way that is recognised in not just the joint declaration but the Basic Law. I agree with her point about the disqualification of candidates. We also need to be realistic, if I am honest with her, about the likelihood of China, or the Hong Kong authorities, accepting international observers.

The hon. Lady asks about the Magnitsky sanctions. She is simply wrong to say that we have not done our homework on them; we have done our homework since August of last year, which is why we could introduce those sanctions for the situation with Jamal Khashoggi, Sergei Magnitsky and North Korea. Of course, the national security legislation, which we are responding to, has only just been enacted, let alone started to be enforced. We will patiently gather the evidence, which takes months. It is not, as the hon. Lady has previously suggested, just something that can be done on a political whim; indeed, it would be improper if that were the case. Of course, if we introduce those targeted sanctions in this field, and indeed any other, without having done our factual evidential due diligence, not only are they likely to be challenged but we are at risk of giving a propaganda coup to the very people that we are seeking to target.

The hon. Lady mentions HSBC. She may or may not have already heard the comments I have made about that. Certainly, we will not allow the rights and the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong to be sacrificed on the altar of bankers’ bonuses. We urge all businesses to look very carefully at how they respond. They are, of course, going to be nervous about any potential retaliatory measures that may be taken by Beijing. In any event, we are very clear on the path that we are taking.

As I have said before, we want a good relationship with China. It is very important that we have a balanced, open debate about this in the House, recognise the opportunities of a good relationship with China, but be clear-eyed, as this Government are, about the risks and what we do to protect against them.