Here is a speech I gave at the opening ceremony of the Sheffield Model United Nations Conference at Sheffield University.
It is a pleasure to be here today to address this meeting of the Sheffield Model United Nations.
It is wonderful to see how the society has grown to its current size.
And how it now encompasses so many young people from across the Sheffield City Region and beyond.
I would particularly like to extend a warm Yorkshire welcome to those who have come from outside our great county;
a county that I am incredibly proud to call my home.
One of the many reason I’m so proud to call Yorkshire my home is because of its history and the recognition that comes with it.
In Yorkshire’s case this is partly defined by:
- the steel industry here in Sheffield,
- the textiles and coal of south and west Yorkshire
- and, of course, sport;
As well as having a number of great football and rugby teams,
and of course, the world’s greatest cricket team,
if Yorkshire were a country, it would have come 14th out of 87, in the medals table at the Rio Olympics.
That is quite an achievement, and one which all of us who live here can be proud of.
But though I take pride in the past,
it is about the present and the future that I want to talk you today.
That is because Sheffield, Yorkshire and the UK are,
like every other city, county, country, and indeed community in the world,
faced with a number of supranational challenges that only global governance, and collective action can solve.
If we judged these challenges purely by what is talked about in the papers, on the news, or on the internet,
We could surmise that chief amongst them were;
- Mass Migration
- The Rise of Populism
- and Global Terrorism
But this would only be partly true,
Because these are the symptoms, and not the diseases themselves.
The diseases are
- Climate Change
- and ever rising inequality.
And be under no illusions,
tackling these challenges, and curing these diseases,
will require a more united and cooperative response than we have ever seen before.
Yet, the liberal international order I grew up with, and benefitted from, is now being threatened.
Globalisation is not just relocating power from the West to the East,
and creating a more multipolar environment,
it is also transferring power from state actors to non-state actors.
Terrorist groups, Multinational companies, NGOs and city networks are all now features of a more complex world.
And governments that don’t respect human rights or operate with the consent of their citizens are once again on the rise.
Modern communications mean that dangerous ideas, statements and views can spread across the globe in seconds.
And lies become accepted long before the truth has even been considered.
These challenges are complex in nature,
difficult to untangle,
and can only be addressed through collaboration.
This in turn presents questions not just in terms of what challenges we have to face,
but how we go about facing them.
In short, what should our Foreign Policy be?
In 1997, the late Robin Cook, delivered the first speech by a Labour Foreign Secretary for 18 years,
In it he outlined his internationalist approach to world affairs.
Today, it remains unparalleled in its explicit ambition to place ethics at the heart of Britain’s role on the world stage.
In it, Robin set out four foreign policy goals:
- International security through the use of both NATO and arms control;
- National prosperity through trade;
- An improved quality of life through environmental protection;
- For the UK to gain the respect of other nations for keeping peace, promoting democracy, promoting British values and having confidence in our identity.
In the absence of credible leadership from the current Prime Minister
And with a Foreign Secretary more concerned with his career than the offence he causes to our allies and friends,
or the damage he does to our international relationships,
it is still Robin’s vision that provides the most credible criteria by which to judge our Foreign Policy.
At the heart of Robin’s vision was a belief in progressive ethics that:
- not only engendered respect for Britain and its standing in the world,
- but improved the lot of our neighbors and allies,
- and challenged those that sought to use oppression as a state tool.
Now, more than two decades on from Robin’s speech, the government has abandoned the idea of a progressive foreign policy:
Instead, and for too long, the UK has drifted with no clear goal, ambitions or strategy.
Borne out of poor decision making, this lack of strategy has resulted in damage to:
- our economy,
- our influence,
- and our international reputation.
And it has left behind a decade defined only by expedient politics and ill-considered decline.
This - must - stop.
Ethics must once again be placed front and centre in
- all our international decision making,
- and all our international relationships.
But what does this mean in practise?
Well, as an example,
One of the most contentious aspects of British foreign policy today concerns our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Their military action in Yemen, with armaments supplied by the UK, is responsible for the killing and injuring of thousands of civilians.
Those not dead or maimed face dire conditions with wholly inadequate access to food, medicines and even clean water to drink.
Saudi Arabia’s attacks have been disproportionate, indiscriminate and, in some instances have directly targeted schools and hospitals.
Despite this, the UK continues to train, support and arm the Saudi Arabian military.
It has done so largely because Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and the UK’s top export market for arms.
With a bilateral trade surplus of over £4.5 billion, it is easy to see why people value our trading relationship with Saudi Arabia so highly.
But if the UK were to place ethics at the heart of our foreign policy,
It would realise that national interest cannot be defined only by short-term narrow realpolitik.
But by the development of rules and laws that are adhered to and mean something.
But of course, to do this, we must first ensure that our own house is in order.
Last December, the new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, said that his default position was to kill returning British citizens who had joined Isis.
It was a comment that at best demonstrated naivety and hubris,
And at worst suggested a contempt for all the legal, moral and military codes that underpin global governance.
The use of force is sometimes unavoidable, but to have legitimacy it must:
- distinguish between those who pose a threat and those who do not;
- be proportional in terms of what you are trying to achieve;
- and be borne out of the need to protect life and prevent further suffering,
- not a desire for retribution.
I know and respect this because during the life I led before I entered parliament,
I learned that proximity to death and violence – and to those who do not acknowledge the rule of law – both
- challenges your belief in the application of Laws and Rules
- and reinforces your belief in the need for them.
In short, I learned that it is only through:
- and Ethics
That the world can be governed, and the challenges I spoke of earlier, met.
So to play a credible role in the world, and work with other countries to help govern it,
we ourselves must live by the highest standards.
So, let me leave you with a few thoughts.
When you next speak of governments and governance,
do not jump straight away to conversations about the UN, the EU, the IMF or NATO.
Think first of the rules and laws upon which these organisations are built
And what moral values you want them to uphold.
Because those decisions are not made by old institutions made of two, three and four letter acronyms.
Those decisions will be made by:
- your thoughts on what kind of future you want
- and what kind of world you want to live in.
Because Global Governance is just people deciding the rules they want to live by,
and the way they want to take on the world’s challenges.
And I hope that one day,
some of you here are amongst those people,
making those decisions.
Because the future is yours,
as is how we govern it.