13 June 2023
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Questions

James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, answers MPs’ questions.

NATO Unity

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)

1. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help strengthen NATO unity. (905336)

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

5. What recent diplomatic steps he has taken to help strengthen NATO unity. (905341)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

I regularly engage with our NATO allies. I did so most recently at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting from 31 May to 1 June in Oslo, where the UK demonstrated our continued solidarity with Ukraine and we discussed preparations for the upcoming Vilnius summit for NATO leaders. We continue to hold NATO as the foundation stone of the Euro-Atlantic defence structure.

Kevin Foster 

NATO’s unity is its strength. It brings countries together to deter aggression and defend freedom—things that would be enhanced by welcoming Sweden into the alliance. When does the Foreign Secretary expect a unanimous decision in NATO to do just that?

James Cleverly 

The UK has been a strong supporter of both Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. I was very pleased that Finland joined us at the most recent Foreign Ministers meeting. The UK will continue to push for both Hungary and Türkiye to ratify the accession of Sweden to NATO.

Andrew Jones 

I was very pleased to hear the Prime Minister confirm that Ukraine’s rightful place is within NATO. Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps he has taken to build the path towards its membership?

James Cleverly 

The commitment that was made at Bucharest many years ago still stands. In the intervening years, Ukraine has demonstrated through its experience on the battlefield an increased acceptance of NATO’s standards and doctrine, which has been driven by the training that the UK and other NATO allies have provided. Inevitably, that will have shortened the time between now and the point it becomes a full member of NATO. Of course, it is impossible for us to speculate when that will be, but I hope that it will be soon.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)

Our ambassadors play a skilful role in NATO and I wish to place on the record my thanks to Fleur Thomas in Luxembourg, which hosted the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, for her excellent briefing. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of Sweden actually joining NATO, which will strengthen its unity, before the Vilnius summit?

James Cleverly 

The UK’s position has been clear on this: Sweden should join soon. Our desire, which is shared by all allies with the exception of a couple, is that Sweden should be a full member by the time of the Vilnius summit. We aspire to have a flag-raising ceremony and for Sweden to play a full part in the discussions at Vilnius. That will continue to be the aim towards which we work.

Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

When did the Foreign Secretary last engage with Hungary and Türkiye on the matter of Swedish accession, and when will he do so again? How easy is it to stress to them the importance of Sweden being in NATO? What is the blockage?

James Cleverly 

My last conversation with Türkiye on this was at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Oslo on 1 June. My most recent engagement with Hungary on this was at the OECD meeting in Paris at the tail end of last week.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)

As the NATO Secretary-General said last month, Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in NATO. Over time, our support will help to make that possible. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that once, with our support, Ukraine has prevailed in its war against Russia’s invasion, there can be no Minsk 3.0, and that Britain should play a leading role in securing Ukraine’s path to join NATO?

James Cleverly 

I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the Government’s position on this, which is that Ukraine’s rightful place is within NATO. We have worked towards that aim. Our support—the training, equipment and advice that we have provided—will have helped to speed up the pathway from now to the point when Ukraine becomes a full member of NATO.

Mr Speaker 

I call the SNP spokesperson.

Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)

We would all agree that NATO is the cornerstone of defence policy, and, like many other colleagues, we support Sweden’s membership. However, the EU defence capacity is evolving at lightspeed because of events in Ukraine and events within the EU. We are seeing with the peace instrument, the strategic compass and procurement policy, that the UK really does risk being left behind in many of the discussions outwith NATO. Is it not time for a comprehensive security treaty between the UK and the EU to regulate these discussions?

James Cleverly 

We enjoy a strong series of bilateral relations with EU member states and a strong relationship with the EU at the corporate level. However, I repeat that NATO is the foundation stone for the Euro-Atlantic defence structure. I have had that conversation with many Foreign Ministers from EU countries, and they agree. That is why we are committed to strengthening NATO and why at the Vilnius summit we aspire to have Sweden as a full member. However, we also need to progress the modernisation process for NATO to ensure that it continues to be fit for the future. That will be our aim. NATO is what keeps us safe in the Euro-Atlantic area.



Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)

3. What recent assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ activities in (a) the middle east and (b) globally. (905338)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

The Government regularly assess the impact of the IRGC’s destabilising activities on the UK’s interests and on British nationals. We work closely with our partners to deter those destabilising activities, including on the interdiction of Iranian weapons in the Gulf and of weapons proliferation in Russia. The UK sanctions the IRGC in its entirety.

Bob Blackman 

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the regime is boasting that its hypersonic missiles can hit Tel Aviv in 400 seconds, that the joint comprehensive plan of action restrictions end in October and that there are suggestions that British universities have been involved in research that has led to drones that are attacking Ukrainian positions from Russia. Will he therefore commit to ensuring that there is no delisting of any organisations involved in any of those activities, undertake to research the position with UK universities and proscribe the IRGC in its entirety?

James Cleverly 

I am aware of the reports about research that my hon. Friend mentions and we are, of course, looking into that. We continue to stand firm on our commitment that Iran cannot become a nuclear weapons state, and we will ensure that, as the sunset clauses in the JCPOA arrive, we take evolved measures to ensure that that is the case. He will know that we keep designations consistently under review.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)

The Foreign Secretary knows that there are concerns across the House of Commons about the involvement of Iranian state-based actors here in the United Kingdom and their threats towards Iranian activists here who have fled persecution in their homeland. He knows the strength of feeling about proscription as well. What assessment has the Department made of the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the Iranian regime, and has he spoken to anybody in Saudi Arabia about that?

James Cleverly 

I have had conversations with both the Saudi ambassador to the Court of St James and the Saudi Foreign Minister on that issue. They are making attempts to permanently bring ceasefires in Yemen to a full peace settlement. If that is the case, we are very happy to support that action. We remain deeply engaged with regard to Iran’s regional behaviour. On the threats to British nationals and people based here in the UK, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office maintains a very close and ongoing working relationship with the Home Office, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, so that we can co-ordinate both our defence and our international actions on that issue.



Chagos Islands: Resettlement and Sovereignty

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)

12. What recent steps he has taken to reach a diplomatic agreement with Mauritius on resettlement and sovereignty of the Chagos islands. [R] (905348)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

The UK and Mauritius have held four rounds of constructive negotiations on the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Chagos archipelago. Negotiations are ongoing, so we cannot speculate on the possible outcomes or pre-empt their conclusions.

Jeremy Corbyn 

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer. I would be grateful if he could assure the House that these negotiations are going on in the spirit of the International Court of Justice advisory opinion and the decision of the UN General Assembly in 2019 on the reunification of the Chagos islands with Mauritius. Can he give us some idea of when he expects these negotiations to come to fruition?

James Cleverly 

I am not able to give a date or a projected date of when we will conclude these negotiations. We want to ensure that we conclude them successfully. Our shared objective is to ensure the continued effective operation of the joint UK-US defence facility on Diego Garcia, protecting the vital role it plays in both regional and global security.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)

There is absolutely a moral duty for us to allow resettlement of the Chagos island people on the British Indian Ocean Territory, but in those negotiations what discussions have been had with Mauritius with regard to who will be able to resettle the Chagos archipelago? Will it be only Chagos islanders, Mauritians, or even Chinese?

James Cleverly 

While the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius, we are very conscious of the Chagossian communities and will keep them in the forefront of our minds throughout this negotiating process. Our primary objective is to ensure the continued effective operation of our defence facility on Diego Garcia.



War in Ukraine

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP)

14. What recent discussions he has had with his Ukrainian counterpart on the war in Ukraine. (905350)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

I had the pleasure of meeting the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv last week. I reassured him that the UK support for Ukraine and its territorial integrity is unwavering. The Ukrainian Government and people can count on our continued support both in their work on the battlefield and diplomatically, and, through the Ukraine recovery conference, our support in the rebuilding of their country once this war is over.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald 

The Secretary of State will know from his many visits and discussions that Iranian drones continue to terrorise the Ukrainian people, not least in the capital city of Kyiv, so it was worrying last week to learn from the US National Security Council that Iran is helping Russia build a drone facility just outside Moscow that could be operational as early as next year. How is the Secretary of State working here in London but also with partners to suffocate that capability as quickly as possible?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. When we first received credible reports of Iranian support to Russia in its drone attacks on Ukraine we investigated them and subsequently sanctioned entities and individuals involved in that. We are aware of the report he mentioned, and that will of course form part of our thinking on what other action we should take. It is important to remember that the action we have taken thus far is not the limit of our work, and we will continue to choke off the financial supply both to Russia itself and those seeking to arm it in that brutal war against the Ukrainian people.



Topical Questions

Mark Eastwood (Dewsbury) (Con)

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (905360)

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Cleverly)

Since the last oral questions, we have concluded our successful evacuation operation in Sudan and of course continued to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom. Ministers from the Department have travelled extensively around the world, including my right hon. Friend the Development Minister, who overnight returned from the G20 in India. I visited Latin America and the Caribbean. I have recently returned from meetings at NATO and visited British servicemen and women stationed in Estonia. I have also recently chaired the Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the OECD—the first time that the UK has done that in decades.

Mark Eastwood 

Could my right hon. Friend please provide an update on the current political situation in Pakistan?

James Cleverly 

Pakistan remains a close and important partner. We have a strong bilateral relationship. When we see political instability and sporadic escalations of violence, it is concerning. We continue to work both directly at political level and through our high commission in the country to seek to de-escalate the tension to ensure that future elections are not marred by the violence that, unfortunately, we have seen recently.

Mr Speaker 

I call the shadow Minister.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)

On several occasions, Labour colleagues and I have raised our concerns about the safety of Hongkongers here in the UK. There is still a significant fear felt by the Hong Kong community and a sense that the Chinese Government can act with relative impunity here in the UK. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to the House today to work with colleagues across Government to look at this urgently, as he promised me last year?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security conducted a review of the so-called Chinese police stations in the UK. My Department has engaged with the Chinese Government to ensure that those so-called police stations no longer operate. We released a statement on that last week. The security and safety of people here in the UK remains a Government top priority. We will continue to ensure freedom of speech across this country and the protection of individuals.

Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con)

T3. Could the Minister give us an update on the Government’s approach to the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan? (905362)

James Cleverly 

We continue to work to prevent Afghanistan becoming a future source of terrorist threats here in the UK. We work with our international partners to limit the flow of illegal drugs and illegal migration. We continue to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance and to work to ensure that our target—that 50% of the beneficiaries are women and girls—is reached. We are on track to reach that, despite the attempt by the Taliban to prevent women and girls from receiving the international support they deserve.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)

T4. Has the Foreign Secretary seen the report in the newspaper today that a Ukrainian businessman suspected by the FBI of being a Russian FSB asset is living in London and used the Homes for Ukraine scheme to bring his family over to join him? Will there be an official response to that investigation? (905363)

James Cleverly 

I have not had a chance to see the detail of the report the hon. Member refers to. I will ensure that my Department looks at that. Whether it is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office or the Home Office, we will investigate that.

Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)

T5. I recently met a Hongkonger living in Scotland, who told me at first hand about the oppressive surveillance that his community is under by the Chinese state police. He said that, no matter where they are in the world, they are subject to Chinese law. What steps is the FCDO taking to work with the Home Office to provide reassurance to that community, so they can report instances of suppression and oppression directly to UK Government? (905364)

James Cleverly 

As I said in response to a similar question, we work closely with the Home Office. The Security Minister has conducted a review on this issue, and I have made it very clear to the Chinese Government that any such activities are completely unacceptable in the UK. They have committed that they will not continue.

Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)

In its 2030 road map for Israel-UK bilateral relations, the Government committed to working closely with Israel on the threat from Iran. I urge the Secretary of State to do that. Will that include proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?

James Cleverly 

I have spoken regularly about the process by which proscriptions are made. We do not routinely speculate on future proscriptions. Our relationship with Israel is key. I met the Israeli Foreign Minister and signed a UK-Israeli bilateral road map on 21 March. We continue to hold their safety and security as a priority in our bilateral relationship.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)

T8. Following the elections in Türkiye, OSCE observers said that the lack of a level playing field gave an unjustified advantage to Erdoğan. When I was in Turkey, I saw intimidation at the ballot boxes, ballot irregularities and heard of particular security forces targeting the Kurds. Turkey is a key ally. Its beautiful people deserve a functioning democracy. So what steps is the Foreign Secretary taking to raise these issues with our ally, and to ensure that Kurds do not have intimidation in Turkey, here or in Sweden, where they are being used as a bargaining chip for NATO membership? (905368)

James Cleverly 

Our bilateral relationship with Türkiye is important. It is a NATO ally and is heavily involved in the facilitation of the Black sea grain initiative, which is helping to feed starving people around the world. I note the hon. Gentleman’s points about the election, which we will look into, but ultimately it is in our bilateral and indeed regional interests to maintain a strong working relationship with Türkiye, and that will continue to be the case.

Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)

In early June, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unveiled Iran’s first hypersonic Mach-15 missile, which was widely celebrated in Tehran. What has my right hon. Friend done to challenge the dangerous and continued militarisation in Iran?

James Cleverly 

We continue to work closely with our international colleagues, particularly the members of the E3, the United States of America and our partners in the region, to dissuade Iran from its increasingly militaristic presence. We continue to maintain our policy that it should never be a nuclear-weapons state, and we also keep a close eye on other weapons technology development.

Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)

I am proud to represent many Pakistani-British dual nationals in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, who are rightly concerned about the human rights violations that are taking place, as well as the threats they fear they will face if they return to see family members in Pakistan. What is the Foreign Office doing to ensure those dual nationals will be protected and prevented from ever being detained?

James Cleverly 

As I say, we have a strong bilateral relationship with Pakistan. We have access at the most senior levels within Government, and we make it absolutely clear that those British nationals are always at the forefront of our minds. Their protection and security is always a priority for the UK Government. That is universally the case, but that is also something that we make clear to our Pakistani friends.

Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)

The blowing of the Nova Kakhovka dam is the biggest act of ecocide in generations. For the record, will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary confirm again that the UK will leave no stone unturned in holding the Russian regime to account for the damage that has been caused by their war?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend is right about the huge environmental damage that has been caused by the breaking of the dam. Although I am sure Members are already conscious of this, it is worth reminding the House that incidents such as this and the damage to other civilian infrastructure across Ukraine is happening only because of Russia’s war and its illegitimate invasion of Ukraine. The best thing that Russia can do to protect the environment and civilian infrastructure, and to end the loss of life, is to withdraw its troops immediately.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)

What assessment and representations have the Government made on the decision by the Arab League to readmit the Assad regime of Syria back into the organisation?

James Cleverly 

I had conversations with my interlocutors, the members of the Arab League, prior to that decision. I expressed the UK’s concerns about the speed with which that happened. We continue to liaise closely with them on the issue. The UK’s position on Syria has not changed.

Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)

Consistency in applying sanctions across Government is crucial to maximise the impact on Russia, and the Secretary of State’s leadership in this respect is vital. Is he aware that the Home Office is considering requisitioning a hotel whose multiple shareholders include those who have invested from an address in Russia? Will he raise this matter with Home Office Ministers, to ensure taxpayers’ money will not be used to pay dividends to Russia?

James Cleverly 

That question would probably be aimed more accurately at the Home Office, but I will of course raise it with colleagues across Government.

Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

Last week’s revelation from Canada’s national security adviser that the republic of India was among the most active sources of foreign interference in that country—along with China, Russia and Iran—is deeply concerning. Does the Minister know whether the Department has taken soundings from our treaty ally and fellow Five Eyes member regarding India’s activities abroad, particularly its surveillance of not only Sikh activists but Members of this House in relation to the ongoing detention of my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal?

James Cleverly 

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have met his constituent’s family, and we continue to raise this case with the Indian authorities. I regularly meet my Canadian counterpart, who has not raised directly with me the specific concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

Last year seven-year-old Ibrahim was abducted by his estranged father from a school in my constituency. His mother is naturally distraught. Will the Foreign Secretary, or another Minister, meet me to discuss this matter and help to move things forward? Ibrahim was taken to Saudi Arabia.

James Cleverly 

I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman has access to either a Minister or the most appropriate officials in the consular department.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

It is nearly seven years since the people of Glasgow North voted by 78% to remain in the European Union. Can the Foreign Secretary give just one example from that whole period of our United Kingdom’s diplomatic or international reputation being enhanced as a result of Brexit?

James Cleverly 

I am sure you will tell me off, Mr Speaker, because I have more than one such example and I know that time is short, but I will keep talking until you do tell me off. Our ability to move quickly in respect of vaccines—[Interruption.] SNP Members may not like it, but nevertheless our ability to move quickly at that time meant that we were one of the first countries in the world to come out of lockdown. Our ability—

Ian Paisley 

Yes, Mr Speaker. You will know that the issue of the Windsor framework falls within the remit of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It is a joke to be told by an FCDO Minister that he will take this matter up with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because DEFRA has no role in negotiating veterinary medicines. How can I obtain an answer to the question that I posed today, Mr Speaker?

James Cleverly 


Mr Speaker 

The Foreign Secretary is raring to go.

James Cleverly 

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, we will inevitably liaise closely with those in DEFRA on the practicalities of this, because they are the experts on the subject matter. However, ownership of the policy does lie with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We will continue to negotiate with the European Union on all files where there are still outstanding issues, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that this will be one of the matters I will raise during my imminent conversations with Maroš Šefčovič.