– Foreign Secretary speech at UK/EU parliamentary partnership assembly
By James Cleverly
It is an honour to be the first UK Foreign Secretary to speak at the UK/EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. We are here amongst friends. It has always been obvious to me that close and friendly cooperation between the UK and the EU would be the ultimate and eventual outcome of Brexit, because that is the sensible and pragmatic outcome and we are all sensible and pragmatic people.
Though it did take slightly longer to get here than many of us would have liked. But, we have seen real progress and I’m committed to maintaining that positive trajectory.
Today’s Parliamentary Partnership Assembly is an important part of that. I very much welcome and value your recommendations, including on energy cooperation. But that is not the limit of the work that you do. Because actually what you’re really doing here is an incredibly important function about building mutual understanding, building mutual confidence. You are building mutual trust and of course, you are building relationships.
Relationships matter, that’s why we do diplomacy and I value the kind words that Maroš has said about the work that we’ve done together on the Windsor Framework, and I would like to put on record my thanks for the spirit of friendship and cooperation that he brought into all our meetings. And the level of trust that I was able to invest in our relationship I think was part of the reason we got the Windsor Agreement over the line. And while it’s never a brilliant idea speaking on behalf of someone else.
I think I can say with some great confidence that Maroš and I are committed to the full implementation of that agreement, including on important issues that have already been raised such as citizens’ rights and I know that there are many people in the room who are focused on that. I want to let you know that the UK’s position is that we will continue to protect the rights of those individuals.
But to come back to the theme of trust, what I realised is that Maroš and I ultimately were speaking the same language. And I don’t just mean English. As those that know me as foreign secretary know that my language skills are somewhat limited. Luckily enough his English is excellent and was able to pick up on the nuances of our conversations. But ultimately the language that we both shared was the language of politics.
I think it’s a language you all speak and understand. You’ve all been on the campaign trail. You know what it is like to speak to voters, you know what it’s like to understand their concerns and think about their concerns while you interact with partners, whether they be nationally or internationally. And that is an important thing to have in your mind when you know that you have to justify yourself to the electorate. It does bring a focus, and I think the gentle fear that we all have of voters is not only healthy but it is a small price to pay for the honour of being able to serve the public. And it is important for parliamentarians that those of us who understand the need to justify ourselves to the electorate come together and provide the vital scrutiny that any successful democracy needs
You are serving the interests of the people who voted for you. We all face challenges and threats. In our refreshed Integrated Review we made it very, very clear, the UK’s primary theatre for security and defence will always be the Euro-Atlantic, our home turf.
The UK and EU have shown that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in war and conflict. And when the fighting is over, we will stand shoulder to shoulder once again in helping Ukraine rebuild its society, its economy and its infrastructure.
I hope that the close work that we have done together over the last sixteen, seventeen, eighteen months highlighted that when we said the UK was leaving the EU but it was not leaving Europe, we meant it. That’s why we were delighted when Ursula von der Leyen, on behalf of the EU, pledged €50bn in grants and loans at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London late last month. And whilst NATO remains the primary guarantor of our collective security, the EU does of course have a vital role to play in bolstering and supplementing our cooperation.
Security cooperation between the EU and UK on Ukraine is helping the Ukrainians expel Russian forces – and, in doing so, keeping all of us safe. And we should of course maintain regular security cooperation.
The UK was proud to welcome Finland to NATO. And we look forward to Sweden’s immediate accession. I’ve said publically, and I stand by it, what I would love to see is a flag-raising ceremony at the first day of the Vilnius summit and then Sweden playing a full and active role as part of NATO. But of course, the challenges we face extend far beyond the traditional realms of defence and security.
Supply chains, for example, around the world are being disrupted by Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine. And we don’t want the challenges of the green transition to become an excuse for protectionism. We want to minimise risks to our economic security. And of course, the UK and the EU share many geo-strategic priorities.
One of the most pressing of course is getting the right balance with our engagement with and relationship with China – and I note President von der Leyen and I set out positions which were strikingly similar in our respective speeches this spring, explaining why we need to deepen our relations in the Indo-Pacific as well as our relations across the channel.
This assembly can contribute an awful lot to forging closer relations between the EU and the UK, and we will both be better for it. Building a spirit of mutual understanding and mutual confidence, it will allow us to think more creatively about the challenges that we face.
For example, how we collectively confront the challenges, whilst harnessing the opportunities, of new technology. The UK government is, just like the EU, developing new policies on artificial intelligence, semiconductors and on cyberspace, and I will be chairing the first UN Security Council on artificial intelligence later this month. And the British prime minister will be hosting an international summit on security issues around AI, later this year.
As I set out in my speech at Chatham House last month, we want to work with our international partners, including of course with our closest allies like the EU, in shaping and development and governance of AI technologies.
We have to recognise that we will not agree on everything.
But in mature relationships, we can deal with differences, whilst making the most of the areas where we agree, and there is ample room for us to cooperate on things like harmful emissions and other global challenges. Migration of course is an issue that is at the top of the agenda in the UK but also is in the minds of the governments of member states.
That’s why I welcome discussions between the UK and Frontex. All of us want strong European borders. And all of us benefit from financial stability, that’s why as Maroš said we very much welcome the Memorandum of Understanding for trade in financial services which paves the way for a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship in this area. And I am very pleased that we have resumed cooperation on renewable energy in the North Sea.
It’s good for job; It’s good for growth; It’s good for energy security; It’s good for net zero; It’s good for the EU. And of course it is good for the UK.
So, in conclusion, we have shared values, we have an incentive in mutual cooperation for mutual gain. That’s what our agreements are about. That is why this parliamentary partnership assembly is good, and that is why the UK and the EU showing a united front against the challenges that affect all our people is good for us all.