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Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox and Andrew Mitchell MP

Event date: 6 June

Last Updated: Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

ConservativeIntelligence hosted an overview of the Government’s Foreign, Security and Development Policies on Monday 6th June.  We also received significant press coverage, details of which you can see on the links below:-

BBC

Independent

Independent

Telegraph

Politics Home

OUR TWO KEY NOTE SPEAKERS WERE:-

Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence and Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development

We concluded the day with an expert Q&A Panel with:-

John Baron MP, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of Save the Children
Bernard Jenkin MP, Former Shadow Defence Secretary
David Rennie, Political Editor of The Economist and former Brussels and Beijing correspondent.

View our picture gallery of the event.

Below is Tim’s write-up of the event.

At Monday’s ConservativeIntelligence conference a variety of Fleet Street’s finest political journalists sat at the back of the room. Were they there to learn about the detail of Coalition foreign policy or there to look for chinks of light between the positions of the two keynote speakers, Liam Fox and Andrew Mitchell? A letter from the Defence Secretary, questioning the decision to legally codify the Development Secretary’s budget had recently been leaked to the press and this was the two Cabinet ministers’ first public appearance together since.

As it happened the political journalists did find room to make some mischief (e.g. here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1395039/Backlash-minister-boasts-Be-proud-12bn-foreign-aid-Army.html but a fair account of the keynote speeches would have concluded that Fox and Mitchell hold remarkably similar views of the world.

Dr Fox told the Conference that we needed to be more aware of the continuing influence and power of Britain in the world. Whenever he attended international conferences of foreign policy players ‘Britain mattered’, he said. Britain was seen as the most important nation in Europe because of our “essential relationship” with America, our membership of NATO, our permanent place on the UN Security Council, our enduring relationships with the Commonwealth, the size of our defence budget, the quality of our diplomatic service and our willingness to deploy the military and, yes, said the Defence Secretary, our aid budget.

Andrew Mitchell, as you might expect, agreed and said that he foresaw the day, in the not-too-distant future, when the British aid budget’s humanitarian achievements would be a comparable source of national pride as our armed forces and our monarchy. It was this that so angered the Daily Mail although the Mail failed to report Mr Mitchell’s remarks in context.

Later in the conference John Baron MP, Tory member of the Foreign Affairs select committee and an opponent of UK involvement in Libya, suggested that the soft power of the BBC World Service and of the British Council be added to the list of our nation’s foreign policy strengths. He regretted that these vital budgets had been cut and accused the Coalition of “short-termism” in having done so.

THE DEFENCE BUDGET

Dr Fox began his remarks by focusing on the economic situation and giving strong backing to George Osborne’s fiscal plan. Debt was, he said, a defence and strategic issue. Unless Britain fixed its economy our influence in the world would diminish significantly.

He argued that crucial to getting his defence budget back on track was better management of procurement. He explained how the top twenty equipment projects in his department were now subject to quarterly review. If any of these twenty projects (accounting for 80% of the MoD R&D budget) fell behind schedule the Ministry of Defence would alert the stock exchange so that the defence contractors responsible would be subject to market pressures. The “conspiracy of optimism” whereby projects were squeezed into tight budgets today in the expectation that those budgets would become bigger tomorrow was over. Citing his decision to close down the Nimrod project he said the defence industry should not doubt the determination of him and Bernard Gray, the new Chief of Defence Materiel, to control defence equipment budgets.

LIBYA

The Defence Secretary described the Libyan operation as “extraordinarily successful”. Britain had set the pace strategically from before the intervention and since, he said. NATO had overseen the command and control very effectively. Access to key bases around Libya had worked well. The decisions in the strategic defence review had also been vindicated. The Harrier simply wouldn’t have been able to carry the high end munitions that had been so successful at both degrading Gadaffi’s capacities and minimising civilian casualties. Britain had powerfully demonstrated that the anti-Gadaffi coalition possessed a “far greater respect” for human life than the regime in Tripoli.

FRANCE, NORWAY THE USA

Dr Fox emphasised relations with France and the USA in his remarks. France and Britain had forged a special accord because, together, they accounted for 50% of European defence spending and 65% of EU-wide R&D. Britain would work closely with any nation that was willing to “spend AND deploy”. France ticked every box – not least in the common intervention in Libya – and Britain was therefore pursuing a deeper and deeper relationship with our near neighbour.

He also emphasised Norway. Fox has long believed that security of energy supplies should be at the heart of defence policy and said it was a disgrace that no UK PM had visited Norway for 26 years despite the Scandinavian country supplying 35% of our oil. This was changing as part of a new ‘northern countries’ meering of NATO.

The transatlantic relationship would remain central to Britain’s foreign and defence policy, Liam Fox continued. We share the same worldview. The US was a massive defence spender, remained the world’s leading economic superpower and had the intelligence services and technology to remain ahead of rivals. He predicted that the USA would still be top dog in fifty years. Its natural resources and the creativity of its people would ensure that, he said.

AID BUDGET

Dr Fox affirmed on FOUR separate occasions in his one hour session that he was very supportive of all that Andrew Mitchell was doing on the aid budget. In particular he welcomed the focus on a smaller number of recipient countries, greater transparency of spending and the focus on conflict resolution. We have a joined up foreign policy, he insisted, with ministers talking to each other and plotting coordinated action through the new National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minister.

In his remarks Andrew Mitchell said that the Coalition commitment to spend 0.7% of GNP on overseas aid was his proudest ever moment as a Conservative. He recounted how he’d said as much in a txt to George Osborne on the day this commitment was reaffirmed. The Chancellor txted back three words: “Spend It Well”. And “spending it well” is my job, Mitchell said. I have to get 100p of value for every £1 spent. Every pound has to pass what he called the “Mrs Jones test”. Would Mrs Jones and every UK taxpayer approve of the way her hard-earned money was being spent?

PRIORITIES, TRANSPARENCY, OUTCOMES AND DESTINATIONS OF UK AID

The Development Secretary then set out the four main ways in which he had been reforming the aid budget:

  • Priorities: Aid was now much more focused on prevention, especially conflict prevention. The most desperate parts of the world where progress was either most limited or in reverse were the places torn apart by violence. One third of the UK aid budget would be going into nations at risk of conflict so we avoid the Liberias and Somalias of tomorrow.
  • Transparency: All aid spending over £500 was now published on the DFID website so that both taxpayers and recipients of aid could see how and what money is being spent on. Mitchell noted that ConservativeHome polling of Tory members had revealed this was the second most popular Coalition policy.
  • Outcomes: Gone forever, said Mitchell, was the Gordon Brown penchant for making big announcements of unallocated new aid budgets: $100m for this country and $500m for another. He had set up a system across DFID’s international offices whereby officials had to bid for money. The offices which had the most credible plans to deliver the most change would get more money.
  • Destinations: China and Russia had been the two most high profile countries to lose UK aid money. Other countries which had either progressed to a higher standard of development or had consistently used UK aid badly had lost money and their funds were being diverted to Commonwealth nations or nations that would be served by the ‘conflict pool’. The Development Secretary defended the decision to continue to give UK aid to India. Asked why they rob banks, bank robbers answer ‘because that’s where the money is’. We aid India because that’s where the poverty is, Mitchell insisted. Its government may have chosen to have a space programme but there are as many very poor people in India as there are in sub Saharan Africa. Aid to India is now frozen, however, and half of the remaining budget will become enterprise-focused; supporting wealth creating activities in poor communities.

QUESTION AND ANSWER PANEL

The three hour conference ended with a Q&A panel with Tory MPs John Baron and Bernard Jenkin; Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of Save the Children; and The Economist’s David Rennie.

  • John Baron emphasised the need for Britain to “win the story” as much as win conflicts. The cutbacks to the BBC World Service and British Council were particularly “short-sighted” in this respect. Baron said the best development in UK foreign policy was the shift of focus away from Europe and towards the BRIC and other emerging nations.
  • Justin Forsyth echoed Andrew Mitchell’s message and said that Britain was now a world leader in fighting global poverty. He welcomed David Cameron’s emphasis on vaccinations and said that these, alongside provision of health workers, were the two most potent uses of aid.
  • Bernard Jenkin warned that the defence budget was already creaking and without extra defence spending Britain would not be able to make its 2020 commitments. He noted that Andrew Mitchell had talked of a shift from inputs to outcomes in aid policy but the 0.7% target was the biggest input target of them all.
  • David Rennie brought the conference’s attention to Europe and the crisis in the €urozone. The bailouts had only kicked the system’s crisis into the short grass, he warned. Eurosceptics needed to realise that the whole single market was at risk if the €urozone failed.

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