I recently received a letter from Mark Harper, Minister for Immigration, concerning Romanian and Bulgarian immigration to the UK, which I thought may be of interest to constituents, therefore, I have enclosed a copy of the letter below.
I recently filmed a short video in my role as Minister for Europe marking 200 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. As you may know a torch merging ceremony is due to take place the day before the start of the Paralympics in Stoke Mandeville. To watch the video please click here.
I recently attended a model United Nations conference, where students from five schools in Aylesbury and Buckingham performed the role of delegates and international press reporters.
I heard pupils debating the role of the UN, and how you strike the right balance between the need for international human rights to be respected, but also for the independence and sovereignty of the individual countries, and at what point international intervention is justified. These are the sorts of issues that I and my colleagues in government and in governments across the world are having to grapple with and it’s really great to see young people getting involved with those issues and debating them seriously.
The event was run by Buckinghamshire County Council, and more information can be found on their web-site here.
I set off last Sunday afternoon for a three day visit to Washington and New York. My main purpose in going to Washington was to talk to people in the Obama administration and in Congress about the Balkans (the USA maintains a strong interest in countries like Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania), NATO and US-EU relations. I also gave a speech to the Atlantic Council about the Trans-Atlantic Relationship and visited the US Chamber of Commerce to discuss trade relations and the prospects for the Doha Round of global trade negotiations.
My visit coincided with tense negotiations between the President and Congress, Senate and House, Democrats and Republicans about the federal budget. A deal was finally concluded but the US federal government was only a few hours away from a total shutdown that would have left all but essential federal government services suspended and staff sent home without pay. Representative Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who chairs the House of Representatives sub-committee on European affairs, welcomed me to his office with, as you can see, a magnificent view of the Capitol.
Then it was a three hour train ride to New York arriving on Tuesday night. Besides being America’s financial and business capital, New York is also home to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. The UN is playing a key role in helping to facilitate talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots with the aim of achieving a settlement to the Cyprus dispute. I am hoping to visit Cyprus a bit later this year and it was helpful to be briefed by senior UN officials on how they saw the situation on the island.
A little later, I took the United Kingdom’s seat at a meeting of the Security Council for a session on Haiti. As you’ll remember, Haiti, already one of the most desperately poor countries on earth, suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010. The UN has a humanitarian interest in Haiti and also has a peacekeeping force deployed there. Haiti has just completed the first round of a presidential and parliamentary election so that this was an appropriate time for a bit of stocktaking by the Security Council. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, had appointed former President Bill Clinton as his special representative for Haiti, and on Wednesday we heard from President Clinton and the outgoing Haitian President, M. Preval, about the reconstruction work that had been completed – and about how much more remained to be done. During my own speech, I confirmed the United Kingdom’s support for Haiti and emphasised the need not only for economic development but also for the reform and strengthening of the courts and the police in Haiti. Public order and confidence in the rule of law are key to attracting the international private sector investment that Haiti needs to provide jobs and a route out of poverty for her people.
The other part of my day in New York was a bit of commercial diplomacy. The Government has identified the promotion of Britain’s prosperity as one of the three key objectives of our foreign policy. The British Consul-General in New York is in charge of all our efforts to help British companies to sell to the United States ( and to encourage US firms to invest in Britain). Besides New York and Washington DC, he has small teams operating in Boston, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles. I visited our Consulate General and later had dinner with a group of New York businessmen and women.
I have been in the Commons Chamber listening to the Prime Minister’s statement on Libya and the UN Security Council resolution. A full text of what he said can be found here.
Any constituent worried about family members affected by the conflict in Libya or the earthquake in Christchurch can contact the relevant helplines.
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I last worked in the Foreign Office twenty years ago, as political adviser to Douglas Hurd. A few weeks after he took office (bringing me into the FCO with him) the Berlin came down and I still remember vividly the amazing events of the subsequent year – the “velvet revolutions” in Central and Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany. Without doubt it was the greatest change for the good in international relations in my lifetime. Today, we don’t know how the demands for political change sweeping through the Arab world will transform that region. It’s dangerous to generalise. There are huge differences in culture and history among the different countries of North Africa and the Middle East. But two things seem clear. First, while we want to see political stability (and the bloody strife in Libya today, or in Somalia or until recently in Sudan demonstrate the human cost of political turmoil) , achieving it will require governments in the region to do more to establish their legitimacy in the eyes of their own people. That in turn means political (as well as economic) reform. Second, Europe should undertake an urgent and thorough review of the vast sums of our taxpayers’ money that we already spend on help for North Africa and the Middle East. What are we getting for that investment? It’s in Europe’s (including Britain’s) interests to help the countries of the Arab world to build prosperous economies and stable societies based on the rule of law. Poverty and disorder in these countries are moral evils, and they also add to the risk to us from terrorism, organised crime and large-scale migration. I’m not convinced that the money the EU is spending is giving us the results that we want.
David Cameron spoke of these issues in more detail during his visit earlier in the week to Kuwait. It’s a speech well worth reading.
The Elders is a group of independent senior statesmen founded by Nelson Mandela to offer help in resolving political and social conflicts around the world. It’s the experience of the Elders, coupled with the fact that, since none of them is seeking political office themselves, they have no axes to grind that gives them their value.
Last week, a team from the Elders was in London to discuss various international issues with British Ministers and I had the very enjoyable privilege of lunch with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the former Norwegian Prime Minister Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland. The subject matter was Cyprus, where political and inter-communal strife has bedevilled the island for decades. You can read about the Elders’ work on Cyprus here.
The word “charismatic” is banded about a lot in politics. It stems from the Greek word charis, meaning one of the three Graces of ancient Greek myth. My dictionary describes the Graces as “goddesses of whatever imparts graciousness to life”. Desmond Tutu certainly has that quality. His sharp intellect is combined with a love of his fellows that is not sentimental but finds expression in practical action, whether that is in continuing to search for peace and healing in the world’s trouble spots or just checking that his staff (who address him as “Arch”) have also had something to eat while waiting to go with him to his next engagement. A remarkable man.
On Thursday last, I gave the annual lecture to the UK Association of European Lawyers. I used the occasion to explain the European Union Bill, which the Government has just introduced into Parliament, and which will give the electorate and Parliament siugnificant new powers to hold this and future governments to accounbt for decisions taken on behalf of this country in Europe.
You can read the full text here.
I spent most of my weekend in or travelling to and from Bremen. The PM had asked me to represent the UK at the 20th anniversary celebrations of German unification. It was a duty I was happy to accept because I have vivid personal memories of that time.
Back in 1989-1990, I was working for the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd. I remember the Berlin Wall , which had so shocked me on my first, schoolboy, visit to the city, being literally torn apart by ordinary people. I remember the telegrams coming in daily from our ambassadors in central and eastern Europe and picking up the sense of wonder among even the most experienced and worldly-wise diplomats at what was happening. And I recall going to Leipzig to meet East Germany’s opposition groups and going back to Berlin for the final days of East Germany’s first and last free election. In Britain so often we take for granted such things as democracy, human rights and freedom of opinion. When you meet people who have been denied those things for years, even generations, you appreciate a bit better the value of our political and constitutional freedoms.
Twenty years on, I still believe that the “velvet revolutions” in central and eastern Europe and the unification of a free Germany were the best things in international affairs to have happened in my lifetime.
The ceremony itself was brief (about an hour) but moving. There was music, drama from a Bremen-based youth theatre group, and speeches by the Federal President and the Minister-President of the Bremen regional government.
For me, the most emotional part of the ceremony was a performance of the finale from “Fidelio”. Beethoven’s opera, with its tale of how oppression is over come by freedom, darkness by light and cruelty by love never ceases to encourage and inspire. It truly fitted the occasion.