Alan Duncan – 2019 Speech on the GCHQ Centenary

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, in the House of Commons on 11 July 2019.

I am truly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) for securing this debate, and indeed for concluding it in such a unique historical way. He has the added advantage of being one of the few Members of this House who can actually reach the microphone above him.

Somewhat inevitably, given the nature of its work, GCHQ—Government Communications Headquarters, to give it its full name—has clocked up many extraordinary achievements, but some of them of course have to go unrecognised. Its brilliant, dedicated and creative staff do not receive the public recognition they truly deserve. In this, its 100th year, I am grateful for the opportunity, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, to rectify that as far as I can.

Parts of the agency’s illustrious past are now known. The codebreakers of Bletchley Park were pivotal to the success of D-day and directly responsible for saving so many allied lives. Throughout the cold war, GCHQ ​adapted quickly to changes in technology, and helped to build the extraordinary security partnership that the UK enjoys today with the United States. For a century, GCHQ’s dedicated service and expertise have protected us from many serious threats. However, as my hon. Friend has said, the future brings with it new challenges—from terror attacks and conflicts to hostile state activity on UK soil—and GCHQ intelligence continues to play a vital role in maintaining our national security and protecting our people.

In the past two years alone, GCHQ has helped to foil 19 sophisticated terror attacks. When Daesh exploited the internet to export extreme ideologies, GCHQ used a whole range of capabilities and degraded its ability to radicalise and recruit. The agency continues to identify, analyse and disrupt terror threats on a daily basis. In addition to combating terrorism, GCHQ takes a leading role in countering new hybrid threats to UK interests, such as the WannaCry ransomware attack launched by North Korean actors in 2017, and the Novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury. As these threats to national, regional and global security evolve, so GCHQ continually learns and adapts, just as it has always done since its early days following world war one.

One thing that many people will perhaps be unaware of is the contribution made by GCHQ officers deployed in support of British troops. Indeed, the insights given by GCHQ intelligence officers to our military personnel have made a positive impact in every overseas conflict of the past 100 years and continue to do so today—I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in her place. That contribution is the reason why more than 300 civilian staff have been quietly awarded campaign medals for their support of military operations.

GCHQ also combats serious and organised crime—something responsible for more deaths than all other national security threats combined. GCHQ collaborates with law enforcement agencies such as the National Crime Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Their co-operation has recently resulted in the identification and arrest of prolific child sex offenders. That is just one example of their many successes.

GCHQ remains at the forefront of technological development as we enter the fourth industrial revolution. Agency director Jeremy Fleming said at Mansion House last month that

“this technology revolution is providing extraordinary opportunity, innovation and progress—but it’s also exposing us to increasing complexity, uncertainty and risk.”

To defend us against those risks, GCHQ established the National Cyber Security Centre in 2016, as a single authoritative body, to provide cyber-security advice to citizens, businesses and Government. In October last year, thanks to diligent NCSC staff, the Foreign Secretary was able to attribute a range of reckless cyber-attacks to Russian military intelligence. Those attacks disrupted targets as diverse as a small UK television station and parts of Ukraine’s transport system. The NCSC’s ability to attribute such attacks diminishes the Russian military intelligence service’s sense of impunity and undermines its domestic credibility.

Cyber-security is about protecting Government and commercial interests, but also individuals’ personal data. The Government firmly believe in the right to privacy, ​and the NCSC’s advice and guidance help with this protection. End-to-end encryption provides billions worldwide with privacy and protection online, but it is abused by a minority to conceal criminal, terrorist and paedophile activity. That impedes the ability of tech companies to tackle harmful content and limits our agencies’ access to the information needed to keep our country safe. Last November, we published a set of principles that set out how the Government will approach encryption. This is part of our desire to have an informed and open public debate about these technical challenges.

As with all our security and intelligence agencies, GCHQ is subject to democratic accountability and rigorous oversight. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham mentioned, strengthened GCHQ’s legal framework, so that oversight by both the Foreign Secretary and an independent judicial panel provides one of the strongest legal assurances in intelligence. GCHQ is a powerful and skilled organisation. We can be confident that it uses those powers lawfully, in line with our values and for the national good.

Sir Nicholas Soames

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that the diligence, thoroughness and level of detail with which GCHQ and the other agencies do this work greatly adds to the credibility and authority of what they produce?

Sir Alan Duncan

As always, my right hon. Friend absolutely nails it. He is absolutely right, and I agree with his judgment about the way in which GCHQ goes about its business.

Perhaps most importantly, I would like to return to the people of GCHQ. They are not only brilliant and dedicated, but increasingly diverse and representative of the nation for whom they work. GCHQ is known to champion diversity of thought, which is vital for innovation and problem solving, and it is creating an inclusive culture where everyone can thrive. Since the days of Bletchley Park, it has been a good employer for women and it is actively working to recruit more. It is also, very proudly, a Stonewall Top 100 Employer. Two years ago, the agency attained the highest level in the Government’s Disability Confident scheme.

The Government hugely value the diligence and dedication of all those who work for GCHQ. They keep us safe from terrorism, they fight serious crime and they protect our troops. They have consistently stayed one step ahead of technological advances. They conscientiously protect our security and our democratic values. I thank my hon. Friend for initiating this centenary tribute debate. He is known in this House as the hon. Member for GCHQ as much as he is the hon. Member for Cheltenham.

On behalf of the Government, I thank GCHQ, and everybody who works or has worked there, for 100 years’ dedicated service. I am confident that they will continue to play a vital role in tackling the challenges of the future, to the great credit of the United Kingdom.

Alan Duncan – 2019 Statement on the UK Ambassador to the USA

Below is the text of the statement made by Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, in the House of Commons on 8 July 2019.

Her Majesty’s Government utterly deplore the serious breach of classified information; it is totally unacceptable. As the Prime Minister has already said, we retain full confidence in the British ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, for whom we have enormous respect as a distinguished and long-serving diplomat.

The Prime Minister and the British public expect our ambassadors to provide Ministers with an honest and unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country. We pay our ambassadors to be candid, just as the US ambassador here will send back his candid reading of Westminster politics and personalities. But it does not mean that this is the same as what the British Government think. A cross-Government investigation led by the Cabinet Office has been launched, which I can reassure the whole House will be thorough and wide-ranging.

Alan Duncan – 2019 Statement on Hong Kong

Below is the text of the statement made by Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, in the House of Commons on 2 July 2019.

For a number of weeks now, the world has been watching massive yet largely peaceful protests in Hong Kong in opposition to the proposed extradition legislation. Unfortunately, a small number of protesters chose to vandalise the premises of the Legislative Council yesterday. Her Majesty’s Government strongly condemn any such violence but also understand the deep-seated concerns that people in Hong Kong have about their rights and freedoms. The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the 1 July march yesterday did so in a peaceful and lawful manner.

The UK is fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms under the “One country, two systems” principle, which is guaranteed by the legally binding joint declaration of 1984. We reject the Chinese Government’s assertion that the joint declaration is an “historic document”, by which they mean that it is no longer valid, and that our rights and obligations under that treaty have ended. Our clear view is that the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 obliges the Chinese Government to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and its rights and freedoms, and we call on the Chinese Government to do so. In respect of the recent demonstrations, the main responsibility for addressing this tension rests with the Government of Hong Kong, including the Chief Executive.

Alan Duncan – 2019 Statement on the Foreign Affairs Council

Below is the text of the statement made by Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, in the House of Commons on 6 June 2019.

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini, chaired the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and an eastern partnership Ministerial on 13 May. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the eastern partnership Ministerial. The meetings were held in Brussels.

Eastern partnership Ministerial meeting and lunch

Foreign ministers highlighted the importance of the eastern partnership on its 10th anniversary and took stock of the commitments made at the last summit in November 2017. They discussed the implementation of the 20 deliverables for 2020 programme, which was adopted at that summit. They also reflected on future co-operation and discussed political priorities for the coming period.​
Foreign Affairs Council—Current affairs

The High Representative and Foreign Ministers had an exchange of views on a number of pressing issues. On Iran, they recalled their full commitment to the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA and expressed concern at recent declarations by Iran. Ministers also expressed regret at the re-imposition of sanctions by the US and underlined their commitment to achieving full operationalisation of the special purpose vehicle, INSTEX.

Ministers touched on the situation in Venezuela. The High Representative debriefed Ministers on the most recent international contact group (ICG) meeting on 5-6 May. Ministers reiterated their support for the ICG and its work.

Foreign Ministers noted the positive signals from the incoming Ukrainian administration, in particular its intention to continue and strengthen the reform implementation process. Ministers expressed concern at the Russian decree simplifying the issuing of passports in certain areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The High Representative also referred to the situation in Sudan and to the US decision to discontinue the waiver on title 3 of the Helms-Burton Act.

Libya

UNSG Special Representative for Libya Ghassan Salamé joined Ministers for an exchange of views on possible next steps to avoid further escalation in the conflict.

Sahel

Foreign Ministers discussed the political framework and prepared for the exchange of views between EU Foreign and Defence Ministers on 14 May and with the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger).

Council conclusions

The Council agreed a number of measures without discussion:

The Council adopted conclusions on the Sahel.

The Council adopted a statement on Libya.

The Council adopted the EU annual report on human rights and democracy in the world for 2018.

The Council adopted conclusions on EU relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, following the joint communication by the High Representative and the Commission on the “EU, Latin America and the Caribbean: Partnering for prosperity, democracy, resilience and global governance” of 17 April 2019.

The Council transposed into EU law an update issued by the UN on 19 April 2019 related to a person designated under the Central African Republic sanctions regime.

The Council adopted the EU’s common position with a view to the EU-Tunisia Association Council, which took place on Friday 17 May.

Alan Duncan – 2019 Statement on the Foreign Affairs Council

Below is the text of the statement made by Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, in the House of Commons on 2 May 2019.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and I attended ​the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 8 April. It was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Luxembourg.

Current affairs

The High Representative and Foreign Ministers had an exchange of views on the most pressing issues on the international agenda. In particular, they expressed their concern over developments in Libya. They urged all parties to implement immediately a humanitarian truce, refrain from any further military escalation and return to the negotiations. They reiterated their full support for the efforts of the UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé in working towards peace and stability in Libya.

Foreign Ministers also referred to the implementation of the penal code order in Brunei and expressed their strong opposition to cruel and degrading punishments, prohibited by the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which was signed by Brunei in 2015.

In relation to the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the Council reiterated the EU’s strong opposition to the extraterritorial application of unilateral restrictive measures, which it considered contrary to international law.

Afghanistan

Ministers discussed the situation in Afghanistan. They focused on how the EU could best contribute to current peace efforts. The High Representative debriefed Ministers on her visits to Islamabad on 25 March and Kabul on 26 March.

Eastern partnership

Ministers discussed the eastern partnership (EaP) in view of the EaP ministerial meeting (13 May) and the high-level event (14 May) to mark the EaP’s 10th anniversary. Ministers highlighted the importance of the partnership, which is based on shared values and principles, and an approach combining inclusivity and differentiation.

Ministers welcomed the progress achieved with eastern partnership countries within the “20 deliverable for 2020” framework, and in particular the tangible and concrete results in trade, people-to-people contact, transport, connectivity, infrastructure and economic reform. They agreed that implementation of reforms in sectors such as governance, anti-corruption and the judiciary require additional efforts.

Informal lunch on Venezuela

Foreign Ministers exchanged views on Venezuela. They discussed the outcome of the second meeting of the international contact group (ICG) on 28 March in Quito. They agreed to step up work on the two tracks of the ICG: facilitating humanitarian access, and creating the conditions for free, fair, transparent presidential elections.

Council conclusions

The Council agreed a number of measures without discussion:

The Council adopted conclusions on the Afghanistan’s peace process.

The Council endorsed the framework on counter-terrorism, developed jointly by the UN and the EU. The framework identifies areas for UN-EU co-operation and priorities until 2020.​

The Council endorsed the 2018 progress report on the EU strategy against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Council concluded the agreement establishing the EU-Latin America and the Caribbean international foundation.

The Council adopted conclusions on the European Court of Auditors’ special report No 15/2018 entitled “Strengthening the capacity of the internal security forces in Niger and Mali: only limited and slow progress”.

The Council authorised the signature of the EU-Pakistan strategic engagement plan on behalf of the EU.

The Council endorsed the continuation of the EU’s action in support of the UN verification and inspection mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM), from 1 April 2019 to 30 September 2019. The EU is contributing €4.9 million to UNVIM for one year.

The Council authorised the opening of negotiations with Vietnam for an agreement to establish a framework for its participation in EU crisis management operations.

The Council adopted conclusions on an EU strategic approach to international cultural relations and a framework for action (ST 7749/19).

Alan Duncan – 2019 Statement on Mass Executions in Saudi Arabia

Below is the text of the statement made by Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office for Europe and the Americas, in the House of Commons on 24 April 2019.

We are very concerned by the executions of 37 men in Saudi Arabia, and the Foreign Office is working to establish the full facts. The Foreign Secretary will be raising this matter with the Saudi authorities at the earliest opportunity. The UK Government oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country, including in Saudi Arabia. We regularly raise human rights concerns, including the use of the death penalty, at the highest levels with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

Alan Duncan – 2019 Speech on Kazakhstan

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on 28 January 2019.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and thank you Ambassador for giving me this opportunity.

This fine building has a habit of witnessing historic occasions. Both Houses of Parliament moved into Church House at some stage during the Second World War, and [as the Ambassador rightly said] the very first United Nations Security Council meeting took place here in 1946.

So this is absolutely the right place in which to be celebrating Kazakhstan’s successful first spell on the Council. Given Central Asia’s pivotal place at the centre of the world, it was about time that we saw it represented at the heart of the international system.

I hope that Kazakhstan’s obvious success in the UN over the last 2 years will encourage other states in the region to follow in your footsteps and become key players on the international stage in the way you have been. Your significant contribution to the workings of the UN is a good illustration of the way in which Kazakhstan, and the region, are attracting more and more attention and interest.

Kazakhstan’s more active role on the international stage is undoubtedly one of the reasons for that – their successful Caspian Summit was a good example, and that forged an agreement to settle the previously unresolved status of the Caspian after 20 years of negotiation. This represents a key step in unlocking future international investment in the Caspian Basin.

Two particular highlights I would like to commend are its work on promoting regional partnership between Afghanistan and Central Asia, and its success in organising the first visit since 2010 of a Security Council Delegation to Kabul.

Beyond its membership of the UN Security Council, Kazakhstan has also demonstrated its commitment to international peace and security by deploying peacekeeping troops in Lebanon. This is a significant contribution to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

In connection with that deployment, I am proud that the UK’s close partnership with Kazakhstan played a role in readying their troops for peacekeeping, by providing them with English Language Training and supporting what was called Exercise Steppe Eagle, which is an annual peacekeeping training exercise.

But our collaboration goes much further than the mere military. 2018 was a spectacular year for bilateral trade and investment. We saw the launch of the Astana International Financial Centre, with its associated Court, based on English Law. We also saw the successful dual listing of the Kazakh uranium company, KazAtomProm, for its IPO, in both London and Astana.

I really welcome these closer trade and investment links and look forward to collaborating on trade policy as Kazakhstan prepares to host the World Trade Organisation 12th Ministerial Conference in Astana in June 2020. Of course, every successful partnership ultimately depends on the bonds between its people, and especially its young people. And here, too there is a good story to tell. Many Kazakhs have deep connections with Britain, in part thanks to the ‘Bolashak’ higher education programme, which has brought thousands of students to the UK over the last 25 years. And overall, we issue 3,000 visas to Kazakh students every year; and I have to say, it’s nice to know that at least some visas can be issued without difficulty.

We plan to strengthen these personal links even further in 2019, which President Nazarbayev has helpfully declared the year of youth. And I have decreed that includes me. We will build on the successful model pioneered by the British Council’s ‘Creative Central Asia’ programme, to link up young leaders across a range of fields, from politics and business to culture and social engagement.

Our vision for Central Asia is of a peaceful, prosperous and well-governed region, whose countries are free to exercise their independence and sovereignty, and which are able to continue cooperating peacefully with each other and with the wider neighbourhood.

This is a vision shared by our partners in the region, including Kazakhstan, and by the EU. We want the EU to continue to take an ambitious role in the region and that is why we have remained an active participant in discussions on the new EU-Central Asia Strategy.

It is also why, regardless of the nature of our future relationship with the EU after we leave, we remain committed to cooperating with them and other partners in Central Asia, and to further developing our strong relationship with Kazakhstan and its neighbours.

I very much look forward to working with Kazakhstan’s new Foreign Minister to further develop our bilateral relationship, including by continuing to collaborate in the UN and other multilateral fora.

Your excellencies, Erlan, I offer my congratulations once more to Kazakhstan on your successful 2-year stint in New York, and I commend you all on your wider efforts to embrace international cooperation and the support you’ve given to the rules-based international system. In doing so, Kazakhstan has not only shown a determination to step up and play its part on the world stage; it has also set an example for the region to follow.

I believe that we share with the government of Kazakhstan a vision of a region working together for the common good, one that plays a positive role on the international stage, and most importantly one that realises its considerable potential, to the benefit of all its citizens and the wider world.

So we remain committed to supporting Kazakhstan to realise that vision, in 2019 and beyond. And once again I congratulate you for your service to the world over the last 2 years.

Alan Duncan – 2019 Speech on Venezuela

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, at a UN Security Council Briefing held on 26 January 2019.

Mr President,

Thank you for convening this meeting.

There are probably only a few moments in history when a country’s rate of inflation has to be measured in millions of percent. But in the case of Venezuela, this is such a moment. And beneath that stark statistic rests a scene of total economic collapse, and with it, a comprehensive picture of human misery and degradation from which only the corrupt Venezuelan elite are able to escape.

People are starving, children are malnourished, essential items are absent from the bare shelves of bankrupt stores. And from this wretchedness, millions have fled to seek refuge in neighbouring countries where they have been rescued by an outpouring of human generosity.

This inexcusable and wholly avoidable wasteland, Mr President, is entirely the creation of one man and his cronies.

The ranting socialism of Nicolas Maduro has destroyed an entire country and despite his self-congratulatory moral posturing, his enduring legacy will be to have made the poor, not just poorer, but destitute.

And it is our concern for the plight of Venezuela and the country’s people that motivates us here today, not the sentiments of anything that can possibly be described as colonial. How indeed can any self-respecting government possibly justify supporting the poisonous regime of the nation-destroying Mr Maduro?

But, in addition to holding the opinion we do because of our concern for the people of Venezuela, this United Nations and we the Security Council are also here to resolve the world’s worst sins. And to do so we must all uphold the rule of law which we firmly believe should govern the affairs of all.

And that rule of law has collapsed in Venezuela. Worse, it has been continuously eroded, undermined and eradicated by the dictatorial abuses of Nicolas Maduro.

Hand in hand with economic devastation, caused by this man, has come the parallel removal of liberty, justice and freedom.

We have seen the theft from the Venezuelan people of its very democracy. Maduro has attempted to delegitimise the National Assembly; he has created the artificial and illegitimate Constituent Assembly; and he has ruthlessly put an end to free and fair elections by stuffing ballot boxes and corrupting democratic decision.

The political opposition has been suppressed and intimidated, its leaders have fled or been imprisoned, and we will never forget that the opposition activist Fernando Alban, mentioned just now by Secretary Pompeo, was detained and then found dead beneath the windows of the National Intelligence facility.

The world can now see that the Presidency of Nicolas Maduro no longer rests on democratic foundations – the Presidency of Nicolas Maduro is not legitimate.

We the UK unreservedly praise and support the extraordinary courage of Juan Guaidó in his stand against Maduro’s fraud, corruption and undemocratic status. We applaud Juan Guaidó’s decision to assert the legitimate authority of the National Assembly.

Mr President, it is therefore right that we should now respond robustly to the courageous steps taken by the Venezuelan people and the political opposition by bringing this critical issue here to the Security Council. Council members must recognise their responsibility to ensure that the UN uses its leadership to help achieve positive change in Venezuela. Our efforts must now focus on finding a way out of the crisis that has devastated the country.

Mr President, let me make our position clear.

The UK stands with the EU in demanding urgent, free and fair elections at the earliest opportunity and in calling for a legitimate government to be established.

We stand with the Organisation of American States and we stand with the Lima Group, whose members last September referred the Venezuelan Government to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Citing over 8000 extrajudicial executions, 12,000 arbitrary arrests, and the detention of 13,000 political prisoners, they made history by making it the first ever case in which an entire state has been referred to the ICC.

Mr President, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in saying that the National Assembly and its President, Mr Juan Guaidó, are best placed to lead Venezuela to the restoration of its democracy, its economy and its freedom.

Therefore we believe that Juan Guaidó is the right man to take Venezuela forward and we will recognise him as constitutional interim President if new elections are not announced within 8 days.

We should today all stand together against the tyranny of Nicolas Maduro and in support of legitimate democratic forces in Venezuela. Venezuela can and must recover from the depths of its current despair. To do so it needs an end to tyranny, an end to corruption, and an urgent return to freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

This Security Council must make its view clear and we must urgently help pave the way to a brighter future for the Venezuela which Maduro has so culpably ruined.

Thank you.

Alan Duncan – 2018 Statement on the Foreign Affairs Council

Below is the text of the speech made by Alan Duncan, the Minister for Europe and the Americas, in the House of Commons on 22 May 2018.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 April. The Council was chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP), Federica Mogherini. The meeting was held in Luxembourg.​

Foreign Affairs Council – Syria

The Council discussed the latest developments in Syria, including the targeted US, French and British airstrikes on chemical weapons facilities. Ahead of the Brussels Conference on Syria and the region, Ministers discussed the need to relaunch a political solution to the conflict in the framework of the UN-led Geneva process. The Council adopted conclusions on Syria.

Iran

Ministers agreed on the need for unity on continuing the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). They encouraged the diplomatic efforts to ensure that there continues to be strong commitment to the agreement by all the parties involved. Ministers also discussed other issues outside the scope of the JCPOA, in particular the role of Iran in regional conflicts, not least in Syria and Yemen, as well as the EU’s concerns at Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and its human rights situation.

Russia

The Council agreed unanimously on the continued relevance of the five guiding principles that were agreed in March 2016. Following the Salisbury attack and the European Council conclusions that were agreed in March 2018, Ministers highlighted the need to strengthen the resilience of the EU and its neighbours against Russian threats, including hybrid threats such as disinformation campaigns. Ministers commended the work carried out by the East StratComms taskforce in the European External Action Service. Ministers also highlighted the importance of supporting Russian civil society and continuing to develop people-to-people contacts.

Western Balkans

Over lunch, Ministers discussed the Western Balkans in preparation for the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia on 17 May 2018.

External action financing instruments

The Council held a preliminary exchange of views on the future financing of external action instruments after 2020. The Commission is preparing its proposal for the EU’s next long-term budget (the future multiannual financial framework, MFF).

Members agreed a number of measures without discussion:

The Council approved the annual progress report on the implementation of the EU strategy against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which covers activities carried out in 2017;

The Council adopted conclusions on chemical disarmament and non-proliferation ahead of the Fourth Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties to review the operation of the chemical weapons convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction. This session will take place in The Hague on 21-30 November 2018;

The Council adopted conclusions on South Sudan;

The Council adopted conclusions on malicious cyber activities that underline the importance of a global, open, free, stable and secure cyberspace where human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law fully apply;​
The Council approved the High Representative’s six-monthly report on Operation Althea, which covers the period from 1 September 2017 to 28 February 2018;

The Council adopted a decision approving Mazars and KPMG S.A. as the external auditors of the Banque de France, the National Central Bank of France, for the 2018-23 period.

Alan Duncan – 2018 Speech on Arctic Policy Framework

Below is the text of the speech made by Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, on 9 May 2018.

Good morning everyone and thank you for joining us for the launch of the new iteration of UK policy towards the Arctic.

I’m sure it will be an absolute best seller.

This country’s long history of exploration and endeavour in the Polar Regions is the stuff of legends.

With any luck that means you will not mind if I say a few words about ‘Beyond the Ice’.

All of us understand that the Arctic region is of fundamental importance, not only to the people who live and work there but also to the health of the planet.

It is now 20 years since the UK became one of four original observers to the newly formed Arctic Council.

We remain as committed as ever to the Arctic States and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and to securing a sustainable future for them that benefits us all.

That is what this new Policy Framework is all about.

It is five years since the last one, and as we are all too well aware, a great deal has changed in the Arctic region in that time – most significantly, the unprecedented decline in sea-ice cover and thickness, and the steady rise in average temperatures.

These rapid changes have drawn greater attention to the Arctic – in ways that can present both opportunities and challenges.

The UK takes seriously our responsibility to ensure the security and stability of the region and to work collaboratively to address them.

In ‘Beyond the Ice’, we set out the UK’s three main commitments to the region.

The first is to bring our world-class science to bear in helping to understand the changing Arctic and to find solutions to the challenges that presents to us.

That means supporting our top scientists and their international collaboration on the Arctic – particularly as the new Agreement on Enhancing Scientific Cooperation in the Arctic is implemented.

Already, nearly two-thirds of the UK Arctic research papers have international co-authors. We think this is the right approach, and want to encourage more of it.

The UK Government is investing both manpower and finance in pioneering Arctic research.

Man and woman power in the form of our Science and Innovation Officers in our eight Arctic State Embassies and the Arctic Science Office.

Finance in the shape of £16 million in the 5-year Changing Arctic Ocean Programme and a further £2.3 million for UK-based scientists to take part in MOSAiC, which many of you will know, is a truly international study of the Arctic climate.

The second commitment we make in ‘Beyond the Ice’ is to help protect the fragile environment of the Arctic for the people who live and visit there.

The UK is already a global leader on addressing global climate change and tackling the accumulation of pollutants in the world’s oceans.

Our commitment to the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals is underpinned by our Clean Growth Strategy and we have consistently been at the forefront of international regulatory changes to reduce global greenhouse emissions on land and at sea.

We are also taking great strides to reduce the accumulation of plastic waste in the world’s oceans, including through our 25-year Environmental Plan, which commits us to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042.

Given that the nearly all of the litter found in the Arctic comes from elsewhere, it is essential that we all take action to stop it.

We will gain further insights into the impacts of climate and environmental change on the Arctic when the report ‘Polar Oceans: status and change’ – which was jointly commissioned by the UK and Norway – is published later this year.

Our third commitment in ‘Beyond the Ice’ is to support responsible and sustainable development of the region, and ensure that its people are the first to benefit from the increase in prosperity that a changing Arctic may bring.

Changes in the Arctic also present economic opportunities for the UK. Shrinking summer sea-ice could cut the travel time between Asia and Europe by 10 days, bringing benefits in terms of reduced costs, lower fuel consumption and less pollution.

However these potential benefits do not give us – or anyone else – the right to run roughshod over the needs of the region and its people.

That is why our priority will be to encourage development that is both sustainable and responsible.

To sum up, the UK remains a global leader in supporting environmental protection, international cooperation and the rules-based system. We are home to world-leading research scientists and cutting edge business investment. ‘Beyond the Ice’ demonstrates our continued determination to harness and share these assets and to work together to understand, protect and improve the Arctic, for the benefit of all, for generations to come.