Chuka Umunna – 2019 Speech at Liberal Democrat Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Chuka Umunna, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, at the party conference on 16 September 2019.

Conference, it is an honour and a pleasure to be addressing you as a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament and as your Shadow Foreign Secretary.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for making me feel so welcome. I could not be more at home in the wonderful Liberal Democrat family.

The truth is, all the incredibly difficult decisions I have made on the journey I’ve been on this year were routed in my values and principles. I joined this party out of conviction.

As you know, I am a Remainer and proud of it – we have spent far too long apologising for being pro-European in this country. Because you cannot be pro-Britain and put our national interest first without seeking to put Britain at the heart of Europe.

Be in no doubt: this is the battle of our time and it goes far beyond Britain’s borders.

In essence, the society we seek to build is one where if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be free to lead a happy, prosperous and secure life free of domination of either the state or the market.

I grew up in world in which we took these values for granted.

As a family of mixed heritage – English, Irish and Nigerian – our back story, alongside that of millions of others, stands as an example of Britain’s liberal, open, internationalist spirit.

The notion that we all share the same basic rights and should live together in peace, regardless of background is something we will always fight for.

This is the Britain we know and love – and Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the peddlers of hate and division in our country better know that this is what we will fight for at the coming election.

It is our job to make sure this country’s heart beats in a liberal and internationalist direction; not nationalist, populist authoritarianism.

This is the new fault line in British politics and we know where we stand.

Because we recognise that these things cannot be achieved in isolation and that the pursuit of individual and social justice does not stop at the border, we seek to work together with other liberal democracies who share our values to overcome cross border obstacles to achieving our goals.

That is why we are internationalists. That is why we are pro-European. Liberalism is needed at home to protect personal freedom and liberty; Liberalism and cooperation are also needed abroad to secure peace, promote democracy and defend human rights.

Of course, the first thing we will do in Government is revoke Article 50 so that, once again, the British people can resume their role of providing leadership as a full and active member of the European Union.

This order is imperfect. It must do far better at reducing inequality and fostering a more inclusive global economic system. But however flawed it may be, this liberal international order has none the less created peace and prosperity.

The trade it has opened up between countries helped ensure global competition no longer resulted in military conflict. In turn, this has helped lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and people are more healthy than before.

Furthermore, the liberal democracies that fall within the order have, in the main, also provided better protection of the rights and civil liberties of their peoples.

And it has forced Extreme nationalism retreat.

Yet the advances made then are now at risk.

Today it is that liberal international order that is now in retreat. As a result the world is becoming a more dangerous place.

Across the world, nationalist populism – the pernicious mantra that nations should be homogeneous and one people is superior to another – is making strides.

Let us be clear: the Liberal Democrats are the only party that can get into office which is capable of meeting this challenge in Britain today.

You see, you cannot defend a liberal, rules based order abroad if you so openly flout the rules at home.

Boris Johnson has facilitated the takeover of Her Majesty’s Government by the remnants of Vote Leave campaign – an outfit that was not only was found guilty of lying during the 2016 referendum in relation to its claims on the NHS by the Statistics Authority, but it was found guilty of cheating and breaking the law by the Electoral Commission.

Now, as he seeks to force through a catastrophic “no deal” Brexit, the Prime Minister has shut down Parliament and is threatening to break the law if necessary.

And, as he seeks to force the UK out of the EU, he will become ever reliant on President Trump, whose political playbook he follows. But President Trump has always been clear – it will be America not Britain First.

This brings me to the Opposition. The Labour Party likes to think of itself as a champion of liberal values at home and abroad.

You cannot be a champion of liberalism if you are currently subject to a formal investigation by the Equality & Human Rights Commission for institutional racism against Jewish people.

You cannot be a champion of liberalism when your leader’s supporters think it is acceptable to abuse, vilify and deselect anyone who dares to question the leader.

And you cannot claim to be liberal when the political editor of the BBC needs to take a bodyguard to your conference.

Of course what unites both Johnson and Corbyn is the fact that they want to leave the EU, the organisation which has been the biggest champion of liberalism in our part of the global neighbourhood. Neither is fit to lead this country.

Its time for a change and someone who I know can provide that leadership: Jo Swinson.

Under Jo’s premiership we can breathe a progressive breath of fresh air into the British foreign policy.

Liberal Democrats are internationalists. This is at the heart of who we are as a party, it flows through everything we do.

We believe in tearing down walls, not building them. We believe in working together through multilateral organisations, not standing alone.

With Jo as our Prime Minister we will revive our reputation on the world stage and get on with helping to improve the lives of those across the world.

As Liberal Democrats we have a duty to do this, to defend the values of human rights, democracy, and equality.

And as your Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary I can promise you that I will stand up for a truly global Britain.

Thank you.