William Hague – 2013 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Below is the text of the speech made by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to the 2013 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

I want to thank our outstanding Ministers in the Foreign Office:

Sayeeda Warsi, a foremost champion of freedom of religion;

David Lidington, the best Europe Minister Britain has had in decades;

Hugo Swire, pioneering new Embassies in Latin America;

Alistair Burt, a picture of calm whatever the storm in the Middle East;

Mark Simmonds, bringing new energy to Britain’s ties in Africa;

And Stephen Green, revolutionising our support to British exporters.

And I thank all our PPSs: the inimitable Keith Simpson, the irrepressible Tobias Ellwood, the urbane Richard Graham, the tenacious Margot James and the unflappable Eric Ollerenshaw.

This is a great team that deserves a great round of applause.

My team and I returned yesterday from the UN General Assembly in New York.  We have fanned out across the corridors and chambers of the United Nations, working on dozens of issues from building up Libya’s security forces to helping Lebanon cope with refugees; from aiding Burma on the path to democracy to promoting peace in Sudan; and from combating religious intolerance to preserving Africa’s wildlife. Across the full breadth of Britain’s global diplomacy we are injecting the energy and commitment abroad that keeps British people safer at home.

Above all in New York this week we have been seeking a peaceful solution to some of the world’s most intractable problems: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the nuclear programme of Iran and the tragic bloodshed in Syria, and on each we have made progress.

We have urged Israelis and Palestinians on towards a permanent peace, and given our steadfast support to their negotiations. I want our conference to pay tribute to the bold leadership of Secretary Kerry, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. This is the best chance in a decade, perhaps the last chance, of ending this conflict and Britain will be with them every step of the way.

We have stepped up the pressure on Assad and his regime, and given new help to save the lives of innocent victims of their oppression. On Friday night at the UN Security Council I cast Britain’s vote for a resolution requiring the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Working with the Foreign Ministers of the other permanent members of the Security Council, we agreed to convene a peace conference by mid-November. Millions of bereaved and displaced people deserve every effort by the leading countries of the world to bring this tragic conflict to an end.

We have set a date too for new negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme. Twice last week I sat down with the Iranian Foreign Minister. We welcome the new and positive message from the Iranian government that they are ready to negotiate. It is vital that these promising words are matched with genuine action. We will test Iran’s sincerity to the full and we will take steps ourselves. The talks which we agreed on improving our bilateral relations have already begun. We are not naïve and will never be starry-eyed. But we will miss no opportunity for diplomacy to prevail and the spread of nuclear weapons peacefully to be prevented.

We must never understate the great dangers to peace and security these challenges bring, but nor should we underestimate what can be achieved through resolute diplomacy.

Diplomatic success often follows a readiness to use power that is hard as well as persuasive.

The reason that Iran is at the negotiating table is because we have imposed and maintained the toughest sanctions in modern times on its nuclear programme.

The reason that Syria now wants to hand over its chemical weapons is because the United States threatened military action.

To do our utmost to resolve these conflicts is in our national interest, and so is sticking up for British nationals around the world and for Britain’s Overseas Territories.

You would think that was obvious.

Later today I will be proud to speak alongside the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. But the last Labour government was prepared to negotiate away British sovereignty over Gibraltar against its people’s wishes – this government will never do that.

The Leader of the Labour Party didn’t mention the European Union once in his speech last week. Our Prime Minister set out our plan in January – renegotiate a new deal in Europe and then put the decision to stay in the EU or leave to the British people in a referendum.

It is the referendum James Wharton, our youngest MP and one of our best, is with all his skill and energy taking through Parliament and that your Conservative MPs are doing everything they can to make the law of the land.

It is the right course for the country because democratic consent for Britain’s membership of the European Union is now wafer thin, and that is above all because Labour in Government signed away power after power in Treaties without ever giving the British people the say they need and deserve.

So now the EU has a bigger place in our national life than most people in Britain ever wanted or will ever want and it has that place without their permission. The British people want change and they want a choice and we will give them that choice.

Cosmetic change is not enough; we want real change to how the EU works: an end to never-ending centralisation, a Europe that understands the global race we’re all in, a Europe which isn’t about ever more rules, regulations and interference from Brussels but lets power go back to parliaments and to voters. That is the Europe we want.

This change must go to the heart of what the European Union is for and where it is heading.

To take one key principle, the EU Treaties commit every single member of the EU to ‘lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’.  From the signing of the original Treaty of Rome this phrase has been part of the EU’s fundamental framework.

But, as our Prime Minister has said, for Britain that is not the objective and it has never been. Nation states working together with common rules, yes. But Britain as part of a superstate, never.

If some countries want ever closer union they can go ahead. But for those like us that don’t want it and don’t believe in it, it should go.

The Dutch have also said enough to ever closer union. They propose ‘Europe where necessary, national where possible’. That would be a far superior principle for Europe, so let’s write that into the EU’s rules – that wherever possible it shouldn’t be about more power for the EU; decisions should belong to each nation state. That would be a fundamentally different approach for Europe.

To those in Brussels who say that nothing should or need be changed, Edmund Burke taught us an organisation without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.

When David Cameron set out his vision for real change in Europe he warned that he’d be denounced as a heretic.

But I can tell you that Europe needs heresy and his heresy is spreading.

People used to think there was only one destination – a federal Europe – and the only question was whether you got there in the fast lane or slow lane. They don’t think that any more.

Governments across Europe are talking about power coming back to the countries of Europe.

That is something new.

Even now, some people say that real change in Europe isn’t possible – often the Labour Party, who never tried to change anything at all.

But just look at what we’ve achieved in three years in Government:

A referendum lock in law, now accepted by the other Parties, so that never again can treaties shift power from Britain to Brussels without the British people’s consent.

No more of the Eurozone bail outs that Labour signed us up to – the first time a power has ever been returned from Brussels to Britain.

The EU budget cut for the first time; and unlike Labour, not an inch given on the rebate hard won by Margaret Thatcher.

A treaty against our national interest – vetoed.

An EU military headquarters – vetoed.

Dramatic reform of that long-running, wasteful and indefensible disaster, the Common Fisheries Policy.

An agreement that there should be no new EU red tape for the smallest businesses.

Free trade agreed with Korea and Singapore. And talks opened on free trade with Japan, the world’s third largest economy, and on a transatlantic free trade deal with the United States, which we as a nation dedicated to free trade will do our utmost to achieve.

And all that in a Coalition. Just think what we could accomplish on our own.

Everything we have achieved and everything we want to achieve comes from active diplomacy and hard work.

No single Labour Europe minister even bothered to visit every EU country. David Lidington has been to all of them and is over half way round his second lap.

We have made our security and foreign policy alliance with France stronger than it has ever been.

The last government neglected our friendship with Germany. We have invested in it and, by the way, we saw in Chancellor Merkel’s great election victory what happens when a conservative party that understands the global race meets a party of the left that doesn’t.

And it is not just in Europe that this government is reviving British diplomacy, we are doing so across the globe because we know that a world without British influence would be a less safe, less free, less prosperous and crueller place.

Our greatest leaders Disraeli, Salisbury, Churchill, and Thatcher have always known that to be secure and successful at home Britain must exert itself abroad. Standing as we do on the shoulders of these giants, we know it can never be part of a Conservative foreign policy to understate or reduce our influence. Withdrawing from the world has never been the creed of the Conservative Party.

We cannot pull up the drawbridge to our islands. We will only get the best for Britain if we go out and work for it all over the world.

And we have more to work with than perhaps any other country on earth. As we speak, soldiers in Sierra Leone are being trained by the British Army, pirates are being held at bay in the Gulf of Aden by the Royal Navy; terrorist plots are being tracked and foiled by our Intelligence Agencies; war criminals are being brought to account by British lawyers in courts from the Netherlands to Cambodia; human rights defenders languishing in the prisons of repressive regimes are not forgotten because of British NGOs; half a million people are being taught English by the British Council in 49 countries; families in 800 million homes around the globe are tuning in to watch the Premier League; 400,000 overseas students are being educated at British Universities, 500,000 are studying for British degrees on campuses from Malaysia to Manhattan; hundreds of thousands of girls in Pakistan and Yemen are going to school thanks to British development funding; and every two seconds, somewhere in the word, a child is saved from life-threatening diseases by vaccines provided by the United Kingdom. All these things and more British people are doing every day. Quite something for a small island, isn’t it?

We are able to keep ourselves and others safe because of our fine diplomats, our dedicated aid workers and our unmatched Intelligence Agencies, and because our Armed Forces are second to none.

And when British companies sell beer to Germany; wine to France; teapots to China, salmon to Russia and clothes to India, it is not only because their products are among the very best in the world, it is because British diplomats and trade representatives are active in 270 overseas posts working for every person in this room and in our country, and the Prime Minster and I expect every Minister travelling overseas to do the same.

We can all be proud of what Britain accomplishes in the world.

We can be proud that British people pioneered the Arms Trade Treaty, that we were one of the first countries to sign it.

We should be proud that British development aid is saving lives and helping to create opportunity for millions of impoverished people.

And I am proud that at the United Nations last week 120 countries promised for the first time to join me in my campaign to shatter impunity for warzone rape and sexual violence. Next year we will hold a global conference in London and ask people of all parties and all nations to say that we will not accept that rape can be used as a weapon of war against millions of innocent women, men and children, and that those who commit these crimes will never again be allowed to go unpunished. We must change the entire global attitude to these crimes, and we must attain that great strategic prize of the 21st century – full economic, social and political rights for women everywhere.

We should be inspired that when our campaigns are based on British democratic values we can stir the conscience of the world and change the lives of millions of people.

Let us be clear that it is unambiguously in our national interest that Britain plays a global role, and under this government we will never turn away from it.

Most of what we achieve is through our diplomacy, our culture and our generosity. Yet we should never shirk our tougher responsibilities or allow any country to think for a moment that Britain will not defend itself – and yes, the Falkland Islands will be British and be defended by Britain for as long as the Falkland Islanders wish it.

But this is not a government that is trigger-happy with our Armed Forces. As we reduce our forces in Afghanistan the only major deployment of the British Armed Forces we have authorised was to save thousands of lives in Libya two years ago, which we did without ground troops or the loss of a single British life in combat.

In Somalia and Mali we are using diplomatic and development power to stabilise fragile states, supporting African troops fighting on the ground, and the appalling terrorist attack in Kenya last week shows why our resolve to continue that work must never be shaken.

We will keep on expanding our influence in the world. The BBC World Service has more listeners than at any time in its history – up by 26 million in the last two years. We have six of the world’s top 20 universities. We must open the sluice gates of our soft power – those rivers of ideas, diversity, ingenuity, knowledge and values – and let them flow across the world, cultivating influence that flows rather than power that jars.

Ours foreign policy supports that objective.

Remember this: the last Labour government closed 43 British diplomatic missions overseas, and retreated from 17 countries altogether. They left our country less able to defend our national interest. We are opening up to twenty new Embassies and consulates in Asia, Latin America and Africa. We are doing more with a smaller budget, and Britain is better represented across the world.

Remember too that we are the only European country enlarging our diplomacy in this way. Britain led by us is going to be more active in more places, helping our businesses in more places, and it is going to look after British nationals more at the same time. The rudderless retreat of the Labour years is over.

Remember that under the last Government, there were British posts overseas that did no trade promotion work whatsoever. Now it is clear to every Embassy, High Commission and Consulate that they must create opportunity for hardworking British businesses which brings jobs and prosperity at home.

Remember as well that in 2009, UK exports were going down. Now they are going up. Last year, exports to Russia were up by more than 11%, to China up by more than 13%, to Thailand up by 41% and to South Korea up by 83%. Far beyond Europe we are working in every corner of the globe to create growth in the British economy. It is by expanding British trade that we will escape the debt-fuelled false boom of the Labour years and secure our country’s future.

Remember that last year, foreign direct investment in the world economy fell by a fifth, but in the UK it rose by a fifth. That is because we are pursuing George Osborne’s tax policies, Michael Gove’s education policies and Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reform that are making Britain competitive once more.

Remember that in 13 years, no Labour Foreign Secretary made a bilateral visit to our cousin-countries Canada, Australia or New Zealand. I have visited over 70 countries on behalf of Britain, including some where no British Foreign Secretary had set foot for years or at all.

Remember that the last Government ran down and sidelined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but we are building it up again. They closed the Foreign Office’s language school. Last month I opened a new one. And now I will open a new Diplomatic Academy to seal the revival of the Foreign Office. When it comes to negotiation, language and diplomacy British diplomats will be beyond doubt the very best in the world. We will never rely on anyone else to look after our national interest.

And remember finally that we have a Prime Minister who leads all of this from the front and who I can see every day is respected throughout the world for being unshakeable in his conviction and always representing his country with pride, determination and toughness. He always stays the course and he always thinks about the next generation.

We are not going back to the days of a drifting, left-wing, union-dominated, debt-laden, heavy-handed, conniving, in-fighting, back-stabbing, unrepentant Labour leadership who have learnt nothing from their errors, never apologised for their disasters and left our country weaker in the world.

So it is the policy of this government to work with other nations in shaping a more peaceful and prosperous common future, making full use of the ingenuity and inventiveness of the British people and our unique vantage point at the crossroads of Commonwealth, NATO, European alliances and our Special Relationship with the United States.

We have brought and will continue to bring an energy and determination to our dealings with the rest of the world and will always retain and expand our influence abroad to the benefit of hardworking people here at home.