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​​​All eyes overseas – a week dominated by foreign affairs

Foreign Affairs
By Tom Haynes
18 April 2024
Public Affairs
foreign affairs

​With domestic rows offering little to cheer the government, another week dominated by foreign affairs saw the latest stop on the Foreign Secretary’s seemingly never ending round the world tour, with Lord Cameron taking part in the G7 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Capri.   

​​Fresh from his recent success at the NATO ministerial meeting and something of a diplomatic coup in the States over funding to Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary now faces an even tougher challenge in relation to the situation in the Middle East. While he will undoubtedly maintain his focus on NATO and Ukraine, the ongoing situation in Israel and the broader Middle East is taking centre stage. ​ 

​While this time last week UK politicians were questioning the legality of supplying arms to Israel owing to the situation in Gaza, discussions of freezing arms sales to the country have gone quiet quickly in Westminster. Since last week, the situation has rapidly grown, with the UK, alongside other allies, conducting live military operations alongside Israel against Iran. It now seems as though further diplomatic efforts from the US, UK, and others to talk Israel down from the cliff edge of further escalation and “take the win” over its efforts last weekend have failed. The Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, has made it clear that “we make our own decisions”, and Israel is now preparing for a significant strike against Iran. The UK Government is campaigning for coordinated sanctions against Iran to help demonstrate a united front from the G7 against Iran’s activity in the region. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the UK and its G7 partners need to prepare for the very real risk of further escalations of conflict in the region.  

​Heading further east, the Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, delivered a major Chatham House speech, building on his recent Commons statement on the risk posed by China. In a plan set to “boost economic defences against threats to British economic model”, the Deputy PM warned about the risks an integrated globalised world pose for economic security. As part of measures to help combat future threats, Dowden outlined plans to introduce bans on British firms selling new AI technologies to countries like China. While this is unlikely to set the hearts racing for those outside the Westminster village, it does play into the broader divisions with the Conservative Party regarding their position on China and follows pressure from President Biden to help prevent British investments going into innovative tech like AI and facial recognition that could ultimately undermine security in the West.​​ 

Closer to home and heading back to the corridors of Westminster, the Prime Minister has faced yet more challenges over votes on key legislation. Hot on the heels of a divisive Commons vote on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill on Tuesday night, the government has faced further trouble with its flagship Rwanda Bill. The legislation that will deem Rwanda a safe country and permit deportation flights to start was rejected by the Lords for a third time this week. While many on the Conservative benches were calling for further votes to be scheduled for today, the parliamentary ping pong will enter a fourth-round next week when it returns to MPs on Monday. 

Although Parliamentary protocol will result in Peers yielding to the Commons’ primacy as the elected chamber, they seem intent on dragging this out a little longer yet. Government business managers may be hopeful that the part time members of the Lords are unable to return next week, using the weekend to dwindle numbers, but this is perhaps something of a long shot. While it is fair to say that the bill will almost certainly receive Royal Assent next week, this is not quite the resounding victory the Prime Minister would have been looking for at the start of the week. He may well be turning to his Foreign Secretary once again to try and bring some positive headlines from overseas next week, too.