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Layla Moran's Speech to Autumn Conference

September 28, 2020 11:19 PM

Layla Moran at Conference 2020

I'm delighted to be addressing you as the Liberal Democrats' new spokesperson for foreign affairs and international aid.

I'd like to start by thanking my good friend Alistair Carmichael for everything he has done, and will continue to do, to champion human rights and justice around the world.

And of course thank you, too, to the brilliant Wendy Chamberlain for her tireless efforts in protecting UK aid.

I am of course sad to be leaving my role as Education spokesperson.
I spent my career as a teacher before I was an MP.

But once a teacher, always a teacher, and every day is a learning day, and so I look forward to this new challenge.

In this role, I will be able to use another side of my past. You see, I am a citizen of the world.

Or as Theresa May cack-handedly called it, a citizen of no-where.
I've always preferred citizen of everywhere.

I was born in Hammersmith but when I was one my British father took me and my Palestinian mother to Brussels where he started his career as an EU official. His job took us to Ethiopia, Greece, Jamaica, Jordan and Egypt.

My childhood was spent with a front row seat observing aid projects, attending diplomatic dinners and sitting in on trade discussions.From the back of the room, I'd listen and I'd observe how politics across the world played out on the ground in the incredible countries that we lived in.

Which was my favourite, you ask?

I cannot answer that question.

Every single one left an indelible mark on me and how I see the world.
From Ethiopia, through six-year-old eyes, I watched as military parades of tanks and soldiers would filter by our house on an almost daily basis.

A reminder to the country of the power of that dreadful dictator Menghistu who presided over the catastrophic famine made famous by Live Aid.

I remember meeting those children, my age, who had nothing. To this day I will never forget them.

It is why I care so deeply about our country's commitment to 0.7% of gross national income going to aid.

Why I have always been driven to tackle poverty and stand up for the powerless.

Perhaps, had I been born to different parents, I could have been them.
We give aid not just because it is in our enlightened self-interest, but also because it is the right thing to do.

From Jordan, I got to better understand my own heritage.

My mother's family are from Jerusalem.

An old Greek Orthodox family with a long proud history of living within the city walls.

I got to know my cousins and my mother's school friends as the family moved to Amman when my mother was in her teens.

By this time, I was the teenager, and I got a glimpse into the incredibly complex politics of the Middle East.

I am proud to be the first British-Palestinian MP.

I am proud to speak about my family's history in the context of peace, and to press for recognition of Palestine by the UK.

Self-determination is not a carrot or a stick for the US or the UK to use for their own ends.

For me it is personal, it speaks to a deeper sense of being recognised to simply have the right to exist.

And that is the approach I take to this brief; like all politics, it's always personal to someone.

Reading the news today, and over the past weeks and months, you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK's place on the world stage has been utterly undermined. And that it's beyond repair.

We have a Tory Government that is considering scrapping our aid spending commitments.It's turning a blind eye to human rights atrocities abroad, and flouting international law. And I don't care if it's in a "limited and specific" way - breaking the law is still breaking the law!

The Liberal Democrats will always stand with the oppressed and the marginalised across the globe, as the most internationalist party in Parliament today.

Human rights, equality, and the rule of law are at the heart of who we are as a party. Those values are at our very core.

Just look at our legacy - I am so proud that it was our party who enshrined the 0.7% UK aid spending commitment in law.

But now, 'Global Britain', under the Tories, is abandoning the world stage. The Tories' mask has slipped. To them, it's just Brexit and jingoistic national pride.

To us, it means so much more.

This year marks 50 years since the Liberal Party, as it was then, became the first political party in the UK to adopt the gross national income spending policy at its party conference.

Helping to lift people out of poverty, tackling some of the most deadly diseases, and enhancing the lives of children across the world: this commitment does vital work that helps the most vulnerable and it transforms lives.

I cannot believe that the Chancellor is even considering reneging on that pledge in the upcoming spending review;

With the merging of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with the Department for International Development, the Government is sending entirely the wrong message. It says 'eradicating poverty is an afterthought', not a top priority.

That's wrong.

With illnesses like Covid-19, no one is free from it until everyone is free from it. Our world is more connected than ever before and to pretend that we can tackle this virus at home without doing the same abroad is just beyond ignorant.

Our response is only as strong as the weakest healthcare system. And we cannot forget the biggest issue threatening our species' very existence: climate change.

To withhold aid now is not only morally wrong, it's against our own interests too.

That's why I'm working with MPs from across Parliament to urge Rishi Sunak to take this threat off the table.

And beyond that, I'd like us to look at increasing aid spending to 1% of gross national income, with the extra 0.3% used to help tackling climate change abroad.

Helping the poorest.

This is what 'Global Britain', as the Tories have been so fond of talking about, really means - I want us to be proud of our role on the world stage, not ashamed.

The Tory shenanigans over the Northern Ireland protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement have fundamentally undermined trust in our nation.

It used to be that you could trust the UK to do as it promised. Our word was our bond. Our integrity beyond reproach.

No more. And this matters.

How can we expect countries like China to respect the international rule of law if we're not championing it ourselves?

The UK has a responsibility to the people of Hong Kong, which is why the Liberal Democrats, led by Alistair Carmichael, introduced a cross-party bill in February to give all the people of Hong Kong the right to live in the UK.
The new national security law imposed by Beijing aims to stamp out protests, in the name of protecting national security.

From what we've seen on the Chinese mainland under similar laws, this is about silencing people.

Silencing dissent. Silencing democracy.

How can we, as Liberals, let that stand?

Now is the time for Britain to step up, to reopen the BNO passport offer to give more Hong Kongers, including young people who have been excluded until now, the right to live in the UK.

The Liberal Democrats stand with Hong Kong.

Now is the time for the Government to stand up and join us.

ut of course it is not just Hong Kong where China's repression and brutality are laid bare for all to see.

Because what is happening to the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province is nothing short of genocide.

Detailed reports show that more than one million people are being kept in so-called re-education camps in the region.

That's not all.

Physical abuse.

Squalid conditions.

The forced denouncement of their Islamic faith.

Forced sterilisations and abortions.

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide includes in its definition:

"Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group"

For me, that's clear.

This is a genocide.

History is watching us.

The world is looking to the UK and the international community to stand up and take action.

I wonder, has Dominic Raab seen the footage of people being led off trains to internment camps?

I simply don't believe he hasn't.

Which begs the question: why is he ignoring it?

Why aren't we automatically granting refugee status to Uyghur fleeing persecution?

What does Global Britain mean if not that?

To me, it means open arms, it means leading on the world stage in taking firm action against hatred and repression.

We must not turn a blind eye.

The Chinese Communist Party must be held to account.

And it starts with us. As consumers, we have a responsibility that the products we buy, and the companies we support, aren't connected to human rights abuses.

Any company selling products produced in the labour camps should not receive our support.

I call on our Government to ban the sale of those products immediately.
I'm sure many of you have seen the calls to boycott Disney's new film Mulan, due to its ties to the atrocities.

Disney's feeling the heat, and rightly so, as is Huawei following reports that it developed a monitoring system being used in the camps.
And then there's TikTok, which allegedly removed a teen's viral video about the repression of the Uyghurs.

ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, also stands accused of working with the Chinese state to censor and monitor Uyghurs.

This is about transparency as much as anything else.

A cutesy dance video may seem innocuous, until you realise that your money and your data is supporting a company that stands accused of helping to repress human rights in another country.

The onus is on TikTok to prove this is not the case.

As consumers, we have choices to make.

But while we can all do our bit, what we really need is for the UK Government to take a firm stance, to take action and show that we won't accept what is being done to the Uyghurs.

The Government must do the right thing and quickly.

That includes using Magnitsky-style sanctions against state and non-state individuals who are involved in implementing these clear violations of human rights.

The Liberal Democrats, along with colleagues across the political spectrum, are calling for an independent UN investigation, and for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to be allowed to freely enter Xinjiang.

And if we allow these companies to move their operations to the UK, or we fail to take the security threat seriously, we're tacitly accepting that repression, the 're-education', the sterilisation and other inhumane abuses as OK.

It is not OK.

So, Dominic Raab, pull your finger out. You will find support across Parliament.

Freeze dirty money and assets held in the UK.

And send a clear message: Global Britain won't tolerate this.

Or is 'Global Britain' just a branding exercise after all?

But while I've dwelled on China, there is so much more that we need to fight for.

In Belarus people's democratic rights and freedoms are being crushed with Putin's help. Those responsible for these heinous acts must not feel that the UK is a haven for their dirty assets. I welcome the sanctions announced on Thursday by the Government, although they should have come far sooner.

Civilians in Yemen are being killed by bombs, arms and equipment we've sold to Saudi Arabia.

How can this Government look itself in the eye?

And we mustn't forget the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

I've nearly reached the end of a foreign policy speech without mentioning Donald Trump.

Well, let me tell you: there will be no one happier to see the back of him in November. I'm sure you all agree.

Just take his so-called 'peace deal' in the Middle East: it is a sham.
Excluding the Palestinian people from any settlement undermines any chance of stability.

This is another perfect example of the much-hyped 'Global Britain' hiding from its historic responsibilities, and letting others fill the political vacuum.

Donald Trump doesn't care about peace.

He cares about being re-elected.

Britain should be stepping up to the plate in the Middle East - but instead it hides away.

To the Tories, I'm afraid, 'Global Britain' means one-upmanship, brinkmanship and playing economic games with people's lives.

That is not the Liberal vision for a Global Britain.

We must set the example, no other party is going to.

My litmus test is to be able to face those six year olds I met over 30 years ago and say to them that together we helped to make the world a better place now than it was then.

Our Liberal vision means we want the UK to take a leading role globally in standing up to repression, genocide and hatred wherever it appears. To fight against poverty and for human rights and social justice, and the international rule of law. We can make our values shine brightly for everyone to see.

As a party we have never been afraid to lead from the front when it comes to Britain's place in the world.

And that is not about to change.