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Why I’m running to chair the foreign affairs select committee

By Alicia Kerns

September 22, 2022

Over the past two decades our security challenges have been defined by the need to protect our people from terrorist groups that increasingly behaved like states. But between now and 2050 our entire state apparatus needs to reconfigure and focus on our most critical priority: protecting our people from states that behave like terrorists. Both we and our allies are wholly unprepared.

The foremost challenge of our time is how we rise to these threats. The decisions we take now, from investment and supply chains, to defending our multilaterals and the rule of law, and upholding human rights, the independence of our educational institutions, our culture and protecting our digital security, matter.

In January this year the foreign affairs select committee visited Ukraine. Back then, as hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers amassed on Ukraine’s borders, the groundwork for Russia’s second illegal invasion was being fostered through an all-of-state campaign of disinformation, infiltration, cyberattacks, assaults on democratic structures, economic warfare and military threats. It was upon this web of state-sponsored terrorist activity that President Putin launched his invasion, which has been defined by terror both in its inception and its brutal execution.

The decisions we make now will determine our collective security for the next half century. The constant evolution of technology and democratisation of information has changed the nature of geopolitics beyond recognition, and we now face a plethora of new and disorientating threats. We must recalibrate and build up whole-of-nation resilience.

Resilience takes many forms, from securing energy and food sources, and strengthening our many alliances, to much greater scrutiny at home — with hostile states monitored and prevented from influencing our society, infrastructure, and state at all levels. I helped shape how we combat these new and rapidly developing challenges before I became a MP when I worked at the Foreign Office, for Nato and with allied governments to combat terrorist organisations such as Daesh and Hezbollah, and to counter threats from hostile states, including Russia. I want to use this experience to encourage a more strategic prioritisation of resources, helping the government in its most important duty — keeping our people safe.

Amid increasing volatility in international affairs, parliament needs to speak with a strong and unified voice if we are to rise to this era-defining challenge. Serving on the committee since my election, and through my work on stability in the Balkans, Ukraine and on China and Taiwan I have seen how when the British parliament speaks, the world listens.

Together we must challenge our government and allies to make resilience a whole-of-government effort. This is a multi-decade problem, but one we cannot afford to delay. The foreign affairs committee has already led the way on establishing resilience as a guiding principle for government. We published a report on the proposed takeover of Newport Wafer Fab, the UK’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, by a company with links to the Chinese Communist Party. A review has now been launched into the acquisition under the National Security and Investment Act. This level of scrutiny is necessary if we are to maintain and nurture our national resilience, and as chair I would continue to challenge government whenever our national security is at risk.

Our security and prosperity are enhanced when we work with our allies around the world. Few countries can convene as many nations together as the United Kingdom. In Ukraine, British leadership marshalled European allies into sending more military and financial aid. Last year, we hosted Cop26, which saw the world come together to announce the most ambitious climate goals and commitments to net zero. We have a truly global constellation of alliances, and we must continue to use this soft power to focus minds and address global issues — our own safety relies on it. But we must also challenge the government to explain what its Network of Liberty will deliver for our freedoms. Rhetoric alone can never deliver meaningful safety.

The foreign affairs committee can help to lead the conversation on opportunities and help defend the international rules-based system. We must double down on ensuring our international justice architecture is fit for purpose, to protect us and our allies and all those who others seek to silence. If our country doesn’t take up this responsibility, others will — without our sense of fair play and respect for the rules-based order. If elected as chair, I want to organise joint committee inquiries with our G7 counterparts, bringing together representatives from around the world to foster consensus and conversation between like-minded democracies.

There is a tsunami of rhetoric about our relations with China, when what we need is serious, level-headed analysis and pragmatic action. As chair of the China Research Group, I have spent the past years highlighting how the Chinese Communist Party will be the key geopolitical challenge of the next decade. We need the government to produce a serious China strategy, that sets out how we can contest, contain and — as is often necessary — co-operate with China.

I recently tabled an amendment to give the government powers to shut down CCP-funded Confucius institutes should they be found to be undermining academic freedom and free speech. Our proposed powers were accepted, and I am working with our allies in Taiwan who I hope will provide alternative Mandarin language teachers free from the corrosive influence of the Chinese Communist Party. I want to see the foreign affairs committee adopt this pragmatic approach and build it into a comprehensive review of our relationship with China. Where we challenge, we should offer solutions and alternatives.

The lessons from Ukraine are clear — the decisions, defences and resilience we implement now are what will keep us safe in years to come. We need to make ourselves, our alliances, and the international order more resilient and take a stand to defend that which keeps us safe and the institutions that deliver justice. It would be an honour to chair the foreign affairs committee as it continues its vital work in scrutinising and guiding government policy. The picture globally is challenging, and we need a chair who has experience on the committee, of the Foreign Office and of challenging those hostile states seeking to overthrow our security. I am the right person to take the committee forward, and I hope that my colleagues will give me that honour and opportunity.

Alicia Kearns is MP for Rutland and Melton


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