With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on last week’s European Council and this week’s summit in The Hague, which included the first meeting of G7 leaders—without Russia—in almost 2 decades.
Before I turn to the subject of Ukraine, let me briefly update the House on discussions on the economy, on energy and climate change, on the situation in Sri Lanka and on efforts to combat nuclear terrorism.
First, our long-term economic plan is supporting the growth of a new trend, reshoring, in which jobs are starting to come back to the UK. A recent report from EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, found that 1 in 6 firms had brought all or part of their production to UK suppliers over the past 3 years. That reshoring of jobs is vital because it means that more of the benefits of globalisation can be felt by the British people, so, with the support of the CBI and Business Europe, I argued at the European Council that we should do more to develop reshoring in Britain and across Europe. The Council agreed to encourage that by doing more to cut red tape, attract investment, stimulate innovation and pioneer more work on reducing energy costs, including shale gas.
Secondly, businesses need affordable energy prices to keep pace with their competitors, so we agreed to accelerate efforts to complete the internal energy market and we agreed to improve the energy flow across the continent with more interconnections. On climate change, we want the EU to play a strong leadership role in efforts to secure a global climate deal next year in Paris. That means swift agreement on a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union, and I fully support the 40% target proposed. At the European Council meeting we did not reach full agreement in the EU and further attempts will be made on that later in the year.
Thirdly, on reconciliation in Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa has failed to address the issue of the past properly, so in the coming hours the United Nations will vote on a UK-sponsored resolution for an international and independent investigation into alleged war crimes. At the Council, I secured the full backing of all EU member states for this approach and it is reflected in the conclusions of the Council. At The Hague I urged leaders from countries as diverse as South Korea, Kazakhstan, Gabon and Japan to support this crucial resolution.
On combating nuclear terrorism, which was the subject of the summit in The Hague, the meeting reaffirmed our determination to push through reforms of global security systems to ensure that vulnerable nuclear material does not fall into the wrong hands. This initiative, launched by President Obama back in 2010, has led to a remarkable amount of nuclear material being secured and reduced across the world, which should be commended.
On Russia’s actions in Ukraine, I had 4 clear objectives at these meetings: to secure an increase in the number of people subject to travel bans and asset freezes; to agree specific measures in response to what has happened in Crimea; to develop more clarity on what would happen if Russia were to take further steps to destabilise the situation in Ukraine; and to join efforts to build support for a democratic, successful and independent Ukraine. I want to say a word about each.
First, as I made clear in this House 2 weeks ago, if Russia did not engage in dialogue with the Ukrainian government, or if those talks did not start producing results, there must be clear consequences. As a result, travel bans and asset freezes have been imposed, and last week the European Council agreed to extend these measures to another 12 individuals, bringing the total to 33—broadly the same number as has been imposed in the US. We have cancelled the EU-Russia summit, agreed not to hold bilateral summits, and decided to block Russian membership of the OECD and the International Energy Agency. In The Hague, G7 leaders agreed that there would be no G8 summit in Sochi and no further participation in any G8 activities until Russia changed course. We agreed there would instead be a G7 meeting in Brussels in place of the Sochi summit on the same day.
I also pushed hard on the need to reduce Europe’s dependency on energy from Russia. The G7 agreed that energy Ministers would meet ahead of the Brussels summit, and the European Council tasked the Commission to produce a comprehensive plan for reducing Europe’s dependency on Russia by June. This work is long term but vital. It requires new gas pipelines, new liquefied natural gas terminals, more shale gas, more sources from outside Russia and greater connectivity. Above all, it requires political will and I am determined that, although the UK has almost no reliance on Russian gas, we should play our part in this important work.
Secondly, it was important to take specific measures in response to what has happened in Crimea. This was a sham and illegal referendum conducted at the barrel of a Kalashnikov. Both the European Council and the G7 leaders made very strong statements condemning the illegal referendum and condemning Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations. Both meetings were clear: the international community will not recognise either. The European Council also agreed to implement economic, trade and financial restrictions on occupied Crimea, accepting Crimean goods only if they came from Ukraine, not Russia.
Thirdly, both the G7 and the European Council sent a very clear message to President Putin that it would be totally unacceptable to go further into Ukraine. The international community remains ready to intensify sanctions if Russia continues to escalate this situation, and I pushed hard at both meetings to secure greater clarity on what this should mean. The G7 agreed that this could include co-ordinated sectoral sanctions that would have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy; and for the first time, the EU Council tasked the European Commission to prepare measures that would have far-reaching economic consequences. Russia has a clear choice to make. It does not have to continue on this path. Diplomatic avenues remain open—and we encourage the Russian government to take them.
Finally, both meetings reaffirmed the strength and breadth of international support for the Ukrainian government and their people. It is clear what needs to happen. We need a broad and generous International Monetary Fund package of financial assistance to help the Ukrainian government stabilise and repair their economy. We need a Ukrainian government who reach out to the regions and respect the rights of Russian-speaking minorities. We need an association agreement between the EU and Ukraine; that is now signed, but it needs to be backed by reduced tariffs on Ukrainian goods. We need international support for free elections, which should enable all Ukrainians to choose their leaders fairly. Britain will support all of these things.
Russia’s violation of international law is a challenge to the rule of law around the world, and should be a concern for all nations. We have to be clear how unacceptable it is, and to see through these economic sanctions and consequences. Otherwise, we will face similar situations in similar countries with a similar sort of unacceptable behaviour. Britain must continue to play its part in standing up to Russia’s actions—pressing for Russia to change course, and helping the Ukrainian people in their hour of need. I commend this statement to the House.