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We must stop outsourcing UK foreign policy to Donald Trump

If elected Labour leader, I would campaign for an independent foreign policy that upholds international law and human rights
Britain's opposition Labour Party leadership contenders, from left, Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey on 12 February (Reuters)

When you run for Labour leader, everyone rightly wants to know what you stand for. A whole range of organisations and campaign groups ask whether and how you’ll fight for their issues and challenge the Tory government.

On foreign policy, I believe the answer is simple: we have to stop outsourcing it to the Trump administration.

Peace, human rights, international law and global justice should be at the heart of our foreign policy, which, as we’ve seen time and again, is simply incompatible with handing over our independent policy to the US. 

Shattered trust

When the last Labour government participated in the invasion of Iraq, it shattered that country and the trust of millions of UK voters in our party and the political system.

Outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn was right to apologise on behalf of the Labour Party for its role in the catastrophe when the Chilcot Inquiry report was published. It’s up to us to ensure that sort of apology is never needed again. 

Under the Conservative government, we haven't learned from the mistakes of the past. Too often, we are pouring fuel on the fire of deadly situations

The evidence is blindingly clear: recent wars in the Middle East have made both the UK and the region less safe. That is one of the reasons why I voted against bombing Syria in 2015, and also why I spoke out recently against the threat of war with Iran.

To not repeat Britain’s catastrophic role in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, we must chart a course independent of the White House and instead support international law and conflict resolution efforts.

But under the Conservative government, we haven’t learned from the mistakes of the past. Too often, we are pouring fuel on the fire of deadly situations. Take, for example, the war in Yemen: through British arms sales and other military support to Saudi Arabia, we are directly involved in deepening the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 

Coddling Saudi Arabia

As of 2018, it was reported that half of all children in Yemen aged between six months and five years were chronically malnourished, around 20 million people were food insecure, and 85,000 children were estimated to have died of starvation. 

No wonder the Court of Appeal has ruled arms sales to Saudi Arabia illegal. But the Conservative government disgracefully invited Saudi Arabia to one of the world’s largest arms fairs in London. The government’s continued coddling of its Saudi war ally is devastating for the Yemeni people, damages our standing in the world, and is likely making us less safe. 

Smoke billows after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa in 2018 (AFP)
Smoke billows after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa in 2018 (AFP)

I am proud of Labour’s policy to immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and to Israel for use in violating the human rights of Palestinian civilians. I am proud of the strong support we gave to Palestinian human rights in our last two manifestos and in the motions we overwhelmingly agreed upon at Labour conferences in 2018 and 2019, and at the last Trades Union Congress.

Our manifesto was also right to commit to immediately recognising a state of Palestine. Our solidarity couldn’t be more needed as US President Donald Trump and Israel’s hard-right government seek to push through an illegal and outrageously unjust conclusion to the conflict. We must instead stand for international law and the inviolable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the return of refugees. 

The path forward

As Labour leader, I will argue passionately that the UK must decisively break from our history of outsourcing security and foreign policy to the US.

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Whether it be joining the US in arms sales to repressive governments in Honduras and Colombia that attack trade unionists, or backing Trump’s dangerous plan for Palestine, the Tories dance to Trump’s reactionary tune. 

Labour can set a different course, campaigning for an independent foreign policy that upholds international law and human rights, and places peace and climate justice at its heart. That’s not just right for the world; it will also keep us most safe at home. 

Another world is possible, but only if we are willing to stand up for what’s right and not be cowed by the powerful.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Rebecca Long-Bailey
Rebecca Long-Bailey is Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and is running to be Labour's next leader.