Sir David Davis writes on taking back control


As published by Conservative Home:

David Davis: We must show we did not ‘take back control’ in order to turn our back on the world

“When people are free to choose, they choose freedom,” said Margaret Thatcher. That was true during the Cold War and it remains true across the world today. It’s true, to coin a phrase, of our money, of our laws and of our borders. The freedom to choose is a lode star that the Conservative Party forgets at our peril.

Thatcher always used to say, that the foundation of conservatism was “freedom under the law”. We should seek, for our citizens, the opportunity to spend the maximum amount of their own money. We should offer them the maximum amount of responsibility for their own lives, and their children’s lives.

We should hold sacred their freedom to choose. And we should trust them to make their own choices.

The upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, followed by consideration of the Nationality and Borders Bill in November, is an ideological fork in the road. We need a truly Conservative economic strategy: more deregulation, more competition, and more – not less – economic freedom. At stake is our place in a post-Brexit world; at question is whether Britain stands up for freedom around the world or whether we leave migrants to drown and children to starve.

They say great men make great nations. But that could not be further from the truth. Great ideas make great nations. And we might not have invented freedom but, my word, we have embraced it more than any other country over the last two hundred years. It was indeed a great man who said that there must be “both a ladder on which everyone could climb, but also a safety net below which no one should be allowed to fall.”

Yet Winston Churchill would surely question why we have slashed our overseas aid to countries ravaged by conflict and why our beaches are to be where we deny those seeking refuge their liberty. The proposal to refuse to even consider the plight of genuine refugees, while denying them viable safe and legal routes to seek asylum, cuts the safety net at the same time as we kick away the ladder.

The Treasury claims that the cuts to overseas aid are temporary, while at the same time choosing to use weaker Office of Budgetary Responsibility figures than they need to. For children staving during a famine in Yemen, that is of no comfort.

The Government have failed even to account for the consequences of their cuts. No impact assessments were made. No figures have been published for the number who have perished. And yet credible independent assessments suggest that it could well be comparable to the total death toll from Covid, which is still grimly reported on a daily basis on our TV screens. Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

The cuts to overseas aid represent just one per cent of the £400 billion cost of dealing with Covid. We should treat it like war debt and get it off the nation’s short-term balance sheet. We should issue long-dated Covid bonds and sell them at home and abroad. Then in 50 years from now, Covid will be just a distant memory and a distant cost.

But if we persist with the cuts, we will drive migration from war torn regions in the Middle East and Africa. We will, as Tom Tugendhat, the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, has argued, fail to create the strategic depth needed to protect our borders.

By cutting aid in Somalia, we have boosted Al Shabab. By cutting aid in Nigeria, we have encouraged Boko Haram. By cutting aid in Lebanon, we have assisted Hezbollah. And by cutting aid in Syria we have emboldened Daesh. That’s the assessment of Tobias Ellwood, the Defence Select Committee Chairman, and he is not wrong.

For all those Afghans who chose freedom but couldn’t make it out in time, who had to burn their passports knowing they no longer have freedom under Taliban law, we owe them a safety net as well as a ladder. We can’t allow them to make their way to Calais and be trafficked by people smugglers. We need a viable system for them to report to a British High Commission and fill out their paperwork. We need them to be able to arrive on a plane, not risk taking a boat.

To truly take back control of our money, our laws and our borders, we need the Treasury and the Home Office to embrace the true spirit of both Thatcher and Churchill alike. I am sure that Priti Patel and Rishi Sunak have what it takes.