Full transcript | William Hague | Speech to Conservative Spring Conference | Cardiff | 6 March 2011

"We have led international action against Colonel Gaddafi's regime in Libya."

May I begin by paying a heartfelt tribute to a part of our party I know better than almost any other, and have worked with and admired for sheer persistence, optimism and verve over the last two decades: our party in Wales.

I am always pleased to be here, in the land of my fathers-in-law, but am truly delighted, after those dark years when there were no Conservative MPs in Wales, that alongside our hard-working members of the Welsh Assembly we now have eight excellent Members of Parliament.

The people who have fought for thirteen years to bring that about are a great credit to our party.

I used to speak here as Welsh Secretary; now as Foreign Secretary I want to tell you our coalition government is ambitious about Britain's role in the world and clear about where we stand in it.

We are ambitious to lay the basis for a Britain that is strong and prosperous into the future, as well as able to rise to the great foreign policy challenges of our time.

We are clear that Britain will be ready and willing to confront threats to international security and to help those less fortunate, through our diplomacy, our generous development aid, and our continuing military power.

We inherited a defence budget £38 billion overcommitted, and we have had to make sense of it. But that does not stop us being immensely proud of our Armed Forces. From our brave troops in Afghanistan to our Special Forces that swooped to rescue British nationals from the Libyan desert, we possess the finest Armed Forces that any nation could possess.

They are one of our many great assets as a nation, which should make us confident about our place in the world, ambitious about what we can achieve for ourselves and for others, and inspired not just to see threats in the world around us, but also tremendous national opportunity.

In our first ten months we have done much of what we promised we would do in foreign affairs.
First, we pledged to get our foreign and defence policy back onto a sound financial footing, and we have taken the hard decisions the previous government shirked to ensure that we retain the full spectrum of military capability into the future.

Second, we promised a distinctive British foreign policy that never neglects to pursue what is right for Britain and that extends our country's influence beyond our important alliances in Europe and North America. And so we are an active and independent voice at the UN in climate change negotiations and in the G20, and we are forging the new relationships and new means of influence with the rising economic and political powers of the 21st century that will help our country long into the future:

* We have already built closer ties with Turkey, Europe's largest economy and an important partner in foreign affairs and defence.
* We have called a halt to Britain's diplomatic retreat in Latin America, and are forging closer links with Brazil and Chile.
* We are drawing up proper plans for the first time in a decade for the future of the UK's Overseas Territories and we have put the 'C' back in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, believing as we do in the reinvigoration of the Commonwealth.
* And we have pursued with vigour a plan I announced on my first day in the Foreign Office, to elevates British ties with the governments and peoples of the Middle East - in diplomacy, health, education, commerce and civil society - which recent events have shown to be exactly the right thing to do.
Third, we promised to promote our democratic values and to stand up for real human rights, believing passionately that everyone from Burma to Zimbabwe to Tahrir Square in Egypt has the right to freedoms we enjoy, and knowing that we cannot seal off our nation from the consequences when tyranny prevails and human rights are trampled.

And we said that our foreign policy would protect the interests and needs of the British people - not just their security but also the exports and inward investment on which jobs in our communities and growth in our economy depend. So we have Ministers fanning out overseas as never before to support the British economy, and the Foreign Office is geared up more than ever to promote Britain.

It is foolish to imagine that we can be strong in foreign affairs and strong in armed strength unless our economy is strong, or that there is something wrong with backing British business, large and small, as they navigate the global economy, face increasing competition from overseas, and have to overcome obstacles in new markets.

Our foreign policy has to support the British economy, and under our leadership it will do so with confidence because the livelihoods of British families depend on it.

Of course there are critics in Labour's ranks, but we should not take any lessons in foreign or economic policy from those who left office with our nation exporting more to Ireland than to India, China and Russia put together, and more to Denmark than to the 20 countries and 576 million people in Latin America. The last Labour Government:

* Was spending more servicing the interest on our national debt each year than on our defence, diplomacy and development aid combined;
* Left behind a defence budget that was overcommitted by more than the entire annual defence budget.
* Waged ten years of continuous war overseas, without any new Strategic Defence Review or assessment of Britain's wider strategic interests;
* Ran foreign and defence policy from a sofa in Downing Street rather than, as we do, in a proper National Security Council led by the Prime Minister;
* Promised an ethical foreign policy but left Britain's reputation stained with allegations of complicity in torture and a cloud over our Intelligence Services;
* In short, that combined ruinous economic policy at home with a rudderless approach to the wider world.
After ten years of this and more, Britain has a foreign policy once again.

Our foreign policy builds on Britain's strength in the past, but also anticipates the future.
We understand that in a world of networks of states and individuals, we have to strive to be a country that is an inspiring example of democratic values, and places itself at the centre of the new networks of higher education, business and cultural exchange.

In Afghanistan, where we are in conflict, we have supported our troops by doubling their operations allowance, are working with 47 other nations to build up the strength of Afghanistan's own security forces and are committed to Afghan-led reconciliation - all with the objective of Afghans determining their own affairs without presenting a danger to the rest of the world.

We know that preventing conflict before it arises is infinitely preferable to despatching military force when all else fails, and doing so saves lives. That is why when Britain held the chair of the UN Security Council in November last year I put Sudan on the agenda and chaired a Special Session, to rally the international community to take every measure to ensure that the referendum on Southern independence passed peacefully.

And our emphasis on heading off future threats is why Britain will host the first international government conference on cyberspace later this year, to lay the basis for agreement on the use of cyberspace, which is currently rife with crime and open to hostile state activity. It is also why we have put Britain at the forefront of multilateral action against nuclear proliferation, by declaring the maximum number of warheads in Britain's nuclear stockpile, and why I have declared effective action against climate change a central objective of our foreign policy.

It is a foreign policy that stands up for our sovereignty while being an active member of the European Union. We are energetic in playing a leading role there, making the most of the great opportunities it offers to promote trade within Europe and globally and to exercise the nations of Europe's collective weight in the world to full effect.

Yes, the European Union has much to offer this country, but the fact remains that in my view it has too many powers over our national life, and has come by them in ways that lack full democratic legitimacy.
The full rigour of democracy should be brought to bear on any future changes, so next week I will move the 3rd reading of the EU Bill that brings in a referendum lock. If it had been in force all the recent Treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon would have been subject to a referendum, with no room for Ministers to wriggle out of it.

Never again should the powers of the British people be given away without their consent.
And under this government there will be no shrinking of British diplomacy. If anything, we are expanding the reach of our foreign policy. You might be surprised to learn, as I was, that I was the first Foreign Secretary to visit Yemen in 15 years; the first to go to Australia and New Zealand in nearly 20 years; and the first to visit Tunisia in 29 years.

British ministers have been absent for too long from places that are among our oldest friends or are crucial for our security: we are putting that right.

In the coming months British diplomacy will be needed more than ever for we are living through what is already one of the three most important events of the early 21st century, alongside the financial crisis of 2008 and 9/11 a tidal wave of change in the Middle East.

If democracy and development can be achieved peacefully in countries like Tunisia and Egypt it will be the greatest advance in world affairs since Central and Eastern Europe changed so dramatically twenty years ago and many of their countries entered the European Union. It will also be a great extension of political freedom.

If not, it could mark the start of even greater instability.

As the Prime Minister said in Kuwait, Britain will stand with the people and Governments of the region who are on the side of justice, of the rule of law and of freedom. Denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, it creates instability.

Britain and other like minded countries must help give every incentive to these countries to make decisions that bring freedom and prosperity.

That is why at the European Council next week we will be calling for Europe to change its thinking and set out a programme to bring down trade barriers, set clearer conditions for the help it provides, and marshal its resources to act as a magnet for positive change.

It is time, as I agreed with the French Foreign Minister in Paris on Thursday, for European nations to be bold and ambitious, and at next week's European Council, without patronising the people of Arab nations, show that Europe will be the lasting friend of those who put in place the building blocks of strong civil societies, economic openness and political freedom.

And as one of the world's oldest democracies and the world's oldest political party, we can offer help in building the foundations of democratic societies, which is why I announced a new UK-Arab Partnership Fund to support democracy projects in the region.

We will not seek to dictate how they should run their affairs. But nor will we stay silent when a regime turns its arms on its people.

That is why we have led the way in international action against Colonel Gaddafi's regime in Libya.
Our first priority was to bring British Nationals out of harm's way, which we did, evacuating over 600 Britons and many hundreds of people from over 30 countries including the US, Europe and the Commonwealth. We owe a big tribute to our Special Forces, to our teams on the ground day and night in Tripoli airport, and to a country whose friendship is always dear to our hearts, Malta.

It was a British-drafted Resolution that was adopted unanimously at the UN Security Council, referring Libya to the International Criminal Court and targeting the movement and assets of the regime;
It was Britain and our allies who rightly gathered the sixteen signatures needed to trigger a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council, paving the way for Libya to be suspended from the Council.

It was our government that acted to seize £900 million of banknotes destined for Libya, and to strip away Colonel Gaddafi's immunity as Head of State; and it was our Department for International Development that flew tents for supplies and blankets for 36,000 refugees on the Tunisian border as well as airlifting several thousands of people back to safety in Egypt.

And we have sent a clear message that the violence in Libya must stop, that Gaddafi's departure is best for Libyans, who have the right to decide their own country's future, and that the international community must prepare for all eventualities in Libya, by doing the planning now to deal with ever greater violence if it arises in the days to come.

Those who may be committing, or considering committing, crimes and abuses in Libya should know that the reach of international justice can be long. Let them be warned again that if they do such things, countries such as ours will do their utmost to see that they are held to account.

As the Prime Minister has said, we should prepare for all eventualities, particularly if Colonel Gaddafi strikes out still harder against his own people. So it is right that we are looking at contingency plans for a No Fly Zone, and discussing the options with our allies in NATO and with Arab nations. Any actions we take must be necessary, legal and have international support.

The weeks to come may be hard ones for millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East, but we should understand the young people David Cameron met in Cairo and I met in Tunis, who follow no ideology but want the best chance in life, the best chance for them, and their countries, is something the United Kingdom should do its best to make possible, and over the coming months we surely will.
And so, whether we are delivering a clear message to Gaddafi's regime, or helping political parties to grow and compete in her neighbours, or championing the vital cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, or continuing to confront the dangerous nuclear ambitions of Iran, British foreign policy in the Middle East will be focussed, clear and energetic.

The role we play will be part of our wider global role, standing as we do for aid for those in need, security for those in danger and free trade and prosperity for our partners overseas and our jobs and businesses at home.

Under our Government Britain will extend its reach and influence, develop new networks of friendships and alliances, and help make our own country more prosperous and secure.