The Queen’s Speech - Foreign affairs, European affairs, International Development and Defence
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, today. This is my first opportunity to speak as a Back-Bencher for two years, and I very much welcome the freedom to pursue my own interests. The gracious Speech states:
“My Government will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states. Alongside this, early legislation will be introduced to provide for an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union before the end of 2017”.
The EU in/out referendum, and the prior renegotiation of our terms of membership, is likely to be the defining political issue of the next couple of years. It has certainly dominated our discussions here today. But it is also a form of navel-gazing, amending what we already have, rather than looking to our future economic and foreign policy priorities.
The majority of our future economic opportunities lie not in Europe, but in the emerging economies, and in particular in the emerging continent of Africa. As your Lordships’ House will know, I am passionate about Africa’s future. Africa and Britain have a great deal in common. This morning, my noble friend Lord Howell mentioned our shared history, language, rule of law, freedom, democracy and, most importantly, the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth binds us together.
We must wake up to Africa’s potential. It is home to the fastest-growing middle class in the world and the population is expected to double by 2045. As has been well-stated, six out of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa, with economic growth averaging more than 5% in the continent, which is three times the European growth rate. Rapid urbanisation, along with increased GDP per capita, are creating a sizeable consumer class across Africa, which is in stark contrast to the economic performance of many European countries. As a continent, Africa represents one of the last growth frontiers in the world. In the past five years, we have increased our trade everywhere in the world. We have seized the initiative, particularly in Asia. Trade with China and other emerging powers is stronger as traditional partners have fallen behind. Yet here in Britain, we continue to view Africa through a time warp. This is a failure of successive Governments, who have focused on our aid commitments and the poverty of parts of the continent rather than on identifying trade potential. Our attitude to Africa has consistently been patronising and demeaning. With the exception of the extraction industries, British businesses have more often than not kept away, perhaps still influenced by the stigmas of the past.
I have been fortunate to have visited Africa on many occasions in recent years. Every time I am in Africa, I am repeatedly given the same messages: “We like you”; “We love you”; “We are part of your colony”; “We want to trade with Britain”; “You are our partner of choice, but we don’t see you around”. Our trade with Africa is worth around $35 billion. Over the past decade, the countries that have spearheaded investment in Africa have been China and India, with Chinese-African trade at over $200 billion last year. This is our failure. We are missing out on a chance to reduce our balance of trade deficit, increase prosperity and expand our diplomatic influence.
The difference between China and the UK is that our private sector is truly private. We have to do a much better job of convincing British companies to go to Africa. It is in their interest as private companies and in the interest of this country. We must show our private sector the opportunities in Africa and work with it to enter those markets. A major part of our foreign policy must be to reintroduce and rebrand Africa to the British business community. Some of the Government’s actions since 2010 have been steps in the right direction: boosting UKTI’s presence and resources, the appointment of trade envoys, restoring our focus on the Commonwealth at the FCO and the opening of five high-level prosperity partnerships in Africa. These are all encouraging, but they are baby steps in comparison to what really needs doing.
Last year’s US/Africa summit hosted by President Obama in Washington was perhaps the most prominent recent display of interest in African opportunities. It was a clear demonstration of commitment to a great continent of opportunities and an acknowledgement that trade will always have a longer-lasting impact than aid in building a country. Yet again, a competitor is getting in ahead of us, even though we have a substantial African diaspora in Britain that we can tap into.
I urge Britain’s business leaders and the Government not to get lost in the minutiae of European negotiations, and to give some thought to a report released by Deloitte at the end of 2014, Africa: A 21st Century View. It stated that Africa’s middle class is expected to increase to more than half a billion people by 2030. All those people could be buying British goods and services. If they did, it would bring incredible wealth to our great country—considerably more than any European settlement can manage. It is time that we sensibly thought about the future and embraced modern Africa. Let us stop talking about our aid commitments and poverty, and instead seize our opportunity. If we do not do it now, we may well be too late.
Finally, I pay tribute to the Minister, my noble friend Lady Anelay, who is a friend and mentor to me. I will forever remain grateful to her for providing the opportunity to allow an African refugee such as myself to serve in Her Majesty’s Government.