On 6 July, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Nations welcomed Matthew Rycroft, UK ambassador to the UN, in a meeting organised by UNA-UK. Mr Rycroft discussed the challenges and opportunities facing the UN, as well as the UK’s priorities for the Organisation.
Following an introduction from the Chair, Lord Hannay, Mr Rycroft acknowledged the impact of the EU referendum, saying "my job has just got a lot bigger" because "the UK’s window into the world will be even more through the United Nations". His words echoed UNA-UK’s statement on the importance of the UN in the wake of the referendum and our call for increased international engagement by the UK Government.
The ambassador said that the greatest threat to the UN is the risk of becoming irrelevant and suggested that the best way to prevent this is to ensure that a strong Secretary-General is selected. He acknowledged that the reforms implemented - following the calls of UNA-UK’s 1 for 7 Billion campaign - have helped to achieve this.
With two weeks until the Security Council begins deliberations on the selection process, Mr Rycroft called for a Secretary-General who can "shake things up" internally and "speak truth to power", while still maintaining a strong relationship with the permanent members of the Security Council. He further emphasised that the next leader should display outstanding integrity and strong personal qualities, and noted that it would be very difficult for the Security Council to "pluck someone out of mid-air" who had not engaged in dialogue with the General Assembly in accordance with the new, more transparent process.
Mr Rycroft also noted that UN peacekeeping is currently at a crossroads, following allegations of sexual violence. He expressed strong support for the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy towards perpetrators of sexual violence and spoke of the need to increase both the quality and capability of UN peacekeepers. The ambassador said that positive steps have been taken to create cultural change, but acknowledged that there was more to be done. He looked toward the UN Summit on Peacekeeping, which will be held in the UK on 8 September, as an opportunity for review and reform.
On the subject of nuclear disarmament, Mr Rycroft expressed doubt over the effectiveness of the wider UN membership's plans to create a legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons, insisting that such a treaty will have "zero effect in the real world".
The meeting followed an evidence session for the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the United Nations, at which UNA-UK’s Executive Director, Natalie Samarasinghe, gave oral evidence. Natalie spoke before the House of Lords Committee on International Relations about the key UK priorities for the next UN Secretary-General and the impact of the EU referendum on the UK’s role at the UN.
Photo: Matthew Rycroft speaks to press. Copyright UN Photo/Mark Garten