On 13 July, parliamentarians and civil society convened to hear UK Permanent Representative to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, discuss the UK’s relationship with the UN at a joint meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the United Nations and the APPG on Global Security and Non-Proliferation.
Mr Rycroft commented that the UK will leave the European Union but will 'not be leaving multilateralism' and will instead need to work even more closely with the United Nations. He emphasised the need for UN reform, including on peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and internal reforms, to ensure the international system is in the best possible shape as we head into an uncertain future.
Drawing attention to the importance of peacekeeping, Mr Rycroft raised the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers as a threat to the institution’s credibility and effectiveness. He highlighted the UK's commitment to improving peacekeeping at a time when the US is wishing to cut its contribution to the peacekeeping budget. In this regard, Mr Rycroft remarked that the UK is keen to work with other Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) to deliver effective peacekeeping and went on to express support for many of the ideas contained in UNA-UK's campaign for decisive action to combat sexual abuse by peacekeepers. Specifically, UNA-UK welcomes Mr Rycroft's suggestion that the Security Council could take further measures to prevent contingents with discipline problems from participating in peacekeeping.
Mr Rycroft mentioned that the famines in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen have placed significant strain on the UN's humanitarian system and that the UK must work with the Organisation to join-up its short-term and long-term development programmes. Mr Rycroft stressed that the UK will continue to spend 0.7% on overseas aid and maintain the UK's position at the forefront of the UN's programme of work on international development. On human rights, the UK ambassador stated that the international community will need to work hard to retain hard-won victories given the concerning regression in global attitudes towards rights.
Commenting on the reforms made on the appointment process of the Secretary-General - the focus of UNA-UK's successful 1 for 7 Billion campaign - Mr Rycroft remarked that the UN has displayed a willingness to show greater transparency, with the UK taking a leading role in supporting UN reform. The UK ambassador commended UNA-UK for hosting António Guterres in London in May, when over 1,500 guests convened to hear the UN Secretary-General discuss his priorities.
In response to a question about the UK's lack of engagement with the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Mr Rycroft was skeptical, insisting that "it will have zero effect in the real world" and reaffirming the UK's support for a "step-by-step" approach to disarmament.
Later in the discussion, Mr Rycroft expressed his dissappointment at the French decision to abstain during a recent vote in the General Assembly on the Chagos Islands. The vote went against the UK by a margin of 94 to 15, with many traditional EU allies abstaining.
The well-attended meeting included further questions on wide range of issues, from Syria to the impact of US policy on the UN.
Co-chaired by Mike Gapes MP and Lord Hannay of Chiswick, the meeting was preceded by the AGMs of both APPGs, to re-establish them for the new parliamentary session.