PM speech at Lord Mayor's Banquet: 13 November 2023
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a speech on foreign policy at the Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall, London
My Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,
These are deeply challenging times for our world.
Events far beyond our shores echo here at home with implications for our security, our economy, and our very social fabric.
It falls to us to do everything we can to shape these events.
And so, we’ve delivered one of the most significant years for British foreign policy in recent times.
That’s due in no small part to James Cleverly.
I know he’ll bring the same vigour to the equally vital job of Home Secretary.
And I’m pleased to have appointed a new Foreign Secretary who will build on everything we’ve achieved in the last year…
A year in which we’ve gone further than ever to support Ukraine as the first G7 nation to move on sending tanks first to send long-range weapons and first to step up on training pilots.
In the last few weeks, I’ve travelled to Cyprus, Jerusalem, Riyadh and Cairo, to respond to the crisis in the Middle East and I’m in constant contact with leaders across the region.
Since we last gathered here a year ago, we’ve secured the Windsor Framework with the EU launched AUKUS with the US and Australia, building one of the most advanced submarines the world has ever known…
…signed the Hiroshima Accord with Japan, and the Atlantic Declaration with the US…
…secured membership of the CPTPP, which will drive global growth…
…delivered returns agreements to tackle illegal migration – an approach now being followed by many others…
…and brokered the first international statement on the risks of Artificial Intelligence – including the US and China, something many thought impossible.
But these treaties and alliances speak to something deeper:
Our willingness to act…
to shape the world, not be shaped by it…
…wherever there’s a challenge, wherever there’s a threat, wherever we can promote peace and security.
That’s why we’ve deployed troops to Kosovo, supporting stability in the Balkans.
20,000 servicemen and women are on their way to protect NATO’s eastern flank and the high north.
Royal Navy vessels are in the Middle East to deter further escalation.
And vital humanitarian aid is reaching civilians in Gaza, and across the Horn of Africa – funded by the British people.
This is who we are.
The difference we make, every single day, across the world, should make each and every one of us here tonight enormously proud.
We’re hard-headed about our interests and our security.
But Britain’s realism has always had values, and this is a moment for moral clarity.
My Lord Mayor,
The past is trying to stop the future being born.
What motivated Hamas to launch their horrific attack on Israel?
It wasn’t just hatred – it was also their fear that a new Middle East was being born…
…one that would see Israel normalising relations with its neighbours, and which gave hope for a better, more secure, more prosperous way forward.
Why did Russia invade Ukraine?
Because Putin feared the emergence of a modern, reforming, thriving democracy on his doorstep – and wanted to pull it back into some imperialist fantasy of the past.
So, we must keep alive the promise of a better future, bolster those striving for it and stand up for the innocents who Russia see as targets and Hamas see as human shields.
I recall those lines from Yeats:
“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is drowned… the best lack all conviction, while the worst, are full of passionate intensity.”
That’s what our adversaries believe.
So, we will outmatch them with our conviction and intensity.
We must and we will prove them wrong.
Let me set out what that means – in Ukraine, in how we help the most vulnerable around the world and in the Middle East – a region whose tragedy and heartbreak hang heavy on us all.
In Israel, I met the families of British victims.
I sat with them, held their hands, and saw the profound pain in their eyes.
I heard the existential fear that Israelis are feeling.
Their country was founded to ensure that what happened in the Holocaust could never happen again.
Hamas poses a fundamental challenge to that idea.
Hamas have stated clearly: “We will repeat the October 7 attack time and time again until Israel is annihilated.”
Last week was the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
And as we see hatred rising, we all have a responsibility to meet the promise of the words that in recent days have lit up the Brandenburg Gate:
“Never again is now.”
So, Israel must be able to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home.
But there are things that Israel must do as part of its response.
We’ve been clear they must act within international law.
They must take all possible measures to protect innocent civilians, including at hospitals, stop extremist violence in the West Bank and allow more aid into Gaza.
Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, described to me the terrible suffering of the Palestinian people.
Too many civilians are losing their lives.
That’s why I’ve doubled our aid to Gaza and why we continue to press – both at the UN and directly with Israel – for unhindered humanitarian access and urgent and substantive humanitarian pauses.
We want aid coming in by land, air and sea – and we’re ready to use our bases in Cyprus as a staging post.
Alleviating the suffering is our foremost priority.
But we need to do more – to create a new political horizon.
We must unite around the only answer that can come close to creating peace in those troubled lands.
The only answer that can acknowledge the history and hurt of both peoples.
The only answer that can allow a new future to be born and that is a two-state solution.
The UK wrote the original UN resolutions setting this out.
We’ve argued the case for decades.
But now we must help make it a reality.
So, to the UK’s friends across the region, like Jordan, Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, who support normalisation and peaceful co-existence and to our communities at home…
…I pledge to redouble efforts to this end.
That means providing the serious, practical and enduring support needed to bolster the Palestinian Authority because they are the best route to sweep away the terrible scourge of Hamas and all it has wrought.
As hard as it may be, no matter the obstacles, we must put the region on the path to a genuine peace.
We’re also supporting a better future for Ukraine.
And let me tell you this: the last year has shown that Russia cannot win.
They tried to blockade Ukrainian shipping routes – and they failed.
Ukraine has pushed back the Black Sea Fleet and made Crimea a vulnerability for Putin rather than a strength.
Russia is mounting its third wave of attacks on Avdiivka – and again they continue to fail, at horrendous cost.
Since their invasion, Russia has suffered over a quarter of a million casualties…
Half of the territory they seized has been taken back…
And Putin has faced a more united response than he ever imagined.
He’s ensured defence spending is rising across Europe, led by the UK…
He’s fast-tracked Finland into NATO, with Sweden close behind…
And he’s seen an armed rebellion marching on Moscow.
It’s a self-inflicted strategic calamity.
Putin’s vain hope is that we lose patience but, friends, we never will.
Instead, we’re providing more air defence to protect Ukraine’s cities and infrastructure, more help for the long, hard winter and we’re going further.
In February at the Munich Security Conference, I argued Ukraine needs long-term security assurances.
And in July, allies delivered.
Following the NATO summit, over 30 other leaders joined us in agreeing to put assurances in place.
Together we’ll strengthen Ukraine’s defence and boost their economy so they can thrive even while they fight to regain their territory.
And, to do so, Ukraine needs the City of London.
It needs all of you, it needs expertise and capital – and war risk insurance to support trade and investment and keep the ships moving.
I know you’ll deliver.
And so will the government – building Ukraine’s navy, training their pilots, and training their soldiers.
We’ve now trained over 50,000 Ukrainian troops.
President Zelenskyy and I went to meet some of them earlier this year.
I recall sitting together on a Chinook flying to the south coast.
Over the din of the rotors, we chatted and shared family photos.
It was a moment of normality in an abnormal setting – and a reminder of what unites us.
In the face of aggression, we will always protect our values and all we hold dear.
We will stand with Ukraine until they prevail.
Finally, to deliver a better future, we must lead not just with strength, but with compassion, helping the poorest and tackling global problems.
So, while Russia seeks to starve the world by choking off food supplies – we’re helping Ukraine get their food to those who need it most.
And next week we’re hosting an international conference on alleviating global hunger.
While some load the poorest nations with unsustainable debt, the UK is driving fundamental reforms of development finance, including a capital increase for the World Bank.
While some talk down our record on climate, we’re actually a world leader, cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country…
…and with $2 billion recently announced for the Green Climate Fund, I’ve delivered the biggest single international climate pledge the UK has ever made.
We’re also a leading donor to global health initiatives, helping vaccinate over a billion children, saving millions of lives.
But we bring more to the table than funding – we also bring our expertise.
Right now, the world’s first ever malaria vaccine is being rolled out across Africa – with the second one following soon.
It has dramatically cut early child mortality.
And where were both of those vaccines developed?
Right here in the UK.
We don’t talk about it enough, but every day Britain is out there helping the poorest and most vulnerable, saving and transforming lives.
So, I say it again – this is who we are, and it should make us proud.
My Lord Mayor,
When conflicts overseas create division at home, it’s more important than ever that we preserve the values we hold dear - tolerance, free speech, the rule of law, respect for our history.
We’ll protect all communities from violence and intimidation.
And prevent people being drawn into radicalisation.
In these dangerous times, we’re not just defending a better vision of the future against those who would destroy it, we’re marshalling our expertise, our people, and our alliances to bring that future into being.
We’ll continue to stand up for what is right.
We’ll stand with our allies and with the most vulnerable, wherever they may be.
We’ll show that the best is full of conviction and that our values will prevail.