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Tom Tugendhat MBE MP speaks at Autumn Lunch

Around 40 people enjoyed the West Kent Chamber of Commerce and Industry Autumn Lunch on Friday 19 October in the stunning surroundings of the Lowry Room at Tonbridge School with guest speaker Tonbridge and Malling MP, Tom Tugendhat MBE.

After a welcome drink and two-course meal, Mr Tugendhat was introduced by Chamber Director, John McAuliffe, a Partner at Warners Solicitors. He outlined Tom’s education and career – which included a period in the British Army in which he served on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and was, most recently, the military assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff.

Mr Tugendhat spoke at the lunch three years ago and said it was great to be back. As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, his talk had an international flavour and he said that we face two key challenges currently, the first of which was a move from multilateralism to bilateralism and unilateralism. He gave the example that the United Nations is pulling away from many of its associations with other organisations such as NATO.

The other change he noted is the rise of autocratic states which are prepared to act in a lawless manner.

“We are witnessing a breakdown of the order we have been used to since 1945 and this is a greater challenge than Brexit,” he told guests at the lunch.

He explained that part of his role on the Foreign Affairs Committee is looking at issues such as these and considering what is the appropriate course of action to take if nations ‘break the rules’.

“Moving forward, we can’t rely on EU sanctions anymore and we don’t implement sanctions in the same way as either the US or Australia,” he added. “Exercising control demands partnership but finding partners is a huge challenge. Some people think we can stand on our own but we can’t – not even the US or China can do that.”

Mr Tugendhat then explained how many international rules had been created under British law, including the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Now is the time we should talk to people, find partners and rebuild the rules – as we did post 1945,” Tom continued. “In my current role, I am pushing hard to reinvest seriously in foreign affairs and diplomacy. This is something the UK can take a lead in as we have the skill set here to do that, as we have done so over the years.”

There was then an opportunity to ask questions and these included one about General David Petraeus’ recent comments about the British armed forces being ‘greatly diminished’ by witch hunts; whether the rise of unilateralism is the product of Trump; how we should approach the current ‘poker game’ with Saudi Arabia; and why, at a time when Mr Tugendhat says we need to be looking for partners are we walking away from the EU?

On the subject of Brexit, Mr Tugendhat said that although he was on the ‘remain’ side we need to ‘accept the decision and find different and better ways of building partnerships and working together’.