The immediate reaction to Philip Hammond’s appointment as Foreign Secretary has largely been seen through the prism of Europe, and what it will mean for the Prime Minister’s already discredited approach to our EU allies.
But important as it is, reform of the EU is not the only task on the new Foreign Secretary’s to-do list.
His predecessor, William Hague, rightly received cross-party praise and credit for bringing together politicians and activists from across the globe for his Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict summit in London last month. He succeeded in building not only political momentum, but also civic action in support.
Many activists and campaigners will be watching closely to see if Phillip Hammond champions this vital cause with similar zeal. With this and other key issues, he clearly has a lot to prove in the remaining ten months before the general election.
One of the reasons for much of the concern is Phillip Hammond’s recent track record on LGBT equality at home in the UK.
He refused to support last year’s landmark legislation on same sex marriage, or civil partnerships 10 years ago, or the repeal of Section 28 before that. He also voted against enabling same sex couples to adopt, and against equalising the age of consent.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has moved forward leaps and bounds in recent years in promoting LGBT rights around the world, particularly as a result of Labour’s introduction of the FCO’s annual human rights report.
It is credit to the work of successive Foreign Secretaries that highlighting discrimination and prejudice against the LGBT community has become an essential part of the FCO’s human rights work.
So, like his voting record, it will undoubtedly cause concern that the new Foreign Secretary has spoken out against same-sex marriage, saying the Government’s same sex marriage bill caused “a real sense of anger” and was “damaging” for the Tory Party.
Why is it particularly important that the new Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, now answers his critics on LGBT rights? Because, as Pink News readers will know, in too many countries around the world LGBT people face institutional discrimination, persecution and even the death penalty simply for being themselves.
We have seen a rise in homophobic attacks in countries such as Russia, where discriminatory laws have recently been introduced, and across the Commonwealth, where nearly 80% of member states criminalise homosexuality.
Countries such as India, Uganda, Nigeria and Brunei have all recently taken steps backwards to further restrict the rights of LGBT people. Something that Labour has urged the Government to be more vocal about in recent months.
The UK can be proud of the steps we have taken towards LGBT equality here in the UK, but there are real questions about how a Foreign Secretary who opposed this here in the UK can now go on to credibly and effectively make the case for LGBT equality to the Commonwealth, and beyond.
We need clear assurances that he will now use the UK’s key position on the Human Rights Council to challenge fellow members, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, which do not respect LGBT rights.
As he left office William Hague tweeted about what he saw as his achievements. UK leadership on human rights was one of the issues he highlighted.
Sadly, there was no such mention of human rights in the press statement Philip Hammond issued on his appointment, outlining his priorities. This does not bode well.
So, as he goes through his in-tray and gets to grips with his new brief, I hope Philip Hammond comes to realise that the world is now looking to him, and to this government, to show leadership on human rights. And I hope he will not let us down.
Kerry McCarthy is Labour’s Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the MP for Bristol East