Power of Foreign Policy: Interview with Alicia Kearns


Noa Hoffman

7 minute read

Alicia Kearns has earned a reputation as an expert in global affairs. Amid ongoing crises around the world, she talks to Noa Hoffman about the importance of foreign affairs, tensions on Ukraine’s border and rescuing Afghans from the Taliban onslaught.

Alicia Kearns refuses to be placed in a factional box. The 2019er MP for Rutland and Melton is guided by her own view of conservatism. It’s an ideology she pieced together in her youth and later during stints at the NHS, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice and Foreign Office.

“I’m not uncomfortable with the fact that I don’t fit into any of the conservative brands,” Kearns said when we met at Portcullis House.

“When it comes to social justice, I’m very centrist, but on defence, security, welfare and the economy, I’m very right-wing.”

Kearns grew up in a ‘left-Labour’ household in Cambridgeshire, where she didn’t know any Conservatives and ‘thought ‘Conservative’ was an offensive term. But she saw her parents, who grew up in poverty, take on their “personal responsibility” by working hard to build a better life for their children. Their commitment to family and community planted the first seeds of the conservative ethos in Kearns’ mind; feelings that blossomed during the MP’s post-graduate life in public service.

It was in the halls of Whitehall that Kearns began a process of political self-discovery, re-educating himself and forming strong opinions away from the influences of family, student unions and campus activists.

“The prisoner vote was a real turning point for me because I think if you have harmed your community, you have no right to have a say.

“It was interesting, because the Tories were absolutely criticized for this and I was like, ‘I completely agree with them!’

“You have to sit down and question everything you’ve ever thought and say, ‘Well, do I really believe that or did I just embrace it?

Last month, Kearns made headlines when she was allegedly at the center of a 2019 ‘pork pie plot’ to oust the prime minister – named after her constituency’s famous food item.

Kearns is adamant she had no role in leading the operation to try to bring down Boris Johnson. Instead, the MP says, she was there to discuss shared “participation” concerns with colleagues.

“The last few weeks I hated it because it felt like a distraction,” Kearns says of the conservative Civil War.

“It brought out the worst in some MPs in terms of a love of drama and theatre, shouting and teasing.

“It’s anathema to the politics I want to do.”

The policy that Kearns really focuses on and actively “wants to do” is foreign policy. The 34-year-old is passionate about defence, diplomacy and security. She is a strong supporter of NATO and the Five Eyes Anglosphere intelligence alliance, and a strong believer in the power of global Britain to influence the international order and preserve the peace and prosperity of democratic states that share the UK’s respect for civil liberties.

Kearns made a name for herself as a forensic inquisitor on the Foreign Affairs Committee and impressed MPs across the House of Commons with her intimate knowledge of the politics of Bosnia, China, Ukraine, Russia and Afghanistan, among others. She suggests that having foreign policy as an area of ​​expertise is relatively rare, and laments that this area is too often considered, as she puts it, a “luxury”.

“As a human being, your main concern is your safety,” she says. “Security comes down to foreign affairs. Hopefully in this country we will never see another civil war. So the threats hanging over us currently come from abroad.

“Look at Russia and the Salisbury attack – it’s not a fancy stampede.”

Speaking of the crisis in Afghanistan, which gripped the hearts and minds of parliamentarians last summer, Kearns has tears in his eyes.

As the country fell to the Taliban, she attempted to evacuate 680 families seeking refuge in Britain. She successfully managed around 400 people, holding conference calls into the wee hours while caring for her newborn baby.

“When everyone said it was chaos, it was awful,” Kearns says.

The MP’s home phone number has been leaked to the veteran community and Afghans on the ground, so the former Foreign Office official has been handling incessant calls and messages for help from around the world . In addition to liaising with the Foreign Office to secure eligible places for Afghans under government resettlement programs, Kearns has spent time personally raising funds to evacuate those at risk to neighboring states. safer via trade routes – even managing to raise £12,000 in an hour by calling ‘random people’. she “thought she had money”.

However, when a private company offering to transport fleeing families raised its price by 300%, Kearns had to return its money to some donors.

“Those weeks have been some of the most emotional of my life,” Kearns says. “The idea that it was ‘Dunkirk by WhatsApp’ is 100% true. It’s been a chaotic three weeks and we’ve all done everything we can to get people out.

As Kearns continues to help at-risk Afghans, much of his attention is now focused on the crisis on the Ukraine-Russia border. She recently visited Ukraine on a Foreign Affairs Committee trip, where she witnessed a state desperately trying to preserve its sovereignty in the face of a neighboring aggressor.

“It’s a really desperate situation when you leave a country in this state of mind,” she said.

Kearns thinks Britain and its Western allies should not have allowed Ukraine to reach the point of vulnerability it finds itself in today. For eight years after the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine faced repeated threats of invasion from Vladimir Putin, as the dictator sought to reverse what he describes as the “disintegration of Russia historical”.

“For too long, the West has allowed Putin to constantly move forward without consequences, and if there are no consequences, there is no deterrence,” Kearns said. “Essentially [we’ve] said, ‘You just snapped; we are not going to get up.

Kearns wants the Foreign Office to employ more “deterrence diplomacy”, not only in its dealings with Russia but, where appropriate, with any hostile actors. “Diplomacy itself is a deterrent. If you talk enough about something, and put enough emphasis on it, you can prevent things from getting worse.

“When Britain convenes people, whether it’s in the country around an embassy or whether it’s an international conference, people come and listen. People respect us. »

Kearns hopes he can continue to focus on foreign affairs throughout his parliamentary career. “I want to be a voice for those whom others seek to silence. It goes from my constituents to the people in Afghanistan,” she said.

“I will fail; I won’t succeed at some things. But it’s very important for me to feel like I tried.

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