Blue Skies Podcast with Erin O'Toole

MP Alicia Kearns, the Chair of the United Kingdom's Foreign Affairs Select Committee, joins Blue Skies to discuss the AUKUS alliance, the war in Ukraine, the Balkans, China and the need for democracies to stand against foreign interference. The conversation with MP Kearns provides an interesting view on geopolitics and how one of Canada’s closest allies views the state of our defence spending and influence.

What is Blue Skies Podcast with Erin O'Toole?

blue-sky (verb)
: to offer ideas that are conceived by unrestrained imagination or optimism.

Hosted by Erin O’Toole, President and Managing Director of ADIT North America. Erin is the former Member of Parliament for Durham and former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. The Blue Skies political podcast explores issues facing Canada and the world in a format that brings together thought leaders for an informed and engaging conversation.

Welcome to Blue Skies. The Blue Skies podcast talks a lot about geopolitics, deglobalization, the uncertainty in the world that it's facing Canadians, folks in North America. It's facing our Western Alliance and certainly our friends in the United Kingdom. And that's why we're so fortunate today on Blue Skies podcast to be joined by MP Alicia Kearns, a leading voice, both in her work before politics and now in the House of Commons in the UK. Alicia is the MP for Rutland and Melton. She was elected in 2019 and in 2020 started serving on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and on the China Research Group, given her background in foreign policy. In 2022, Alicia became the first female chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, bringing her expertise in diplomacy and counter -terrorism in global risk to parliament. I love that professional experience being part of the House of Commons. She was educated at Cambridge and worked at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office before her election. She lives in Langham, a village in her riding with her husband and two children. Welcome to Blue Skies, Alicia.

Thanks so much for having me here and it's always a joy to talk to you and even now more on a podcast for the first time.

Well, it's been a few years, but we appeared on a discussion on Kansak and we've talked China and things over the years as I was Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs and then leader of the Conservative Party. But before let's start, tell us a little bit about your writing. Where is Rutland and Melton so that Canadians can kind of see where your writing is? Because we know there's an election coming later in the UK. Where's your writing?

So it's in the very heart of the country. In fact, I would say it is the beating heart of the country. It's very, very agricultural. So obviously our what we call constituencies, but your ridings are nowhere near as big as Canadian ones are. So they're meant to be about 76 ,000 people. Mine is far bigger than that at the moment, but it's made up of about 187 villages and three market towns. Now these are not towns by Canadian standards. These are our lovely, lovely British kind of chocolate box towns.

So it's very agricultural, 413 farms, the home of Stilton where afternoon tea was invented. So it's a really wonderful part of the world. I'm very, very fortunate.

True jolly old England and it's well represented in parliament. I will say that. So you are a busy person. So we're going to do a sort of, you know, top hits in terms of some of the issues your committee is facing and the world is facing. And you and I were on a panel once with an Aussie, you, myself, I had to get up, I think at 4 a .m. in the morning to be the Canadian on the panel. But we were talking about Kansas, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

Let's do it.


those Commonwealth partners doing more, four of the five I's working together. And it was particularly important when it looked like President Trump was pulling away from multilateralism that close allies like our countries could do more together. Well, there's no Kanzak, but there's, there's AUKUS and there's no can in AUKUS, unfortunately. So talk a little bit about the AUKUS.

relationship and how important it is, particularly in the Indo -Pacific and the geopolitical scene.

So I think AUKUS is absolutely a fundamental cornerstone for UK security going forward and I would put it in line with NATO and also Five Eyes in terms of its importance for us. So I think...

Getting on board with something that is going to be that significant for our future is of a big challenge. I think it needs a complete whole of government response. I'm worried about the fact that in the UK it's currently based in the defence department, whereas actually I think it needs to have everyone involved, particularly all the science and tech and what people often call the kind of sexy bit, you know, strand B, pillars two and three. So I think it's a massive, massive project and it's a complete change to our entire concept of security. And yes, it's primarily naval. But as I said,

I said it's also all these other different areas of work that are going to make us safer as a country but also our ability to help keep our allies safer is going to be even more intense than it was before.

Well, you touched a few things there that I want to probe. You said it shouldn't be housed in MOD, in defence, and it's as important than NATO and the Five Eyes. Is AUKUS, at least pillar one of AUKUS, really just about submarines and about, you know, common kit? And is it just a defence alliance? Because, of course, we're the Five Eyes friends sort of sitting on the sidelines crying, saying, hey, we used to be… part of all these important military alliances. Is it more than just that sub deal from your perspective in the UK?

It really is. And yes, submarines are of vital importance more and more as we see increasingly aggressive actions in our seas by hostile states around the world. And obviously Canada will be looking at that very heavily as we see, you know, the melting of ice and obviously increased freedom of movement for certain hostile states around certain parts of the world. But it is as much about that pillar to the technology, you know, submersible technology, you know, hypersonics, AI, you name it. And so this is an enormous opportunity, but also economically.

this is a real opportunity for us to burden share but also to really invest in those technologies because one of the biggest challenges is that over the last 10 years when we all thought we were opening our doors

let's say, honestly, let's name the thing we're talking about, the Chinese Communist Party. We all opened our doors and we showed them our market economy, our democracy and our values and our rules based system. And we were either arrogant or complacent enough to think that they would see it and go, yeah, we wish we were in that world with you too. Let us in, let us reform, change our system. It's not about CCP party survival above everything else. And obviously that's not what happened. And the challenge is that like any business that would plan to fail, there should have been two strands of work. One, that kind of

showing them the way that they could follow and the other building up the deterrence, the resilience, the protection within our system from where they may make us vulnerable in the future. And because none of us, none of us in the Five Eyes, let alone more broadly, did that deterrence or resilience work, us grouping together now in AUKUS might give us a chance to catch up because the CCP is definitely focused on technological advancement. That's what they're spending the next, you know, between now and 2050, the next 25 years focused on. So if we're going to catch up, we're going to need to work together.

UK, Canada for sure, were naively hopeful or naively optimistic that the opening up of trade and opportunity and globalization would bring shared values, not just economic interests. But in the 20 years that we've been focused solely on building trade and opportunity, China built a blue water Navy. And now there's tensions in the Taiwan Strait. So AUKUS in terms of the submarine deal,

Certainly, I don't think Canada has the capability, the personnel or the ability to even have a nuclear submarine fleet. We're going to look at upgrading our diesels. But do you see a role for Canada in Pillar 2? You alluded to Pillar 2 being that enhanced military capability, innovation, hypersonics, subsurface, all these sorts of things. Is that going to be a way for us to get into AUKUS or is Pillar 2 AUKUS the kids' table at the Christmas dinner.

It's definitely not a kids table. Look, no alliance is immune to tensions. And I think August did kick off with quite a lot of tensions, whether it be with the French or whether it be with the Canadians. I think there's a real challenge though, in Canada, defense is not enough of a national discussion. And that comes from inherently your geography, where you're based, the freedoms you have, the protections you have as a result of the relationships, and of course, your brother to the South. So I think there's real questions around whether or not Canada could be relied on to commit what would be needed to make Orkut a success. Because at the moment, Canada is not meeting its defense commitments as a NATO state. The Trudeau government has chosen not to hit 2 % of defense spending, 2 % of GDP on defense. And as a result, NATO is struggling. There is no question that NATO needs everyone to hit 2 % if we are going to help Ukraine survive. And I'm sure we're going to talk about that later. But I therefore have questions, even though Canada has shown real kind of leadership on AI and signal and

intelligence, if it's not going to deliver the hard weight, which is the money and the investment and the technology that we need, it can't be a reliable partner. And my concern is at the moment, you know, don't see it being a big political issue as we come towards a Canadian election. That's a concern for me because we are an alliance. We stand firm, we stand strong, or we all fall. And so I think at the moment, I don't see a place for Canada in AUKUS because I'm not convinced they're committing enough money to defend spending to be able to do that.

Harsh reality from a friend. You know, I've said that. No, listen.

I know, I'm so sorry. I would love to see Canada in Pella too, but I just don't think it's a reality. If you're not meeting your NATO commitments, why would you meet AUKUS commitments?

Oh, I think I think you're right. Certainly when I was conservative leader in 2021, we had a plan to increase defense spending. I think our allies, I think the pressure you're applying in a nice way. Ambassador Cohen, the US ambassador, it's coming from the right place. But let's talk about Ukraine because you talked about Canada, Canadian complacency really coming from the embarrassment of our geography is surrounded by three oceans and then our

It's slightly different from the way Trump said it. Yeah.

Our brother to the south our brother from the same mother if we're going to keep that analogy going the English -speaking peoples Canada stepped up before the United States in both World War one World War two. We used to be that reliable partner NATO is challenged as you said and let's talk about the biggest challenge Ukraine. There's now really a push where Democrats in the US may support a Republican speaker of the house in order to save his


but allow a vote on an aid package to Ukraine to reach the floor and to get done. With the US in a bit of political turmoil over additional aid to Ukraine, is the UK doing enough? Is Canada doing enough? Are the other partners in NATO, certainly the lead partner is the United States, but is there a role for the other NATO partners to do more? Certainly President Macron has taken some pretty aggressive language in terms of doing more for Ukraine.

Where is the UK going, particularly in an election year? Are you spending and giving enough military aid or do you think you need to do more?

So I think we all need to do more and if anyone says anything different I'd say to them, well what happened to the Adifka? You know, the fact that Ukraine had to withdraw from Adifka should shame us all because they had to withdraw because we did not get them enough munitions. And it's horrifying on the second anniversary of the renewed illegal invasion that we have world leaders celebrating the fact that Ukraine was still standing and independent, whereas actually we should be apologizing for the fact that they are still having their people murdered and killed every single day, civilians and those who are bravely fighting.

So we all need to do more. And Europe really has been on a journey. I mean, if you look at Macron, you know, in March 2022, you all the way through to the, not that long ago, he was talking about how we had to make sure we didn't humiliate Putin. It was really important. We didn't talk about Russia losing. We just talked about Ukraine winning. And he's on a big U -turn. You know, he really has changed his tact on that. He now recognizes and says that Putin must lose. The Germans, you know, the great site and vendor, for them that has been, you know, real,

you know, entire country, their entire population have gone through an entire change in the way they think about defense. But the reality is too many countries still aren't meeting their 2 % GDP on defense, and they are NATO countries who benefit from that security. And we can't all sit there and say Ukraine is fighting for us all, but then say, oh, but I can't find 2 % of GDP, sorry, to spend on defense. And I just find it really interesting that the countries who are doing the most are the countries who are the smallest. So Lithuania, you know, 1 .6 %

their GDP has gone to Ukraine alone. That's not their native commitment, that's just to Ukraine. You know, we keep seeing Schultz tie himself up in knots about tourists.


Give them Taurus. We have to give Ukraine enough not just to survive, but to win. So the UK does need to do more as well. But it's interesting because we all play different roles. And when I meet with Zelensky, he's very clear with me that the UK has provided the strategic leadership in terms of when they have needed new equipment, the UK has found some form of equipment. It may not be exactly what they want. So for example, the tanks, we found a form to give them so that others then move forward. Jets, training, long range missiles, you name it, the UK

has always been the first to step forward in some way and it has then pushed other countries to join in and to give what they can. So we need to do a lot more. In terms of a UK election, I genuinely don't think you will see a difference between if it is a Labour government, a Conservative government and a Labour government on this. We are completely united in parliament. My US counterparts when I was in DC a month or so ago couldn't believe me. They didn't believe the fact there wasn't a single British MP that would stand up in our parliament and say, let's stop helping Ukraine. Let's

our support for Ukraine. That is not a discussion and so it won't form part of the election but what will form part of the election is should we be moving to 2 .5 % of GDP? Should we be moving to 3 % of GDP? We recognise the threat and we know that serious action needs to be taken but Europe itself needs to step up but we need Canada as part of that.

Yes, and the UK, I think the difference, if I can, if I can suggest it, I know you can speak to it better than me. Having been part of wars in Europe twice before that had generational tolls on society, your parliamentarians don't want to see that happen again. And again, this is the blanket of security that distance gives the Americans and gives Canadians the the

some of the anti -Ukraine misinformation, other things is leaking into our politics as well. In fact, our party has been a little soft on support from Ukraine for Ukraine recently, which is too bad. What I've been pushing, and I'd love your thoughts on this. You're already talking about overall increasing the 2 .5 % of GDP for NATO. Do you see the opportunity to do more for Ukraine, give more military assistance to Ukraine?

and update your military capability at the same time? Almost give what you can now and create your arsenal of democracy to kind of manufacture and replace it, not just submarines and AUKUS, but new ground forces, new drone capability. Is this an opportunity for a reset of capability for the UK military?

It's exactly that. And it has to be a symbiotic relationship because we've realised there isn't enough defence industrial complex for any of us to be able to do what we need to do to protect our people in the worst eventuality as we are seeing. And there is a real challenge. But actually, for example, the UK has just announced a new joint drone development capability with Latvia. So we've both said, look, we both need this. Let's work together and let's enhance our drone capabilities. Ukraine is going to have the most equipped and the most war hardened

I don't

and trained and best trained military in Europe once it has its freedom, once it has defeated Russia and the threat that Russia still poses to its neighbors. So Ukraine needs to be part of that future because of how much we've invested in them but you are absolutely right about the working together. And the one thing I would say about the Americans...

You know, there is this Freedom Caucus who I think genuinely if World War II was tomorrow, they wouldn't come to Europe's aid. But the vast majority of Republicans are Atlantisists who believe that they have a role to play. They want to support Ukraine. And it really comes down to the Speaker. And I think it's really disappointing to see the Republican Party allowing itself to be recast and that my party can't really talk about how many times we've recast ourselves over the last few years, but to allow themselves to be recast as people who don't want to support Ukraine.

Well said and I think I think the the Americans will will always get there and it's just sometimes not a straight direction and I think we're seeing that now and they're in a an election year as well. That'll be fundamental to to not only the future of NATO and support for Ukraine, but I think for geopolitics because the holiday from history we've been having in the last few years that

when the vast majority of them do.

deglobalization, we really require American leadership to ensure that there's stability and the rest of the NATO partners can help. One final thing on Ukraine before... Please.

And Erin, can I ask, I'd love to ask you actually, what do you think a Trump victory means for Ukraine?

I'm very worried about it in terms of a lack of support. I think, you know, I do think misinformation by Russia has become so commonplace amongst what I would say the populist right in North America, including in Canada, but to a much lesser degree, so that Trump actually thinks he's representing true opinion of of.

American people when in actual fact that opinion has been crafted and shaped through misinformation on social media I know you did some of this in your Foreign office work working on misinformation While China is is the subject of a lot of headlines now. This was really invented by Russia and I think the the MAGA Republicans if we can call it that have been captured by this and it's always easy when the economic

times are difficult and there's inflation and cost of living crisis and a displacement of a working class population to say we don't need forever wars or to say we should spend our money and help our people. Those are very compelling narratives for people who are upset, but that's what leadership means. It means we require members of Congress, members of parliament to show the fortitude to do the right thing. And then to marshal public opinion,

in your point of view. You do that very well. That's why I've been a fan of yours since your election. You tackle the tough issues. And so I think that's going to have to happen. And I think the Republicans will have to have a come to Jesus moment, I think. And maybe that's an appropriate analogy in the case of our friends to say, what does the Republican Party represent? Is it the party of Ronald Reagan and peace through strength?

Or is it going to be this populist misinformation -led party? You're going to get me ranting and I want to use your precious time. Final thing I'm...

No, but I honestly think that's the point that people don't hear enough is that people think, oh, but I'm repeating what people say to me down the pub, or I'm repeating what people say to me when I'm queuing for my paper on a Sunday morning. But actually, you have to think about the information environment they're living in. But also, it is our job as elected parliamentarians to challenge that thinking, to marshal that thinking. And people will still end up possibly disagreeing with us, and a lot of people always will. But it is our job to elevate and to challenge that thinking, not just to regurgitate it.

I salute that you're 100 % right. In my final speech in Parliament, Alicia, I said, politicians have to be careful not to become followers of their followers. Because sometimes if you gauge your self -worth as a parliamentarian by how many likes or forwards your tweets or your social media posts get, that is a mugs game. Doing the right thing sometimes is going to not attract a viral moment. But you're not elected.

Mm -hmm.

to be a social media influencer. You're elected to lead your people in your country. So that's why I think you and I have always seen eye to eye. Final thing on Ukraine though.

Come give that speech in Parliament. Come give that speech. But here we go. Please.

I'll send you the YouTube link. So Macraw's boots on the ground comment about Ukraine freaked everyone out a little bit, but there has been a lot of talk for a few years about training on the ground. Is there a role for NATO and allied parties like the UK, Canada, France to do training on the ground? Because now Zelensky is getting into the conscription of young men in Ukraine and there needs to be the training and they really can't.

In a war like this, send them to the Baltics or to Poland. Is there a role where NATO could do some limited training on the ground of Ukrainians to prepare the new recruits for the fight?

So it's absolutely possible, but I think our assessment of our current Ministry of Defence is that it's actually not necessary in that we have been able to bring in hundreds, if not thousands, and I should know the numbers and I don't, so forgive me, but I would assume thousands of Ukrainians have come to the UK to be trained. There are these beautiful scenes of...

our soldiers lining up to kind of, you know, see them off as they go back. And actually we've had no difficulties in terms of people coming over. We've had no difficulties getting them here, no difficulty doing the training. And then they go back and being able to train in complete safety, being able to train on the best possible training grounds, the best environment and the best training kit. You know, none of that kit is on the ground in Ukraine at the moment. So in terms of creating that training footprint in Ukraine, it would require significant investment, significant moving of equipment, significant moving across the people.

and it would put far more NATO troops on the ground in danger. And of course there is a risk that they could be hit during training. Because let's not suggest that Russia isn't still flying missiles over Polish territory, let alone across the whole of Ukraine. So I think our assessment is that yes, of course it's possible, but the moment the UK is more than happy to keep bringing Ukrainians to the UK, where we can train them in the right place, in a safe place, give them what they need, then put them back in ready to fight, rather than halfway through every single training running into a bunker and having to hide.

hide or worse you know losing lives while training.

Yeah, good point. I think that's been a really good effort to date. I think the one issue we'll have to track is whether the conscripts, the folks that are fighting aids that haven't joined yet, taking them out of the country, you might not get them back. That, I think, is a bit of the worry. But look, we talked a little bit about Canada and the US sometimes being completely disconnected from the European security theatre because we haven't lived through occupation or countries that lived under the blitz.

I visited Chartwell just a few weeks ago with my daughter when I was briefly in the UK talking about a country that was worried about invasion. So that makes you appreciate defense more. The Balkans have flared up and you've been one of the strong voices supporting Kosovo and that state that 25 years ago this spring, it was NATO intervention that gave Kosovo.


It's freedom, it's trending in all the right directions, but we're seeing these old tensions return, particularly in the Serbian populated areas of Kosovo because of interference by Serbia. You've been a strong point. Do you see this as a worry now that the world is becoming caught by conflict around the world? It's allowing some countries to lean on its rivals and control as near abroad?

I'm extremely concerned about the Balkans and I have been for a long time. What you have in the Balkans is a complete failure of deterrence by the EU, the US and although the UK isn't in the driving seat we have to equally be culpable because we haven't yet demonstrated that we are showing meaningful deterrence. We have an autocratic state, that being Serbia, where we have elections that are completely, I mean, completely captured, completely broken. We've recently had a declaration from the EU about just how corrupt those elections were and all the false election interference activity.

you know, people being shipped in from neighboring countries to take part in order to make sure that President Vucic is re -elected. And we have to remember this is a region that is still living and recovering from the trauma of the 90s. You know, President Vucic was the propaganda minister for Milosevic, a man who committed a genocide. You know, the Shebronica genocide, they're still looking for the remains of the people who were murdered because what happened was towards the end of the war, the Serbs went in with giant tractors.

and they spread the bodies, the remains across multiple sites in the hope of hiding just how many people they have murdered. And what we've seen over the last year is a gradual escalation, not only in the rhetoric, so the demonization of Muslims once again, but also language about how Kosovo can never be independent, how it must be part of Serbia. We're seeing all sorts of threats all the way through to first foreign state interference, so Serbia interfering Kosovo in elections. Then we had the local mayoral elections,

north of Kosovo which is often considered to be a breakaway area which it absolutely is not but it is the sub -majority area of Kosovo we saw mayors take up their positions there which was without question raised tensions and made things a lot worse and that wasn't done in conjunction with the US and the EU and the UK so that was done by the Kosovo government but the response was militia groups who came in with Molotov cocktails and attacked NATO soldiers many of whom lost their limbs and will never walk again as a result.

A few months later, we then saw the kidnapping of police officers when Serbian forces went across the border and illegally kidnapped them. The response from the international community was nothing for Serbia. In fact, Serbia was allowed to participate in a US military training exercise just 10 days later. But Kosovo had sanctions put on them by the EU because of what happened with those with those mayoralty elections, which again, they shouldn't have done, but they did it. And that was their decision. And we have had tough conversations with them about it.

And then in September this year, last year, we saw a terror attack. And it's easy for people to, I think sometimes when you're watching the media, just pass by when terror attacks happen. This was incredibly serious. This was a group of people who had trained in a Serbian military site for weeks on end before crossing into Kosovo armed with anti -tank mines, armored vehicles, guns, military. The equipment they had is not leftover Yugoslavia.

It's not black market kit. It is top -grade military equipment with the serial numbers lining up. And there is no question that the Serbian government was in some way involved in this. It could not have been perpetrated without their endorsement. And the problem is that there has been silence as a response from the international community. There has been no sanctions for Vucic or for Serbia. There has been no publicity or public report into what happened, even though the international community has come to conclusions about what happened.


And so what you are seeing is a country, Serbia wants to join the EU, they say, but they are the only EU country, a session country, hasn't sanctioned Russia for its renewed illegal invasion. In September 2022, after the renewed illegal invasion, they signed a security agreement with Putin. They are always in and out of Moscow and they are also in a deep relationship with China. So what we have is an autocratic state being allowed to do as it will, threaten as its will. And yet it still has, it receives 60 % of all funds from the EU for the whole of the Western Balkans.

We are in a really dangerous place and that's let alone when you look at everything else that's happening in the region there are other countries that are vulnerable not least Bosnia where the Republica Srpska secessionist area is threatening to break away so I am really worried about the Balkans because it is a small neighborhood Europe and what happens in the Balkans is felt across the whole of Europe.

going back to Archduke Ferdinand, you would think we'd learn because what you're talking about this kind of phony war being funded and supported by Serbia is very much similar to what Putin did in the Donbass region, right? And suggesting it was local people with local kit when in actual fact intelligence showed it was directly supported by the state. So should we be ramping up the K -4 mission? Should the EU be sanctioning? Is that what you think?

Exactly that.


The solution is here in the short term.

So I think first of all, the EU should be lifting the negative measures they've placed against Kosovo. Secondly, there should be rerun of elections in Serbia, but this time with proper monitoring and without the shipping in of people from across neighboring countries. And also all municipal elections should be held on the same day in June. We need to see the US publish its report into what happened in Banska, so -called Banska terror attack, because I know they've done an investigation. They're just refusing to release it. And then we need to see meaningful

Indeed. So in the final few minutes I have with you, Lieshe, I'd like to speak about China. And we start with Aukus and really the reason for Aukus in part is the rise of tensions in the Indo -Pacific.

deterrence as a result which means yes punishments for those who are behind it. You cannot have 30 people in top gear go into a neighbouring country and try to commit a terror attack was only averted thanks to the incredible work of the Kosovo police and just get away with it. What message does that send?

But there was huge headlines just in the last few days of the APT 31 cyber attempts to intercept the email system of UK parliamentarians, probably people like yourself. We're going through a national inquiry right now on foreign interference by China in our last two elections, including in the election I was part of. I testify on April 3rd.


Are you doing enough? Is the West doing enough with these United Front operations? I saw last year there was, or two years ago, there was a warning given to Westminster staff that there had been agents or at least foreign inclined people find their way into staff offices and things like this. Are we 10 years behind this problem in your view and what should we be doing?

I mean, so let's look back at what happened in the UK. The Chinese Communist Party hacked our electoral organisation, the organisation that sees the safe conduct of elections in our country. They took the personal details of people, they took internal emails from the electoral, from the organisation, its control systems, you know, all sorts of information. And the repercussions from the UK government were to sanctions two individuals and one firm.

It's taken them three years and they think that deterrence is two individuals in one firm. The US, and it's not the US Electoral Commission that was attacked, the US sanctioned seven people. Now I'd still argue that seven people is not deterrence.

But it wasn't even the US that was attacked and yet they have done more in response to this than we have. And yes, we are calling it out and thank goodness we have finally changed the position where we actually call out the CCP for these sorts of activities. But given the intent behind this, which is to undermine our democracy to, and it is the most, one of the most significant cyber attacks in history done by a supposed ally, I do not understand how our response can be so muted.

And with an election in the coming months at some point Prime Minister Sunak, I guess is the only one who might know it are your safeguards ready, you know do You know, I know you were leading voice within the Tory caucus and we talked about this years ago

to express concerns about Huawei in the core of your 5G network. Is there enough being done to safeguard your elections this year in your view, or does more time and money need to be spent?

So we need to do a lot more. And we now have a Defending Democracy Task Force that's run out of our home office or interior office. And that's led by Tom Tuggenhat, who's a great guy and who jointly set up the China Research Group. So that is good. And there is a lot of work being done, particularly around transnational repression. We have a real problem with autocratic states trying to dance in our backyard and even conducting assassinations. But the problem is all of the examples the government gave at the dispatch box a few days ago when they gave that statement,

what they have done to be tough on China of late. All of those were driven by the backbenches, Huawei, improvements to the procurement bill, the fact that we're reducing their access to nuclear, things like that. That all came from backbenches like me fighting for those changes. You know, we've only just got government agreement a few weeks ago that we are going to ban foreign states from being able to buy our media because as you may have known there was this bid for the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator to be purchased by a foreign state. Now it's nothing to do with that exact foreign state who was applying.

But surely if we want to defend our democracy and look the media don't give me an easy time a bit the Telegraph definitely doesn't But if our job is to ensure they can hold us to account for the safety and betterment of our democracy

The fact that we only just agreed to ban foreign states from buying our media. Now there's going to be nothing wrong with foreign individuals, but foreign states shouldn't own our media. So we've got a long way to go in defending democracy. And the challenge is we will always be playing catch up. Because like an organized crime gang with the police, the organized crime gang is always going to be more innovative. They're always going to be quicker, and they're always going to be changing their patterns. And we're always getting behind when we try and play catch up. But we can do more than what we are currently doing.

Not just media and TikTok too. I'm sure you have the same view as me is we should not be giving them a way to map our populations and to manipulate issues. But that could be a whole other hour in itself. I'm mindful of your time, Alicia. I always try and end the blue skies podcast in an optimistic fashion because blue sky is.

Oh, TikTok.

talking about issues with unrestrained enthusiasm and optimism in your time in public life and you replaced Tom as the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, you've already made an impact. Think of one thing that you feel you've already accomplished in your parliamentary career that you take a lot of pride in, whether it's on a foreign policy issue or in your constituency, because we need more good people like yourself to step up into public life. And if you look on social media, it doesn't look attractive.

to most people who can do well. It's not. So to try and make sure that people of your quality still run for office, what's something that you already feel quite proud of in your parliamentary tenure?

No, it's not. Yeah.

So I think it is a domestic one actually, which is if you remember during the pandemic when we were all so scared and we had no idea what was coming or how life was going to be changed. In the UK, a rule was put in place that any woman giving birth was not allowed to have their partner with them while they were in labor until the very end stage of labor. They had to have miscarriages on their own and so on. And this obviously is a safety issue. We saw an increase in both impotent and mother mortality as a result. And I launched a national campaign where I had to fight hospital by hospital.

until they overturn this rule because if you are at home I can't believe this is how far we've come from the pandemic I can't remember the word for when you had to stay at home with one person it was called well anyway you're home in a bubble with this one person

Social distancing isolation. Yeah. Yeah.

Isolation. You're at home in isolation with somebody. The idea that they are bringing more risk to the hospital when they've come from the same house that you've been locked in with them for the last three months is preposterous. But the result is that, as a result, the UK is just finishing passing a new law where enshrined in law will be your right, whether you are in a care home or whether you're in a hospital, to have visitors and to have an advocate. So never again will we ban people where they end up stuck in hospital beds or stuck in care homes, unable to advocate for themselves,

loss and actually put at risk and that for me is really important whether it's your you know mother living with dementia or whether you're giving birth to a baby so that's something I'm really proud of.

Bravo Zulu as we say in the military. That's great. And it's not a foreign policy expert and you're well known on these issues and it was an issue facing families and some of the strains of the pandemic. So listen, we could go on for quite some time on all these topics. Thank you for your advocacy. Thank you for your friendship with Canada, with me and with the Commonwealth and best of luck on the hustings whenever that election comes and maybe we can...

blue sky something with with you again in the future.

love that always Erin and have a wonderful rest of the year.

Thanks, Alicia.