3.The Prime Minister first outlined her vision for Global Britain in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 2 October 2016. She said:
Brexit should not just prompt us to think about our new relationship with the European Union. It should make us think about our role in the wider world. It should make us think of Global Britain, a country with the self-confidence and the freedom to look beyond the continent of Europe and to the economic and diplomatic opportunities of the wider world. Because we know that the referendum was not a vote to turn in ourselves, to cut ourselves off from the world. It was a vote for Britain to stand tall, to believe in ourselves, to forge an ambitious and optimistic new role in the world.
The Prime Minister has subsequently referred to Global Britain in similar terms in several major speeches, including the January 2017 Lancaster House speech setting out the Government’s plans for leaving the EU, and her speech to the US Republican Party Conference in Philadelphia that same month. She also referred to it in addresses to the World Economic Forum in Davos and the UN General Assembly in 2017, and in an interview with the BBC after her 2018 visit to China.
4.In December 2016 the Foreign Secretary, appointed to the role in July 2016, gave his first major policy speech. Titled Beyond Brexit: a Global Britain, the speech at Chatham House set out his vision for the future of UK foreign policy as one of leadership and engagement on the international stage:
I have been repeatedly impressed by the way people around the world are looking for a lead from Britain, engagement from Britain. And so whether we like it or not we are not some bit part or spear carrier on the world stage. We are a protagonist—a global Britain running a truly global foreign policy.
5.Similarly, in a speech at the October 2017 Conservative Party Conference, he suggested that the UK had something unique to offer under the banner of Global Britain:
We are big enough to do amazing things. We have the ability to project force 7,000 miles, to use our permanent membership of the UN security council to mobilise a collective response to the crisis in North Korea. We contribute 25 per cent of European aid spending and yet no one seriously complains that we have a sinister national agenda and that is why the phrase global Britain makes sense because if you said Global China or Global Russia or even alas Global America it would not have quite the same flavour.
No minister during our inquiry was able to give the Committee a definitive explanation of ‘Global Britain’.
6.Before the FCO submitted its memorandum to the Committee, several recurring themes and aspirations had been expressed in statements by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers.
7.First, Ministers have framed the vote to leave the EU as indicating popular support for a more internationalist and outward-looking UK, rather than as a turn inward. For example, in his December 2016 Chatham House speech, the Foreign Secretary asserted that
Brexit emphatically does not mean a Britain that turns in on herself. Yes—a country taking back control of its democratic institutions. But not a nation hauling up the drawbridge or slamming the door. A nation that is now on its mettle. A nation that refuses to be defined by this decision. A country galvanised by new possibilities and a country that is politically and economically and morally fated. To be more outward-looking and more engaged with the world than ever before.
8.Similarly, the Prime Minister told the US Republican Party conference in Philadelphia in 2017 that
as we end our membership of the European Union—as the British people voted with determination and quiet resolve to do last year—we have the opportunity to reassert our belief in a confident, sovereign and global Britain, ready to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike.
9.The theme of ‘old friends and new allies’ has also been prominent in Government statements about Global Britain. In her Lancaster House speech, the Prime Minister called for the building of “a truly Global Britain. A country that reaches out to old friends and new allies alike.” She emphasised this theme again in an address to the UK-Japan Business Forum in Tokyo in September 2017, stating:
I believe that this is a good moment for like-minded partners such as Britain and Japan to be doing more together. For as we become a Global Britain—a European nation still, but one that is outside the European Union—so we will be free to engage more actively and independently, particularly in key Asian markets like Japan.
Sir Alan Duncan, FCO Minister of State, said in a speech in Kazakhstan on the same day that a “truly global Britain” would be one in which the UK “strengthens our relationships and reaches out to build new partnerships across the world”. Similarly, National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill told the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) that Global Britain means “investing and reinvesting in big partnerships, big relationships, around the world … with core allies and old friends in places such as the Gulf and south Asia, and investing in new partnerships in, for example, east Asia.”
10.Government Ministers have also stressed that Global Britain means supporting the rules-based international system, which has traditionally been a central component of UK foreign and defence policy. In a November 2017 speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, the Prime Minister said that “to defend the rules-based international order against irresponsible states that seek to erode it” would be one of Global Britain’s key tasks. The following month, Sir Mark Sedwill told the JCNSS that the UK should strengthen its support for the rules-based international system “which will probably become more important in the 21st century as the geopolitics becomes more contested”.
11.Support for free trade has been a core element of the Global Britain narrative. In her October 2016 speech to the Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister set out a vision in which “Britain is always the most passionate, most consistent, most convincing advocate for free trade.” Similarly, at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos she expressed the hope that the UK “will step up to a new leadership role as the strongest and most forceful advocate for business, free markets and free trade anywhere in the world.” The Foreign Secretary likewise described agitating for global free trade as the UK’s “historic post-Brexit function” in his Chatham House speech, while the Secretary of State for International Trade told an audience in Malaysia in April 2017 that
The UK government’s ambition is to build a Global Britain—a nation that is outward-looking and internationalist, rejecting insularity and continuing to play a prominent role in global affairs. Trade is central to this ambition. We want Britain to become a global champion of free trade, a nation at the heart of world commerce, working with our international allies and partners to remove barriers and liberalise trading practices.
12.As the Prime Minister has sought to expand on the idea of Global Britain, she has stressed that the pursuit of this agenda does not apply narrowly to the domain of foreign policy, but is intended to have beneficial effects at home by demonstrating “the role businesses play in creating jobs”. For example, in an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on 2 February 2018, just before returning from a three-day visit to China, she said:
I am doing what the British people want, which is delivering on Brexit, but also getting out around the world, ensuring that we bring jobs back to Britain. Companies will be selling more Great British products to China as a result of this trip. There will be more people in jobs in the UK as a result of this trip. That’s Global Britain in action.
13.On 21 December 2017, the Committee requested a memorandum from the FCO setting out details of the Government’s Global Britain policy, its objectives and the timeline on which it is being developed and implemented. The Committee asked the FCO to set out:
The letter asked the FCO to respond by 18 January 2018.
14.The Government provided a memorandum to the Committee, following repeated requests, on 1 March 2018. The FCO said that “our strategic foreign policy objectives have not changed”, and that the UK would remain “one of the major global players”. It emphasised the importance of the “three centres of the global economy and political influence” in “North America, overwhelmingly the United States, in Europe and its neighbourhood; and in the Indo-Pacific region”, which it said were “essential to making Global Britain a success”. It added, however, that “at the same time, to realise fully the vision of Global Britain means being active and influential in all regions, the institutions of the rules-based international order and key global issues”.
15.While it described the UK’s ambitions, the memorandum admitted that it did not include “comprehensive detail on the resources and finances of the [FCO]”. It said that the Department would need “to deliver more with finite resources”. But beyond describing the additional resources that it had secured to support EU Exit work, the submission lacked detail as to what resources would be available to achieve the many aspirations of Global Britain that the FCO described as including:
The FCO’s description of Global Britain is therefore little more than a continuation of the FCO’s current activities, with modest adjustments in some areas. Its wide scope means that it does not clearly list the priorities of Global Britain.
16.Prior to receiving this memorandum from the FCO, we took oral evidence from former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton, and former Permanent Under Secretary at the FCO Sir Simon Fraser.
17.All three expert witnesses were positive about the idea of Global Britain. Sir Simon called it “a very sensible aspiration … because it is the self-image of this country that we want to have a global foreign policy.” Lord Owen similarly said that “we need to think globally”. Baroness Ashton noted that the UK “is highly regarded across the world as an outward-facing nation” and perceived Global Britain as “a way of saying, both domestically and internationally, that Britain was still going to be an outward-facing nation”.
18.None of the witnesses, however, could state clearly what the Global Britain policy entailed in practice. Baroness Ashton described it as an “aspiration”, while Sir Simon called it “a bit of a slogan, or a headline, that people are using with different intent.” Baroness Ashton added:
There is no doubt that there is a sense of anticipation yet to be realised about what the underpinning policies and strategies will be, to turn what I describe as the aspiration of [Global Britain]—you might describe it as business as usual as an outward-facing nation—into action. What does it actually mean? What will Britain do?
Later in the session, she said:
We are very fortunate in the quality of our diplomats … They are absolutely able people who, I am sure, spend a huge amount of time working hard explaining that Britain is not leaving the stage but will be extremely active on the stage. I come back to the same thing—you need tools to do that. The tools are, what does this mean? Does this mean we will focus on trade? Will we do more in defence and security, and if so, how? Is this about focusing geographically on areas where traditionally we feel that we have a new and interesting role, or is it the invention over time of a very specific brand?
19.Sir Simon told us:
I am not sure exactly at the moment what Global Britain consists of. The Prime Minister has had two opportunities recently, at Davos and in China, to explain it further, but she has not taken them. It would be desirable if a bit more clarity and content were put behind the headline.
Asked whether countries around the world, particularly close allies, understood the objectives of Global Britain, he said:
At the moment, I do not think that they are understood by other countries because, as I said, the concept has not really been developed. I think many other countries around the world are looking at us at the moment in a state of some concern. They are not clear on the direction that we are taking, and are looking for clarity about that. The more evidence we can give of how we want to work with our European allies, America and our NATO allies, and the more clarity that we can give on what we are intending to do in our relations with other countries around the world, the better.
20.Echoing the questions posed by Baroness Ashton, Sir Simon said:
It seems to me that we need to sit down and calmly and hard-headedly think through, if we are going to leave the European Union, where that will leave us on the international stage. What are the objectives that this country, outside the European Union, would seek to achieve in its international policies? What are the priorities for us? What is the message that we want to give to the world, as a former member of the European Union? What are the relationships, institutions and other methods of leverage that we are going to use to seek to achieve our goals? To be honest, at the moment I think that there is a lot of rather mushy thinking about this, and a lot of rather simplistic words. We need to sit down and put hard content behind it.
21.In an evidence session on the UK’s influence in the UN, former UK Permanent Representative to the UN Lord Hannay told the Committee:
I have to confess that I have a bit of difficulty with the hashtag of “global Britain”, which I find, in historical terms, deeply misleading. Britain has been a global country for about 500 years. It did not become less so when it joined the European Union, and it will not become more so when we leave. I find it unwise, in the sense that I think it gives a misleading impression. However, do not get me wrong: I am not saying that we do not have to make an effort globally, in the circumstances we will be in when we leave, to maximise our influence by all the means at our disposal. I think that will mean a lot of resource issues.
22.Witnesses expressed concern about the level of resource dedicated to making a success of the Global Britain policy. Echoing the conclusions of our report on the Future of UK Diplomacy in Europe, which commented on the FCO’s decision to shift personnel and resources from embassies in Asia to bolster Posts in Europe, Sir Simon said:
If we are now shifting resource back from the emerging powers into the European bilateral embassies, I think that is a shame, though I can understand why it is being done. As you say, it does not cohere very well with the idea of Global Britain. The other problem about these things is that these resource allocations have to be done strategically over time. If you keep on changing course every five or six years, you don’t actually get the benefit. It is a shame if the Foreign Office is obliged to rob Peter to pay Paul, as you say, but I understand why they need to beef up those European bilateral embassies.
23.Sir Simon also noted a “lack of clarity” across Whitehall about the objectives of UK foreign policy. He said that “the Foreign Office could take a more assertive role institutionally in sketching out what Global Britain means and setting out the outline of that”. Lord Owen also expressed concern about a lack of co-ordination in the Government’s statements on foreign policy matters since Brexit. He told the Committee:
If I have to listen to the radio and hear the Foreign Secretary saying something and the Prime Minister contradicting it for very much longer, I will throw something at the wall. You cannot conduct diplomacy on the basis that you have a separation between them.
24.As we noted in our report of 28 February, 2017 elections to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Government was unable to secure the re-election of a UK candidate to the ICJ in November 2017, leaving the UK without a judge on the Court for the first time since its creation in 1946. This failure of UK diplomacy in an area of traditional strength is particularly worrying given the Government’s emphasis on support for the rules-based international system as a defining element of Global Britain.
25.Asked how the impact or success of Global Britain might ultimately be measured, Baroness Ashton said:
Crudely and simplistically, the first measure would be if you could go to six countries across the world, ask them what it meant, and they could roughly explain what it meant in practical terms for them. That is a longer-term aspiration, of course, but I think it is very important that it becomes something about which people can say, “I can explain what that means, and define it.”
The second measure would be if the concern that one hears in different countries about where Britain is now going and how it views itself is lessened. Such things take time; it will not be quieted completely for some time, but people could see a direction of travel that makes sense. At present, there is an understanding that there is this concept and aspiration, but not yet of quite how it will work out.
The memorandum from the FCO did not propose any means by which to measure the success of Global Britain.
7 The Prime Minister, Speech: “”, Conservative Party Conference, 2 October 2016
8 The Prime Minister, , 17 January 2017 and , 26 January 2017
9 The Prime Minister, , 19 January 2017 and , 20 September 2017; BBC News, , 2 February 2018
10 The Foreign Secretary, Speech: “”, Chatham House, 2 December 2016
11 The Foreign Secretary, , 3 October 2017
12 The Foreign Secretary, Speech: “”, Chatham House, 2 December 2016
13 The Prime Minister, , 26 January 2017
14 The Prime Minister, , 17 January 2017
15 The Prime Minister, , 5 September 2017
16 Sir Alan Duncan, , 5 September 2017
17 Oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy on 18 December 2017, , Q27
18 The Prime Minister, , 13 November 2017
19 Oral evidence taken before the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy on 18 December 2017, , Q27 [Tom Tugendhat MP]
20 The Prime Minister, Speech: “”, Conservative Party Conference, 2 October 2016
21 The Prime Minister, , 19 January 2017
22 The Foreign Secretary, Speech: “”, Chatham House, 2 December 2016
23 Secretary of State for International Trade, Speech: “”, 6 April 2017
24 The Prime Minister, , 13 November 2017
25 BBC News, , 2 February 2018
26 , 30 January 2018
27 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 8
28 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 6
29 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 17
30 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 3
31 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 8
32 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 22
33 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 12
34 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 18
35 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 27
36 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 30
37 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 37
38 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 38
39 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 40
40 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 41
41 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 14
42 Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see Appendix], paragraph 44
46 Qq1, 69
51 Oral evidence taken on 19 December 2017, , Q42
Published: 12 March 2018