26.The time is right to take stock of the UK’s role in the world. ‘Global Britain’ arose in response to the 2016 vote to leave the EU, but wider and longer-term changes in the international system and global balance of power pose more fundamental questions about the UK’s strategic position and orientation. Government Ministers often list the attributes that have traditionally made the UK a global player: it is a nuclear-armed P5 member of the United Nations Security Council, the second-biggest military spender in NATO, a major contributor to humanitarian aid around the world, and a key member of networks such as the Commonwealth, the G7 and the G20. But it remains unclear what the Government believes the UK should do with these resources and assets in the post-Brexit environment, and how the UK should exercise leadership on the most urgent and complex issues facing the international system.
27.For Global Britain to be more than a worthy aspiration, the slogan must be backed by substance. The memorandum from the FCO does not amount to a strategy; it lists the Government’s aspirations but not the resources that it needs to achieve them. In addition to the essential requirement of a clear statement of objectives and priorities, the Government must commit sufficient resources to achieve its ambitions around the world—including reinforcing the FCO in Asia as well as in Europe. The Government’s failure to secure the election of a UK judge to the International Court of Justice in November 2017, as well as damaging UK influence, is clear evidence that the Government needs to work harder and do more to deliver on its promise to strengthen the rules-based international order. If Global Britain comes to be perceived as a superficial branding exercise, it risks undermining UK interests by damaging our reputation overseas and eroding support for a global outlook here at home. The success of the Government’s ‘Great Britain’ campaign should inform the FCO on how the Global Britain policy should be developed, marketed, and utilised across the FCO network and with our international partners.
28.For the UK to demonstrate genuine global leadership, its foreign policy requires coherent strategic direction, supported by adequate resources. This should be based on a clear-eyed assessment of the UK’s interests and position in the world. In conducting such an assessment, the Government will need to go further than its memorandum. By the end of that process, it must be able to answer the following questions:
The answers to these questions should be made public so that the British people and others can know what the Government intends by Global Britain, and so that our allies and friends can support and partner with us effectively. The Committee believes that it is only if we can be clear about our strategic foreign policy objectives that we can ensure our ongoing strength on the international field. We also note that although previous Prime Ministers have not only come to the House to make statements and answer questions, they have formerly given keynote speeches on foreign affairs in Parliament. We urge the Prime Minister to make a keynote speech to the House, setting out as a matter of priority the strategic thinking behind our foreign policy and the objectives we are seeking to achieve as a nation.
29.The FCO should begin this process immediately by placing online, in one place, all the statements and speeches that Ministers have made about Global Britain, and all other Government documents in the public domain that set out what Global Britain means, translated into the world’s ten most-used languages. This website should be highlighted prominently on the FCO’s landing page, allowing both the UK public and audiences overseas to read for themselves the Government’s current stated approach to Global Britain.
30.Over the course of 2018 and 2019, the Foreign Affairs Committee will explore some of these questions with a series of inquiries into aspects of Global Britain. The Committee’s first such report will focus on UK influence and policy in the United Nations.
Published: 12 March 2018