288.In the context of the dramatically changed world conditions identified in the preceding chapters, which represent an upheaval in international affairs and a transformation of the global system, we have considered how the UK should recalibrate its foreign policy.
289.The Government has announced a “vision for Global Britain”. The FCO said that, in the context of changes to the international environment and the UK’s departure from the EU,
“The concept of ‘Global Britain’ is shorthand for our determination to adjust to these changes, to continue to be a successful global foreign policy player, and to resist any sense that Britain will be less engaged in the world in the next few years. It is intended to signal that the UK will, as Ministers have put it, continue to be open, inclusive and outward facing; free trading; assertive in standing up for British interests and values; and resolute in boosting our international standing and influence.”
290.Ms Bronnert said there was “no huge shift in foreign policy”, which surprised us, but she said but there were three areas where the UK was doing things “a bit differently”. First, it was “investing more in our global network” of embassies and high commissions. Second, it was increasing staffing to increase capacity in some posts. Third, it was “looking at” its “bilateral relationships and … multilateral and regional relationships”. Global Britain has been the subject of a series of inquiries by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
291.Sir Simon Fraser said he could not “think of any time in my career when there has been less clarity, frankly, about the purposes and objectives of British foreign policy.” He thought “many of the assertions that are made by Ministers” were “a combination of ignorance and wishful thinking”. The Government needed “a bit more clarity and deep thinking about what, for example, lies behind the objective of Global Britain”.
292.Lord Ricketts was “disappointed at the lack of an energetic, active, distinctive British foreign policy in the last couple of years”. He thought Brexit was “distracting enormously from that”. Dr Haass said that “among the foreign policy elites—or the foreign policy establishment … the British role is seen as having been downsized and likely to continue that way, and that Brexit reinforces that”.
293.Ms Bronnert, however, said that the UK intended to “remain internationally engaged and influential in the international space”. Europe was “very much part of the Global Britain philosophy”; “on recent events, whether it is Salisbury or our response to a whole range of different foreign policy challenges, we have worked closely with France, Germany and others, including the US”.
294.Sir Jon Day KBE, former Second Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence (MoD), and former Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, said that if the UK was not “able to take control of the international narrative”, it would “ appear a declining power and an unattractive political partner. Some of our friends will complain that we have abandoned our traditional role and weakened the rules-based international order, and there will be questions about our reliability as an ally”. The UK would “have to fight harder to maintain international leadership roles”, if it was to “prove our critics wrong”.
295.In the context of Brexit, Sir Simon Fraser said the Government had “a big challenge in thinking through the consequences of the major strategic change in our position in the world on which we are embarked.” Sir Martin Donnelly agreed that “Trying to set out a somewhat grandiose narrative that does not reflect our experience or the experience of those we are dealing with is, frankly, counterproductive”. It was clear to other countries that the UK was “wrestling with some very difficult issues”, and “taking a Panglossian approach” was “not worthy of the United Kingdom”.
296.In a speech on 31 October, the Foreign Secretary outlined his vision of the UK as “an invisible chain”. He said that while the UK “may not be a superpower”, it was “probably the best-connected of the major powers in the world”. Through “our links with the Commonwealth, the transatlantic alliance, our European friends, and so on … we should aim to be the invisible thread that links the democracies of the world, and the most important link in that is going to be between the United States and Europe.” He said it was the UK’s “job to try to hold that together and to make sure, in all the big and lively debates that we have, that all sides remember the fundamental things that really matter, which is that we share values and we need to work together in the modern world to defend those values.”
297.Sir Simon Fraser said that power over foreign policy in Whitehall had been “sucked to the centre—to Number 10, the National Security Council secretariat and so forth”, while “at the same time, we now have seven or eight departments dealing with different aspects of international affairs”—the FCO, the MoD, the Department for International Development (DfID) the DIT, the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), HM Treasury and the Department for Business and Industrial Strategy.
298.An important mechanism for the co-ordination of international departments is the National Security Council, established in 2010 (see Box 7). Sir Mark Lyall Grant said the NSC had “fundamentally and strikingly changed the way of working in government over the past eight years because it brings together quite a wide range of actors—Ministers, officials, the Chief of the Defence Staff, the National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police et cetera—around the table in a formal way every week to discuss strategic security issues”. Lord Ricketts said it was now “embedded in the Whitehall processes and structures”, and while “not perfect” it was “the best mechanism that we have devised so far … to bring all these various strands together so that we can look at them collectively”. The Foreign Secretary said he believed the NSC “works well”.
The NSC is the forum for collective discussion of the Government’s objectives for national security. The NSC helps ensure ministers consider national security in a joined-up and strategic way, and that ministerial decisions are well-prepared and properly followed through.
It is made up of senior ministers, including the Prime Minister, who chairs the weekly meetings. It is served by the National Security Secretariat, based in the Cabinet Office. The Secretariat is headed by the National Security Adviser.
Cabinet ministers, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Heads of Intelligence and the Leader of the Opposition can attend when required.
There are four ministerial sub-committees of the NSC:
There are also associated cross-government senior official groups that support and inform these ministerial-level structures. Principal among these is the Permanent Secretaries Group, chaired by the National Security Adviser.
299.Economic issues are outside the remit of the NSC. Mr Hannigan said that this was “a problem”. He thought “it would be a good development if we could bring … together” both economic and security issues. Sir Mark Lyall Grant said that while it was “true that economic issues per se do not appear in the remit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Business Secretary are prominent members of the National Security Council and will always bring those issues to bear on any discussion.”
300.Consistent with the “atomisation” in Whitehall identified by Sir Simon Fraser, Mr Fletcher said there were now “way too many government departments”. Of the international departments in addition to the FCO and the MoD, the DIT and DExEU were established in 2016, and DfID was made independent of the FCO in 1997.
301.Sir Simon Fraser did not think the creation of the DIT had been “either necessary or a good idea”. Co-ordinating the activities of different international departments could be “quite challenging” for the FCO:
“If you have in a part of the world an ambassador sitting on a tiny Foreign Office budget, a head of DfID office sitting on a budget of several millions and a separate person from a different department in charge of trade policy, you have to ask yourself how you will be able effectively to co-ordinate those different activities.”
Mr Fletcher said that the seniority of DfID staff in some African countries had “got slightly out of control for a while … There were moments when it was the head of DfID who would go to see the president and the ambassador might get to tag along.” His 2016 review for the FCO had recommended reasserting “the primacy of the head of mission”.
302.The Secretary of State for International Trade has appointed nine Trade Commissioners, for the following regions: Asia Pacific; Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; Europe; the Middle East; China; Latin America; South Asia; and North America. HM Trade Commissioners are intended to “cooperate closely with HM Ambassadors and High Commissioners, the wider diplomatic network, and other HM Government colleagues based in countries in their region, in a joined-up and coordinated government effort overseas to promote UK trade and prosperity.”
303.Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary, FCO, said “We have nine trade commissioners; five of them are double-hatted and all are blended into the existing structures.” Ms Bronnert said that “Global Britain and the NSCR [National Security Capability Review] restates very firmly that the country leadership rests with the ambassador or the head of mission, and that continues.”
304.On Whitehall co-ordination, Sir Martin Donnelly said that “fewer organisations are on the whole better than more organisations”. “A much more rigorous approach” was needed to how government departments were established: “do not do these things overnight, do not change them in six months, and do not respond because there is a short-term political need to find a job for someone”. Continuity of approach was also useful for the users of Government services: for example businesses had been used to the UK Trade and Investment model, and it would “take some years” for them to understand how the new approach—following the establishment of the DIT—would work.
305.Sir Jon Day said there was “unnecessary duplication” between outward-facing departments. While (as discussed above) the NSC provided co-ordination, attempts at “more fundamental institutional reform” since 2010 had been thwarted by “sectional turf interests”. He proposed that “a single policy department in lieu of the Cabinet Office, FCO, MoD and DfID might have the greater agility required to manage a much wider range of bilateral national interests”. Mr Fletcher foresaw the need for a further “consolidation and tighter co-ordination of all the overseas instruments”, probably after the UK had left the EU. This would be “a good thing for British diplomacy and for the Foreign Office”.
306.Sir Martin Donnelly said the most important part of ensuring co-ordination was getting the culture within departments right. Sir Simon Fraser said that the ‘One HMG Overseas’ campaign—which sought to bring together the “different parts of government” operating in a country under the ambassador or head of mission—had been such an initiative. Effective co-ordination with domestic departments was also necessary for the FCO. Ms Bronnert said “ensuring that we work together as the British Government overseas” was “incredibly important to our impact and effectiveness and to the good use of resource”. The “cross-Whitehall” Global Britain Board was building on the earlier ‘One HMG Overseas’ campaign to enhance “policy alignment overseas.” Sir Simon McDonald said that the problem of ‘siloisation’ was “much less evident” overseas.
307.The Foreign Secretary said ‘siloisation’ was “an inherent risk in the structures that we have.” Regarding the establishment of the DIT, he “would not necessarily argue that we would want a DIT Secretary in a decade’s time, but right now, as we face Brexit and the establishment of an independent trade policy, there is an absolutely enormous job in going around to sort out those trade deals. A Secretary of State is needed to do it.” He thought “there is a full-time Secretary of State’s job for running DfID, a full-time Secretary of State’s job for running DIT and a full-time Secretary of State’s job for running the Foreign Office.”
308.Sir Simon Fraser said while there was still “a problem of ‘departmentitis’ to some extent”, it was increasingly common for civil servants to move across departments, developing “a broader view”. Ms Maddox thought that the FCO, DfID and the MoD had “been very good at working together, often very fast”.
309.Sir Simon Fraser said the FCO’s place within Whitehall required attention. The FCO was “where professional expertise in international policy and diplomacy, which is a profession with its own skills, resides”. Mr Fletcher described the ability of the FCO to develop “generalists who can move across different disciplines but then can bring that particular added value of an understanding of the country context—how to negotiate and how to gather the right information and present it in a helpful way to the experts back in Whitehall”.
310.Sir Simon Fraser said it was necessary to “make sure that that is respected, understood and sufficiently empowered within the system to influence the nature of decisions that are taken and their execution”. He was “not sure that the position of the Foreign Office” had “been quite clarified”, and hoped the new Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, would “address it and help to give the organisation confidence to assert itself in servicing the centre and supervising the delivery of policy around the world”.
312.The establishment of the National Security Council has had a beneficial effect on the coordination of Britain’s external policies. But in the modern world economic issues are inextricably linked to those of national security and international relations. We therefore recommend that the Government should amend the remit of the NSC to include international economic issues.
313.We welcome efforts by the Government to coordinate better the UK’s internationally focused departments and break down siloes. The establishment of the Department for International Trade—and in particular the appointment of nine HM Trade Commissioners—has run counter to this initiative: it has further fragmented international policy and undermined the role of the FCO. We are concerned that this restructure may have undermined the support available to UK businesses seeking to trade internationally. A similar concern applies to the Department for International Development and the Home Office both of which need to take account of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s priorities in their work.
314.In particular, the Government should consider the concerns of its international partners when developing its new immigration policy, and take account of the impact of its approach to visas on the pursuit of its foreign policy goals.
315.The FCO said the UK “enjoys an influential position, including as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and an active member of other key bodies” such as “the Commonwealth, G7, G20, counter-proliferation regimes and international financial institutions.”
316.Some witnesses thought the UK’s influence in multilateral organisations was in question. The UNA-UK said the UK had recently experienced a number of “diplomatic setbacks” including “the loss of a British judge on the International Court of Justice for the first time in the Court’s history”, and that a number of states, including traditional partners, had voted “against the UK in the General Assembly vote on the Chagos Islands”. It said “a confluence of factors, including the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) and subsequent developments, has—rightly or wrongly—contributed to a perception that the UK is now a less useful partner”.
317.Sir Jon Day anticipated a shift once the UK ceased to be an EU member state: “working across the current network on multinational structures will become more difficult without a seat at the EU, especially if we continue to seek a broad leadership role.” EU member states would not wish “to be seen to be caballing with us”.
318.In order to maintain the UK’s influence, the UNA-UK recommended the Government should actively engage EU member states and Commonwealth partners, as well as “the wider UN membership” to “show the UK is prepared to use its permanent seat at the Security Council for the common good”. Lord Ricketts said that the UK’s relationship with other multilateral institutions, such as the UN, the Commonwealth and NATO, and groupings such as the G7 and the G20, would become more important after Brexit, a list to which Dr Niblett added the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
319.Lord Ricketts said it was “critical that we make use of that membership and pursue an active, engaged initiative-taking foreign policy by making the most of our presence in these organisations.” It was “no good just vaunting the fact that we are members of more clubs than any other country; we really have to exercise that membership.” The UK should practise a more “entrepreneurial foreign policy”, for example by seeking to play a leading role in “contact groups” in support of multilateral initiatives.
320.Lord Hague said that “the right policy for the United Kingdom” was “to be present at the heart of as many networks”—which he defined as “being in the UN, the EU, the Commonwealth and many other overlapping groups of friendships among countries that have now arisen in the world”—as it could.
321.The UK should step up its engagement with international organisations of all sizes. It should seek to exercise its membership (and observer status) of global and regional institutions, to demonstrate and reinforce the value of multilateral co-operation between states. This means putting more effort and resources into both existing and new organisations.
322.To maintain its influence and leadership on global issues, the UK needs a more agile, creative and entrepreneurial approach to foreign policy. It has an opportunity to demonstrate its value to old allies—such as the US—and other partners—such as India—by harnessing niche areas of UK expertise, such as cyber security and business and human rights.
323.The FCO told us the UK has “274 posts in 169 countries and territories”. These have “more than 15,000 staff from 31 UK government departments and public bodies”. The FCO, the DIT, the DfID, the Home Office, the MoD and the British Council formed “the largest contingents”, along with locally engaged staff. Professor Clarke said that diplomatic representation overseas was essential to the UK’s “cultural understanding”. A “lack of cultural empathy has crept up on us over the past 15 or 20 years”, which could be addressed through investment in the UK’s diplomatic representation “in in the parts of the world that matter to us”.
324.Sir Jon Day et al said that the UK’s foreign and security policy had been “multilateral by default for the past 40 years”, which had “enabled the FCO to downsize most bilateral engagement.” After Brexit there should be “a significant and rapid expansion of the Diplomatic Service, focused on protecting UK interests”. Lord Ricketts thought the FCO would need “a net increase in resource” after Brexit, to “effectively maintain our bilateral links with the European countries”—which both he and Sir Simon Fraser thought would become more important after Brexit—and to “lobby for the British view [on] whatever is happening in the EU”.
325.The Foreign Secretary said the Government would be “significantly strengthening our representation within the European Union as an organisation.” Jill Gallard, Deputy Political Director, FCO, said that in the context of Brexit, and the FCO’s need to focus more attention on EU member states, the UK’s diplomats “matter more than ever”, as they “are the ones who speak the European languages”.
326.Sir Martin Donnelly said that because the UK would continue to have “extremely large interests across European policy-making”, as well as economic and trade interests, there would be a requirement for “more resource not just in Brussels but in home departments, with people making more effort to find out what is going on in capitals in their area”.
327.The FCO said that it had “started to reinforce our Europe network and multilateral missions in response to EU Exit”. To date, seven heads of mission roles had been upgraded and 50 diplomatic jobs created “across our European and multilateral posts”. It was “now in the process of creating an additional 150 new roles in London and the overseas network to support EU Exit”. Ms Bronnert said that “quite how [Brexit] will play out in relation to resources is quite difficult to judge now”.
328.Work on the wider diplomatic network was also under way. Lord Ricketts said that the FCO had “been adapting for some years to the emergence of China and India”, as well as increasing its presence in South Africa and Brazil. Lord Hague thought there was “still a long way to go in Latin America and south-east Asia to make it clear that Britain is expanding and wants closer links”.
329.In a speech on 31 October the Foreign Secretary said that the Government was undertaking “the biggest expansion of Britain’s diplomatic network for a generation”. He announced new High Commissions would be established in Lesotho, Eswatini, the Bahamas, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Chad, Niger and Djibouti, three new Resident Commissioners, and a new British mission to ASEAN. He said “in the speech … we announced one of the biggest strengthenings of our diplomatic network for 20 years or so, including increasing our number of ambassadorial posts to 160 of 193 UN countries. We will do that by 2020. That is equivalent to France, only six fewer than China and seven fewer than the United States. We will be one of the four biggest diplomatic networks in the world.”
330.Witnesses urged, and we agree, that the UK needs to be more active diplomatically to maintain its relevance in a world where power is becoming more diffuse, challenges are increasingly transnational and its longstanding ally—the US—is less aligned with its priorities.
331.The Government must invest more in the UK’s global diplomatic presence. To fulfil its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK should have a presence in every country. We therefore welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent commitment to open additional UK missions.
332.In 2017/18 the expenditure of the FCO was £1.95 billion, which included funding for organisations such as the British Council and the BBC World Service. The FCO’s expenditure was modest in comparison to many other outward-facing government departments and agencies, whose expenditure is given below:
Total departmental spending in 2017/18 was £812.73 billion.
333.General Sir Adrian Bradshaw told us:
“If we are to play our role as a P5 nation, with the responsibilities and obligations that go with being a lead global player in economic terms, as well as the responsibilities that a Government have for the defence of their people and for preserving a rules-based global system, then we have an obligation to provide the defensive and deterrent capabilities that go with that.”
It was “vital for our national interest” for the UK to maintain a range of capabilities including “independent nuclear deterrence; maritime; land; air; Special Forces; space; and cyber.” Lord Hague said it was “important to retain deployable defence capabilities”, such as amphibious capabilities, marines and paratroopers.
334.Ms Bronnert said that “defence is part of … our Global Britain posture, and our 2% commitment to defence expenditure is an important part of our narrative around Britain being global and having a wide range of assets and capabilities.” General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said the “reality” was “that the figures now clearly do not add up … what we have allocated now is not enough.”
335.One reason for the pressure on the defence budget was that the UK was “locked into” some large capital equipment projects. He suggested there might be areas where the UK could “take hits on equipment in order to allow us to retain the quality of our manpower and the numbers of people”. In the last defence review the army had been subject to significant cuts, “not based on our security needs; it was simply on account of having run out of money”. This “might be realism, but it is not how we should do business”.
336.A second concern was the ability of the UK to “command nationally at the campaign level”. This implied “being able to field a corps headquarters, and training people to a corps level, which is the level at which you can run a campaign like Afghanistan, if necessary, with the necessary additions and joint structure.” The UK was “right on the edge of losing that vital capability”. He said that if the UK lost that capability, then the UK would lose the respect of its partners and the ability to act in its national interest.
337.Sir Peter Westmacott said the US had raised “issues about the credibility of the United Kingdom as the partner of choice in defence”. He said that while the UK met the NATO 2% commitment, the issue was “what we did with that money and what capabilities we had”.
338.A third issue, identified by General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, was that changes to the nature of security threats—such as “the emergence of cyber, information warfare “ (discussed in Chapter 3)—meant the UK had to “admit that it is going to cost more”.
339.He said that the defence budget was “a question of addressing our priorities … We can afford it, but it means that we have to make the appropriate cuts in other areas.”
340.Lord Ricketts said that the FCO’s budget was “far too low”, while Sir Simon Fraser described it as having been “hollowed out”. Lord Ricketts said the FCO’s share of all Government funding for “international work” (the budget for defence, international development, the FCO and the three intelligence services) was 3%. He asked: “Is 3% the right proportion of that overall cake? In my view, no.” The FCO was also constrained by ODA rules: “A lot of FCO money at the moment is subject to being spent under the ODA rules—i.e. in poorer countries. It needs to have more flexibility to devote more resource to the faster-growing, richer economies where Britain needs to exert more influence.”
341.Lord Hague said that “it would be a good idea to give more resource to the Foreign Office”. A global diplomatic presence “is not expensive … Tiny amounts of money were saved when we closed a lot of embassies, but having them makes an enormous difference.” The required resources were “small compared to overall budgetary decisions”—”a very small fraction of 1%” of the £3 billion the Government set aside in the autumn 2017 Budget for Brexit contingencies “would boost our diplomatic effort and send the signal that we are global”. Ms Bronnert said that diplomacy was “very cheap” but “not free”, and “the changing global context” made “a powerful case for more diplomacy”.
342.Some additional funding has been provided to the FCO for Global Britain and EU Exit. At the end of March 2018, the FCO received “£45 million for the next two years for Global Britain broadly, and … just under £30 million for further EU exit work.” Ms Bronnert said the FCO was “likely to receive some other funds … although not that much, so I am not getting too excited”. This funding was being used “to look at a whole range of our relationships”, including new posts in Commonwealth countries, an additional 100 staff overseas, and engagement with the UN, the EU, the US, and the Asia–Pacific region.
343.Professor Clarke and Mr Rogers said that the UK’s outward-facing departments should receive a greater portion of government funding. The Government should “shift [funding] towards … defence, foreign affairs and policy, the diplomatic service, the intelligence services and foreign aid … to show the rest of the world that we are not retracting and are not just shrivelling into an obsession with Brexit.”
344.Lord Hague said the UK had set a “strong example internationally by spending 0.7% of GDP on development”. The “strategic need” for this spending was “not going away”. Lord Hague and General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said that additional funding for the FCO and the MoD should not come at the expense of the UK’s international development budget.
345.Increased resources for diplomacy are urgently needed. The Government should reverse cuts to the FCO’s budget, in recognition that a relatively modest uplift in funding would help to ensure the UK is able to deal with a more fluid and unstable geopolitical environment. The Government’s formal spending commitments for development and defence are public statements of the UK’s willingness to be present in capability, not just in name, and they should be matched with a commitment on funding for the new and far more intensive type of diplomacy needed worldwide to fulfil the UK’s duties.
346.We support the Government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas development—which sustains and amplifies the UK’s influence in many international organisations, including the UN—and ongoing fulfilment of its commitment to spend 2% of Gross Domestic Product on defence.
347.But it is not just quantity that is important: the quality of development and defence spending also matters. The focus of the UK’s development spending should now take account of the UK’s old friends and new partners. In considering the defence budget, the size of the military does not necessarily determine the effectiveness of its foreign policy.
348.The Future FCO Report by Mr Fletcher, a former Ambassador, published by the FCO in 2016, said the “skills mix” needed by the FCO was changing. It said the FCO needed to “retain and bolster” its “traditional strengths”, namely:
By 2020 it would also need to “build or strengthen skills” in:
349.The FCO told us the Diplomatic Academy, which was launched in 2015, “underpins the expertise pillar of Diplomacy 2020”. The Diplomatic Academy was already open to staff from across Whitehall who were going on overseas postings. Ms Bronnert said that since 2016 the FCO and the DIT had established “a joint trade faculty” within it, to provide training on trade skills for staff from the FCO, DIT, Defra and other departments. She added that, “as part of Global Britain”, the Government was developing “a new international skills profession, which would be across Whitehall, to help civil servants across the whole of Whitehall who need to deal with international issues to make sure that they have the right skills to do that, recognising that that will become increasingly important in the years ahead.”
350.Mr Fletcher said that the advent of new technologies put “even more emphasis on the need for diplomacy as a craft”—a case made by Sir Simon Fraser earlier in this chapter. The skills of diplomacy were “creativity, curiosity, adaptability, flexibility, critical thinking and emotional intelligence”. These were, however, “not easy things to test, assess or measure”.
351.Language skills are important both for staff in diplomatic posts overseas and for the interpretation of discussions with international partners, including in international organisations. Ms Bronnert said language skills were “an area where we have taken significant strides forward recently”. The target-level attainment for the language skills of FCO staff in “speaker roles” had increased from 40% in 2005 to 55% in 2018, with a target of 80% by 2020. Sir Ciarán Devane said the FCO had put “quite a bit of energy behind” improving language skills, and Mr Fletcher said the FCO’s Permanent Under-Secretary was “very focused on … improving the cadre of hard-language speakers in particular.”
352.In a speech on 31 October, the Foreign Secretary, said that the FCO would increase the number of languages taught in the FCO Language School from 50 to 70, and planned to double the number of UK diplomats who speak the foreign language of the country to which they are posted from 500 to 1,000. Ms Bronnert said the FCO had “no plans for an audit of existing language skills”, and the DIT confirmed it also had no audit planned.
353.The DIT has 24 designated language roles overseas. It anticipates that future free-trade agreements will be negotiated in English, using professional interpreters where needed. It will “draw on” the FCO’s staff and language expertise.
354.Language skills are essential for the effective conduct of diplomacy and export growth. We welcome the Government’s commitment to increasing the number of languages taught at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Language School, but regret that it is unwilling to carry out an audit of language skills across Whitehall, and urge it to reconsider. Moreover, given the importance and interconnectedness of language skills and policy across so many government departments, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education, we recommend that the Government act more effectively to co-ordinate language strategy across government.
355.The Government should do more to encourage universities to restore modern foreign language degree courses, in order to ensure that the UK is producing a sufficient number of linguists to meet the country’s foreign and trade policy needs.
356.Professor Evans said the UK retained “an enormous amount of soft power”. It benefited from “the credibility that goes with the whole history and culture of the place and the contribution that it has made to thinking about democracy and human rights, all of which are still held in very high esteem in a great many parts of the world.” Sir Ciarán Devane identified “assets in that soft power, cultural relations and public”, including the rule of law, education, public services, cultural institutions, the BBC World Service and the British Council. The Science Museum Group said that the UK’s museums and galleries were assets in terms of their collections, expertise and the values they represented.
357.Witnesses said the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas development was also a factor. The British Council’s research on the level of admiration people had for different countries showed that the UK’s “aid really does matter” to perception of the UK. The UNA-UK likewise said it “appears increasingly that UK influence stems from its actions, such as its major contribution to international development aid”. Save the Children described the UK as “an international development superpower”, and said its 0.7% commitment was “vital to its global influence”. The UK was able to influence how ODA was spent globally through participation in the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee.
358.Soft power is by its nature hard to measure, but the UK has scored highly in the Soft Power 30 report produced by Portland Communications. In 2018 it ranked the UK in first place, followed by France, Germany, the US and Japan. The UK was in second place in 2016 and 2017.
359.Box 8 sets out the benefits of soft power as identified by the House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence.
The House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence identified the benefits of soft power to be:
360.One of the UK’s soft power strengths is its universities: overseas students create “a long-term bank of soft power”. The British Council said that 55 current world leaders studied at UK universities, “giving the UK a long-term advantage in global diplomacy”.
361.Sir Ciarán Devane said scholarship were “one of the most powerful things”: “having an education in a different country opens your eyes, and not only to the world and the country you study in; it gives you a perspective on your own country as well.” He said the “brand” of the Chevening scholarships and the Commonwealth scholarships was “fantastic”, and “increasing them would be a very good thing”.
362.However, they were “expensive”, and there was “a big debate about them”. He saw value in shorter-term opportunities, including placements and digital seminars, which can include more individuals.” He thought it useful to “look at increasing the range of scholarships and their flexibility, partly to get reach and partly to access different people. They might be in their 30s and could not take a year away, which may be for family or career reasons, but you could get them for three months.” Sir Ciarán Devane also said it was important to keep in touch with the candidates who are “nearly successful”. He gave the example of the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme, to which 11,000 people applied and only 50 were successful in 2017, and said that the British Council was “trying to develop a digital version of the course” so they could have “the experience they would have had if they were one of the 50”.
363.Since 2010 the Government has included international students in its migration figures. Sir Ciarán Devane said that the British Council had “a long-held position that student numbers should not be in the net migration numbers. They are a deterrence. It is very bad for the UK brand in places such as India, which really matter.” The House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence described this policy to be “not only destructive of the UK’s attractiveness and international links, but … disingenuous”, and recommended that students should be removed from net migration targets.
364.Sir Ciarán Devane said the Government should be “convening” soft power assets. It could “play a critical role in facilitating and enabling these relationships via increased funding for key soft power organisations, and creating a supporting policy framework”. “Creating the environment” for co-operation between institutions was “the biggest contribution” the Government could make. The House of Lords Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, in its report Persuasion and power in the modern world, identified the need for:
“a long-term strategic narrative about the international role of the UK, promulgated from the centre of Government … There must also be greater coherence across Government on issues affecting the UK’s standing. We propose that there should be a small unit at the centre of Government specifically to assist the Prime Minister in reinforcing the consistency of the soft power story throughout Whitehall”.
365.In the NSCR, published in March 2018, the Government committed to “create a cross-government soft power strategy, while respecting the independence of the BBC World Service, British Council and the many British institutions and brands that contribute to our soft power”.
366.Sir Ciarán Devane was “optimistic” about the strategy. For the British Council there was a balance be struck in its engagement with the Government: it did not want to be “instrumentalised” but part of the role was “to help government in the widest sense understand that the principles that make good soft power work—around longevity, mutuality, persistence and being relevant to your partner’s agenda as well as your own—are understood”.
367.Sir Ciarán Devane noted that soft and hard power are interlinked, and welcomed the Government’s use of the concept of a ‘fusion doctrine’—to bring together hard and soft power assets—in the NSCR. The House of Lords Committee on Soft Power, in its report Persuasion and power in the modern world, noted that hard and soft power are “mutually reinforcing”, and when used together form ‘smart power’, “the use of both traditional and modern instruments of power to project and gain influence in a fast-changing world”.
368.The Foreign Secretary said “we need a holistic view of British soft power”. He was “definitely not someone who thinks you can have soft power on its own … there are many examples of soft power but, for power to be credible, it has to be backed up by strength. That is why hard power is important.” Hard power was “not just military power but economic power. The strength of the British economy over the next 10, 20 and 30 years will be absolutely essential, as will making sure that we have a proper military capacity.”
369.UK universities are a national industry of global importance, and a significant source of soft power. The Government’s inclusion of students in its immigration target is wrong and deleterious both to the UK’s international image and its ability to build a relationship with future leaders. We urge the Government to remove international students from its migration target, and to cease treating full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students as economic migrants for public policy purposes.
370.The UK has strong soft-power assets, but the Government must support and invest in them. This means not only the British Council, the BBC World Service and scholarship programmes but also training, skills, the professions, culture, legal activity and the creative industries. In this regard we welcome the Government’s decision to develop a UK soft power strategy and the creation of a clearly identified soft power strategy team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
372.We considered how digital and communications technology have affected UK diplomacy. Ms Bronnert said that new technologies were “changing the way that we do all sorts of things … In the Foreign Office we have used digital and social media capabilities quite extensively. We have been one of the foreign ministries that have blazed a trail in this area in the creative use of new technologies.” Mr Fletcher said that “diplomats around the world” were now “much better equipped with technology that allows them to be fleet-footed, flexible and better at information gathering and sharing than they were two or three years ago.”
373.The FCO said it used “our own digital channels and partnerships to state clearly our position, rebut negative perceptions and deliver policy through influencing foreign governments, civil society and/or influencers.” Whitehall had “a programme of efforts designed to understand, attribute and counter the phenomenon often referred to as ‘Fake News’”, and was “the lead partner on communications in the Global Coalition against Daesh”. The Global Coalition had “been contesting the online space with concerted campaigns to undermine the Daesh message and brand”, used “messaging to promote positive narratives”, and undertaken “off-line activities to reduce Daesh’s ability to spread their activities on social media and websites.”
374.Dr Bolt, however, thought the UK “ill-equipped” to deal with the “conversations, discourses, attitudes, ideas or public opinion” that result from digital technologies. He did “not see a strategic understanding of the use of information or how to position that understanding in a very dynamic climate”.
375.Mr Wells said that the FCO and DfID had “gone past the stage of seeing digital and data as a way of measuring outcomes and reporting things to seeing how they can use it to shape and create outcomes.” For example, DfID was now helping countries to build data infrastructure. Dr Becky Faith, Research Fellow, Institute for Development Studies, praised DfID’s recent Doing development in a digital world strategy, although it was “important not to exaggerate the possibilities of digital technologies to transform developments”.
376.Dr Futter said the speed of crisis decision-making had been accelerated by technological developments, including in the media. Had the Cuban missile crisis happened today, “in a real-time, digital news media frenzy”, there was “no way that the President would have time. You would probably have CNN reporting directly.” This was “a whole new different way of thinking about a crisis and different capabilities.” Ms Thornberry said the world had ‘shrunk’ and that “people want immediate reactions to what is going on without the chance to think through what is happening in what can be extremely complex situations.” Tom Fletcher said that diplomats had to be “careful … not to be buffeted by the latest gadget or the latest tweet from the White House at 3 o’clock in the morning, and to focus instead on the essentials of the craft.”
377.Diplomacy mattered “more than ever in the digital age”—it was essential to address “the crisis of trust” and “the gulf between governments and technology leaders when it comes to discussing the challenges and opportunities of technology”. Diplomats needed to “master the new tools at our disposal and [try] to get better at connecting with people and reaching out … to … new groups of people who we did not have to engage with previously.” Professor Miskimmon and Professor O’Loughlin said digital diplomacy should be used “across all … fields” as “part of a balanced, hybrid communication strategy involving broadcast, radio and face-to-face communication too”.
378.Dr Duncombe recommended more training for diplomats on using social media and how to recognise propaganda and disinformation. She also proposed the appointment of “an ambassador for digital, tech or cyber affairs to contend with the evolution of online space as another geopolitical area within which the UK can pursue its national interests.”
379.Ms Bronnert said that the UK had “invested quite significantly in our technology capability” on cyber issues. The UK has committed to spend £1.9 billion on the National Cyber Security Strategy 2016–21, including “defending our systems and infrastructure, deterring our adversaries, and developing a whole society capability—from the biggest companies to the individual citizen”.
380.General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said the development of offensive cyber capabilities had long been “a rather taboo thing to discuss”, but that the UK was now “building the right sorts of capability, including the vital offensive cyber capability”. Sir Peter Westmacott said there was “clearly a school of thought that says that if you are going to fight back and defend yourself against … a cyber assault, probably the most effective way of doing it is to show what you can do in retaliation”. Dr Kello said that he would “rank the United States and Britain above Russia in terms of sheer offensive capability”. Ms Maigre said the UK had not “shied away from the fact that there are offensive capabilities and has acknowledged possessing them”; she said it was “great that the UK is taking a lead in these issues”.
381.Many witnesses were positive about the Government’s approach to cyber issues. Professor Clarke said the UK was “quite good at cyber understanding” and cybersecurity. Mr Milward said “the way the UK’s security services operate and think about the [cyber] threat environment” was “pretty much second to none”. Sir Peter Westmacott said the UK was “very good at communications technology, whether it is intercept or monitoring patterns, big data or small data, … and defensive and offensive cyber capability.”
382.Professor Clarke added that while it was “an open question” as to whether it was “good enough”, the UK was “ahead of a lot of other countries. Our cyber intelligence is quite good, and our central organisation in government is quite efficient.” Mr Milward too said that the Government was “genuinely progressive in thinking about these issues earlier than most … governments”.
383.Dr Kristan Stoddart, Reader, Department of International Politics, University of Aberystwyth, and participants in the early-career experts roundtable welcomed the establishment of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). It brought together “the alphabet soup of organisations with a stake in cyber”. Ms Maigre said it was “a good example of interagency co-operation and of understanding how that works—national resilience against cyber threats needs to be built across the board and needs to include civil and military co-operation.”
384.Witnesses said that combating cyber threats was an area of UK leadership globally. Ms Maigre said the UK had “taken a central role in advancing the cyber agenda, internationally and within NATO”. Ms Bronnert said that this was an “important part of a lot of our key relationships … and we are investing quite significantly in our capabilities. It is definitely a core theme.”
385.Participants in the early-career experts roundtable suggested two roles for the UK in this respect. First, it could assist less advanced partners to develop their resilience to cyber-attacks. Second, it should seek to influence the US to engage more in this area. Robert Strayer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy, US Department of State, said the US Administration considered the UK and US to be “deeply aligned” in terms of developing international coalitions and agreements to govern behaviour in cyberspace. Dr Haass said that “fashioning approaches to how cyberspace is going to be regulated” could be an area where the UK could demonstrate its capabilities and value as a partner to the US.
386.Ms Bronnert said the Government was considering the gaps in global cyber governance (discussed in Chapter 3). The FCO said the UK recognised “a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace as a fundamental element of securing critical national and international infrastructure and as an essential foundation for economic and social activity”. The UK had “a leading role in the international debate on cybersecurity”, and had provided experts to the five UN Groups of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the context of International Security (UN GGE). The UK also had “an opportunity to take on a global leadership role in the shaping of a new framework for emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and blockchain”.
387.The best way for the UK to deter cyber-attacks is to develop its own offensive cyber capabilities, and make clear its ability and willingness to respond. We welcome the Government’s relative openness in this area, and encourage it further to clarify its thinking in this respect.
389.Countering propaganda is an increasingly important, but challenging, task in an increasingly digital environment where misinformation can be spread widely and instantaneously. In the new digital environment, disinformation campaigns and propaganda have become major instruments of international disruption. The UK has played a leading role in countering these false narratives, but the Government must also accept that there is more to be done to counter these threats.
390.Digital tools, such as social media, necessitate a constant upgrading of the techniques of diplomacy, well beyond traditional skills. We are pleased with the FCO’s efforts to harness new technologies in its work.
391.Witnesses repeatedly said there was an absence of a domestic UK foreign policy narrative. The UNA-UK said there seemed to have been “a failure of communication and engagement with the public around the positive multilateral role Britain seeks for itself on the world stage”. The Government should both “seek to set out its vision for foreign policy” and “engage the public in its development”. Questioning whether the public understood what was meant by the ‘rules-based international order’, Ms Thornberry said “it is important that we talk about it more than we do.”
392.In considering military engagement overseas, General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said he had “long advocated” appointing “a Minister, with the clear authority of the Prime Minister, to oversee [the] bringing together of the levers of power for national strategic ends”. He said that during the Iraq campaign, “a big strategic change was subcontracted to defence with very little input from the other levers of power”. It was necessary to have “strong leadership from above when we face something like Iraq or Afghanistan”—”the responsibility for informing the electorate of the reasons for being involved in warfare … is enormous”, and governments had “not been very good at … keeping the public with them and delivering strategic patience.”
393.Lord Ricketts said however that it was “right that it is departmental Secretaries of State who retain the responsibility for public presentation and to Parliament.” The Foreign Secretary said “the national narrative of our foreign policy” was “the job of the Foreign Secretary and can only be the job of the Foreign Secretary”. He did not think the National Security Council could take this role. He said that “when I articulate our foreign policy, it needs to balance the economic, security, defence and diplomatic interests and bring them all together.”
394.It is critical to ensure that the public understands and is supportive of the UK’s foreign policy objectives. A strong domestic foreign policy narrative is needed to deliver this. This narrative needs to be led by Ministers, in particular by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and propagated through all departments and agencies. We recommend that the National Security Council should add to its tasks the co-ordination of the Government in shaping this domestic narrative.
395.In a world where the UK’s influence can no longer be taken for granted and where the shifts in economic and political power relationships are not working to our advantage, our inquiry has brought home to us that we will need a more agile, active and flexible diplomacy to handle our international relationships to ensure that we are in a stronger position to protect and promote our interests.
396.We believe that this agenda cannot just be manufactured. It has to be built up layer by layer. There will always be critics of aspects of UK foreign policy. But agreement on broad aims, and on the facts of what is actually happening in a rapidly changing world, is achievable. This should be a sound basis for a constructive debate about which new paths the UK should take, and what assets and experience it should build in a new epoch. We hope our inquiry, with its conclusions, will help in that endeavour.
488 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, ‘Global Britain: delivering on our international ambition’ (13 June 2018): [accessed 4 December 2018]
490 House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, (Sixth Report, Session 2017–19, HC 780)
497 Written evidence from Sir Jon Day, Steve Chisnall, and Dr Ana Margheritis, University of Southampton ()
500 Jeremy Hunt MP, ‘An Invisible Chain: speech by the Foreign Secretary’ (31 October 2018): [accessed 1 November 2018]
502 (Sir Simon Fraser) and (Mr Maidment)
512 ; Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Future FCO Report (9 May 2016): [accessed 4 December 2018]
513 Department for International Trade, ‘Press Release: Final HM Trade Commissioner appointed’, 6 July 2018: [accessed 4 December 2018]
515 The National Security Capability Review (NSCR) identified how the Government could develop, deliver and deploy its national security capabilities to maximum collective effect. HM Government, The National Security Capability Review (June 2018), p 3: [accessed 4 December 2018]
520 Written evidence from Sir Jon Day, Steve Chisnall, and Dr Ana Margheritis, University of Southampton ()
534 Written evidence from The Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
535 Mauritius petitioned the UN for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of Britain’s decision to remove the Chagos Islands from Mauritius before independence, and maintain them as a UK territory. The UN General Assembly voted to refer the case to the ICJ. A number of EU countries, including France and Germany, abstained.
536 Written evidence from The United Nations Association-UK ()
537 Written evidence from Sir Jon Day, Steve Chisnall, and Dr Ana Margheritis, University of Southampton ()
538 Written evidence from The United Nations Association-UK ()
539 Professor Alister Miskimmon and Professor Ben O’Loughlin discussed the “renewed centrality and importance” of NATO to the UK. Written Evidence from Professor Alister Miskimmon, Queen’s University Belfast, and Professor Ben O’Loughlin, Royal Holloway, University of London ()
545 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
547 Written evidence from Sir Jon Day, Steve Chisnall, and Dr Ana Margheritis, University of Southampton ()
548 and (Lord Ricketts) (Sir Simon Fraser)
552 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
557 Formerly Swaziland.
558 Jeremy Hunt MP, ‘An Invisible Chain: speech by the Foreign Secretary’ (31 October 2018): [accessed 4 December 2018]. There is currently a British office in Chad which will be upgraded. The Resident Commissioners will be based in Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
560 The Single Intelligence Account comprises funding from the SIS, GCHQ and MI5.
561 Office for National Statistics and HM Treasury, Public Spending Statistics July 2018: [accessed 4 December 2018]
578 and Written evidence from James Rogers, Director, Global Britain Programme, Henry Jackson Society ()
579 (Professor Clarke)
581 (Lord Hague) and (Sir Adrian Bradshaw)
582 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Future FCO Report (9 May 2016): [accessed 4 December 2018]
583 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
584 The FCO’s Diplomatic Academy was opened in February 2015 to act as “ centre of excellence to help all staff from across government working on international issues to share expertise and learn from one another.” FCO, ‘Opening of new Diplomatic Academy’: [accessed 4 December 2018].
587 TLA is achieved if an officer has taken and passed the language exam for their role. Written evidence from Deborah Bronnert ().
588 Written evidence from Deborah Bronnert CMG (). The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee noted in its recent report that TLA in Mandarin is at nearly 70%, TLA for Russian is 53% (but around two thirds of officers expelled by Russia following the Salisbury attack were Russian speakers), and for Arabic, TLA is 30% (which has dropped from 49% in December 2017, due to rotation of officers in posts). House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, (Fourteenth Report, Session 2017–19, HC 1254)
591 Jeremy Hunt MP, ‘An Invisible Chain: speech by the Foreign Secretary’ (31 October 2018): [accessed 4 December 2018]
592 Written evidence from Deborah Bronnert CMG ()
593 Written Answer , Session 2017–19
597 Written evidence from the Science Museum Group (
598 (Sir Ciarán Devane)
599 Written evidence from The United Nations Association UK ()
600 Written evidence from Save the Children
601 Portland Communications, Soft Power 30: A Global Ranking of Soft Power 2018, (2018): [accessed 4 December 2018]
602 Written evidence from the British Council ()
606 Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, (Report of Session 2013–14, HL Paper 150)
608 Written evidence from the British Council ()
610 Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, (Report of Session 2013–14, HL Paper 150)
611 HM Government, The National Security Capability Review (June 2018) p 3: [accessed 4 December 2018]
613 ; HM Government, The National Security Capability Review (June 2018) p 3: [accessed 4 December 2018]
614 Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, (Report of Session 2013–14, HL Paper 150)
619 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
620 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
627 Written evidence from Professor Alister Miskimmon, Queen’s University Belfast, and Professor Ben O’Loughlin, Royal Holloway, University of London ()
628 Written evidence from Dr Constance Duncombe, Lecturer in International Relations, Monash University ()
631 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office () and HM Government, National Cyber Security Strategy 2016–2020, (2016) p 6: [accessed 4 December 2018]
635 In 2013 the UK became the first state to admit it possessed an offensive cyber capability when then Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond MP, said publicly that the UK was “developing full spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability”. James Blitz, ‘UK becomes first state to admit to offensive cyber attack capability’, Financial Times (29 September 2013): [accessed 27 November 2018]
642 Written evidence from Dr Kristan Stoddart ()
646 International Relations Committee, Record of roundtable discussion with early-career experts 27 June 2018 (1 October 2018):
647 International Relations Committee, Washington visit note 11-15 June 2018 (1 October 2018):
650 Written evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ()
651 Written evidence from The United Nations Association-UK (), Prof Alister Miskimmon, Queen’s University Belfast and Prof Ben O’Loughlin, Royal Holloway, University of London ()
652 Written evidence from The United Nations Association-UK ()