UK’s foreign policy is adrift, lacks clarity, warn MPs
The UK’s foreign policy is ‘adrift’ and the claim of ‘Global Britain’ lacks clarity, warned a new report by an influential parliament panel.
“The UK’s international policy has been adrift,” said the report released on Thursday by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons. It said the Brexit-bound country’s foreign policy lacked a clear strategic vision, confidence, and coherent implementation.
The report titled ‘A brave new Britain? The future of the UK’s international policy’ has taken inputs from Indian and other diplomats and reflected their worries.
Calling on the Boris Johnson government to ‘step-up and do more’ on the global stage, MPs questioned the oft-repeated claim in the pro-Brexit discourse of the country reinventing itself as ‘Global Britain’, alleging that few were clear what it meant.
It said: “More than four years after the sound bite was first used to encapsulate the UK’s international role, and almost three years after our Committee first called for more clarity about its meaning and metrics, many of our contributors still told us that they did not know what Global Britain stood for.”
Diplomats and experts told the committee that the UK has recently “appeared less ambitious and more absent in its global role”, the report noted, quoting former Indian diplomat Asoke Mukerji telling MPs that “in the political and strategic sphere, there is a perception that the UK is not involved as much as it should be.”
The reasons, according to them, include a diminished profile during the UK’s membership of the European Union, distraction by the process of leaving the EU, and a more general de–prioritisation of some regions plus reluctance against assertion in others.
Tom Tugendhat, committee chair, said: “In the face of adversity, it is vital we have a clear and consistent strategy to overcome the challenges we face. Without a plan and corresponding budgets to support it the UK cannot coherently respond to such challenges or remain confident in its delivery of Global Britain.”
“It leaves the UK feeling its way in the dark and adds to uncertainty at a time of great global instability…Many key global voices feel that this country has a huge part to play as the world changes in coming years. The UK must now move forward in a confident, clear and coherent way, driving events, not simply be pushed around by an increasingly unstable world.”
The committee’s report is the second major exercise this year into the UK’s foreign policy before Brexit is completed on December 31. An Integrated Review of foreign policy, defence and international development is also underway, but may not be published in November, as scheduled, due to Covid-19-related developments.
India and the Indo-Pacific are expected to be the new area of focus of a post-Brexit Britain, as indicated by foreign secretary Dominic Raab and others, but the committee cautioned the government that such a tilt cannot work without continuing firm links with Europe.
The report said: “None of our contributors wanted the UK to stand back or keep quiet. All of them urged the UK to step up, do more, and play a more impactful role in the world. They highlighted the positive contribution that the UK could make to international relations, and the negative implications if it declined.”
“But the UK will have the greatest impact abroad if it uses its range of assets and capabilities coherently. It is unlikely that the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office will resolve the persistent problem that Britain abroad is less than the sum of its parts,” it added.