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Finding Britain’s role in a changing world: Introduction

Article by Adam Hug, Dr Abigael Baldoumas, Katy Chakrabortty and Dr Danny Sriskandarajah

March 3, 2020

Finding Britain’s role in a changing world: Introduction

The world we are in

Britain steps out into the post-Brexit world at a time of international turmoil. For over a decade liberal democracy has been in decline, as competing authoritarian and populist models have gained further traction in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that shook confidence in the post-Cold War international order.[1] Climate change, persistent inequality and rapidly changing technology pose difficult questions to which the United Kingdom will need to find answers. Leaving the European Union does not see the UK ‘picking up where it left off’ in 1973; rather it finds itself in an environment where global power is more dispersed, and the direction of travel is uncertain. The UK’s future standing will depend more on its contributions to global solutions, rather than relying on past glories.[2] This requires facing up to the ways in which the current international order has entrenched and replicated unequal power relations between countries, as well as the UK’s own privileged position.

The UK remains one of the largest economies in the world, the third biggest international aid donor, the sixth highest country in terms of international military spending and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, as well as a member of the Commonwealth, NATO, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe (CoE) and a host of other international bodies.[3] The City of London remains a global financial centre, facilitating trillions of pounds in investment. The combination of a significant concentration of international media organisations, world-class universities, major international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and cultural impact through film, television, music, literature and sporting competitions with a global audience gives the UK a soft-power presence that currently far exceeds its population size or economic clout. The UK has grown used to leveraging its networks to amplify its power, seeking to act as a bridge between the United States, the EU and other partners, but now these ties are loosening. The UK has chosen to leave the EU, removing itself from both the occasional strictures of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Single Market; ultimately this will take it out of the rooms where important decisions are made, both in Brussels and in the collaborative processes between EU member state embassies in countries around the world.

At the same time, the UK’s other central alliance looks to be at its most fragile at any time in the post-war era. Irrespective of the turbulence of the Trump presidency, the US has been gradually but inexorably shifting its focus to the Pacific and growing more reticent to carry its current share of the burden for European security. The recent escalation between the US and Iran, over the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, highlighted an area where the UK had been trying to forge a different path to Washington before having to hedge its position in the face of US pressure. The extreme polarisation of US political debate has made action on climate at a federal level a partisan issue, limiting the scope for international collaboration.

The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has fallen from 1.9 billion in 1981 to 800 million in 2015.[4] Increased aid and debt relief were a part of this achievement, with the UK standing out as one of the few countries to scale up Official Development Assistance (ODA) over this period.[5] But in many ways, this has been the easy part, with a huge boost to poverty reduction delivered by the economic growth of China and other Asian countries. Now, ‘finishing the job’ to eradicate extreme poverty and delivering the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will require action to tackle the more structural challenges of climate change, protracted conflicts, and particularly gender and economic inequality – alongside the shrinking of civic and humanitarian space.[6] These are areas where the answers, if they do get to the root causes of poverty, are not always immediately win-win.

The traditional mechanisms of the post-Second World War settlement, from the Bretton Woods Institutions (the IMF and the World Bank) to NATO and the UN system, are all creaking under the weight of institutional inertia, political pressure and lack of public trust. The very idea that a single rules-based international system still exists is in question,[7] while the Brexit debate itself drew attention to the potential trade-offs between the benefits of global rules and ongoing democratic accountability at the level of the nation state. Systems based on consensus, such as the OSCE, or with the potential for the use of veto power, such as the UN Security Council, have found their decision-making hamstrung by the growing divisions between key stakeholders protecting their own interests.

Accompanying this are the difficulties the UK faces in extricating itself from the EU and starting to negotiate a new relationship with Europe, highlighting the central role that rules and regulations play in international relations. The ability to trade freely is dependent on the compatibility of regulations and mutual recognition of their implementation. Rules are, however, increasingly being set by regional power blocs, with firms wanting to do business in major markets required to conform to the standards set by these blocs irrespective of their domestic rules and preferences. Russia’s efforts to create its own regulatory sphere through the Eurasian Economic Union, and China’s attempts to promote integration with its own standards regarding other Asian economies that fall within its gravitational pull, have a clear strategic purpose – extending their political influence and restricting economic opportunities for potential competitors such as the US and EU – in addition to any direct economic benefits. This continued growth of regional regulatory blocs has taken place at a time when attempts to set the rules at a global level have stalled or gone into reverse, as exemplified by the challenges faced by the WTO in the wake of the failed Doha round of liberalisation and the paralysis in its trade courts under pressure from the US and other actors.[8]

A brief recent history of values in UK foreign policy

In 1997, the Labour government arrived in office after a Conservative government that had been seen to be slow in responding to the humanitarian crises in the Balkans and Rwanda, and with a development policy that had been tarnished by perceptions of ‘tied aid’. Its first Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, set out an approach that has been seen to define the ‘values-based’ approach to foreign policy. In Cook’s landmark speech launching the new Mission Statement for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1997, the term ‘ethical’ is only used twice and first appears in the line: ‘Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves.’[9] This commitment to having an ethical dimension in the FCO Mission Statement was part of a much broader set of objectives promoting multilateralism and internationalism. Yet detractors (and campaigners who wished to create pressure for it to be true) would amplify the ‘ethical’ claim to argue that the government was aiming for the much harder-to-achieve goal of an ‘ethical foreign policy’. As a result, any failure to meet such a standard due to competing priorities, realpolitik or missteps led to cynicism about the UK’s intentions. While many of the promises detailed in Cook’s speech, such as an annual human rights report, became part of the warp and weft of the FCO’s practice, the legacy of Iraq and the response to the War on Terror under Cook’s successors saw UK foreign policy fall short of meeting the (mis)perceived goal of an ethical foreign policy.

In 2010, William Hague sought to define the foreign policy agenda of the incoming coalition government, attempting both to move on from the previous Labour government and reassure the public (and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners) that the incoming administration was different to the perception of previous Conservative governments. Hague used the phrase ‘enlightened self-interest’, and while commercial priorities would grow in importance through the ‘Prosperity Agenda’, sometimes at the expense of day-to-day human rights priorities, there were signature campaigns such as the leadership in delivering a UN Arms Trade Treaty and the Preventing of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative.[10]

Today the FCO runs the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, which provides a number of larger grants to support human rights around the world, while smaller and locally focused grant funding is managed by UK embassies and High Commissions in-country. It continues to produce an annual Human Rights and Democracy Report that outlines the government’s view of the state of human rights across the world.[11] Protecting the freedom and safety of journalists was a major theme of the FCO under Jeremy Hunt, featuring a joint initiative with Canada. Other key themes that have dedicated delivery teams are the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative and its work on Freedom of Religion and Belief (with a particular emphasis on persecuted Christians). Under Dominic Raab there has been enthusiasm expressed for utilising ‘Magnitsky’-style personal sanctions to tackle individual human rights abusers.

The very establishment of a stand-alone Department for International Development (DFID) in 1997 – coming a few years after aid scandals such as the Pergau Dam affair ­­­– was an expression of values in foreign policy made manifest in the machinery of government.[12] Followed up in 2002 by the International Development Act, it was established that UK aid must ‘contribute to poverty reduction’. What should have been a tautologous statement has actually been an important backstop against the ever-present temptation from all governments to use the ring-fenced aid budget (0.7 per cent of UK Gross National Income (GNI)) to plug budget holes in other departments. From 2013 to 2019, the amount of UK aid spent by departments other than DFID has risen from 10 per cent to 28 per cent, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the FCO and Home Office overseeing pots of international aid, alongside the National Security Council, which is responsible for cross-government funds like the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and the Prosperity Fund.[13] This trend looks set to continue as the current Government seeks to ensure that UK development assistance is deployed in the national interest.[14]

The broad consensus in UK foreign policy-making that has persisted since at least the 1990s has supported the idea of a rules-based international order, democracy, free trade, multilateral collaboration and collective security. These are all areas where at times there has been a gap between rhetorical goals and concrete actions, but now more than ever these goals are being challenged both ideologically and in practice.

Britain in the world today

During the Theresa May government, under the guidance of National Security Adviser and Head of the Civil Service Mark Sedwill, there was an attempt to align the whole of government behind its foreign and security policies known as the Fusion Doctrine.[15] There were significant cultural roadblocks to achieving this whole-government approach, as a fusion approach can only succeed if significant work is done consistently at both ministerial and administrative levels to ensure the machinery of government is pointing in the same direction to meet the same goals. This can be even more challenging for a values-led foreign policy, when the short-term priorities (such as securing trade deals or day-to-day security) can seem paramount in the ever-churning political cycle. For example, the Home Office and FCO have struggled to remain on the same page around issues including providing visa access for at-risk human rights activists or allowing experts to attend conferences in the UK. The Home Office has made it hard for family members of those at risk around the world to reach the UK, including those who have worked with the British government as interpreters in war zones or for institutions such as the BBC World Service.[16]

The phrase ‘Global Britain’ did not appear in the Conservatives’ 2019 Election Manifesto (though the word ‘global’ was used 11 times), but it resurfaced in the Foreign Secretary’s January 2020 remarks on the Queen’s Speech. The Prime Minister has gone further to insist that the UK must be transformed, like ‘Clark Kent turning into Superman’, upon leaving the EU into a ‘supercharged champion’ of global free trade.[17] So, for certain audiences at least, the government’s rhetoric is of Britain becoming an enhanced rather than a diminished global player. However, at its heart, the pro-Brexit coalition that helped deliver the Conservative government’s large parliamentary majority is founded on two competing visions of Britain’s role in the world and openness to it. It brings together both those seeking a retrenchment from globalisation in order to buttress more traditional ideas of community against the pace of change, and the supporters of ‘Britannia unchained’, a Britain unencumbered by the rules-based constraints of membership of the EU to become even more globalised and open. Balancing the competing interests of this support base going forward will pose a significant political and strategic challenge now that the shared aim of leaving the EU has been realised.

Following the 2019 General Election, the government announced an Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review.[18] In principle, the proposed review and its stated intention to deliver a more effective, efficient and joined-up foreign policy is a positive step. The authors in the following volume are also arguing for greater policy coherence, but rather than narrowly-defined self-interest setting the policy agenda, they are making the case for a values-based foreign policy. The ongoing debate over DFID’s status as an independent department exemplifies the tensions at the heart of ‘Global Britain’, not least whose interests it will serve.[19] While DFID retained Cabinet representation in the latest reshuffle, at junior ministerial level the merger with the FCO is now complete.[20] Multiple reviews have found DFID to be one of the most effective and transparent aid agencies globally, suggesting national security and trade interests rather than value for money or effectiveness are the driving forces behind plans to subsume DFID back into the FCO.[21] Evidence to date from Australia, Canada and Norway shows that subsuming aid departments into a single foreign policy department decreases rather than increases global influence.[22] Britain’s own experience demonstrates the very real pitfalls of misusing development assistance.[23] DFID’s statutory mandate to fight poverty, its international reputation, and its proven track record in the efficiency and effective delivery of international assistance are essential components of Britain’s soft power.

There have been a number of instances where a narrow, security-focused approach to the UK national interest has overridden the stated global values of the UK, such as the increasing use of development aid for promoting UK economic interests, the damaging ‘instrumentalisation’ of humanitarian aid as a tool to address security concerns – which can muddy humanitarian principles to the detriment of those in need – or the hypocrisy of spending vast amounts of aid money in Yemen whilst selling arms to Saudi Arabia that exacerbate the conflict. Instrumentalising development assistance to deliver narrow, short-term interests will only serve to further undermine what remains of the international rules-based order.

The UK has recommitted to its NATO target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence, but it is as yet unclear what strategic goals it is seeking to achieve. The attitude of Trump and Macron to NATO, combined with the UK’s departure from the EU, will strengthen those within the EU that would seek to position it, rather than the North Atlantic alliance, as the primary coordinating body for European defence and security cooperation, further isolating the UK.[24] Similarly, overtures by Macron that would seek to bring Russia further into the fold on European security are unlikely to be seen positively in London in the absence of movement from Moscow on Ukraine and other areas of outstanding concern.[25] The UK needs to develop a clear idea of what it believes NATO’s role to be, both within Europe and out, and what it wants to do within the alliance. Fatigue with overseas deployment in the wake of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya persists, and increased Russian belligerence would seem to make a reorientation to European defence a natural move, but existing spending commitments such as the aircraft carrier programme, new cyber-threats and continuing pressures on the public finances may limit the scope for a major reorientation.

The competing pressures on the Government following an election where foreign policy (other than Brexit) barely featured raise questions over whether it has the political bandwidth and institutional capacity to respond to all the challenges it faces. Hosting the UN climate talks (COP26) in November is an opportunity to demonstrate that the UK is still able to lead in multilateral spaces as well as show the character of the UK’s leadership post-Brexit. The appointment of Alok Sharma, the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to lead the UK’s presidency is welcome, and the UK has a positive story to tell about climate leadership on domestic emissions targets and climate finance to the world’s poorest people – but that is not enough.

A successful COP requires strong international diplomacy, effective working relationships with allies, a commitment to putting the voices of those most impacted front and centre, and a roadmap to deliver tangible outcomes. Technological optimism is not enough, and the UK will need to demonstrate a willingness to take hard decisions that deliver global goods at the expense of narrow self-interest. The government will need to show it has the capacity to deliver a successful COP alongside the host of trade negotiations and other agreements necessitated by Britain’s departure from the EU.

The UK will no longer be able to easily pool resources with other EU states or automatically expect to have the same level of information-sharing available to its embassies. Worryingly, it has been suggested that UK diplomats have been told to sit apart from their former EU colleagues as a show of independence, potentially straining the interpersonal relationships and restricting the ability to act flexibly that diplomats are likely to need to compensate for lost institutional networks.[26] The FCO and other outward-facing government departments are likely to need extra resourcing to build the capacity they will need to act independently, and it is far from clear that this will be a priority for the government. Furthermore, the speed with which the government is pushing for new trade deals with countries outside the EU will make it hard for some of the more value-orientated goals set out in this essay collection to be delivered. Indeed, even when seeking to roll over the terms of existing EU deals there may be pressure to water down the strength of the human rights clauses, with a lack of effective parliamentary scrutiny, as Ruth Bergan and Dr Emily Jones point out in their essay. There are clear questions around whether the UK has the necessary political clout to fight its corner when negotiating environmental protection rules with the US or human rights clauses with countries who do not share our values or where we have short-term financial or security interests, particularly given the political and economic pressure to get the deals signed as the UK loosens its relationship with the EU.

Putting values at the heart of a new UK foreign policy

Securing the national interest in an uncertain world has to be about helping set the long-term framework of the international systems in which the UK operates rather than simply a transactional approach that helps get the country through the short-term security and economic challenges to which political incentives are often aligned. Given the increasingly authoritarian and populist turn in countries across the world, the UK (and other like-minded nations) has two main choices: either to acquiesce to this trend as inevitable, or redouble its efforts, in concert with others, to stem the erosion and ensure a future for a reformed liberal democracy at the nation-state level and a more inclusive international system. As a medium-sized power, in spite of all the assets it has, Britain would struggle to turn the tide on its own, even if its short-term political incentives encouraged it to do so. The UK will need to strengthen its engagement with existing partners and institutions as well as look at new ways to work with those who share its values.

Particularly post-Brexit, showing the UK’s commitment to multilateralism is an essential part of reassuring the international community that it is still a reliable partner. This would include taking the Council of Europe and OSCE more seriously as forums for engagement in the European and post-Soviet spaces, in addition to NATO, while working to reform all three. This willingness to work within as well as reform multilateral spaces will be even more crucial as the UK seeks to redefine its relationships with the Commonwealth and the Global South. To be taken seriously as a future partner, the UK must tread carefully and intentionally remedy the historic power imbalances institutionalised in the UN and Bretton Woods institutions. In the absence of deliberate action, ‘Global Britain’ could too easily be (mis)interpreted as ‘Empire 2.0’.

If the UK (and its allies) is serious about reforming the international order while defending the need for one, it must clearly address the gap between governments and the governed that has been so exploited by populist forces. This means outing and standing against the systemic injustices and inequalities that are the root cause of poverty, and disenfranchisement globally and domestically. It requires a bold re-articulation of the current challenges centred on common causes rather than fuelling the zero-sum narrative of winners and losers (against groups such as immigrants). There has to be greater representation of young people, women, ethnic minorities and the economically marginalised, as set out by a number of authors in this collection, including Marissa Conway. This means opening up foreign policy to wider public scrutiny and acknowledging that win-win solutions are possible, but not easy and not immediate. The economic, social and technological dislocations that are happening are not unique to any one segment of the UK, nor to the UK itself, and there is a need for them to be managed with sensitivity and greater support given to communities undergoing change. Failure to do so will only further fuel an anti-liberal, anti-rights backlash. However, these dislocations should be addressed while, and in part by, tackling the inequalities inherent in the current international rules-based order and in some of the UK’s existing policies.

The UK needs to be consistent in the application of its stated values to its enemies and allies alike, as well as to itself. Dominic Raab’s announcement of the greater use of targeted sanctions against individuals involved in human rights abuses, using the ‘Magnitsky’ clause in the 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, is to be warmly welcomed.[27] However it is notable that the countries being briefed as likely to be covered in the first roll-out include Russia, North Korea and Libya. The test of the government’s commitment will be whether human rights abusers from countries with stronger ties to the UK, such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, face such sanctions.[28] The UK should also ensure that the Arms Trade Treaty is applied equally to arms sales to friends and allies as well as enemies. The same applies to global economic rules. In addition to partaking fully in the OECD-BEPS discussions, including about a minimum effective corporate tax rate, the UK must continue to improve the standards of tax transparency in its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.[29] The UK cannot claim to uphold the international order while allowing exceptions when it is convenient.

In international development a values-led approach is best manifested by maintaining the primacy of poverty reduction as the guiding principle behind aid decisions. The instrumentalisation of aid in service of security or trade objectives would undermine the effectiveness of British aid, which is a key element of Britain’s soft power. Strengthening local ownership, investing in civil society and country capacity to tackle inequalities, and implementing a rights-based approach to development is the best way to deliver development objectives and to contribute to other global goods. The Sustainable Development Goals represent a new model of multilateral decision-making, rooted in the agency of affected populations rather than charity. They also offer Britain a source of untapped solutions to domestic policy challenges.

Returning to an imagined golden era of UK foreign policy is not an option. The flaws, inconsistencies and injustices contained within the existing world order have made challenges to it inevitable. The essays in this collection therefore both seek to re-establish the importance of longstanding global norms, rules and multilateral decision-making, whilst also exploring ways to do things differently: with new alliances based on common values; with approaches that explicitly seek to reflect the experiences of the most marginalised people; and with new approaches to emerging strategic problems. They give some ideas on how the UK can find a role in this changing world.

What our authors say

Baroness Anelay writes that we are living through a time of worldwide disruption and change. Against that backdrop, the United Kingdom left the European Union on 31st January 2020 and now has the opportunity to give substance to the mantra of ‘Global Britain’. As the UK navigates our way forward, our strength will lie in maintaining our values grounded in human rights. The times may indeed be changing, but our values should remain constant.

Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP believes that the UK is emerging from a decisive election victory, with a cautious optimism returning to the nation. He writes that now the Government is turning its attention to developing and promoting ‘Global Britain’, we must ask ourselves what role we are going to play in response to the complex security threats this new decade brings. He believes we face a pivotal moment where, if we choose, the UK can provide the thought leadership, soft power and occasional hard power that can inspire other nations to work with us on reviving the Western project against rising authoritarianism. To do so now will require investment in different strategic areas, but the long-term security and economic benefits of this investment mean he believes that this is a price the nation would deem worth paying.

Rt Hon Lord McConnell argues that the multilateral rules-based system has never been more important, but it is undermined from all sides. He writes that the UK must work with others to support it, but that we can also help lead a longer-term debate and mobilisation for reform. He believes it is time for new diplomatic alliances to build 21st century multilateral institutions, promote basic values and create a safer, fairer and cleaner world.

Ruth Bergan and Dr Emily Jones write that post-Brexit, the UK has an extremely ambitious trade agenda: it will begin negotiating its own trade deals for the first time in more than 45 years and take up independent membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In this essay, the authors argue that the UK has a unique opportunity to do things differently. It can choose to align trade policy with wider societal goals by making inclusion, equity and sustainability the hallmarks of UK trade policy. It can showcase transparent and inclusive decision-making by introducing gold-standard processes for public and parliamentary engagement in trade policymaking. As it also embarks on hosting COP26, it has a huge opportunity to pioneer new ways of aligning trade and environmental policies, helping to drive work at the WTO and assessing its own trade policy against climate and environmental goals. Finally, it can make sure bilateral and multilateral agreements are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and supportive of developing country regional integration plans.

Dr Teresa Dumasy, Jonathan Cohen and Richard Reeve write that investments by states in improving global security are failing; in 2020 the world feels a fragile and insecure place. In the UK alone, there are huge differences in the way people experience insecurity. These realities raise important questions for the UK Government about the nature and understanding of security and of the UK’s contribution to it. Ambiguity in the perception of ‘national interest,’ and tension between the UK’s presumed national and transnational interests and those of individual humans and humanity at large call for a reframing of security. The essay puts forward ‘shared security’ as an underpinning value for our future security, defence and foreign policy, and people-focused peacebuilding as a central pillar of shared security practice.

Caroline Lucas MP argues that, looking ahead to the crucial climate summit which the UK will co-host in Glasgow in November, the opportunity is there for the UK to show true climate leadership, but it will have to significantly step up its diplomatic effort to achieve what is needed at COP26. She argues that this will have to be accompanied by honesty and integrity in domestic climate policy, ‘getting our own house in order’, recognising the obligation to move further and faster than other countries, supporting them financially to adapt and cover losses, and transferring the technology needed to give everyone a just future in the face of this climate emergency.

Theo Clarke MP explores the mutually reinforcing contributions UK aid has made to global development and security, highlighting the central role the Department for International Development (DFID) has played in making Britain a global leader and authority on development. UK aid helps to create a safer, healthier, more prosperous world, and this benefits Britain. Development aid, alongside diplomacy, defence and trade, must continue to play a key role in Britain’s post-Brexit foreign policy.

Stephen Twigg argues that the UK has an opportunity to show leadership to tackle Global Goal 10 on inequality. He suggests a number of measures that DFID could take to strengthen its work in this area, including legislative change and a focus on inequality in the next Spending Review and Voluntary National Review. As well as addressing income inequality, he also sets out the case for a renewed commitment to tackling inequality based on gender and disability.

Marissa Conway argues that fresh on the heels of Brexit, the landscape of British foreign policy is infused with uncertainty. She poses the question of how we will craft our legacy now that we are outside the structures of the EU. The UK has the opportunity to be a leader in building peace through its foreign policy, not by means of claiming power over others, but by adopting a strong ethical framework to guide its decision-making in order to set a new international standard for placing human rights at the centre of policy. And she writes that there is no better way to do so than by adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy.

Sophie Howe explores how Wales, through the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015, is putting values and the needs of future generations at the top of the agenda in an uncertain world. She urges the rest of Britain to follow in their footsteps. The current system is failing and needs to change. Acknowledging the continued power of vested interests, the risks of political inertia and the hard work required, she argues for brave political leadership that creates the conditions and political infrastructure for progressive change, so future leaders and their societies can tackle the challenges they face based on values of cooperation, responsibility sharing and inclusion.


Adam Hug became Director of the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) in November 2017. He had previously been the Policy Director at the FPC from 2008–2017. His research focuses on human rights and governance issues, particularly in the former Soviet Union. He also writes on UK and EU foreign policy.

Dr Abigael Baldoumas is a humanitarian policy advisor for Oxfam GB. She holds a DPhil in Political Science from Oxford University on the role of social movements in shaping public policy in the UK. She has worked in international development since 2012. Her work focuses on forced displacement, gender justice and rights-based humanitarian response.

Katy Chakrabortty is the head of advocacy at Oxfam GB. She has been at Oxfam since 2009, and as well as political relations work she has played a major role in Oxfam’s Even it Up campaign against extreme economic inequality. Her background is in political campaigning and parliamentary advocacy, having previously worked for the Electoral Reform Society, Amnesty International and DeHavilland.

Dr Danny Sriskandarajah joined Oxfam GB as chief executive in January 2019 from CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance of which he was Secretary General for six years. Prior to that he was Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Interim Director of the Commonwealth Foundation and held various posts at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

[1] Freedom House, Democracy in Retreat: Freedom In The World 2019,

[2] Perceptions of the UK’s historic role in the world, both positive and negative, will of course influence how our future actions are perceived by international partners.

[3] In nominal GDP terms the UK is the 6th largest economy in the world behind the US, China, Japan, Germany and India (see Centre for Economics and Business Research, World Economic League Table 2020, December 2019,; This refers to spending compliant with the OECD’s rules of ODA (see Donor Tracker: United Kingdom donor profile, It is worth noting, for example, in relation to aid that China’s massive spending on the Belt and Road initiative and other international assistance falls outside of the ODA rules. UK Ministry of Defence, Finance and economics annual statistical bulletin: international defence 2019, September 2019,

[4] World Bank estimates are available at, based on a $1.90 poverty line. The most recent estimates for global poverty refer to 2013.

[5] Deborah Hardoon and Jon Slater, Inequality and the end of extreme poverty, Oxfam GB, September 2015,

[6] Sustainable Development Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere,

[7] Dr Malcolm Chalmers from RUSI argues that ‘The UK should cease to promote the narrative that there is one single Rules-Based International System. There is not. Efforts to tackle pressing international problems through collective action are more likely to succeed if they involve coalitions between major powers than if they are only based on rules-based systems that lack clear and binding obligations.’ Malcolm Chalmers, Taking Control: Rediscovering the Centrality of National Interest in UK Foreign and Security Policy, RUSI, February 2020,

[8] Jamey Keaten and Paul Wiseman, World trade without rules? US shuts down WTO appeals court, AP News, December 2019,

[9] Robin Cook, Mission Statement for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London 1997, British Political Speech,

[10] Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative,

[11] Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy Reports,

[12] World Peace Foundation and The Fletcher School, Tufts University, The Pergau Dam ‘Arms for Aid’ Scandal,

[13] Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Independent Commission for Aid Impact, The current state of UK aid: A synthesis of ICAI findings from 2015 to 2019, June 2019,

[14] Stephen Bush, In appointing Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Boris Johnson has completed Theresa May’s revolution, New Statesman America, February 2020,

[15] William McKeran, Fusion Doctrine: One Year On, RUSI, March 2019,; Owen Barder, What I Would Like to Hear from the UK Development Secretary: Making the “Fusion Doctrine” Work for the Poor, Center for Global Development, April 2018,; UK Government, Reviewing the UK’s national security strategy: The National security Capability Review and the Modernising Defence Programme, July 2019,; Reuters, The fusion doctrine: in an age of terror and hybrid warfare, UK must deploy all capabilities to defeat enemies, says PM May, South China Morning Post, March 2018,; Geoffrey Lyons, Roundtable: Addressing national security challenges through the Fusion Doctrine, Civil Service World, April 2019,

[16] Eleanor Gruffydd-Jones, Afghan interpreters’ UK immigration rules ‘anguish’, BBC News, January 2019, Information relating to difficulties faced by the families of World Service journalists was raised at a meeting of the London Leadership Council of the Committee to Project Journalists in April 2019.

[17] Christo Mitkov, UK election 2019: the parties’ competing visions for Britain’s place in the world, The Conversation, November 2019,; Foreign and Commonwealth Office and The Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, Foreign Secretary’s introduction to the Queen’s Speech debate, January 2020,; Boris Johnson, Boris Johnson: Britain must become the Superman of global free trade, The Spectator, February 2020,

[18] Forces Network, Boris Johnson Pledges Security, Defence And Foreign Policy Review, December 2019,

[19] James Landale, Cabinet reshuffle: International development and Foreign Office merger? BBC News, February 2020,

[20] Ibid. 17.

[21] ICAI,; Molly Anders, UK aid brand at risk from cross-government funds, says IDC report, Devex, June 2018,; Publish What You Fund, The 2018 Aid Transparency Index,

[22] Abby Young-Powell, What happens when an aid department is folded? Devex, December 2019,

[23] From Poverty to Power, How to stop the Foreign Office gobbling up DFID?, Oxfam Blogs, January 2020,

[24] Julian Borger, Trump re-election could sound death knell for NATO, allies fear, The Guardian, December 2019,; The Economist, Emmanuel Macron warns Europe: NATO is becoming brain-dead, November 2019,

[25] Ian Bond, NATO: Brain dead, or just resting? Centre for European Reform, December 2019,

[26] David Wilcok, ‘It’s like something from school’: Irish leader Leo Varadkar clashes with Dominic Raab over ‘petty’ order for UK diplomats not to SIT with former EU friends at the international events as they spar over post-Brexit trade, Mail Online, February 2020,

[27] UK Government – Legislation, Sanctions and Anti-Money laundering Act 2018,

[28] George Parker, UK to begin crackdown on human rights abusers, Financial Times, January 2020,

[29] Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.

Photo credit: Lighthouse and sunset, Isle of Skye. Image by Frank Winkler from Pixabay

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