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Global Britain for an open world? – Executive Summary

Article by Adam Hug and Devin O'Shaughnessy

October 19, 2021

Global Britain for an open world? – Executive Summary

Open societies around the world and the international system that supports them are under growing threat. This publication provides detailed analysis and practical ideas for how the UK can meet this challenge with a ‘renewed commitment to (being) a force for good in the world-defending openness, democracy and human rights’ necessary for ‘shaping the open international order of the future’.


First, Britain must be consistent in its principles both at home and abroad. It must tackle corruption in the UK and its territories, protect the independent institutions crucial for its soft power and avoid restrictive new legislation that will harm human rights at home and undermine them internationally.


As part the UK’s new approach to the world it should seek to be ‘Doing Development Democratically’ (DDD), a long-term integrated approach that understands the UK’s impact on countries and incentivises change through a ‘Democracy Premium’. UK engagement should build on a core of tackling corruption, promoting the rule of law and protecting media freedom, mutually reinforcing areas that can underpin a wider change to political cultures and quality of governance. The UK needs to be more outspoken in defence of open societies – bilaterally and multilaterally – both in public and private, using all the tools available to it, even as UK aid has been cut back. Working with like-minded donors, partners in the global south, and civil society the UK needs to seize democratic opportunities as they arise and protect progress in the regional leaders that can influence others.


Key Recommendations

  • The UK must get its own house in order. A programme of domestic reform should include:
    • Delivering a beneficial ownership register for property; reforming and better resourcing Companies House, the National Crime Agency, Serious Fraud Office and HMRC; and transforming or abolishing Scottish limited partnerships;
    • Rethinking and revising the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill and the Elections Bill over restrictions to the right to protest and vote; and
    • Protecting the UK’s soft power strength and avoiding undermining UK institutions so that the UK can act as a ‘Library of Democracy’, a democratic resource for the world.
  • The UK should commit to ‘Doing Development Democratically’. This should include:
    • Acting with ‘Democratic Sensitivity’ by understanding the impact of UK decisions on a country’s democracy, seeking to do no harm and instead supporting openness;
    • Creating a ‘Democracy Premium’ of incentives for governments committed to democracy and human rights. Offering additional foreign aid, trade preferences, international development finance, security guarantees, debt relief, technical support, diplomatic engagement and access to international agreements;
    • Responding to emerging opportunities for reform by delivering a ‘Democratic Surge’ of political, practical and financial support to buttress democratic openings; and
    • Ensuring women’s political leadership plays a central role in the upcoming International Development Strategy and other FCDO policies.
  • The FCDO should invest in UK election observation capacity, including a rapid response fund and push countries harder to deliver reforms on the basis of observation reports.
  • Ambassadors and Ministers should speak out more on human rights abuses and use Magnitsky sanctions to go after abusers.
  • The UK should support open data by creating ‘Digital Open Champions’ to drive reform at home and making it a key plank of its approach to aid and international regulatory bodies.
  • Support the development, funding and mobilisation of the International Fund for Public Interest Media and the establishment of a Global Fund for the Rule of Law.
  • Invest in UK democracy building capacity through a new Open Societies Fund, which could be delivered by a consortium of British NGOs and organisations (Team UK).
  • Ensuring the UK has clear commitments to show leadership at the Summit for Democracy.


Adam Hug became the Director of the Foreign Policy Centre in November 2017, overseeing the FPC’s operations and strategic direction. He had previously been the Policy Director at the Foreign Policy Centre from 2008-2017. His research focuses on human rights and governance issues particularly in the former Soviet Union. He also writes on UK foreign policy and EU issues. He studied at Geography at the University of Edinburgh as an undergraduate and Development Studies with Special Reference to Central Asia as a post-grad.


Devin O’Shaughnessy is the Director of Strategy and Policy for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), responsible for advancing WFD’s strategic direction and providing technical leadership to its programmes and policy work. He has over 20 years’ experience in the field of international development, with expertise in democracy and governance, legislative assistance, civil society strengthening; electoral processes and observation; citizen participation; state building in fragile contexts; and inclusive politics. Before joining WFD, he worked for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for nearly six years in Washington, DC, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. He has a Master’s degree in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

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