Skip to content

Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Conclusions and recommendations

Article by Adam Hug

December 3, 2020

Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Conclusions and recommendations

The Government’s roadmap for 2020 has not quite unfolded the way they might have initially hoped, with a global pandemic liable to disrupt even the best laid plans. The current delay to the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy has been part of adapting to that new reality. Although some of the main outcomes of the Integrated Review, such as the merger of the FCO and DFID, the increase in defence spending and the ODA cuts, have already been announced, the document’s postponement to early 2021 could enable it to play an important role in setting out the Government’s vision for the future as part of a year of action centred around the UK’s leadership of the G7 and COP.


As set out in the introduction the UK should build on its soft power strengths and history as a global hub to position itself as a, or even the, ‘library of democracy’ by providing the necessary tools to support those defending human rights and democracy around the world. To play this role effectively the UK will need not only to protect its world class universities, NGOs and media outlets but to get the Home Office on the same page to better provide sanctuary to activists in need and access for those wanting to study or visit the UK for conferences. UK aid needs to actively support the Government’s Open Societies objectives by supporting human rights defenders and NGOs, with human rights impacts be fully considered when providing development aid. The UK should build on the success so far of the new Magnitsky sanctions and use its new found flexibility outside the EU to act fast in response to emerging crises, taking opportunities for British leadership.


The fight against corruption is an issue that dovetails well with the goal of supporting democracy, given the tendency of kleptocratic autocrats and their hangers on to funnel their money to or through UK jurisdictions. Delivering on overdue legal reforms and enhancing the capacity of institutions working in the sector are crucial, as will be the increasing willingness to use powers such as Unexplained Wealth Orders. Learning the lessons from the UK’s own issues with COVID procurement will be important to boost credibility on transparency and accountability.


The UK’s new trade function needs to be made more accountable to Parliament and the public, with deals containing stronger human rights and environmental protections, as well as a focus on supporting developing country economies to flourish. It should seek to make trade one plank of broader and more comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreements that combine it with more detailed plans for security, scientific, academic, cultural, aid, and environmental collaboration.


The UK has a lot to do in order to effectively use 2021 to relaunch itself on the world stage but there are a number of recommendations for action that can help it achieve its goals. These might include:

  • Positioning the UK as a ‘library of democracy’, a global hub for supporting liberal democracy and human rights;
  • Increasing the use of Magnitsky sanctions, expanding their remit to cover corruption and giving Parliament a role in proposing relevant cases;
  • Making Parliamentary time available to introduce the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill and planned reforms to limited partnership law;
  • Improving access to existing public registers and find further ways to connect their information, such as the development of a consolidated national asset registry;
  • Continuing to expand the investigative capacity of Companies House, the National Economic Crime Centre and its constituent agencies, and increase the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders;
  • Taking action on libel tourism and repression of international journalists by introducing UK anti-SLAPP legislation and improving conducts codes for lawyers and financial services;
  • Making trade negotiations more transparent and accountable to Parliament and the public, with deals containing a stronger development focus and more enforceable human rights and environmental clauses;
  • Integrating trade deals better alongside the UK’s other diplomatic objectives through more comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreements;
  • Returning to the legal and manifesto commitment of 0.7 per cent GNI invested in Overseas Development Aid as soon as possible, with a sunset clause in any legal changes;
  • Improving Parliamentary and Ministerial oversight and setting an ethical framework for the deployment of cyber capabilities, with a focus on defensive and combat support functions; and
  • Delivering more ambitious commitments for climate action through the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution, better use of the aid budget and the use of the financial sector, as well as ending government support for fossil fuel projects abroad.
    Related Articles

     Join our mailing list 

    Keep informed about events, articles & latest publications from Foreign Policy Centre