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Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Executive Summary

Article by Adam Hug

December 3, 2020

Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Executive Summary

2021 is going to be an important year for the UK’s global ambitions. Exiting both the post-Brexit transition period and, vaccines permitting, the toughest COVID restrictions the UK will have an opportunity to set out its vision for the future through the publication of the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy and to put that new strategy into practice through its dual leadership of the G7 and the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP).


This new publication sets out a wide range of ideas for how the UK can do things differently in the future to support and promote its values in its foreign policy. The UK should carve out a new niche that builds 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. This requires support for the UK’s world class universities, NGOs and media outlets and getting the Home Office to better provide sanctuary to activists in need and access for those wanting to visit the UK. The UK should build on the success so far of the new Magnitsky sanctions and use aid to better support open societies and human rights objectives.


Given the tendency of kleptocratic autocrats and their hangers on to funnel their money to or through UK jurisdictions, the fights against corruption and to support democracy are mutually supportive. Delivering overdue legal reforms and enhancing the capacity of enforcement bodies will be crucial, as will be increasing the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders. The UK must also learn the lessons of its own COVID procurement issues 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.


To help the UK deliver an ambitious agenda this research suggests several recommendations including:


  • 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;
  • Passing the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill and planned reforms to limited partnership law, improving registry access and connectivity, and perhaps a new 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 if 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.


Image by Rian (Ree) Saunders under (CC).

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