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Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Introduction

Article by Adam Hug

December 3, 2020

Projecting the UK’s values abroad: Introduction

This essay collection asks, and tries to answer, the question ‘what can Britain do now?’ It is an examination of the emerging tools and strategies the UK can use to support and promote its values in its foreign policy. While in a number of areas there is continuity in British rhetoric and policy, outside the European Union (EU) the UK is required to rethink the way it operates in order to continue to exert influence on the world stage.[1] Not only must it build on its existing strengths, as set out earlier in this publication series, but find new ways of working.


Building on the cross-governmental principle behind the Integrated Review, the UK’s emerging foreign policy must effectively use all available resources inside and outside government, hard and soft power, to support its foreign policy objectives and its chosen values.[2] As set out in the first collection in this series, The principles for Global Britain, and in Cat Tully and Sophie Middlemiss’ essay in this publication, a sensible approach has to start from a clear understanding of Britain’s place in the world and buy in from the public, particularly the younger generation and others often excluded from the policy making process – a ‘whole of nation strategy’ as Tully and Middlemiss put it.[3] In their essay Ruth Bergan and David Lawrence make the case that this principle applies equally to ensuring public participation in discussions over trade policy. A positive and transformative agenda for the future of UK foreign policy and how it can be a force for good may, at least have a chance to begin healing some of the divisions over the country’s future. As a middle power in a fast changing world, enduring polarisation and division over the UK’s national strategy is not a luxury we can afford.


Prior to Brexit, although participation in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy did not prevent the UK from showing international leadership where there was the necessary political will, the need to participate in determining and supporting sometimes lowest common denominator positions generated by consensus dulled the edge of some of its decision making. The UK now has the opportunity, if it so chooses, to show greater speed of action, and greater creativity and skill in the delivery of its foreign policy to compensate for and potentially outweigh the loss of diplomatic clout given by EU membership.[4] In broad-terms, the UK’s foreign policy planners will need to recognise the implications of the UK being a less important market and partner for other world powers, most notably the US, seeking to access and influence the EU. It retains key strengths but will need to lean into the greater flexibility that the post-Brexit environment provides.


There is a need for policy makers to accept the unavoidable fact of the UK’s ‘relative’ decline in geopolitical influence, but also understand that with the right level of political will it does not mean the UK has to do less in absolute terms and that it can still make a real impact with the right policies and strategies.[5] The politically expedient, but somewhat strategically confused, recent decisions of increasing defence spending while cutting international aid pull in opposite directions the effort to reposition the UK on the world stage.[6] However this shift, relative to other powers, makes it all the more important that it uses its time now wisely to help shape the international architecture that it will live with into the future and find innovative ways to burden-share in areas where the UK lacks capacity alone. Ignoring or denying the need to respond to these shifts in the geo-political landscape will hasten and exacerbate British decline, in both relative and absolute terms. Finding the right tone in the Integrated Review and the Government’s wider messaging will be key, focused on national pride about what Britain can do without resorting to jingoism, striving for the UK to be exceptional without claiming exceptionalism.


Finding a new role: The ‘Library of democracy’

It’s far from original to reference the old Dean Acheson quote about Britain having ‘lost an empire and has not yet found a role’, but it feels once again relevant with Brexit and shifting US priorities untethering the UK from its more recent mooring as a balancing force between European and US interests in the wider Trans-Atlantic partnership.[7] Often that recent role was described as being a bridge, something that led more cynical critiques to claim, usually unfairly, that Britain was being walked over by either of those partners. So part of the current process of reassessing the UK’s position post Brexit is trying to identify and agree on its new role in the international order. To help Britain find that niche it could well be worth seeking to adapt another mid-20th Century aphorism to meet today’s challenges.


In the early phase of the Second World War, prior to Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt described America’s role as being the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’, where the US would provide tools used by others in the fight for the future of democracy.[8] Despite recently promised increases in defence spending there is little public appetite to use such power widely to try to impose its values on others given the troubled legacy of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as set out in the FPC’s previous Protecting the UK’s ability to defend its values publication, in a number of overlapping areas including academia, NGOs, media outlets and cultural institutions the UK remains a leading global player.[9] If the UK wants to build on these strengths to be a force for good in the world, it could perhaps start to frame its emerging global role as becoming a, or even the, ‘Library of Democracy’.


Like the role of the library in communities around the country, the UK could act as an important resource and meeting place for the community of democratic nations. Similarly, as with libraries, there have sometimes been questions about their role in the modern world but they have adapted to become hubs that provide access to technology, hosting support services and activities that enable citizens to make change in their own lives. This new positioning would build on the UK soft power strengths and longstanding role as an international hub.


To play this role effectively care must be taken to protect the UK’s globally focused NGOs, academic centres of excellence and international media platforms (not least the BBC) during the current economic downturn. It must also look at ways, through a truly Integrated Review, to reform Home Office practice to ensure the UK is better able to provide asylum to human rights defenders, independent journalists and other dissidents seeking a place of refuge from persecution, while similarly making it easier for international experts to visit for conferences and other short-term research collaborations. There needs to be greater recognition amongst policy makers that, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the UK’s negotiating objectives with the EU, the Government’s willingness to actively embrace even a ‘specific and limited’ breach of international law in undermining a treaty it had only recently signed has hurt its standing in the wider international community, not only amongst EU member states with whom the UK seeks to work with diplomatically in future. UK Aid must also fully support the Government’s Open Societies strategic objective by supporting human rights defenders and NGOs abroad, while working to avoid conflicts between human rights and development priorities.


Some of the noises coming out of the initial stages of the Government’s now delayed Integrated Review suggest that it is thinking creatively about other ways for the UK to make its mark. These include placing a more active role in some of the more ostensibly mundane but important international bodies that set international standards and regulations, particularly in the digital space. In the past some authoritarian states obtained outsized roles in bodies such as the Internet Governance Forum by committing resources to them, including hosting the annual conferences, when others lacked the focus. If the UK wants to play a more prominent role it can build on its strong academic, legal, NGO and service sector resources to help take a more active role in global rule setting, and to compensate in part for no longer being able to directly influence the development of rules in its largest export market, the global rule and standard setting EU.


Another way the UK hopes to enhance its role on the global stage is to be a place for mediation in the world’s conflicts. To support this objective it can draw on a strong pool of talent in the UK’s peacebuilding and development sector to assist its experienced diplomats in this endeavour. However the UK will need to be strategic around understanding where its history and present policies support (or at least do not hinder) it to play a brokering role, given that in large parts of the world Britain brings certain baggage to the table that a Norway or a Switzerland do not.


The determination to make a policy pivot to the Indo-Pacific remains clear in the ongoing discussion around the Integrated Review, albeit it is less certain to what extent resources and capability will follow the shifting of policy focus. The narrative of burden sharing seems sensible in this context but needs clearer articulation of why our regional partners would want the UK to play a more active role in their backyard, what we might be able to bring to the table to support them and where they may wish to see reciprocal assistance elsewhere. The UK will need to find areas where it can ‘add value’ in a region that is not our own rather than simply mimic capability and roles played by the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea and other allied Pacific powers. As Ben Judah and Georgina Wright note in their essay strengthening bilateral partnerships with Australia and Japan will be important, as too could be exploring what membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) for the UK could mean, though many thorny issues around agriculture and labour rights may make this strategically appealing opportunity unviable.[10]


The desire to root new partnerships in the principles and promotion of democracy is a positive response to the strategic challenge of rising authoritarian powers; a topic set out in the earlier The principles for Global Britain publication in this series. The topic of new organisations and groupings tasked with that purpose will be addressed again in the upcoming Partnerships for the future of UK Foreign Policy publication, but it also a feature of a contribution by in this collection by Jonas Parello-Plesner from the Alliance of Democracies. Parello-Plesner’s essay points out that democracy promotion is likely to feature highly in President-Elect Biden’s upcoming administration.[11] However, it is also worth noting that another major, often intersecting, policy theme in Biden’s administration is tackling the impact of kleptocracy and transnational corruption, an area where the UK still has a lot of work to do.[12]


Transparency and accountability

Getting Britain’s house in order on issues around transparency and tackling corruption are essential if the UK wants to play a positive role in the world. It is also an important part of efforts to improve how the Britain is perceived around the world, as for too many countries the UK and its territories and dependencies are where their unscrupulous leaders and oligarchs park their money, acting as a global hub of opaque financial practices and corruption. So there is a need for the Government, through the Integrated Review and wider work, to look at the extent to which money flows into UK jurisdictions, through the British property industry, its legal, public affairs and service sectors from authoritarian elites, shady businesses or criminal groups. It should look at the ways in which these illicit money flows are used to influence the UK and how UK firms that are complicit in enabling criminal or ethically dubious behaviour abroad undermine the reputation of this country.


In these times of COVID pressure on the public finances there has never been a better opportunity to link these issues around tax justice, anti-corruption and transparency to ensure those benefiting from the UK’s property market and financial sector pay their fair share (both to the UK and to their home countries). Despite the ongoing challenges it is important to recognise that there have been some positive recent steps that start to tackle these long-standing problem. Proposed changes to improve and verify the data of Companies Households are welcome but will need to be built on, legislated and implemented.[13] Similarly, the current requirements on beneficial ownership and the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders are important but the institutions responsible for administering them need to be resourced properly. The Government must make Parliamentary time to introduce the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill to move this agenda forward.[14]


The recent 2020 Spending Review has set out plans for ‘an additional £63 million to tackle economic crime, including support for the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), along with £20 million for Companies House reform’.[15] Expanding the capacity of the NECC and the enforcement ability of its constituent partners such as the National Crime Agency, Serious Fraud Office and HMRC could facilitate more investigations into transnational corruption and to increase the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders but further funding is likely to be required.[16] Nevertheless, this cash injection should help to give Companies House greater capacity to conduct proper verification of the information provided to existing beneficial ownership registers. The Government should also look at ways to crack down on the use of paid proxies and examine possible restrictions on the ability of opaque corporate entities from jurisdictions without properly equivalent transparency rules from registering without proving information on their ultimate beneficial ownership. Further measures could also include ensuring that at least one accountable person for each UK registered entity should be based in the UK.[17]


Beyond Companies House, improving and opening access to Land Registry data could assist investigative journalists and other researchers by potentially removing or reducing the access fees to help them cross check information with other registries. In the medium term the Government should look at how to better join up information about assets held by different institutions such as considering the development of a consolidated national asset registry, a case made strongly in the essay in this collection by Alex Cobham, Andres Knobel and Robert Palmer. Improved access to relevant data should support efforts to pressure the UK property industry to increase the number of Suspicious Activity Reports filed to HMRC when buildings are being bought by opaque international investment vehicles.[18]


Despite progress being promised in 2018, the Government has yet to find Parliamentary time to address the transparency problems facing a number of forms of UK investment vehicle.[19] A notorious example are the Scottish Limited Partnerships that, unlike their English equivalent, have their own legal personality and combine both limited disclosure requirements but no taxes on the partnership itself. The term ‘Scottish Company’ has become synonymous with corruption across the Former Soviet Union and UK-based tax advisors promote them on the basis that: ‘there are no taxes in the UK, providing that the partnership does not trade in the UK and partners are not residents of the UK’; ‘no requirements to submit financial statements; ‘no requirements to submit tax declaration’; and crucially ‘high confidentiality’.[20] Irrespective of the Government’s anti-corruption commitments if the UK Government is keen to prevent further erosion of support for the Union then it should urgently consider removing something legislated in London that besmirches Scotland’s reputation.


There remains a fundamental question: what benefits do corporate entities that register in the UK but do not provide goods or services in the country, do not pay tax here and do not have owners based here actually bring to Britain, other than damage to our national reputation? For example the UK’s reputation was recently brought into question when it was found by RFE/RL that a company believed to have been gifted a substantial slice of commercial development land in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, was in fact based in the Hertfordshire market town of Kington. Given that the companies’ directors are based in Belize and according to RFE/RL the owners are believed to be in Uzbekistan it is unclear how the UK gains from such an arrangement.[21]


A related area where the UK needs to do better to improve its reputation is on libel reform. Worryingly, UK law firms are at the forefront of global efforts to intimidate journalists and other investigators into the proceeds of financial crimes through the use of strategic litigation against public participation (‘SLAPP’).[22] This form of vexatious legal action can have wide reaching consequences far beyond the UK’s borders. Despite the reforms made in the 2013 UK Defamation Act, there are still significant challenges for journalists and media organisations around the world when defending themselves against UK libel claims.[23] The cost of mounting a defence is extremely high, the burden of proof required places an enormous onus on the defendant, proceedings can be lengthy and a negative verdict can result in a potentially crippling damages pay-out.


The UK libel system’s significant chilling effect makes journalists, researchers and activists uniquely mindful about the reach of potentially being dragged into the UK courts even if both they and the subject of their inquiries are based abroad. Journalists have reported that claimants often rely on the mere threat of the cost involved in UK libel proceedings being so intimidating that “journalists won’t even try to defend themselves” and remove the article in question.[24] Libel tourism, and the threat of such extra-territorial action, significantly undermines the UK’s values leadership internationally by chilling freedom of expression and undermining the UK’s global leadership on these issues.


UK legal firms have been hired to send journalists all over the world cease and desist letters threatening legal action if they do not halt their investigations or remove investigations from their publications. For example at the time of her murder in October 2017, the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had at least 42 civil libel suits open against her, many of which were brought through UK-based law firms, acting for foreign banks and wealthy individuals and continued to be pursued against her family after her death.[25] In January 2020, a libel case filed against Paul Radu, co-founder of OCCRP and a Romanian citizen, was due to go to trial in the UK. The claimant, who was named in an award-winning OCCRP report investigating concerns around money laundering, successfully filed the case by stating he lived in London despite being a serving MP in Azerbaijan.[26] On the eve of the trial, the claimant offered to settle on favourable terms for Radu, but as OCCRP noted this settlement ended almost two years of being embroiled in a costly and time-consuming lawsuit.[27] A common theme of SLAPPS is how they are used as an attempt to distract from important public interest reporting, harass journalists and tie them up in legal action as a way to disable their ability to continue investigating. Often cases might never reach court, having achieved their aim prior to that stage.[28]A recent Foreign Policy Centre survey of global investigative journalists networks found that the UK was by far the most common source of legal pressure on their activities and that 61 per cent of their investigations had found a link to UK financial or legal jurisdictions.[29]


Many countries have struggled with meeting best practice standards when responding to pandemic procurement given the urgency of the crisis, but some of the concerns raised about close proximity between suppliers and the British Government raise issues not only domestically (some of which is beyond the scope of this publication) but it will have a lingering impact on the UK’s reputation and its ability to support international best practice standards. There needs to be a transparent and independent review into recent procurement problems in order to learn lessons for the future.[30] The need to improve transparency and accountability in domestic processes, as well as providing better value for money for tax payers, would help improve the UK’s reputation and give it greater credibility when advocating for change internationally.


As mentioned earlier in this publication series the UK’s introduction of ‘Magnitsky’ personal sanctions against international human rights abusers, through an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, has been an important step forward in giving the Government powers to put pressure on rights abuse around the world, particularly given the concentration of ill-gotten gains stashed in UK jurisdictions as mentioned above. The current Foreign Secretary has been a longstanding advocate of such measures and so far has been willing to use them against those of regimes traditionally friendly to the UK, such as Saudi Arabia over the murder of exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as traditional rivals. There is a strong argument to ensure the relevant teams in the newly merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) are properly resourced to ramp up the number of sanctions issued. The remit of the sanctions needs to be formally widened to include concerns around corruption as part of the wider suite of tools available to tackle that issue. One difference between the US Global Magnitsky Act and the UK provisions is the lack of a formal role for the British Parliament in proposing potential cases where such sanctions should be applied. While the differences in capacity between Parliamentary and Congressional staffs should be noted, giving Parliament a formal role could help ensure the tool is use to cover a wider range of cases and encourage the FCDO to overcome institutional or perceived diplomatic barriers to its use.


Trade and aid

This publication comes out just after an important decision about Britain’s role in the world, the decision to cut the proportion of national income spend on Official Development Assistance (ODA) aid from the legally mandated and manifesto committed 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent from 2021, and ahead of an even bigger one on the details regarding the UK’s future trading relations with the EU.[31] The aid cut is a decision taken ostensibly due to the impact of the pandemic on the public finances (something which had already triggered a separate £2.9 billion in year cut for 2020 as a function of the reduction in national income).[32] However given it occurred less than a week after a major uplift in defence spending, to tackle capacity shortfalls, it is clear that this represents the Government having ‘moved £4 billion from aid to defence’ in the words of Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat.[33] One small area of comfort for the cause of international development is that the Government restated its commitment to the OECD’s ODA rules in the face of backbench pressure to loosen requirements to enable UK funds to be spent in a wider number of ways to support the armed forces or trade promotion. This pressure on the ODA rules is likely to persist and must be guarded against for the UK’s credibility as a donor to be maintained. However, the Government does remain committed to attempting international reform of the shared criteria at some point. Part of that necessary reassurance to the development sector should be a swift and comprehensive completion of the review of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) in a way that protects and strengthens its independence and oversight.[34]


Concern over the impact of aid reduction is not only, or indeed primarily, about damaging Britain’s reputation and influence, but at its core it is about the impact of an over £5bn cut (compared to 2019) on the lives of those most in need around the world.[35] Many Government decisions have significant real world impacts, for good or ill, on people but if former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell is correct that the scale of the cut could lead to 100,000 preventable deaths, mainly in children, this should have given the Government greater cause for pause.[36] The cut has been announced as a temporary measure in response to COVID-19, yet despite this stated framing of the action the Government has made it known that it seeks to repeal the 2015 International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act. This is because it believes, as a planned rather than accidental cut, legal change is required but it is a move that could pave the way to make the cut de facto permanent.[37] The Foreign Secretary has said both that the Government “cannot see a path back to 0.7% in the foreseeable, immediate future”, and the somewhat more positive but vague “we will revert to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal position allows”, which could mean anything from the point at which the economy initially rebounds through to any number of politically contingent assessments of the deficit or national debt.[38]


Although the Integrated Review has yet to be completed the Foreign Secretary has announced in a letter to the International Development Select Committee that all aid spending will be focused on addressing seven global challenges: Climate Change and biodiversity; COVID and global health security; Girls’ education; Science, research, technology; Open societies and conflict resolution; Humanitarian preparedness and response; and Trade and economic development.[39] It also states that spending will focus only on countries where the UK’s development, security and economic interests align, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Indo-Pacific region. While it may be that poverty reduction is a cross-cutting theme of these priorities it is not explicitly stated in either the letter or the subsequent Parliamentary Statement, despite previous ministerial statements that reiterated its importance. Therefore, if the Government wishes to retain a focus on poverty reduction as part of its plans it should publically state this in order to provide reassurance on this hugely important issue. Plans also announced to consolidate the FCDO’s strategic overview of ODA spending across Government and move away from reliance on enormous contracts with consultancies are broadly to be welcomed.


The UK’s new ability to set its own international trade agenda provides a powerful tool for the UK to back its international values if it is willing and able to use it effectively. This publication builds on arguments set out in the earlier Finding Britain’s Role in a Changing World: Building a values-based foreign policy published jointly with Oxfam UK and The principles for Global Britain publication.[40] As set out briefly in the latter publication, new UK trade deals should seek to support rather than undermine regional trade integration by developing countries, learning from the initial mistakes of the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and with an emphasis on it being a full and inclusive partnership.[41] The UK should seek to build on the EU’s ‘Everything but Arms’ approach, but give developing country partners greater flexibility, including a more generous interpretation of the ‘substantially all’ requirement on rules of origin so that they can protect infant industries and support regional supply chains, allow for longer phasing periods and a pro-development use of schedules, as well as giving partner countries the maximum policy space possible to allow them to implement rules in ways most suitable to their development.[42] The UK should seek to move away from the use of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDSs) and instead look to coordinate with its aid policy by supporting rule of law initiatives in partner countries where possible, something that should fit within the Government’s current ‘Trade and economic development’ priority.[43]


The imminent withdrawal of the UK from the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union has led to a rush to try to conclude bilateral trade deals, many of which copy over existing arrangements that currently apply to the UK as part of EU membership. One area of ongoing dispute is around the extent of Parliamentary and public scrutiny around the development of trade deals, with both the Government and campaigners identifying examples that support their respective cases that the UK’s new arrangements are more or less transparent and accountable than their peers. What would seem undoubtedly true is that the UK’s Parliament and stakeholders have less structured input into the development and decision making around such deals than the European Parliament, and therefore UK representatives within it previously, has over the direction of EU trade deals. Getting these scrutiny arrangements right is important to help improve accountability and quality of the agreements entered into, not least given their potentially significant implications for domestic law and policy if a deal is substantive. In this collection Ruth Bergan and David Lawrence suggest a number of sensible suggestions for improving Parliamentary scrutiny, including publication of the Government’s initial negotiation objectives that is subject to a debate and vote, providing a regular release of negotiating texts (or at least headline information) after each round, leading to a final guaranteed debate and vote on the final deal. This enhanced Parliamentary scrutiny should be supported by ‘regular engagement with civil society, including environmental groups, businesses and trade unions, and the publication of an independent Sustainability Impact Assessment.’


In terms of the deals the UK is currently trying to negotiate there is clearly scope to strengthen human rights and environmental clauses to make them actionable in the case of a breach by either party. Given that the UK is not envisaging formal human rights dialogues or other consultative mechanisms attached to its deals, greater enforceability will be required in order for these UK deals to not be seen as a diminishing the importance of values compared to the previous, still very imperfect, EU deals the UK used to be part of. Both the EU’s various different models of agreement (from Partnership and Cooperation Agreements to Association Agreements) and the innovative mechanisms such as the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS) created by New Zealand and others, as explained in Bergan and Lawrence’s essay, can provide a blueprint for the UK to frame trade as an integrated  strand of building improved bilateral relationships.[44] So as the UK moves forward and the immediate post-Brexit rush subsides, the UK should look at how it can better make trade an integrated plank in the development of new Strategic Partnership Agreements that bring trade agreements alongside more detailed plans for security cooperation, and scientific, academic and cultural collaboration; as well as environmental partnerships (including potentially new international carbon trading arrangements if the UK is unable to formally link with the EU ETS in future); people-to-people contact; and, finally, where relevant aid support.


Emerging challenges

In this collection, Luke Murphy and Dr Joe Devanny respectively tackle two of the most pressing global challenges, climate and cyber security, and give ideas for how the UK should respond to them.


Along with the G7, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow will be a huge opportunity for the UK to show global leadership to tackle a pressing challenge, if handled with care and the level of political focus required. It will also create an opportunity for engagement with China on an issue of shared interest, allowing for a parallel diplomatic track that maintains opportunities for dialogue, even as the UK takes action on the defence of democracy and human rights, digital security and other areas that recognise the risks of China poses to the values the UK espouses. Murphy outlines a number of practical measures in terms of domestic investment and regulatory change that can help boost Britain’s position but it is also in the diplomatic arena where the UK needs to show greater focus if they are to emulate the success of the French leadership of the COP that led to the Paris Agreement.


While COVID-19 has understandably disrupted preparations, not least in delaying the Glasgow Conference by a year, between late January and early November the UK lacked a standalone lead for the process, between the removal of Claire O’ Neill as COP President and the arrival of former International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan in a somewhat more constrained role as International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience for the COP26 Presidency. Trevelyan’s appointment may help take pressure off the somewhat overburdened Business Secretary who is formally acting as President of the COP, and it is to be hoped that her work will be backed by high level support from the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister to show that the COP is a genuine diplomatic priority. Climate action provides a useful mechanism for engaging the incoming Biden administration, whose appointment of former Secretary of State and Presidential Candidate John Kerry as the US’s climate envoy is a signal of its importance to the new US leadership. Despite Trevelyan’s appointment and in light of Kerry’s there are still calls for the UK to appoint a more senior political figure, a ‘grand fromage’ in the words of Defence Select Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood MP, to act as full-time President of the COP.[45]


The UK should also look at the history of successful interactions between Government and Civil Society, such as the Make Poverty History campaign in the 2000s around the UK’s 2005 G7 Presidency and the role that it played in the promotion of UK global values leadership and in their implementation. This may require wider work to build trust between Government and the third sector in light of recent disagreements over aid and other matters.


The Government’s recent defence announcement makes clear that improving the UK’s cyber capabilities will be a central part of Britain’s security over the years to come.[46] As Devanny makes clear in his essay, along with the additional funding the UK needs a clearly defined ethical framework to underpin its new Cyber Strategy and there is also an important role for enhanced oversight. Devanny rightly urges a focus on cyber defence and limiting offensive capability to its role in tackling defence and security infrastructure rather than seeking ways to target civilian infrastructure.


Brand Britain

After several years of introspection around its relationship with Europe the UK now needs to get on the front foot facing the world; not only through its policies but also in how it is perceived. This approach needs to be based from a clear understanding on how other countries currently perceive the UK and the need to ensure the UK is still seen as being outward looking and engaged, exploring new ways to boost its soft-power attractiveness. To that end, work needs to be done to effectively map attitudes towards the UK, both in key power centres and in countries that the UK is looking to grow its influence and engagement.


Presenting Britain’s message to the world should flow from the priorities and strategies set out in the Integrated Review. It is to be hoped that there is an emphasis on developing a positive vision for the country that can reach out beyond the domestic rancour of the last few years. A vision that rests on a narrowly partisan assessment of the UK’s interests and priorities would not achieve the buy-in of the wider public, including many that are critical to the UK’s soft-power success, and therefore lack the longevity only obtained through coalition building.


The current Government should learn from the still relatively recent experience of the 2012 Olympics, which were used to present a clear positive vision of the UK (centred on the UK being a young, dynamic, diverse and tolerant country) and how the idea of sustainability and legacy were a core part of the message, showing the UK has a long-term plan. It will need to look at the scope for the Commonwealth Games and other cultural and sporting events over the coming years to help shape perceptions of the UK and enhance its soft power, helping these vital industries for Britain’s global standing recovery from the horrific toll of COVID-19. To that end, it is to be hoped that the Festival UK 2022 initiative can disentangle itself from the Brexit culture war, in part a product of its initially unhelpful genesis as Theresa May’s ‘Festival of Brexit Britain’, to be a genuinely inclusive showcase of the talent the UK has to offer and provide a focus on ideas and principles that can unite across political and ideological divides.[47]


The Government needs to find a way of working collaboratively with the UK’s City Regions (Combined Authorities) and devolved nations to help promote the country on the world stage. Once the immediate impact of COVID has abated and the rancorous Mayoral elections have passed, the UK should look at the importance of retaining London’s position as a global city, while strengthening the ability of Metro Mayors, devolved nations and other regional and local leaderships to strengthen the country’s voice abroad as well as supporting trade and investment as part of the Government’s levelling up objectives.[48] The Government also needs to find a way to engage more effectively with the UK’s diaspora of British leaders in international institutions, businesses, NGOs and cultural institutions abroad to learn from them and provide new opportunities for dialogue.[49]


Effectively projecting the UK’s values abroad will require a clear vision of what the Government intends to do, combined with sufficient resources, political commitment and a commitment to reform the status quo both at home and abroad. This publication hopes to give some suggestions about how it might deliver such an ambitious agenda.


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


[1] Ben Judah, Surprise! Post-Brexit Britain’s foreign policy looks a lot like the old one, The Washington Post, July 2020,

[2] What those values should be.

[3] Finding Britain’s role in a changing world: The principles for Global Britain, FPC, September 2020,

[4] Dominique Moisi, The isolation of the United Kingdom is no longer splendid, Institut Montaigne, July 2020,

[5] Recent polling data suggests the British public is perhaps more attuned to the UK’s position than some it is political class by answering the question ‘Do the British overestimate or underestimate how important the UK is on the world stage?’ as  Overestimate: 44%, Underestimate: 19% and Get it about right: 17%. See: Twitter Post, YouGov, Twitter, November 2020,

[6] In terms of managing the Government’s political coalition.

[7] Like the many US leaders who would follow, with a brief interregnum during the Trump-era, Acheson was adamant that the UK’s future (and its future utility to the United States) lay through greater integration and cooperation with Europe. See: Guardian Century, Britain’s role in world, The Guardian, December 1962,,,105633,00.html

[8] Radio Address Delivered by President Roosevelt From Washington, December 1940,

[9] Finding Britain’s role in a changing world: Protecting the UK’s ability to defend its values, FPC, September 2020,

[10] Greater collaboration with likeminded Pacific partners could help increase the UK’s role in region in line with stated Government objectives. However there are clear concerns being raised by important stakeholders. See: Comprehensive and Progressive Transpacific Partnership: Submission to the Department for International Trade, TUC,; and Government starts bid to join the CPTPP, NFU, The incoming Biden administration may seek to join the deal and in doing so may seek to renegotiate the deal in ways to mollify concerns of the US Trade Unions that form an important part of his political base which may have positive ramifications for the UK’s potential membership.

[11] See: Dr Robin Niblett CMG, A New US-UK Democratic Agenda Could Be on the Horizon, Chatham House, November 2020,

[12] Josh Rudolph, Covert Foreign Money: Financial Loopholes Exploited by Authoritarians to Fund Political Interference in Democracies, Alliance for securing democracy, August 2020,

[13] Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Companies House, Lord Callanan and The Rt Jon James Brokenshire MP, Reforms to Companies House to clamp down on fraud and give businesses greater confidence in transactions,, September 2020,

[14] Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill,, July 2018,

[15] HM Treasury, Spending Review 2020,, November 2020, 

[16] NECC, Improving the UK’s response to economic crime, NCA,; Ed Smyth, The UK’s new National Economic Crime Centre, Kingsley Napley, November 2018,

[17] The Dark Money Files Podcast – Episode Companies House: It’s time to reform (maybe, if we can find the time and money),

[18] HM Revenue & Customs, Estate agency business guidance for money laundering supervision,, October 2020,;  Estate Agents only made up 0.13% of SARs in 2019 according to the National Crime Agency. See: UK Financial Intelligence Unit: Suspicious Activity Reports Annual Report 2019, NCA,

[19] Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Limited partnerships: reform of limited partnership law,, April 2018,

[20] Scottish Limited Partnership (SLP) and Main Advantages, TBA,

[21] “Gift” for $ 11.5 million – Mayor of Tashkent Artykkhodzhaev donated land to about a hundred entrepreneurs to a company associated with the president’s son-in-law, Radio Ozodlik, November 2020,

[22] Unsafe for Scrutiny: Examining the pressures faced by journalists uncovering financial crime and corruption around the world, FPC, November 2020,

[23] A gathering storm: The laws being used to silence the media, Index on Censorship, July 2020,

[24] Paul Radu, How to Successfully Defend Yourself in Her Majesty’s Libel Courts, Global Investigative Journalism Network, February 2020,

[25] Letter: press freedom campaigners call for action on ‘vexatious lawsuits’, The Guardian, July 2019,

[26] Miranda Patrucic, Madina Mammadova and Ilgar Agha, AvroMed May Have Received Millions Through Laundromat, OCCRP, September 2017,

[27] OCCRP, OCCRP-Related Lawsuit Settled, January 2020,

[28] The editor is thankful for the input of his colleague Susan Coughtrie who leads the leads the FPC’s Unsafe for Scrutiny project.

[29] Unsafe for Scrutiny: Examining the pressures faced by journalists uncovering financial crime and corruption around the world, FPC, November 2020,

[30] To fix procurement, the UK has to open it up, Centre for the Study of Corruption, November 2020,

[31] 2015 Act Michael Moore commits to 0.7% ODA. See: International Development (Official Development Assistance Target), Act 2015, UK Public General Acts,; The Conservative and Unionist Party, Get Brexit Done – Unleash Britain’s Potential, Manifesto 2019,

[32] Department for International Development, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending for 2020: First Secretary of State’s letter,, July 2020,

[33] Cristina Gallardo, UK curbs Global Britain ambitions as coronavirus bites, Politico.EU, November 2020,

[34] Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Independent and Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) review: terms of reference,, October 2020,

[35] William Worley, Breaking: UK cuts aid budget to 0.5% of GNI, devex, November 2020,

[36] Eleanor Langford, A Foreign Office Minister Has Resigned From Government Over Plans To Cut International Aid, Politics Home, November 2020,

[37] International Development (Official Development Assistance Target), Act 2015, UK Public General Acts,

[38] Official Development Assistance: Volume 684: debated on Thursday 26 November 2020, Hansard,

[39] Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, Letter to Sarah Champion MP, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, November 2020,

[40] Programme: Britain’s role in the world, FPC,

[41] The EU’s new Africa strategy now has a clear pivot: High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council: Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa, March 2020,

[42] Preferential Market Access – European Union Everything But Arms Initiative, UN, LDC Portal,

[43] For discussion on this issue see: Royal African Society and APPG on Africa, The Future of Africa-UK Trade and Development Cooperation Relations in the Transitional and Post-Brexit Period, February 2017,; and the upcoming contributions by Ruth Bergan- who has kindly advised on some of these policy suggestions.

[44] The UK has kept the title ‘Partnership and Cooperation Agreement’ in some of the deals rolled over from the EU but there is a need to expand more on the non-trade elements of the deal, which shorn of access to previous EU support mechanisms feel somewhat light’.

[45] Jessica Parker, Alok Sharma ‘overloaded with day job’ to juggle UN summit role, BBC News, December 2020,

[46] Prime Minister’s Office and 10 Downing Street, PM to announce largest military investment in 30 years,, November 2020,

[47] Also can provide much needed financial support to a Covid raddled arts sector. See: Gaby Hinsliff, Don’t snark – this ‘Brexit festival’ may turn out to be just the tonic we need, The Guardian, November 2020,

[48] Aware of the challenges posed by the current position of the Scottish Government in that regard for a directly cohesive message though there remains opportunities both to sing from the same hymn sheet about the shared values irrespective of Scotland’s future in the UK and around the importance of

[49] This was to be a larger section of this project but will now be a bigger piece of work in 2022.

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