Global Britons: Understanding the unique British communities in Brussels and Washington DCEdited by Adam Hug, Andra-Lucia Martinescu and Poppy Ogier
This Foreign Policy Centre report focuses on two unusual but strategically important British communities overseas. It builds on the findings of 252 survey responses, interviews, a focus group and research to give a detailed summary of who the British communities in Brussels and Washington DC are, what their needs are and how the UK Government can better support them and other Britons around the world.
The report shows how the UK can learn lessons from other countries (with the examples of Ireland, Italy and France examined in more detail) and from its own Embassies in smaller countries about how to work effectively with it is citizens abroad to strengthen the UK’s influence and information gathering. The reports argues that the FCDO should seek to create a British Citizens Abroad (or ‘Global Britons’) unit able to work in a crosscutting way and a Minister should have one of their named responsibilities being support for. They should develop a new ‘UK Citizens Abroad strategy’ to provide a clear direction of travel for all Government engagement with British citizens overseas. This should be supported on the ground by, ideally dedicated, staff with a specific responsibility for engagement with these communities and a budget to support such work. The FCDO also needs to improve the way it records, retains and shares information about key individuals and organisations.
There is scope to better support the British communities, and wider British interests by making the British presence in Brussels and Washington DC (and other cities) more accessible and engaging. This could include changing the physical space to make it more suitable for community functions and activities. This report envisages part of the UK space in Brussels and Washington DC being reimagined as flexible and welcoming hubs for the British community, of people and businesses, in those cities. It argues that diplomats should be encouraged and empowered to host more events and activities, both targeted at engaging specific target groups (such as information events, training sessions and sector networking opportunities) and a broader range of cultural events that relevant people in the local British communities should be invited to as part of a wider engagement strategy. Information sharing through an enhanced web presence, more social media outreach and dedicated email bulletins targeted at the UK communities in both cities. The report argues that the FCDO should look at ways to improve consular capacity in Brussels to assist with post-Brexit bureaucracy.
The report argues that British citizens can become partners in helping the UK achieve its foreign policy goals, as strategic soft power asset, if that partnership is based on trust and can be shown to be mutually beneficial. It therefore makes a number of recommendations for the UK Government to:
– Develop a new UK Strategy for Citizens Abroad, with a dedicated unit at the FCDO and staff in embassies and missions to deliver that strategy, supervised by an identified Minister
– Improve information management through a new Customer Relations Management (CRM) or other system to share information about key networks and retain institutional memory
– Reimagine embassies, in part, as a flexible hubs for the British community and businesses
– Invest in engagement with the British communities in Brussels and Washington through both professional and social events and activities
– Improve online Embassy engagement with the British communities through improved websites, social media presence and regular email newsletters
– Deliver on the commitment to end the 15 year cap on overseas voting rights, help people to vote and reconsider Parliamentary representation in the context of House of Lords reform
– Enable consular services to better support complex case handling in country