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The principles for Global Britain: Conclusions and Recommendations

Article by Adam Hug

September 8, 2020

The principles for Global Britain: Conclusions and Recommendations

The core purpose of this short publication has been to try and tease out how the UK Government can decide on the values that should underpin the UK’s evolving ‘Global Britain’ approach and to provide some suggestions of what those values should be. At the conclusion of the current Integrated Review it is to be hoped that the Government will be able to articulate a clear vison of the principles and values it seeks to support and how they fit into its wider strategic approach, something that can be fleshed out through more detailed policies and actions over the subsequent months.


As suggested in the March 2020 joint publication by the Foreign Policy Centre and Oxfam, the Government should seek to develop a succinct ‘Global Britain values statement’.[1] For example, as Kate Ferguson points out in the area of atrocity prevention having a clearly defined strategy can help encourage more fluid and responsive policy-making. Having a clear set of core principles and priorities would make it easier to assess policy compliance and coherence against them, a ‘Global Britain values test’ or benchmarking process. There may be further lessons to be learned from the way in which best performing UK local authorities and government departments have developed processes to implement the 2012 Social Value Act, assessing the wider impact of a decision at the start of the process and considering cohesively how particular actions can help meet wider principled objectives.[2] Learning from best practice in social value would include ensuring that international policy decisions, aid spending, contracting and procurement incorporated:[3]


  • clear criteria in determining the (social) value goals the Government wishes to achieve;
  • an understanding and explanation of the cost and practicality of targets, including where diplomatically possible transparency about the potential trade-offs;
  • a clear definition of the outcomes being sought and that they are, where possible, measurable and reviewable and if necessary overtime renegotiated to meet emerging challenges;
  • those implementing a policy or providing a good or service having a clear understanding the goals they are being asked to achieve and the rationale for them – where appropriate co-creating these with the Government;
  • consideration of proportionality between the scale and focus of a particular action and its impact on the wider values agenda- with the weighting of values in any decision matrix varying on a case by case basis and with the political priorities of the government of the day;[4]
  • a regard for and sensitivity to local perspectives, in the community being worked in and with, whilst making decisions in line with UK and international standards;
  • transparent procurement and contracting, with full compliance with anti-corruption and bribery standards both at home and abroad; and transparency of performance including publically available information about how Government money is spent; and
  • those involved in decision making including all politicians, officials, contractors and other third parties, abiding by high standards of governance including the Nolan principles for standards in public life (Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership), except where there is a clear national security rationale for limiting the ‘openness’ dimension.[5]


Strengthening such an approach would help give UK foreign policy, not an ethical dimension that sits as one of potentially competing criteria, but both an ethical foundation upon which its approach is based and an ethical core running through each policy providing a solid structure around which to build a Global Britain.


As to what those principles and values at the heart of the UK’s future international approach should be that can be enumerated in a Global Britain values statement, the comments by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and the Integrated Review high-level outcomes give a clear and understandable indicator of the Government’s overall direction of travel around ‘free trade, democracy, human rights and the international rule of law’.[6] It should build on the Gaskarth’s idea of the national interest as closely aligned with the concept of ‘public good’ – the collective safety, prosperity and contentment of the political community of the UK, though with space to consider how this relates to responsibilities to people outside its border and to the planet itself depending on the priorities of the government of the day.


This publication makes the case, both ethical and strategic, for focusing on the need to defend liberal democracy and international systems based on rules rather than zero-sum power politics. The UK can build on its strengths and expertise in civil society, academia and the legal sector to ensure human rights, rule of law, conflict and atrocity prevention are at the heart of the UK’s approach. Similarly important should be building on recent progress with its transparency rules to end the UK’s position and reputation as a home for dirty money, while supporting good governance and anti-corruption efforts internationally. These are not only important principles to abide be at home and abroad but they also make clear the importance of accountability and value for money to the British taxpayer.


International perceptions post-Brexit mean that, as Nicholas Wright points out, the UK needs to actively show its vision for and commitment to international institutions and some conception of a rule based international order, albeit recognising its current somewhat fragmented state.[7] The UK can use the policy platform that emerges from the Integrated Review to reaffirm its commitment to multilateralism, both through existing organisations and new collaborations as discussed in future publications in this FPC project. From what can be seen so far, the Government’s approach to the international systems displays a preference for looser, more fluid arrangements with a focus on trade and security (particularly in the digital sphere), adopting broadly a liberal realist[8] or liberal conservative approach to the (liberal) international order.[9] In theory not a million miles from the approach taken when the Conservatives first returned to Government in 2010, but with dramatic changes in practice following the departure from the EU and the closure of DFID. Having a clearly articulated set of principles to govern by would enable UK policy makers, diplomats and aid workers to effectively use the full range of tools available to the new FCDO and across government (including its newly independent trade policy) to better support the UK’s values.


The publication recognises however, the need both to listen to the views of the British people and to work with them on the future direction of policy not only to improve accountability but to enhance the democratic legitimacy needed for policies to be sustained into the long-term, irrespective of who is in power. This should not only include opinion polling and focus groups, but by maintaining and strengthening dialogue with a broad range of civil society and diaspora groups (a clear source of strength for the UK) to retain an iterative dimension to policy making. Once the Government has finalised the core principles it sees as being behind Global Britain, hopefully with such public opinion information informing its thinking, it needs to work to encourage domestic political buy-in not only by consistency in messaging and policy but also through a programme of public diplomacy directed toward the British, rather than overseas publics. This could and should be centred on the strategic importance of defending liberal democracy and open societies as set out above. There is a strong moral and strategic case for a UK foreign policy more firmly rooted in values and prioritising the positive role the UK can play in the world. However, in order to build public trust over the long-term, even over issues where people disagree, when the Government decides to take a decision that it believes is in the national interest but that comes into conflict with its stated values it should be more open and honest about why it is making such a decision in that instance rather than pretending there is no contradiction between the two objectives in every case. This is of course an argument for greater transparency and accountability in decision-making rather than to automatically accept the prioritisation of short-term interests, the opposite of the approach being encouraged.


There are a number of areas which will be focused on more in future publications in the Finding Britain’s role in the World series on which it is important to state the importance of the values dimension here. The UK’s 2021 chairing of the G7 provides an opportunity to refocus the organisation as the group of leading democracies, clearly demarcating its role from that of the G20. This will be addressed in the upcoming ‘Partnerships for the future of UK Foreign Policy’ publication, though in his contribution here Michael Allen rightly calls for cultivating democratic solidarity to confront the authoritarian resurgence with improved collaboration in international forums and through the creation of new arrangements, alliances and ad hoc collaboration. As Allen argues this ‘smaller, deeper order of industrial democracies would (be able to) reaffirm liberal principles while limiting the scope of membership of the liberal order to shore up its integrity legitimacy and resilience’ strengthening organisations like the Community of Democracies as well as new groups.[10] This work needs to be buttressed by ongoing support for international mechanisms that support these values such as the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and its Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteurs and human rights mechanisms, and the International Criminal Court.


Similarly, the diplomatic power of the UK’s new trade policy, and its ability to support or undermine the values dimension to foreign policy will be addressed in the ‘Projecting the UK’s values abroad’ publication, but mutually beneficial trade deals could become a central part of the UK’s approach to international poverty reduction and support for human rights with the right objectives and safeguarding clauses. The UK’s approach to aid will also be addressed in future publications but there is scope to more clearly align priorities for poverty reduction with human rights and governance objectives, including the targeted use of conditionality on human rights and good governance grounds where appropriate to ensure aid relationships do not distort the protection of our other values. In light of the strategic challenge facing democracy, human rights and the rule based international system there is a strong case for increasing the proportion of aid and other spending by the new FCDO and other departments used to support these objectives. Overall, the promotion of values in UK foreign policy will be fundamentally important in helping to define Britain’s place in the world after Brexit positively and proactively, both strengthening and using its soft power. It should take a whole of government approach using all available tools to supporting its values agenda and vision for Global Britain.


The practical machinery of government questions will also be addressed in more detail in the upcoming publications however, there are a couple of potential changes that might assist in ensuring principles are at the heart of the Government’s future strategy. It should strongly consider Alexander Thier’s suggestion of a ‘department for democracy’ (or more broadly democracy and human rights) at the FCDO giving priority and focus to these central issues of principle that lay within the FCO’s Multilateral Policy Directorate. Similarly, in this publication Kate Ferguson argues for the creation of a cross-cutting analysis unit and internal coordination mechanism that would act as the focal point for the Government’s work on atrocity prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. It is worth noting that the FCDO’s new management board seems to be leaning more towards organisation by region rather than thematic areas, though it must be hoped that there will be scope at the level below this to root the values agenda in its evolving structures. Whatever policies and processes are put in place it is imperative that the UK’s emerging foreign policy has a strong ethical foundation and core to help achieve a coherent and ambitious conception of Global Britain.




In the Government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy and the future evolution of its foreign policy the UK should:


  • actively engage the British public in developing foreign policy, looking to ‘listen, reflect, explain, and respond’ to their concerns to enhance the legitimacy and longevity of decisions, while undertaking targeted ‘public diplomacy’ to them to improve understanding on issues of strategic importance;
  • organise a coherent strategic response to the global erosion of liberal democracy and the buckling of the rule-based world order in the face of revisionist powers and systemic decline;
  • continue to ‘get its own house in order’ particular on areas of transparency and anti-corruption to enhance its soft power and ability to promote its values;
  • cultivate democratic solidarity and partnerships with like-minded consolidated democracies within international institutions, as well as ‘mission-coalitions’ and other forms of ad hoc collaboration;
  • support international mechanisms that defend and promote democratic and human rights values, rooted in the principles of informed popular consent and universal capabilities;
  • draft a Global Britain values statement that clearly articulates the principles and values it wants to be the ethical foundation of its approach to the world;
  • use a Global Britain values test and social value approach to decision making to ensure an ethical core to each foreign policy decision; and
  • develop a whole of government approach ensuring that the institutional structures and all available policy tools, including trade policy, can support this agenda.


Image by OPCW under (CC).

[1] Finding Britain’s role in a changing world, FPC and Oxfam, March 2020, Image by OPCW under (CC).

[2] Cabinet Office, Social Value Act: information and resources, May 2016,; Social Value in Commissioning and Procurement, NCVO Know How, July 2019,

[3] Many thanks to the input here of social value and procurement expert John Tizard.

[4] By a case by case approach it means that in practice it a greater proportion of the decision matrix would be devoted to the Government’s values objectives when choosing where to deploy human rights grants funding versus the FCDO catering contract, but in the latter it could and should still seek to incorporate for example climate objectives and labour rights objectives (such as the London Living Wage) as part of the decision as values should be a core part of all decision making.

[5] For more information see: Committee on Standards in Public Life, The Seven Principles of Public Life, Government, May 1995,

[6] Dominic Raab – 2020 Statement on Britain in the World, UK Pol, January 2020,

[7] Dr Malcolm Chalmers from RUSI has previously argued that ‘The UK should cease to promote the narrative that there is one single Rules-Based International System. There is not. Efforts to tackle pressing international problems through collective action are more likely to succeed if they involve coalitions between major powers than if they are only based on rules-based systems that lack clear and binding obligations.’ Malcolm Chalmers, Taking Control: Rediscovering the Centrality of National Interest in UK Foreign and Security Policy, RUSI, February 2020, While perhaps not going as far as Chalmers it is clear that any UK efforts to reinvigorate international cooperation will have to contend with a deeply dysfunctional UN system and WTO, an international approach to climate change currently without its second largest CO2 emitter the US and serious problems facing regional bodies such as NATO, the OSCE and Council of Europe.

[8] For a summary of Liberal Conservatism see: Honeyman, VC (2017) From Liberal Interventionism to Liberal Conservatism: the short road in foreign policy from Blair to Cameron. British Politics, 12 (1). pp. 42-62. ISSN 1746-918X. In the book: Realpolitik: A History by John Bew, (408 pp, Oxford University Press, 2016) the author (currently leading work on the Integrated Review on behalf of the Johnson Government), traces the history of the concept of ‘realpolitik’ to Ludwig von Rochau and to the idea of using pragmatic, non-sentimental means to achieve broadly liberal ends – an approach that seems to chime with the Government’s initial framing of its vision for Global Britain. The possible potential alternative term for some of these tendencies- ‘classical liberal’- being somewhat tarnished by its adoption by some of the more controversial sections of the internet.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Allan was adapting a quote from Miller, Paul D. 2016. American Power and Liberal Order: A Conservative Internationalist Grand Strategy. Washington, DC; Georgetown University Press.

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