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What next for Global Britain under a Truss premiership?

Article by Denisa Delic

September 29, 2022

What next for Global Britain under a Truss premiership?

With a change at the top of British politics, will the UK’s foreign policy be a continuation of the Johnson era or are we turning the page towards a new chapter in the UK’s role in the world?


The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ remarks at the opening of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly paint a bleak picture: “Geostrategic divides are the widest they have been since at least the Cold War” and they are “paralyzing the global response to the dramatic challenges we face.”[1] This was the backdrop that the new PM went to deliver her first foreign policy speech at UNGA last week.


Since entering the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) last year in September, as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss established a key theme in her foreign policy, namely the creation of the ‘network of liberty.’[2] The network’s fundamental premise was based on the UK and other ‘freedom loving nations’ trading with one another, building security links and supporting democratic values, which in turn would make them ‘safer and freer.’


Whilst this defining principle remains a key theme in Prime Minister Truss’ policy toolbox, her speech at UNGA has revealed a clear agenda for what the new PM’s vision for British foreign policy will look like in an increasingly volatile geopolitical era. And this matters not only because as PM she will set the direction of all of Britain’s policies, but because those close to her envisage Truss taking a bigger role on the world stage than Johnson did, with the exception being Ukraine.[3] In fact, senior Conservatives have suggested in private that the appointment of James Cleverly as Foreign Secretary was “designed so that Liz can remains foreign secretary while based in No.10”, ultimately reserving decision-making for herself.[4]


The PM’s speech at UNGA was framed as the UK working together with allies and partners to define this new era as one of ‘hope and progress’, against the backdrop of a world where the values underpinning the UN are fracturing and authoritarianism is on the rise.[5] The solutions set out to address the new geopolitical environment that is undermining stability and security across the globe, echoed Truss’ previous speeches on the need to build economic strength and resilience as a way of winning this new era of strategic competition. But it also had perhaps a more pragmatic view on how to achieve this, and one that diverges from some of the statements and actions taken by Liz Truss before she was elected as the new leader of both the Conservative Party and the country. In particular, there are three key themes worth noting which clearly set the path for the new PM’s vision for Britain’s foreign policy.


The first theme is the importance of partnerships and alliances. In her speech at UNGA, the PM used the response to Ukraine as an example to demonstrate that collective decisive action to respond to the aggression by Russia was vital. Her speech was peppered with the need to cooperate with like-minded allies and other partners, and her bilateral meetings with the US, France, EU, Japan and Turkey are a testament of the range and depth of relationships the UK will seek, and indeed need, to strengthen in this new era. Neither was it distracted by political sloganeering aimed at a domestic audience, or Brexit woes as we saw with the former PM Boris Johnson at last year’s G7.[6] The new PM stated that the UK will be a “dynamic, reliable and trustworthy partner”, but this will require action. For example, taking steps towards resolving the ongoing dispute with the European Union over Brexit, in particular avoiding threats to abandon sections of the Northern Ireland Protocol, would show the PM is serious about this.[7] But as President Macron said in New York after his meeting with Truss, “I believe in proofs and results.”


Whilst the speech did not explicitly mention the EU, the door was not entirely shut on President Macron’s proposal of Britain joining his idea of the ‘European Political Community’, intended to bolster regional co-operation in the face of Russian aggression on the continent.[8] In a few weeks’ time, we will find out if the UK plans to attend the summit in Prague next month. It would be a positive sign for repairing the strained relations between Britain and the EU, as well as Paris, since Brexit. And as Chatham House’s new director recently said, if the Government gets the relationship with Europe wrong, “it will not find the world rich in good substitutes.”[9]


The second theme closes in on the gap between domestic and foreign policy. The PM has linked her foreign policy vision to both action abroad and home, arguing ‘our commitment to hope and progress must begin at home – in the lives of each and every citizen we serve.”[10] There has long been discussion in foreign policy circles to connect the domestic to the global, but it’s an idea that has picked up pace and support since the invasion of Ukraine as a way of ‘dictator-proofing’ the economy.[11]


Avoiding authoritarian states to weaponise demand for goods and reducing interference in societies from other states requires a closer link between domestic and foreign policy. It also brings an additional benefit of bringing foreign policy debates close to the public, as they are often seen as not being vote winners in elections. It can demonstrate the importance of these policies and their impact on everyday lives, which will increase attention and better public scrutiny.


Bodies like the National Security Council (NSC), which looks like it will be replaced with the newly established Foreign Policy and Security Council, will play a crucial role in these matters, and provide a space for the Government to both react to developments and to proactively strategise and plan ahead to respond to emerging trends and developments.[12] Under Johnson, the lack of NSC meetings was rightly criticised, and with the new PM closing the gap on domestic and foreign policy, this will be an opportunity to revive those important discussions.[13]


The final theme is the hawkish foreign policy posture and positioning, and as a consequence, the diminishing focus on Britain’s soft power assets. The PM committed to spending 3% of GDP on defence by 2030, and has been a vocal advocate of providing military support to Ukraine. The logic goes as geopolitics continues to destabilise and threaten pockets of conflict erupting across the globe, Britain needs to ensure its defence and security policies are fit for purpose and that it can play a useful partnership role in its defence alliances, such as NATO.


The PM’s announcement to review the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy published last year to reflect the threats posed by Russia and China is important.[14] It provides an opportunity to also reflect on the importance of ensuring soft power assets such as diplomacy and development are not de-prioritised. At a time of disinformation and shuttle diplomacy across Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the globe not aligned to either the West or Russia/China, the ability to reach audiences and influence is vital.


UK aid helps save lives and transforms societies, decreasing instability and preventing conflict. It also helps strengthen bilateral relationships and cements global partnerships. The cut from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI, and the exclusion of the new Minister for Development to join the Foreign Policy Council where they will be discussing development issues, is concerning to Britain’s standing and impact on the world stage.[15] At the same time, the UK’s Foreign Office had a distinguished reputation, referred to as ‘Rolls Royce diplomacy’, but in recent years cuts to the Foreign Office budget has led to reducing staff and shutting down diplomatic posts limiting the UK’s geographic spread and reach.[16] And not investing in its language capabilities of diplomats such as Mandarin, has raised questions about whether the department is prepared for the shift in diplomatic approach to China.[17] Deprioritising soft power assets in favour of a hard-edged foreign policy at a time of great geopolitical rivalry and turmoil will present challenges to the new PM and her global ambitions.


As the Government settles in and responds to domestic economic turmoil, it will need to chart a new course in an era of geopolitical volatility, where PM Truss and her Foreign Secretary will have to navigate a complex global environment. The UNGA speech is clear about what PM Truss wants for Global Britain 2.0, but the question remains whether it will be enough to rise to the geopolitical challenges of the day.


Image by Number 10 under (CC).


[1] UN, Secretary General’s Opening Remarks Press Conference the 77th Session of UN General Assembly, September 2022,

[2] FCDO and The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Speech: Building the Network of Liberty: Foreign Secretary’s speech,, December 2021,

[3] Katy Balls, What foreign policy would look like under a PM Truss, The Spectator, August 2022,

[4] Dan Sabbagh, James Cleverly: early Truss backer rises rapidly to foreign secretary, The Guardian, September 2022,

[5] Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, FCDO and The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Speech: Prime Minister Liz Truss’s speech to the UN General Assembly: 21 September 2022,, September 2022,

[6] Jon Henley, ‘Serious problem’ if France and UK can’t tell if they’re friends or enemies, says Macron, The Guardian, August 2022,

[7] Jessica Elgot, Jennifer Rankin and Lisa O’Carroll, Liz Truss’s plan to revoke NI protocol ‘splits allies and risks trade war’, The Guardian, May 2022,

[8] George Parker, Liz Truss explores joining Macron’s proposed European group, Financial Times, September 2022,

[9] Bronwen Maddox, Europe should become the top priority for Liz Truss, Chatham House, September 2022,

[10] Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, FCDO and The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Speech: Prime Minister Liz Truss’s speech to the UN General Assembly: 21 September 2022,, September 2022,

[11] Sophia Gaston, Global Britain and Levelling Up are Natural Bedfellows, BFPG, March 2021,; Tom Tugendhat, Britain After Ukraine: A New Foreign Policy for an Age of Great-Power Competition, Foreign Affairs, September 2022,

[13] Dan Sabbagh, UK national security council has not met since January, The Guardian, May 2020,

[14] Cabinet Office, Policy Paper: Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,, March 2021,

[16] Billy Kenber, Foreign Office to cut staff by 20% in four years, The Times, December 2021,

[17] George Greenwood, Lack of Mandarin speakers raises fears for future diplomacy, The Times, August 2022,

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