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When times change should we change with them?

Article by Rt Hon Baroness Anelay

March 3, 2020

When times change should we change with them?

Royal Assent to the European Withdrawal Act was announced in the House of Lords on Thursday, 23rd January 2020.[1] That was the legal launch pad for our exit from the European Union. I am ever the optimist, so I believe that the United Kingdom can look forward to a new decade and a successful post-Brexit future.

We must be ambitious but smart when we consider how to conduct ourselves on the global stage. We should seek partnerships, not dominion. We have an opportunity now to give substance to the mantra of ‘Global Britain’. We must seize that opportunity, not waste it.

Both Government and Parliament will face new challenges. As Lord Callanan, the DExEU Minister, said ‘Following our exit’ [we] ‘will see more legislation on a range of topics connected with our departure from the European Union, and in some cases it will be the first time in decades that the UK has legislated on some of these matters’.[2]

As we navigate the way ahead on a path that serves UK interests well, we should continue to be an outward-looking country that is a champion of collective security, the rule of law, human rights, free trade, anti-corruption work and a rules-based international system. Those are the values that have served us well and can continue to do so.

Times may indeed change, but our strength will lie in maintaining our values grounded in human rights. The UK should, therefore, proudly maintain its commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development and do more to help countries receiving development aid to become self-sufficient. The Department for International Development (DFID) is the major, but by no means the only, government department responsible for delivering that 0.7 per cent.

When I travelled overseas as a Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), I saw at first hand the positive impact of government development aid when we work with civil society in raising standards of living, security and gender equality in difficult environments such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Myanmar and Iraq.

My interest in that work has not waned since I went to the backbenches a couple of years ago. For example, last year I took part in a BGIPU visit to Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.[3] We travelled out of the city to Ad’a District and saw the progress made possible in education and health by UK Aid at an elementary school and a health centre.[4] The health centre has won several awards for its work in reducing child and maternal mortality and for its work on tackling HIV AIDS, TB and malaria.

While in Ethiopia I also visited the Retrak Rehabilitation Centre for former street children in Lideta District, Addis Ababa. The Centre is supported by the Home Office Modern Slavery Innovation Fund. Retrak is part of the Hope for Justice charity, which works to bring an end to modern slavery by preventing exploitation, rescuing victims, restoring lives and reforming society.[5] It was an example of a government department outside DFID delivering a successful programme in partnership with a charity that has an impressive track record.

The DFID Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) programme aims to support poor people to access better water and sanitation, and to introduce improved hygiene practices to support the UK Government’s target of reaching 60 million people with improved water, sanitation and hygiene. The WASH programme in Ethiopia is delivered by the SWIFT Consortium.[6] The Consortium is led by Oxfam, with Tearfund and Overseas Development Institute as global members and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) as global associate.[7]

Our partnership with civil society plays an important role in our objective to see Ethiopia transform into a stable, industrialised, resilient and more inclusive country, which is able to self-finance its way out of poverty and harness the potential of its young people.[8]

I believe that international and national non-governmental organisations have an essential role to play in the effective delivery of UK development aid. As we move forward post-Brexit, we should celebrate and expand the role of civil society in delivering our partnerships in prosperity, peace and development overseas.

The media have widely reported calls for the Government to merge DFID with the FCO to achieve better coordination of the spending of the UK’s development aid budget. I have been a Minister at both departments and admire those who work within them and their achievements. I do not believe that such a merger would be sensible. It would damage the status of DFID and there would be a perception that the commitment to our 0.7 per cent pledge had been diminished. There is already capacity for coordination within the role of the National Security Council (NSC) where diplomacy, development and defence are welded together.

I would, however, press the Government to strengthen the role of the NSC by accepting the recommendation of the House of Lords International Relations Select Committee that the NSC’s remit should be extended to include international economic issues. The Committee concluded that ‘The establishment of the National Security Council has had a beneficial effect on the coordination of Britain’s external policies. But in the modern world economic issues are inextricably linked to those of national security and international relations.’[9]

The IRC concluded that ‘We are living through a time of worldwide disruption and change. Trends including populism, identity politics, nationalism, isolationism, protectionism and mass movements of people are putting considerable pressure on states and traditional structures of government. At the same time, the global balance of power is shifting and fragmenting in a way not experienced since the Second World War, undermining the rules-based international order.’[10]

On that global stage we are only one player in a crowded field, but it does not mean that we have to walk alone.

  • We can work with like-minded partners around the world. In doing so we should be an energetic champion of free and open trade, encouraging small and medium-sized businesses to flourish and create jobs for the next generation.
  • As we move ahead, post-Brexit, forging new trade deals, the UK Government should make the defence of the rules-based international order a central theme of all its bilateral relationships. For example, we should ensure that we actively engage with partners who share our promotion of the Ruggie Principles in the business world.[11]
  • We can step up our work with multilateral organisations such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth, NATO, the Bretton Woods institutions[12] and the World Trade Organization. As the International Relations Select Committee in the House of Lords recommended, we should continue to resist the challenges of our closest ally, the United States, to the multilateral system.[13]
  • We can play to our strengths and be in the Premier League of those who can be trusted to deliver on commitments to trade, security, innovation and prosperity. The big diplomatic opportunity to demonstrate those strengths in 2020 will be the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).[14] It will be co-hosted by the UK and Italy and will take place in Glasgow in November. The UN Secretary General said he was ‘disappointed’ with the results of COP25 and that: ‘The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.’ We can and must make every effort to ensure that COP26 does not meet the same fate. Our reputation depends upon it.

Times may change, but our values should remain constant.


Baroness Anelay of St Johns is a Conservative member of the House of Lords, where she chairs the International Relations and Defence Select Committee. She is also a member of the House of Lords Conduct Select Committee. During the years 2010–2017, she served as Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords from 2010–14 and then served as Minister of State at FCO, DFID and DExEU. She was also the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative 2015–17.

[1] Once a bill has completed all the parliamentary stages in both Houses, it is ready to receive royal assent. This is when the Queen formally agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament (law); Hansard, House of Lords, 23rd January 2020 Vol. 801 col. 1252.

[2] Department for Exiting the European Union; Hansard, House of Lords, 22nd January 2020 Vol. 801 col. 1136.

[3] British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union.

[4] UK Aid is the ‘brand’ of The Department for International Development. DFID is a UK government department responsible for administering overseas aid. The goal of the department is ‘to promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty’.

[5] Hope for Justice is a charity working towards ending modern day slavery:

[6] SWIFT Consortium aims to deliver sustainable access to safe water and sanitation and encourage the adoption of basic hygiene practices in the DRC and Kenya:

[7] Tearfund is a Christian relief and development charity: Overseas Development Institute is an independent think tank: Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) is a not-for-profit company set up by seven organisations in 2005:

[8] 40 per cent of the population is under the age of 15.

[9] House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations, UK foreign policy in a shifting world order: 5th Report of Session 2017–19, HL Paper 250, paragraph 312, page 80, 2019,

[10] Ibid, summary, page 3.

[11] The three pillars of the Ruggie Principles are: protect, respect and remedy. The Ruggie Principles consist of 31 directives, framed in three main pillars: the state duty to protect against human rights abuses, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights and the need to help victims achieve remedy.

[12] The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

[13] House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations, UK foreign policy in a shifting world order, summary, page 3, 2019.

[14] COP is the formal meeting to assess progress in dealing with climate change and establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo credit: Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

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