For too long Britain’s stature on the world stage has been diminishing. Some would argue this is an inevitable decline. Yet Britain remains a country with the world’s fifth largest economy, we hold the status of a permanent UN Security Council member and we are a ‘tier-one’ military – no matter how hard Theresa May tries to avoid the term. As we leave the European Union, we must step up to the mark in an increasingly volatile world.
What the Foreign Office needs is coherence; a new Secretary of State; more funding; and an ambitious, outward-looking plan for a world with British influence.
The increasing divide between the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister is clear for all to see. Boris Johnson’s blundering and blustering approach as our chief diplomat has created a schism within British diplomatic circles. This incoherence needs to be rectified by the Prime Minister. It is the time for a new fresh face to head up the Foreign Office. Figures such as Tom Tugendhat have recently stepped up to the mark and shown their prowess – this was most apparent when he virtually gave Theresa May the green light in her coalition airstrikes on Syria.
Indeed, in order to maximise the benefits that can come through our departure from the European Union, an innovative rethink of our foreign policy, in general, must be undertaken. The slogan “Global Britain” has been used countless times since the referendum, but it has yet to be properly defined.
One area in which we must engage thoroughly is through the Commonwealth of Nations, although the obvious affiliation to its 20th Century imperial roots raises questions for some. However, the common values and features that we share through a common language, common law, and parliamentary structures make greater engagement simpler than one may imagine.
Emblematic of this necessary shift was the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, where goodwill gestures and effective diplomacy laid the groundwork for future trade deals and partnerships. The Commonwealth should not suffer further neglect. Indeed, as the public response from the Windrush scandal demonstrated, in an increasingly divided Britain the Commonwealth represents a rare opportunity for the UK government to find unified public support.
Furthermore, it seems increasingly apparent that the United Kingdom is failing to invest sufficient time and money in our security and diplomatic services. In the face of growing complexities and increased volatility on the international stage, this must be a priority.
An ambitious rethink of our budget for international engagement should be undertaken, too. The British Foreign Policy Group recommends a 3% “International Engagement Spending Target”, compared to its current level of 2.7%. This would ensure the Foreign Office has the necessary tools to allow for the greater implementation of our soft power and would provide similar funding per head as in countries such as France, Germany, Australia and Canada.
As Britain tries to assert itself internationally while simultaneously negotiating a deal with the EU, we need to examine how effectively we are using our soft power arsenal to retain influence on the global stage. The royal family is no exception and arguably one of our most effective tools. Prince William’s recent visit to Jordan and Israel highlights how effectively this can be utilised, as is the plan for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex to tour the entire Commonwealth.
So, with the liberal international order in increasing turmoil, Britain has a vital role to defend and renew the international rules and institutions which we played a leading role in building 70 years ago. With a foreign policy that is more effective and well-directed, there is no reason why Britain after Brexit should not emerge more unified and with an even greater role than before.