Liberal Democrats: Manifesto pledges on UK foreign policy

To download a .pdf version of the summary, click here

“The BFPG’s Tom Cargill has taken all the foreign policy relevant sections of the 2017 Liberal Democrat manifesto and grouped them in one document to make it more accessible for everyone interested in UK foreign policy. He has also provided a short summary analysis of the foreign policy approach which emerges from the manifesto”.

The 2017 Liberal Democrat manifesto carries large sections that are identical to their 2015 manifesto, though understandably some fresh thinking has had to be applied on the sections dealing with the EU.


Here their position on paper appears similar to that of Labour in seeking to retain as close as possible ties to the EU, though being more explicit than Labour in stating that there should be an opportunity to stay in the European Union when any proposed Brexit deal is put to the country in another referendum. Also along with Labour the Liberal Democrat manifesto has a section on countering terrorism with a specific focus on rolling back many measures undertaken by past Conservative and coalition governments.


Similarly, the Liberal Democrat position on immigration shares much with Labour and offers a clear contrast to that of the Conservatives with a focus on skilled migration, removing students from official immigration figures, and helping genuine asylum seekers, but little reference to the contentious nature of these issues in many communities other than a reference to a recognition of ‘the strains on some local communities and services’.

Diplomacy, Defence and Development

In line too with the previous manifesto there is a strong ideological commitment to an internationalist and outwardly engaged UK, but little granularity on how this is to be achieved in practice. Along with the other main parties there is an important commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence and a strong commitment to international development, but nothing on support for diplomatic engagement and, perhaps critically, almost nothing on boosting UK exports and trade with the world.


In the context of the unexpected nature of the general election all parties clearly scrambled to develop their manifestos, and it’s to be expected that the Liberal Democrats faced significant time constraints, but it remains surprising given the self-declared outward facing and internationally engaged ideology at the heart of the Liberal Democrat offering that there is not more, and more ambition, in relation to the UK’s foreign policy in their manifesto. In common with the other main parties there appears a lack of a sense of the urgency around the need for the UK to retool and re-plan our foreign policy.  Whether as part of the EU or not, the UK needs to be further ahead than it appears to be in considering how to secure our national interests for an increasingly uncertain world.


To read a similar analysis of the Labour Manifesto, click here.

To read a similar analysis of the Conservative Manifesto, click here.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the BFPG. The BFPG is an independent not for profit organisation that encourages constructive, informed and considered opinions without taking an institutional position on any issue.
Tom Cargill

Tom Cargill is Executive Director of the British Foreign Policy Group. He has worked in various roles in the public, private and NGO sectors, including at the charity for children in care Believe, as well as 10 years at Chatham House (The Royal Institute of International Affairs) followed by 4 years at the engineering, procurement and construction multinational Bechtel. He is the author of numerous reports, chapters and articles on international and foreign policy issues.