08 Dec British Foreign Policy After Brexit with Lord Owen and David Ludlow
On the 5th December the BFPG held a private roundtable event, British Foreign Policy After Brexit with former Foreign Secretary, Lord Owen, and former senior UK Government trade expert and banker David Ludlow, with BFPG Executive Director, Tom Cargill as Chair.
The event provided an opportunity to discuss some of the main foreign policy priorities and challenges outlined in Lord Owen and David Ludlow’s recent book ‘British Foreign Policy After Brexit – An Independent Voice’. With experts from international trade, defence and diplomacy from across sectors present, discussion was diverse and offered genuine insight on the foreign policy forecast for post Brexit Britain.
With our impending departure from the EU, there was consensus that the UK must reposition itself as a key player in the UN and NATO. This was seen as a vital measure to prevent the UK losing influence on the international stage.
Funding and Resourcing
The need to properly resource our international engagements was discussed in depth. The most recent budget revealed a drop for future FCO funding- from £1.3 Billion to £1.2 Billion in 2019/20, a reduction which is almost 8% of their baseline budget. At a time where our foreign policy apparatus must be at its most robust to weather the impact of Brexit and make the most of the opportunities created, the chronic underfunding of the FCO is of substantial concern. We explored the possibility for manoeuvre on what projects our 0.7% international development aid and 2% defence budgets could fund. Adjustments could compensate for the lack of funding for the FCO, but must be done carefully with clearly defined limitations- ODA should not be spent on hard power, for example.
Funding for our foreign policy pursuits is not often of primary public concern. To begin remedying this disconnect, there must be greater dialogue with the British public to communicate the impact of our foreign policy choices on us all. Equally, government needs to listen more to the public’s foreign policy concerns and priorities.
Discussion was had over government’s role in improving British businesses export performance. There is a feeling that a significant barrier preventing the government from being an effective broker for trade deals is its inconsistency in carrying through new trade initiatives. Questions were raised whether the areas in which the government is lacking should be privatised, the organisation of b2b meetings for British businesses being one example. Furthermore, trade deals are rooted in relationships which inevitably take time. This process must not be underestimated.
More generally, there was discussion over the need for an attitude shift, both at government and public level about the perception of ourselves as a nation. This involves being unashamed of our strengths, realistic about our limitations and honest about our shortfalls. Brexit offers an opportunity to recalibrate our foreign policy, we cannot, therefore afford to either underestimate or overestimate our capabilities, rather, we must use what we have more effectively and strategically.