30 May Launch: The Price of Freedom – a 3% GDP Target for Securing UK International Interests
Last week the BFPG held an event in Parliament hosted by John Baron MP for the launch of the new report, ‘The Price of Freedom? A 3% GDP Target for Securing UK International Interests’. The event included speeches by Fabian Hamilton MP (Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament), Tom Tugendhat MP (Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee), Baroness Julie Smith (Member, House of Lords International Relations Committee) and George Freeman MP as well as comments from BFPG Executive Director and report author, Tom Cargill.
The audience at the event was diverse, reflecting the broad interest for the report’s call for a 3% international engagement spending target. The event offered an opportunity for representatives from different foreign policy fields, along with MP’s from across the political spectrum to discuss what fault lines exist in our foreign policy which may hinder our future international engagements, as well as aspirations of what an adequately funded foreign policy might look like from different political and sectoral perspectives.
Foreign Policy Strategy – a more united UK foreign policy?
Whilst there were some expected differences across the speakers and the political parties, there was a general agreement on the need for a more united, or to some extent integrated, foreign policy strategy. George Freeman highlighted the need for a coordinated foreign policy strategy to make any additional spending effective and Baroness Smith pointed out that any strategy needs to be driven by a clear narrative about who we are as a nation, and what we wish to achieve through our international engagements.
Furthermore, Fabian Hamilton stressed the need for a foreign policy strategy which integrated the outward facing government departments. Fabian made this case from a Labour perspective, with peace and disarmament at the core of their foreign policy. There was a broader cross-party consensus that a coordinated foreign policy which reflects the interconnectedness of our international engagements would be advantageous. Tom Tugendhat echoed the importance of greater co-ordination and has since reinforced this in a speech in which he suggests the FCO should be at the strategic core.
The event featured discussion on how to nurture our international trade as part of our foreign policy strategy. Representatives from the private sector expressed concern that particularly SME’s were not global-minded enough which would be detrimental in a post-Brexit Britain.
Fabian Hamilton highlighted the need for any future trade to be mutually beneficial, with British businesses upholding UK labour laws internationally in order to bring about the maximum soft power benefit. In addition, discussion emphasised the fact that trade deals are rooted in relationships and often made by sectors. As such, the Department for International Trade must be equipped to fulfil the diplomatic requirements for future trade deals. Representatives from the West Midlands Economic Forum, who contributed research for this report, stressed the need for greater infrastructure and connectivity in the regions in order to stimulate trade, which will lead to more equitable trade deals which can reach the regions.
More specifically, there was discussion around exporting our world-leading science and technology sectors which are being underutilised as foreign policy tools. Aggrotech, biotech and fintech are valuable to much of the world, particularly the developing world. As such, we need to be more muscular in exporting our services, skills and technology.
There was a consensus that the UK has a strong base-line from which it can build a robust foreign policy. Fabian Hamilton praised our military who are highly regarded globally, George Freeman commended our international development work and Tom Tugendhat stressed the importance of British values and commitment to the international rule of law which are internationally respected. There was also discussion around the role of British businesses in exporting these values.
Where does development fit in?
There was considerable debate around the contentious issue of international aid spending. Some expressed the need for a more convincing narrative about the dual benefits of poverty reduction and British interests in order to alleviate criticism over ODA. The point was also made that the 0.7% ODA target is not enough to eradicate poverty globally. Therefore, discussion was had over the need to think strategically about where our money is going to have the biggest impact (with the exception of humanitarian crises which require immediate support). Baroness Smith made the case that we should be establishing wider funding arrangements by partnering with our European neighbours and other nations in order to ensure our international development work is more impactful.
You can read a copy of the report by clicking on the image below.