23 Apr King’s College London Event Summary: the UK’s Foreign Policy After Brexit
As the Brexit negotiations trundle on, it is sometimes difficult to look past our relationship with the EU to the wider world. On 28th March, the BFPG student ambassadors from King’s College London organised a panel discussion on the future of British Foreign Policy post-Brexit. The event was co-hosted with the student-led organisation King’s Think Tank. A panel of four speakers discussed the UK’s foreign policy strengths and tried as far as possible not to mention the ‘B’ word.
The panel included:
James Rogers, Director of Global Britain Programme at Henry Jackson Society
Andrew Woodcock, 25 years experience in the UK Diplomatic Service
Theo Clarke, CEO Global Coalition for Prosperity
Gavin McNicholl, founder and Director of Eden Intelligence
The event was chaired by a BFPG student ambassador, Marie-Gabrielle Williams and held under the Chatham House rule.
The speakers were invited to give a short presentation giving their perspectives on the state of UK foreign policy, as well as recommendations for what direction it should take. The audience, consisting predominantly of students, was then invited to ask questions. The panellists had contrasting visions of both the state of current UK international standing, as well as the route the UK should follow in the future.
The first speaker offered a historical perspective on the UK’s relationship with the EU, putting it in context alongside the UK’s commitment to the Atlantic Order. Referring to the return of great power competition, the speaker suggested that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU may not substantially affect Britain’s strategic interests. The centre of world politics is moving back to the Indo-Pacific region with the emergence of an ambitious Chinese foreign policy. The speaker argued that the EU has been remarkably ineffective in following this trend and has failed to act as a foreign policy force multiplier, in allowing Russia, a recently weak country, to become strong again. The speaker’s key argument was that, in line with increasing global instability and the UK’s existing capabilities, the UK needs to take the initiative on European defence. This could take the form of a highly exclusive grouping of European nations, all spending at least 2 per cent on defence, which would send a clear message to the US that the Atlantic order remains intact. The speaker ended by emphasising that the UK needed to buck the trend of merely reacting to international events, and by reversing the cuts to the UK’s diplomatic arsenal, British foreign policy might get back on track.
The second speaker stressed that the UK should not step away from its influential position in the multilateral sphere. Emphasising the wave of global challenges the world faces, from mass migration to climate change, the speaker argued the UK could only help find solutions through international collaboration. The speaker emphasised that Brexit had sucked the political oxygen out of issues beyond Brexit in Westminster, and while UK foreign policy stifles, other nations benefit. The speaker spoke of the UK’s ability to shine a light on international issues through organising conventions, such as the 2018 Illegal Wildlife Conference, and stressed that the UK should continue this post Brexit.
The third speaker approached the UK’s economic future, arguing that Brexit wasn’t quite the nail in the coffin that some have suggested. Outlining the UK’s economic strengths and its importance as a global centre for investment, the speaker spoke of the ‘pent up’ investment in the UK’s real estate market waiting to be untapped once the Brexit outcome becomes clear. The speaker also emphasised the strengths of the City of London and the fact that investors would continue to prize the UK’s predictable strength, regulatory environment and legal surety. Speaking of the UK Security Service’s announcement that the risk posed by Huawei’s 5G networks could be managed, the speaker suggested that the relationship between the UK and China was closer than many realised and was set to grow closer in the coming years.