The week in foreign policy

British politics this week has been riven not only with COVID-19 fears, but a growing internal debate within the Civil Service over bullying allegations, and the collapse of airline Flybe. Government – and the headlines – have been stretched all over the place with contingency planning and crisis communications. Across the world, there’s even more going on in the week in foreign policy:

According to the Guardian’s Daniel Boffey and Mark Townsend, Boris Johnson has been accused of ‘playing politics with the safety of Europeans after rejecting an EU proposal for future defence and foreign policy coordination.’ EU officials have said the British government is trying to turn security into a bargaining chip in talks – which has not gone down well in Brussels. EU sources accused the UK of trying to create leverage in the talks by rejecting Brussels’s suggestion in its negotiating mandate of an “ambitious, close and lasting cooperation on external action to protect citizens from external threats.

Elsewhere, Britain is accused of not taking its commitment to ‘Global Britain’ seriously enough – particularly when it comes to humanitarian crises in the Middle East. In the Independent, Charles Lawley argues that the West is currently without any moral leadership on the current situation in Idlib, Syria. According to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, 10 schools and a hospital in Idlib were recently bombed on the same day. ‘If the UK is true to its stated belief in rules-based international order, then we must ensure those who have committed any crimes against humanity are prosecuted, otherwise the message being sent is that institutions like the Geneva Convention are just for show.’, Lawley concludes. 

In more positive news for the government, James Hitchings-Hales argues in the Global Citizen that the decision to reverse the ban on offshore wind farms is great news for the environment – particularly in the year in which Britain is hosting COP26. The article quotes Alok Sharma, COP26 President, who said that the race to net-zero ‘means making the UK a world leader in renewable energy.’ According to Hitchings-Hales, Britain is already a world leader when it comes to offshore wind energy — with the UK already controlling 36% of the world’s offshore wind capacity, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. Even Green Party MP Caroline Lucas took to Twitter to praise the government’s move, tweeting that: “the government is finally lifting barriers to our cheapest renewables.”

Elsewhere in the week in foreign policy: amidst the growing spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, the Atlantic’s Tom McTague has argued that the entire situation is about more than just the rapid spread of the viral disease. McTague argues that: an outbreak like the coronavirus reveals the priorities and values of a society, and how long it can cope without the freedoms it’s accustomed to. Here in London, the government acknowledges that its own power is limited, and that it may have only a small window to impose curbs on a population unused to even basic state restrictions. McTague spells out the stark, dark political reality of COVID-19, and the pressure on government – ‘the dilemma for Johnson is simple: How much time, money, and social upheaval should be spent saving lives from COVID-19?’

According to Manveen Rana and Oliver Wright at the Times, Boris Johnson has secretly moved to strip the Department for International Development of its power to determine how the overseas aid budget is spent. The move is certain to face opposition in the House of Commons, with Chair of the International Development Select Committee, Sarah Champion, already arguing that: ‘Internationally the great strength of DfID is that it is seen as independent from political interference and that is why as a country we are so well regarded.’ Rana and Wright note that, despite Johnson’s previous commitments to DfID and the 0.7% target, he has criticised DfID in the past and claimed that ‘global Britain’ needed an aid budget ‘more in line with Britain’s political, commercial and diplomatic interests.’

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Matt Gillow

Matt is the Communications & Events Manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.