Harnessing our Global Footprint: Transforming the UK Government’s Engagement with the UK Diaspora

The British Foreign Policy Group’s new report, Harnessing our Global Footprint: Transforming the UK Government’s Engagement with the UK Diaspora, explores the nature and composition of the UK’s diaspora community and how best the UK Government can engage with, and harness the capabilities of, the UK’s diaspora. It outlines opportunities to enhance existing channels of connectivity and engagement and identifies new possibilities for engagement through building mutually beneficial partnerships with the UK’s diaspora community.



Understanding the Diaspora

– The UK diaspora is younger and more diverse than is often depicted in the popular imagination, and many of its members are driven to emigrate by work opportunities, family reunion and the search for new spaces of belonging.

– The priorities and concerns of the diaspora vary significantly between host nations, largely based on levels of cultural similarity, as well as the host country’s political, economic and social climate.

–  The significant economic and political upheaval of recent years has injected an unusual degree of vulnerability into the diaspora experience. In particular, Brexit has borne considerable impacts on the British diaspora in Europe, and has simultaneously increased repatriation levels, and encouraged many diaspora members to assume European citizenship and move further away from their UK identities.

– Across the diaspora as a whole, however, British expatriates overwhelmingly identify as ‘British’ and remain connected to the UK through social networks and their enduring economic interests. This long-standing connection, however, is not recognised as a significant soft power asset.


Existing Channels of Connectivity and Engagement

– Globalisation and technological advancement have presented new opportunities to improve the diaspora experience, and for both the diaspora and the UK Government to build closer networks and relationships.

– In practical terms, consular services are the primary formal connectivity point between the diaspora and the UK Government, and their services are important in building goodwill towards the UK. More meaningful, however, to the diaspora experience are the informal associations, clubs and societies that operate to varying degrees of sophistication within host nations.

– The diaspora also maintain links to Britain and their sense of British identity through engagement with the UK’s cultural assets, including cuisine, music, film, literature and television.


Better Harnessing the Potential of the UK Diaspora

–  To advance engagement with the UK diaspora, the UK Government first needs to develop a more comprehensive understanding of its evolving composition, through new registration systems and monitoring processes.

– There is potential for the UK diaspora to act as change agents to support the messaging and delivery of the UK’s foreign policy objectives, seeding trade and investment opportunities, and establishing new diplomatic and cultural ties.

– Diaspora engagement, however, must be seen as a two-way exchange. The more supported, valued and represented the UK diaspora feel, the more likely they are to lean into their role as ambassadors for Britain’s interests.

–  The establishment of diaspora councils and parliaments, which are increasingly common amongst our allies, could be a valuable new avenue of formalised engagement.



Sophia Gaston

Sophia is the Director of the British Foreign Policy Group.