UK Foreign Policy Tribes: Understanding Polarisation and Cohesion on International Affairs

The British Foreign Policy Group’s new report, The UK’s Foreign Policy Tribes: Understanding Polarisation and Cohesion on International Affairs, presents the findings of an ongoing partnership between the BFPG and the pollsters Opinium to investigate the complex, evolving nature of UK public opinion on foreign affairs. This project builds on the BFPG’s Annual Survey of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and Global Britain – the most comprehensive dataset of public attitudes towards international affairs.

To bring the results to life, the BFPG and Opinium have worked together to segment the UK adult population into four foreign policy ‘tribes’ across the full spectrum of public opinion. The segmentation demonstrates both the important areas of convergence and divergence in public opinion on international affairs, as well as helping to quantify the electoral power of each of the tribes. The findings reveal a deeply polarised nation, but with important pathways to unity and consensus, which must be harnessed as the UK seeks to become ‘a truly Global Britain’.


– The UK adult population can be divided into four distinct foreign policy tribes – The Humanitarians, The Globalists, The Patriots and The Isolationists.

– The two largest foreign policy tribes within the UK – The Humanitarians and The Isolationists – are also the most diametrically opposed in their foreign policy preferences, underscoring the volatility and emotional nature of the public debate over foreign policy.

– Focusing on tribal party politics fails to capture the breadth of public opinion and the political realignment that has emerged around Brexit identities. In both the Conservative party and the Labour party, Leave and Remain voters continue to co-exist and although their foreign policy preferences sometimes align, they also often represent the extremities of public divide over foreign policy.

– However, alongside this gravitational ‘pulling apart’ there is a strong foundation of commonality among the British public, and this ‘centre ground’ of British attitudes is of significant importance. These two dynamics operate simultaneously to pose both obstacles and opportunities to building public consent for the UK’s foreign policy agenda.

– Moving forwards, building public consent and a sense of shared purpose and values within the UK’s foreign policy will be essential to bridging the polarisation that has gripped the UK in recent years.

The BFPG’s Director, Sophia Gaston says:

“The four tribes we have identified demonstrate the stubborn gulfs between different groups of citizens’ foreign policy instincts, but also the capacity for dynamic and meaningful political influence, and the powerful axis of the ‘centre ground’ in British public opinion. It is important to give credence to both the gravity of the force underpinning this ‘pulling apart’, and the resilient foundation of commonality that endures amongst the British people. These powerful dynamics, evolving in new and unusual ways in the UK’s political realignment, will chart both the obstacles and opportunities facing the Government in building an enduring degree of public consent towards the UK’s foreign policy ambitions. This consent will be essential to realising the objectives of the Global Britain project, and allowing us to speak with an authentic, powerful voice on the world stage.”



BFPG Admin