The British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG) is an independent, non-partisan think tank dedicated to advancing the UK’s global influence, at a crucial time in the nation’s modern history. Our core objective is to bridge the link between the domestic and international spheres – recognising that Britain’s foreign policy choices are shaped by our social landscape at home, and the social, economic and political constraints of both our allies and strategic rivals. BFPG works as the connective tissue between the UK’s policy-makers, businesses, institutions, and ordinary citizens, to promote the connectivity and understanding needed to underpin Britain’s national resilience and global leadership in the 21st Century.
The BFPG produces pioneering social research, which provides a holistic picture of the social trends shaping public attitudes on foreign policy and the UK’s role in the world. Our annual public opinion survey has become the leading UK quantitative research project on foreign affairs and the UK’s role in the world. Our National Engagement Programme provides a crucial bridge between HMG and citizens and stakeholders, in their own communities. In addition, the BFPG produces dynamic events and facilitates networks amongst stakeholders with a vested interest in Britain’s international engagement – including co-convening the UK Soft Power Group with the British Council, which highlights the strengths and potential influence of the assets harboured within the UK’s towns, cities and nations towards projecting our national cultural and diplomatic power.
We believe that, harnessed with this knowledge, and with these assets, Britain will have the best chance to succeed in its ambitions to promote prosperity, peace, security and openness – both at home and abroad. Our mission supports Britain as a strong, engaged and influential global actor. We promote democratic values, liberal societies, and the power of multilateralism – and we recognise Britain’s critical international responsibility to uphold and extend these throughout the world. The BFPG believes that a strong and united nation at home is the essential foundation of a confident and effective British foreign policy.
Understanding the Nation and Building Public Consent
The BFPG is unique in its emphasis on social research, elevating the voice of citizens as central stakeholders in the UK’s foreign policy. We conduct quantitative and qualitative research at both a national level, and in towns, cities and communities across the nation. Our flagship publication is the Annual Survey of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and Global Britain, which is the leading and most comprehensive source of intelligence about British attitudes towards international affairs. This research provides crucial insights into Britons’ dynamically evolving views regarding our foreign policy choices and priorities, Government spending, our allies and strategic rivals, the values we champion and the perceptions of our security threats. It is also a powerful lens through which to examine the nuances of domestic political trends, citizens’ shifting conceptions of national and international identities, and the role of lived experiences of mobility in forming public opinion.
The BFPG’s public opinion research makes clear there are significant divides amongst different social groups in the willingness to support the active, open and connected foreign policy the Government wishes to pursue as part of the Global Britain project. Ensuring that our foreign policy is based on the consent of the British people will provide a more robust foundation on which we can speak with confidence and legitimacy on the world stage. The BFPG works to highlight the challenges and opportunities to better understand, engage with and persuade the British people around foreign policy, giving them a stake in our nation’s future and our role in the world.
Fusing Global Britain with Levelling Up
Citizens’ perceptions of their democratic agency and economic security play a large role in building the foundations of their instincts towards domestic and foreign policy. The capacity to build public consent around the UK’s role in the world will therefore necessitate investments in the UK’s national renewal. The BFPG is working to highlight the potential for the Global Britain and Levelling Up projects to be regarded as natural bedfellows, with profound synergies existing between them. Investments in fostering new regional centres of technology and innovation, seeding dynamic new climate change action initiatives, and building capabilities in cyber security and ‘grey-zone’ warfare, will provide meaningful jobs, bring prosperity to local areas, and provide Britain with a legitimate, competitive advantage on the world stage.
The National Engagement Programme
Historically, the United Kingdom has not made enough of the full suite of international assets we have at our disposal. Up and down the nation in towns and cities, there are businesses, research institutions, councils, and cultural centres standing on the frontline of our international engagement. They have forged dynamic and profitable global relationships, which extend Britain’s reach and influence across the world.
Through the National Engagement Programme, the BFPG is on a mission to encourage local communities to define their distinctive international offer and work more cohesively amongst themselves – and to bring greater visibility of their insights, strengths and assets to Whitehall. This is especially crucial in a time when the issues around the UK’s constitutional settlement, devolution, and the future of the United Kingdom, can no longer be ignored.
Ultimately, making more of our existing human capital will be essential as we seek to bring the ambitions of the Global Britain project to life, and these organisations should be seen as constructive partners in telling Britain’s story on the world stage. So too, should the Global Britain project be sufficiently inclusive so as to provide an over-arching framework for a UK-wide foreign policy, which also allows the strength of our national diversity to shine.
The United Kingdom is in possession of a large, active and diverse diaspora population around the world – many of whom are concentrated in regions of strategic importance to British economic and diplomatic interests. The BFPG believes that there will be considerable rewards for the United Kingdom in improving the visibility of its diaspora, and the Government’s connectivity with expatriate communities. Underpinning such a project will need to be a shift in thinking from regarding the diaspora as a large group with unpredictable points of emergent vulnerability, to a more nuanced and complex group of individuals and collective points of mobilisation – with the possibility to forge important new links, to change perceptions and wield influence as foreign policy assets.
Equally, there are considerable gains to be made in establishing more formalised relations between the UK Government and the diaspora communities which have made Britain their home. These communities provide tangible economic, cultural and people-to-people links with our allies and strategic rivals, and should be taken seriously as groups with considerable political agency and potential strategic and diplomatic insight. Many other nations possess sophisticated diaspora engagement programmes, and the BFPG is working to develop a roadmap to ensure the diaspora communities within the UK can become more visible and more connected to all levels of government.
The UK Soft Power Group
Convened jointly by the British Foreign Policy Group and the British Council, the UK Soft Power Group is the premier advisory body to the UK Government on soft power. The mission of the UK Soft Power Group is to strengthen the United Kingdom’s soft power capabilities, to advance its global influence, and to represent and promote its value to the UK Government. The Group aims to support a connected national soft power network, creating a collaborative partnership between cultural, sporting and higher education institutions, government bodies, NGOs and private sector actors in the soft power space.
Nationalism, Populism and the Future of the West
The past decade has made clear how disruptive and consequential citizens’ disengagement and dissatisfaction with their nation’s social, political and economic settlement can become – both to domestic leadership and global cooperation. Strengthening the understanding of these forces becomes a powerful tool in building strategic foresight – equipping governments, businesses and other institutions to better respond to emerging grievances, movements, and other forces that may challenge governance.
As well as building this knowledge about our own British social landscape, it is crucial that the United Kingdom develops a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the social environments of our key allies and global partners, and our strategic rivals. Their governments may be grappling with similar issues, and are also becoming aware of the need to be sensitive to the evolving nature of public opinion. The BFPG believes that, armed with this information, we will be able to maximise the effectiveness of our diplomacy, the endurance of our alliances and the influence of our global leadership.
The BFPG is also closely watching the development of liberal cooperation, exploring how alliances old and new are adapting to the particular demands of the 21st Century, and considering how liberal nations can better defend their collective interests against the rising influence of authoritarian nations. The coronavirus pandemic could have served as an opportunity to reinvigorate these relationships, but instead has seen the West so often falling into fragmentation. There is an urgent need to reinstate the power, influence and resilience of liberal alliances and institutions, and reframe connectivity as a source of resilience.
Reimagining the UK’s Bilateral Relationships
The Global Britain project compels us to define our role in the world – a role that is itself hugely influenced by the choices and priorities of our allies and strategic rivals. This generational project to reimagine our global mission and purpose also presents an opportunity to reset and reconfigure our international relationships, with both friends old and new, and the nations whose interests and values diverge from our own.
The public debate about our global partnerships can often become emotive – tapping as it does into our own domestic political identities. The BFPG is working to take the heat out of these discussions, producing research and strategic plans, and convening events, to highlight how Britain can both better secure ourselves to evolving security risks, and also forge more constructive, pragmatic relationships. From our relations with China to India to France and the United States, the BFPG is working to ensure that Britain can approach our international engagement from a point of confidence.
The British Foreign Policy Group is a not-for-profit organisation. We accept organisational and project-based funding from institutions, foundations and individuals that share our values, and which accept our mandate for full editorial independence.
We are proud to have received our initial capital from Strategy International, and are now working to develop partnerships with a range of partners in government, foundational trusts and charities, and the private sector. We appreciate how important transparency is to the trust and legitimacy of the research sector, and will always stipulate where projects have been supported by specific funders – for example, our National Engagement Programme is a partnership with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.
As a fundamental principle, we will not accept funding from states or embassies working on behalf of non-democratic regimes, or against the democratic interests of the United Kingdom.