Britain’s foreign policy is “adrift and “lacks clarity”, MPs have said in a damning report on the government’s handling of international affairs.
With the country distracted over the last four years by discord over Brexit and more recently by its questionable handling of the Covid crisis, attention to foreign affairs has waned considerably, according to the prominent Foreign Affairs Committee.
While Britain and its reputation for ‘fair play’ is held in high regards in many countries, it appeared to be “lacking in confidence” on the world stage. “The UK’s own international policy has been adrift. It has lacked clarity,” the report added.
The committee, made up of Conservative and Labour MPs, interviewed several influential figures including former heads of state and senior diplomats.
There was a view that Britain had “recently appeared less ambitious and more absent in its global role,” according to the report, titled ‘A brave new Britain? The future of the UK's international policy’.
With the current international instability, largely caused by the ‘Great Powers’ struggle between America, Russia and China, the international witnesses had urged Britain to be more prominent in exerting its influence.
“None of our contributors wanted the UK to stand back or keep quiet. All of them urged the UK to step up, do more, and play a more impactful role in the world. They highlighted the positive contribution that the UK could make to international relations, and the negative implications if it declined.”
Britain was recognised as having a strong capacity by using its membership of key organisations like the UN Security Council and its broader influence to “bring countries together in dialogue”.
It was also seen as a pragmatic country whose “thought leadership” and the legal drafting capabilities of Foreign Office lawyers, “can bring the world together through agreed, stable and predictable frameworks”.
The report found that the worsening competition between countries, along with international rivalry and a division of the world into competing visions, has made “global challenges more abundant, more severe, and more difficult to resolve”.
It called for the government’s Integrated Review, designed to give strategic direction to Britain’s foreign and defence policy, to give a clear vision. But the report’s authors criticised Whitehall for cancelling publication of the review in the current spending round at a time when “a strategic outlook has never been more important”.
“Britain has left the European Union and needs to plot a course that shapes our future,” said Tom Tugendhat, MP, the committee chairman. “That’s not something we can do without clear thinking and an understanding of the world around us.
“Many key global voices feel that this country has a huge part to play as the world changes in coming years. The UK must now move forward in a confident, clear and coherent way, driving events, not simply be pushed around by an increasingly unstable world.”
The report also urged Boris Johnson’s government, which recently suffered by rejecting international law during Brexit negotiations, to respect the rules as it was “of paramount importance to its international reputation”.