UK public's views 'deeply polarised' on foreign policy

Britain’s adult population can be divided into four distinct foreign policy 'tribes', London think tank says

A boy holds a British flag in front of Windsor Castle as a report shows the UK's highly polarised views over foreign policy. EPA
A boy holds a British flag in front of Windsor Castle as a report shows the UK's highly polarised views over foreign policy. EPA

The British people have “deeply polarised” views on what the country’s foreign policy should be, a new report reveals.

The country is divided into four different "tribes", each with contrasting opinions on subjects from climate change to overseas aid and immigration, a British Foreign Policy Group (BFPG) survey shows.

Britain’s adult population can be divided into “four distinct foreign policy tribes”, the London think tank said, labelling them as Humanitarians, Globalists, Patriots and Isolationists.

It found that the two biggest tribes, the Humanitarians and Isolationists, were also the most “diametrically opposed” in their foreign policy preferences, leading to a volatile and emotional public debate over foreign policy.

The “starkest disparity” between tribes was support for global co-operation on climate change, which was supported by 56 per cent of Humanitarians and 44 per cent of Globalists, compared with 32 per cent of Patriots and only 18 per cent of Isolationists

On the government’s slogan of "Global Britain", the survey found that Patriots and Globalists had a strong belief that it meant the UK championing free trade, with the second most-popular choice among these two groups being for Britain to act as a “diplomatic powerhouse”.

Almost three-quarters of the Globalists said Britain should reduce or stop aid spending during the Covid-19 pandemic. But Britons in the Humanitarian tribe were in stark contrast to the other three tribes, with just 47 per cent believing the UK should reduce aid spending.

Another striking observation of the 2021 annual survey was the degree to which no particular aspect of Britain’s foreign policy was seen as “a source of pride”.

The report found that the tribes did not necessarily form around party political lines, but more along the realignment that has emerged with post-Brexit identities. “In both the Conservative party and the Labour party, Leave and Remain voters continue to co-exist … they also often represent the extremities of the public divide over foreign policy,” the report said.

There was near universal support within Globalists for implementing basic health programmes and providing emergency support in a crisis.

Three-quarters of Humanitarians believed globalisation had benefited Britain but Patriots and Isolationists tribes were significantly less likely to view globalisation as beneficial.

On immigration, the Patriots were the least supportive and were more than 12 times as likely (63 per cent) as Britons in the Humanitarians tribe (5 per cent) to believe that immigrants took away jobs. They were also 10 times more likely to believe immigrants were a burden to the social welfare system than Humanitarians (8 per cent).

“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,” said Sophia Gaston, the BFPG’s director. “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.”

Published: April 22, 2021 04:32 PM

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