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A Dynamic British Foreign Policy

Submitted by on 23 Nov 2010 – 11:04

The Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

As an incoming Government we faced two immediate and closely-linked challenges: securing economy recovery and positioning Britain on the world stage.

At home, we had a choice between living beyond our nation’s means in a fog of denial as the previous Government did, or taking action to get the deficit under control and move towards an economy built on investment, saving, sound finances and exports. We chose the latter course.

Internationally, we faced a choice between continuing on a path towards economic decline and strategic shrinkage and an active and activist foreign policy that aims to build up British influence in the world. The answer to us was clear: Britain’s response to economic constraint and strategic challenges cannot be to allow our role in the world to wither away. Instead we must take stock of British interests and determine in a strategic fashion what we must do as a nation if we are to secure our international influence and earn our living in a world that is rapidly changing, as well as ensuring that we are equipped to make the right decisions for the long-term.

We have taken a conscious decision to forge a dynamic, active and activist foreign policy; not only in the European Union and working in close partnership with the United States, but in building up Britain’s bilateral relationships in parts of the world where threats and opportunities increasingly lie. Countries like China, India, Brazil, Turkey and the Gulf States are increasingly important actors on the world stage and are critical to agreement on global economic reform, climate change and nuclear proliferation. For strategic and economic reasons they are vital to the UK.  We must work energetically to strengthen ties with these key economies, in diplomacy, commerce, trade, science and innovation, culture, education, sport and in some cases military cooperation.

In our first hundred days we have taken a series of steps to put this approach into action. We have set up a National Security Council which will deal with the full range of security challenges the country faces and have the remit to coordinate the elevation of individual bilateral relationships across the whole of Government. For in our view, foreign policy must run through the veins of the entire administration and not just the Foreign Office. We envisage Government Ministers instinctively looking beyond the confines of their departmental portfolios to promote our broader national interests. The Prime Minister has set a clear lead, promoting Britain and British business overseas at the G8 and G20 Summits in Canada and on visits to the UAE, Turkey and India.

The FCO has been given a mandate to play a greater role in championing the UK’s economic reputation, relentlessly drumming home the message that Britain is open for business, and sharpening our efforts to help open up overseas markets to British enterprise. This is part of our commitment to building up the Foreign Office as a strong institution for the future, capable of leading foreign policy thinking across government.

We have also made clear that we intend to take Britain’s role in multilateral bodies like the European Union and G20 very seriously. The EU is extremely important to this country’s economy.  So we are very clear about the importance of engagement with our EU partners and EU institutions and active involvement in foreign policy issues from the Balkans to the Middle East Peace Process. If we are going to make our voice heard in the EU Ministers have to be there and so should we ensure that bright British talent enters EU institutions – something the previous Government neglected woefully.

So we are determined that we shall pursue a distinctively British foreign policy that unashamedly seeks the best for our economy and citizens. But this does not come at the expense of our moral obligation to act as a force for good in the world, championing political freedom, economic liberalism, human rights and poverty reduction. These values will be at the core of our approach over the coming years.