The UK will target a group of around two dozen mid-tier countries for long-term diplomatic partnerships in what marks a downgrading of a commitment to human rights as a precondition for close relations with the UK. UK.
The new policy outlined in a speech by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is an attempt to set realistic ambitions and benchmarks for Britain’s future post-Brexit relationship. It is an implicit admission that the phrase ‘Global Britain’, coined by Boris Johnson, may have created expectations that Britain’s diplomatic resources and status cannot match.
The new thinking emerged from a review within the Foreign Office’s geostrategy unit.
In a lead up to his speech, the department said the UK hopes to forge close, long-term, multidimensional partnerships with countries that share a “belief in sovereignty and territorial integrity, in free trade and in value of a rules-based international order”. which has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity for more people around the world than ever before.”
The criteria for some interpretations will enable the UK to build relationships with countries that are not necessarily democracies, but respect borders and pose no threat to UK security.
Cleverly will say the patient new diplomatic relationships will be forged in countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia that are likely to be more influential over the next 30 years, including some with which the UK has no previous close ties.
Tailor-made offers will cover trade, diplomacy, technology, defence, cybersecurity, adaptation to the climate crisis and environmental protection. These will be backed by investment through British International Investment and the G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, an initiative designed to provide a source of funding to rival that provided by China.
The FCDO argument is that if the UK does not engage with these countries now, they risk, in a competitive diplomatic environment, being courted by others and further alienating themselves from Western influence. .
Cleverly’s predecessor, Liz Truss, spoke of forming a freedom network that spanned the world and advanced the frontiers of freedom, a phrase that implied a strong determination to stand up for democracy rather than authoritarianism. When asked how this objective could be reconciled with Britain’s support for the Gulf states, she argued that Britain could legitimately form alliances with these countries if they intended to pose no threat to the UK.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sky on Sunday, Cleverly was challenged on how the UK’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia matched Riyadh’s use of public executions. He said the UK highlighted very big differences with Saudi Arabia on human rights, but added: “It is extremely important that we maintain an ongoing bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia. . Part of that includes trade but also in terms of security, counter-terrorism work. »
In the FCDO’s annual human rights report, released last week, the government described a series of Saudi human rights abuses, but claimed “there is a real Saudi appetite for change” in areas “such as judicial reform, women’s rights and the death penalty”.
Yet by the end of November, Saudi Arabia had executed 148 people this year, double the number in 2021. Saudi human rights group ALQST last week detailed “a new extraordinary crackdown on freedom of ‘expression in the kingdom with a series of prison sentences handed down’. for peaceful activity on social media”.
Cleverly also signaled a more pragmatic approach to China, refusing to repeat Rishi Sunak’s assertion as a Tory leadership candidate that China posed “the greatest threat to Britain and Britain’s security and safety.” prosperity of the world this century”. Sunak has now called China a systemic challenge, a phrase that gives the UK the chance to scrutinize Chinese investments in the UK more rigorously.