Global Britain, the foreign policy idea touted by Theresa May and Boris Johnson, risks damaging UK interests by becoming a “superficial branding exercise”, a cross-party committee of MPs has said.
The foreign affairs committee said that Global Britain was conceptually unclear and was not supported by increased resources for British diplomacy. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been unwilling to provide “basic information” on the strategy, it added.
Mrs May, prime minister, introduced the idea of Global Britain in October 2016 to counter fears that Britain would become inward-looking after the Brexit vote. Mr Johnson, foreign secretary, has subsequently referred to “a global Britain running a truly global foreign policy”.
However, the foreign affairs committee said: “No minister during our inquiry was able to give the committee a definitive explanation of ‘Global Britain’.” Tom Tugendhat, its Conservative chair, said, “a slogan is not a policy”.
The criticism comes as the UK struggles to influence several major diplomatic crises. Mr Johnson’s calls for stronger action against Russia for its action in Syria have lacked support from other G7 countries. The UK also failed to have its candidates chosen to run the World Health Organisation and to be a judge on the International Court of Justice.
The committee said it was unclear how Global Britain would affect UK foreign policy. The FCO did tell the committee that “our strategic foreign policy objectives have not changed”. Ministers did cite support for the international rules-based order and for free trade as elements of Global Britain.
The Foreign Office’s budget has been squeezed since 2010, and officials recently admitted that they were financing 50 new diplomatic posts in Europe, in preparation for Brexit, by cutting roles elsewhere.
“If Global Britain comes to be perceived as a superficial branding exercise, it risks undermining UK interests by damaging our reputation overseas and eroding support for a global outlook here at home,” the committee said.
The committee’s members include Priti Patel, whom Mrs May sacked as international development secretary in November for undisclosed meetings with Israeli politicians.
A government spokesman said: “We are using the opportunity afforded by Brexit to reach out to new allies as well as reaffirm ties with old friends.” Britain is one of the few countries that meets the 2 per cent Nato commitment for defence spending and 0.7 per cent international benchmark for aid spending, the spokesman added.