As widely reported, today Bob Seely MP and the Henry Jackson Society have authored a new ‘blueprint’ for Global Britain.
There is plenty in the report to welcome – not least the authors’ assertion that we live in deeply complex times, which require a robust and emboldened Global Britain.
This is something we’ve long been calling for at Save the Children.
A Global Britain, rooted in what should be fundamental British values of challenging injustice, standing up for what is right, and providing a helping hand to those in need, would be a welcome tonic to current global chaos.
Unfortunately, this isn’t quite what today’s report suggests. Rather, it makes two deeply troubling suggestions.
Let me unpack these.
1 The “[Department for International Development and Department for International Trade] should be amalgamated into the FCO”.
The report bases this recommendation on the model used in Canada, Australia and New Zealand – all of whom subsumed their development ministries into their foreign ministries.
In reality, this model has been largely discredited – with all the aforementioned countries witnessing a drop in the quality and quantity of their aid, coupled with little or no obvious benefit to their strategic alignment or global standing.
Today’s report also fails to grasp that it is precisely the independence and integrity of our global institutions that makes them such a powerful guarantor of Britain’s influence.
As the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, put it last month: “We are not a superpower, but we are a global power, and the trick is not to overestimate our strength, but not underestimate it either. And one of our great strengths is that we have better connections with more countries than possibly any other country in the world.”
This status is largely secured because of Britain’s unrivalled soft-power – which flows from the unique global assets that we have cultivated, including establishing and maintaining a strong and independent development ministry with poverty eradication at its core.
Any DFID minister or secretary of state will tell you, when they travel around the world, they are held in uniquely high regard – often sharing a platform with heads of state – largely because of the influence that the reach of DFID and its mark of quality bring.
2 The UK should “ditch the OECD definition of ODA and replace it with a UK definition, maintaining spending at 0.7% of GNI”.
While the UK can and should play a positive role in challenging the OECD definition to ensure it is fit for modern development challenges, unilaterally ditching the definition would undermine this critical source of finance for the world’s poorest children and further tear at the fabric of the international system, which is already increasingly fragile.
Just as ‘Made in Britain’ is a mark of quality and reliability, when the UK turns up at the UN, NATO, IMF or any global summit, we should be relied on to drive up governance standards and norms.
This may not be as catchy as the destructive mentality taking root in the modern world, but the UK has global influence because we do what we say we will do – and are trusted to do the right thing. Read this great analysis from the British Council if you don’t believe me.
The Foreign Office has done much to uphold the international rules-based system – I hope they will see this suggestion for what it is: one more short-term proposal that would only weaken our influence and impact in the long term.
There is no doubt that greater strategic alignment between DFID and the Foreign Office, and an emboldened Foreign Office, with more embassies, diplomats and global clout, would be good for Britain and the world. The way to achieve this is not through undermining our global standing and global institutions.
“The UK is at a crossroads. We can either embrace the unique role that the UK has carefully cultivated over the twentieth century through our world-class defence, diplomatic and development assets and apply this as a positive force in the world, or we can throw it away in the race for short-term political gain.
“Children around the world are relying on us to do the former.”