Liberal Democrats

F20 Britain at the Heart of a Changing World (Britain in the World Policy Paper)

Submitted by Federal Policy Committee

Mover: Rt Hon Sir Ed Davey MP | Summator: Cllr Martin Horwood

This motion applies to   

This motion sets out a possible Lib Dem response to the challenges posed by profound changes facing the world today - from Trump’s abandonment of international treaties and Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemeni civilians to the  new technological advances infringing tax rules and personal data privacy. The paper accompanying this motion criticises the drift in recent UK foreign policy and the two main parties for being fatally distracted by Brexit, leaving us looking isolationist, xenophobic and inward-looking.

This motion sets five strategic priorities linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals around which the UK would build new strategic alliances: global gender equality; the combatting of climate change and other environmental crises; protecting, defending and promoting human rights, including LGBT citizens; reducing inequality within and between nations; and leading a worldwide response to new technology including issues of privacy, human safety and cybercrime. The motion and paper give practical examples of the application of these principles: appointing more female diplomats ourselves, suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and tackling tax avoidance in British territories.

The policy paper and the motion set out how this would be done: not just by investing in diplomatic networks and existing alliances, but by building on the UK’s significant global soft power in media and creative industries, education, science and culture, seeking to reinvent old networks like the Commonwealth and putting a new Foreign Secretary and the FCO back into a leadership role in British international policy.


Conference recognises that the world in 2018 feels increasingly unsafe and unstable, with nations unwilling or unable to address the challenges presented by a changing world and instead retreating into isolationism and nationalism.

Conference notes that the focus of UK foreign policy in recent years has been unclear – focusing on firefighting rather than working towards a defined vision or goals.

Conference calls for the UK to develop a liberal strategy for restoring pride in our place in the world: at the heart of global networks; championing British values and interests; defending our national interests; and building partnerships to promote and safeguard peace and security, prosperity, people, individual liberties and the planet.

Conference believes that Britain’s national interests are best pursued in collaboration with countries, organisations and individuals who share our values – because all of us, countries and people, rise and fall together.

Conference reaffirms support for Liberal Democrat achievements in government, particularly legislating for 0.7% of GNI to be spent on aid, and deplores attempts by the current government to undermine this legacy by re-focusing aid away from alleviating extreme poverty and towards promoting UK trade and investment and attempts to reduce migration.

Conference therefore endorses policy paper 132, Britain at the Heart of a Changing World, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy on international affairs, and especially on the methods we must use to develop our vision and commitment to improving the world in which everyone lives, and particularly welcomes its proposals to:

  1. Develop and adopt five strategic priorities and goals, linked into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, that give the UK the vision and means to play a meaningful role in improving the lives of people around the world, prioritising:
    1. Global gender equality, building on our work to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation and ensuring that the realities of the lives of women and girls are not ignored in favour of improving trade links or building regional alliances.
    2. The combatting of climate change and other environmental crises, and reducing their impact on the stability of fragile states and regions and on international migrant flows. Protecting, defending, and promoting human rights for all, including LGBT+ individuals who are persecuted across the world as well as individuals who are persecuted for their religion or belief.
    3. Reducing inequality within and between nations, working to combat poverty not just in the interests of the poor and disadvantaged but to avoid the further growth of instability based on a sense of deep-seated injustice.
    4. Leading in the worldwide response to new technologies – supporting innovation while addressing issues of privacy, human safety, and cybercrime.
  2. Invest in building strong and effective diplomatic relationships across the world, allowing the UK to work with its neighbours to promote national strategic priorities and goals, particularly by:
    1. Maintaining the closest possible diplomatic relationship with the European Union, regardless of the UK’s position within it, including close liaison with the European External Action Service.
    2. Building a wide, changing coalition of support on specific policy priorities, including developing and smaller nations that share our interests.
    3. Establishing a new cabinet committee led by the Foreign Secretary to drive co-ordination international policy across Whitehall.
    4. If the UK were to leave the EU, increasing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget by nearly £1bn to replace EU functions that would be lost and to build the relationships that would be necessary if seeking new deals outside the EU.
    5. Publishing a charter for British citizens in crisis overseas and working with mobile operators to provide people with their nearest consulate’s emergency telephone number by text as soon as they connect to a mobile network outside the UK.
  3. Build on our international obligations to security and defence – working for peace and protecting the UK and its citizens from countries that wish to do us harm by:
    1. Committing to the principle of collective self-defence as laid out in the North Atlantic Treaty and spending 2% of GDP on defence in line with NATO recommendations.
    2. Legislating to ensure there is a parliamentary vote before engaging in military action, whilst preserving the ability to engage in action in emergencies or under treaty obligation without being forced to recall parliament.
    3. Focusing on the diplomatic priorities of the UN’s Responsibility to Protect doctrine and establishing new tests to ensure UK action taken under doctrine has regional support, a decent prospect of defined success, and a sound legal and humanitarian case.
    4. Promoting an international treaty on the principles and limits of the use of technology in modern warfare.
  4. Develop trade, aid, and investment to ensure that economic development leaves nobody behind, specifically by:
    1. Remaining firmly committed to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid.
    2. Prioritising development that both helps the poorest and ties in with our strategic international objectives on gender equality, climate change and the environment, human rights, inequality, and technology.
    3. Working through international bodies for better regulation and scrutiny of international trade and investment treaties to ensure they do not worsen inequalities or human rights, or undermine sustainability.
    4. Remaining within the Single Market and Customs Union to ensure the best trading arrangements for the UK, regardless of whether or not the UK remains in the EU.
    5. Urgently reviewing the national security implications of exposing critical national infrastructure to foreign ownership.
    6. Tackling international tax avoidance and corruption by ensuring the UK and British Overseas Territories have publicly-accessible registers of beneficial ownership of companies registered in their jurisdictions.
  5. More effectively harness British influence and soft power, supporting its development and using it as a tool to advance our interests, by:
    1. Altering funding arrangements for the British Council so that it is able to spend money on projects in countries and regions of strategic importance.
    2. Restoring BBC Monitoring funding to a ring-fenced grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
    3. Uniting the three existing UK global scholarships under the Chevening brand, aim to double the number of beneficiaries to 5000 a year, and explore funding similar numbers of
    4. Requiring DCMS to prepare a biennial report to parliament on the international impact of the UK’s creative industries, sport, art, culture, and heritage.
  6. Protect the rights of citizens around the world by protecting and promoting the rules-based international order by:
    1. Working with allies and partners to strengthen and adapt existing multilateral institutions so that they remain effective and reflect changing power dynamics.
    2. Continuing to involve ourselves in newly-established multinational, regional, and international organisations.
    3. Requiring UK-registered NGOs and organisations including the Armed Forces and defence contractors to report all instances of documented abuse overseas to government – reviewing, reducing, or refusing funding to organisations found in breach of these rules.
    4. Establishing an easy and appropriate reporting mechanism for abuse that makes clear reporters and whistleblowers will not be discriminated against for reporting abuse.
    5. Prioritising efforts to eradicate the use of sexual violence in conflict and by military personnel including UN peacekeepers.