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Maximising our soft power is vital to tackle global challenges


3 min read

I’m an optimist. Optimistic for the prospect of a better country, a better world, and an increasingly important role which the United Kingdom can play within it – now, in 2030 and in 2050.

That is why today, alongside former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox MP, I am launching the Coalition for Global Prosperity’s report, Global Britain, the confidence to lead.

The report is based on research and data. Our polling shows us the strengths of the UK’s foreign policy. That we are the US’ most trusted foreign policy ally. But it also shows us where we can do more to maximise this position. Despite the wider strength of the UK’s soft power, we are not doing enough with some of our key African partners, and in doing so benefitting other countries like China, who are able to step in from the space which we vacate. This report seeks to find ways to maximise the UK’s foreign policy impact.

Despite the wider strength of the UK’s soft power, we are not doing enough

We call for the establishment of a bi-annual forum on UK-Africa co-operation across security, trade and investment. At the beginning of 2020, the UK hosted a UK-Africa Investment Summit, which successfully put the UK at centre-stage in showcasing ourselves as a focal point for trade and investment. The UK needs to continue to show how it is open for trade with Africa, as well as allowing for discussion of a wider range of issues including security co-operation, and not exclusively trade and investment.

We can take the newly created role of development minister, attending Cabinet, further. We are calling for the post to sit across the FCDO and HMT, to ensure maximum coherence across government and to complement the current arrangements in place for broader co-ordination of UK foreign policy.

We are also calling for the hard cap of 0.5 per cent ODA spending of GNI to be eased. The easing of the cap would also create better incentives for the UK to be able to act as a force for good in the world. HMT should explore a new funding formula, with a core budget less exposed to the significant displacement risks that are bad for the FCDO’s longer-term priorities and partners. This would be another way in which we can be more agile in dealing with immediate priorities, while not taking our eyes off the ball from longer-term challenges.

As we have shown in Ukraine, the UK can accomplish remarkable things when its goals are clear, its commitment sustained and when it works pragmatically in partnership with its allies. We want to see the UK apply the same level of ambition and self-belief in addressing many of the challenges that will define the decades to come.

We learnt from the international response to the Covid pandemic just how important it is that we maintain a focus on broader challenges before it is too late, and don’t always get completely distracted by urgent priorities. In order to do so, it is vital that we need to set in place the right framework for a foreign policy which is flexible and enables us to focus on the most pressing international issues, whilst also working towards long-term solutions.

I am proud of the UK’s record of success in security, defence and development. But there is more to be done. By following the recommendations set out in this report, we can ensure that the UK can be at the forefront of responding to the challenges that will shape our world in the decades to come.


Ryan Henson, CEO for Coalition for Global Prosperity.

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