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Overview of Coalition Foreign Policy

Last Updated: Friday, September 3rd, 2010

In this week with William Hague so much in the news, an overview of Coalition foreign policy.


There’s a Conservative consensus on, say, deficit reduction or criminal justice. There is no consensus on foreign policy. A minority still support the Iraq war. A majority support staying in Afghanistan but there is a growing isolationist streak in the Party, at odds with its traditional commitment to the Atlantic alliance.

In an interview that Foreign Secretary William Hague gave to The Sunday Telegraph he underlined the two big currents in the government’s worldview:

  • Multipolarity. The UK wants to be less focused on Europe, the USA and the Middle East. India, China, Brazil and other emerging powers will receive much more attention.
  • The rise of soft power. Bruised by involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and facing deep cuts to Britain’s military capacity William Hague states that “as well as trade, relations can be maintained through education, culture, sport, diplomacy and military co-operation.” There is certainly a significant commercialisation of foreign policy.

The Euro-Atlantic area no longer dominates UK foreign policy according to Defence Secretary Liam Fox:

“The new Government in Britain represents a generational step-change in our approach to international affairs. Neither the new Prime Minister, the new Foreign Secretary, the new Deputy Prime Minister, nor myself as Defence Secretary were in Parliament at the start of 1989, the year that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Cold War. In many ways this is the UK’s first post-Cold War Government. We realise that the world has changed. We recognise that the world is now multi-polar and multi-powered.  We think globally and will pursue a distinctively British Foreign and Security Policy rooted in our enlightened national interest, but no longer confined to the Euro-Atlantic area.”



He has widely travelled throughout Europe and has met most key leaders including Merkel, Sarkozy and Berlusconi in their home capitals. The PM has also been to America, Canada, Turkey and India.



The Economist’s Bagehot column: “Mr Hague is pragmatism incarnate.”

In the most concise profile of him so far the weekly described William Hague as the McKinsey Foreign Secretary:

“In John Major’s government, when Mr Hague held briefs for Wales and social security, his civil servants reputedly found him sublimely able without ever detecting a larger philosophy. He then spent his first two years in charge of the Tories groping for a softer, gentler conservatism; only when the polls refused to budge did he try the core-vote creed that brought crushing defeat and resignation. That trauma—the first in a life of endless academic and professional achievement—humanised him, bringing out the humour and essential decency that has since made him one of the country’s favourite politicians. But it also put him off ideology for ever. Even his prowess as a parliamentarian should have been a clue. Debaters are often agnostic by temperament, or at least ecumenical; the whole point is to master any argument.”



Recently engulfed by speculation about his private life Mr Hague issued a statement categorically denying he has ever had a relationship with a man and reveals that his wife, Ffion, has suffered a series of miscarriages. The couple’s childlessness has always fed the speculation that the marriage was somehow unreal. It is very sad that Mr and Mrs Hague felt that they had no alternative than to go public with intensely private details because of what Mr Hague insists is malicious and false speculation.

In his statement, Mr Hague concedes that sharing twin rooms with an aide has given ammunition to the sources of gossip. Hopefully with the resignation of Christophers Myers, Mr Hague can get on with the job of being an energetic and effective Foreign Secretary.



Mr Cameron is determined to ensure the Foreign and Commonwealth Office focuses on Britain’s economic needs. Speaking to business leaders in New York the PM said:

“I want to refashion British foreign policy, the Foreign Office, to make us much more focused on the commercial aspects… making sure we are demonstrating Britain is open for business.” 

He broke the tradition of appointing a diplomat to be Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office. The job went to Simon Fraser, currently the top civil servant at the Department for Business and a former trade adviser to Lord Mandelson, when he was EU Commissioner.

The Foreign Office won’t necessarily like this redirection of their mission but, at a time of economic peril, David Cameron is determined to see it happen.

Japan – which Hague described as Britain’s most special relationship in the region – will see upgraded attention as part of this commercialisation.


Lord Brittan has been appointed as a trade adviser to the Prime Minister helping to lead a cross-Government effort to develop and drive forward an ambitious trade agenda. He will work closely with Ministers across the Government to define an overarching trade and investment strategy, and his work will help shape and inform a forthcoming White Paper on trade to be launched by Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Unfortunately he was only appointed for six months and after many others had rejected the post. Consideration should be given to appointing a senior backbencher to this role. Many good talents on the Tory benches did not make it as ministers because of the Coalition deal.


In a significant increase in the rhetorical temperature, David Cameron renewed his condemnation of Israel for blockading Gaza and compared the situation in the Hamas-controlled territory to a “prison camp”. Mr Cameron made the remarks in a speech in Turkey, where he enthusiastically backed the country’s hope to join the EU. The Liberal Democrats in the Coalition government will approve of Mr Cameron’s tone on Israel but the government in Jerusalem will take a very dim view of the intervention. The use of such an emotive term and the lack of any balancing condemnation of the Hamas regime that terrorises Gaza will also disappoint Conservative supporters of Israel.

Chris Patten was said to be the source of the prison camp language and did use that expression in an FT article some time ago. Lord Patten is thought to be an important behind-the-scenes adviser on foreign policy. Ed Llewellyn, Mr Cameron’s Chief of Staff, is hugely influential on foreign policy and was previously chief aide to Lord Patten when he was Governor of Hong Kong.

The Prime Minister also used very undiplomatic language about Pakistan, worst of all during a visit to India.



It hasn’t been said formally but the attitude of the Coalition to Afghanistan is clear: It wants out and soon and just this week Nick Clegg was talking up signs of progress when he visited UK troops. He talked of the nation having turned a corner. The Coalition needs to present its mission as a success if it is to achieve a drawdown of troops.

The Cameroons opposed General Petraeus’ successful surge of troops into Iraq and their hearts are not in the other of what they regard as “Blair’s wars”. Although defence will be spared the axe this year, Cameron will cut deep into Britain’s already overstretched armed forces next year.

The Telegraph’s Con Coughlin has written about Britain’s looming retreat in The Spectator. And retreat it is. However much Mr Cameron may want to commercialise foreign policy a failure to leave Afghanistan in reasonable order will seriously undermine Britain’s standing in the world. Britain lost in southern Iraq and despite the heroism of our troops we are losing in Afghanistan too. Even Harriet Harman understands this and warned the PM against setting a withdrawal timetable.


William Hague’s greatest moment was his campaign to save the pound. He compared the ERM to a burning building with exits and EMU to a burning building without exits. His argument – lonely at the time – that we needed to see the euro work in good times and bad has been 100% vindicated.

Many reporters seem to believe that William Hague is some sort of head-banging, swivel-eyed Eurosceptic (the same silly language is always used) who will now be restrained from Basil Fawlty-style insults to our European allies by the LibCon deal.

In reality William Hague has been a much more pragmatic figure for a good five years. He was, for example, very cautious about Tory MEPs leaving the EPP.

Foreign policy – including European policy – is remarkable for its similarity to what went before. The continuity of European policy has been reinforced by the Coalition deal but that much was also obvious last autumn when Hague and Cameron ‘long-grassed’ the European issue when they announced no post- Lisbon referendum.

The replacement of Mark Francois with David Lidington as Europe spokesman confirms this. Lidington – a long-term Hague aide – is no Europhile but he’s a pragmatist. He’ll put a premium on good relations with European counterparts.

The Coalition has indeed pursued a remarkably positive attitude towards the EU that included signing up to controversial extensions of the European diplomatic service and also to the European Investigation Order.

Hague says that a “generation gap” exists in terms of British diplomatic representation in Brussels.  He says:

“It is mystifying to us that the previous government failed to give due weight to the exercise of British influence in the EU.  They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions…as a new government, we are determined to put this right.”





David Cameron:

“When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a Nato ally… it makes me angry that your progress towards EU membership can be frustrated in the way it has been… My view is clear. I believe it’s just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent.”

Unless Germany and France change their position on Turkish membership of the EU this is entirely a posture.


The Coalition’s pledge to continue aid spending in unpopular (among the Tory grassroots and within the public at large) but there is plenty in Andrew Mitchell’s agenda that is reforming and seeking to get much better value for money:

  • He stopped £6.5m of spending within the UK to raise awareness of development issues. That £6.5m will instead be going directly to poor people. UK charities and broadcasters do enough “aid awareness” without help from the taxpayer.
  • He established an independent aid watchdog and is introducing greater transparency of UK aid spending so we can all check money isn’t going to corrupt dictators. This policy was welcomed by a massive 97% of Tory members.
  • He announced a review of UK contributions to the World Bank, UN and other multilateral organisations. Experience suggests that organisations like the EU are less good at keeping an eye on aid spending than democratically accountable governments.
  • The UK’s bilateral aid will be re-focused on poorer countries. Aid to China will be phased out “as soon as practical and responsible”. Aid to India is also under review.
  • Mr Mitchell (supported by his junior ministers, Alan Duncan and Stephen O’Brien) is cutting fat from the DFID bureaucracy. This includes renting out two floors of the DFID office building and cutting spending on HR, IT, travel and other corporate services. £14m has been saved so far as first steps towards saving £100m and redirecting that to poverty-fighting projects.



William Hague this week in an article for The Daily Telegraph:

“Foreign Office Ministers have been energetic in meeting human rights groups and NGOs, and in raising human rights. We have, among other things, spoken up for fair elections in Burma, pressed for access for humanitarian aid to Gaza, campaigned against forced marriage and lobbied the Government of Iran over death penalty cases, women’s rights and religious freedom.”

The statement of a foreign-policy-with-a-conscience was made after refuted reports in The Observer that Mr Hague was scrapping annual human rights reporting by FCO missions.


A strategic defence review is underway and cuts of 10% to 25% may be necessary.

Liam Fox is probably the most hawkish of the three foreign policy Cabinet ministers but is not a neoconservative as is often suggested. He does not enthuse for nation-building.

He has been subject to considerable speculation about his future, especially after he told a Sunday newspaper about the removal of senior personnel.  Alongside Iain Duncan Smith he is the most important figure on the Right, inside the Cabinet. This status may save him from the antagonism of the foreign policy pragmatists that surround David Cameron.


Tim Montgomerie on the Leftwards drift of the Coalition: “The Liberal Democrat MPs who stand to Clegg’s left – and nearly all do – are already agitating. Vince Cable wants some sort of graduate tax. Menzies Campbell wants Trident downgraded. Simon Hughes wants council-house tenants to continue to enjoy security of tenure. Even Danny Alexander, Clegg’s most loyal lieutenant and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has called for a more redistributive tax system. All the pressures will be greater once a Labour leader is in place. Left-leaning Lib Dems will then have an alternative to being shacked up with the Tories. If the new Labour leadership is clever, it will be more woo-woo than shoo-shoo. It will be Aesop’s sun, not Aesop’s wind. It will present an attractive alternative home to Liberal Democrats, rather than pushing them further into the arms of the Tories by constantly breathing fire at them. Policies such as protecting universal benefits are going to appeal to many Lib Dem hearts.” More:

The Sun warns Cameron on the middle classes: “Since The Sun endorsed David Cameron last September it has been a tireless campaigner for the Conservatives. Up until now, only Ken Clarke’s prisons policy has caused it serious concern. Bank Holiday Monday’s ‘Sun Says’ column is therefore worth highlighting: “No one expects quick tax giveaways from a Coalition shoring up the catastrophic balance sheet it inherited from Labour. But to rule them out for at least five years is bleak news, especially with VAT about to soar. Everyone bar the madder elements of Labour’s front bench accepts the need for austerity after a decade-plus of unhinged spending. But the Coalition should remember that the boom years saw a tidal wave of sneaky tax hikes of which Gordon Brown was a master architect. Taxpayers need light at the end of the tunnel – before the end of this Parliament.” More:

Can Boris win re-election? “Boris should declare fairness for London as a crucial campaign theme. He’s dipped his toe in the water on the Scottish question but he should go much further. The man who celebrates St Georges Day with such flair should become the champion of a new cross-UK funding deal that (1) ensures the motor of the UK economy keeps more of its wealth and (2) that the Mayor’s office is able to afford its own solutions to the big housing, policing and poverty problems of London. Ultimately, Londoners will keep Boris in power if he is seen to fight as hard for them as Alex Salmond and Scottish Labour fight for their voters.” More:

School banding and admissions: ““Middle class to lose its grip on best state schools,” the Daily Telegraph declares this morning, picking up a Michael Gove Today programme interview.  Gove said that banding had “a role to play” and could make schools “truly socially comprehensive”.  He described the scheme by its other title, “fair banding” – a term that revives the debate, sparked off again by the contretemps earlier this week over the budget, over the concept of fairness and how it should be applied, if at all.” More:

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