Britain in 2030

Stronger Together for Britain in the world

  • Report

A stronger future for Britain in the world

vs

the Conservative status quo

A stronger future for Britain in the world

We want a country that is self-confident on the world stage, with an international role to deliver for the British people while making our world safer.

With a stronger future for Britain in the world, by 2030 we can:

  • Keep Britain safe and make the world more secure
  • Restore Britain’s reputation as a reliable international partner
  • Develop an ambitious trade policy fit for the 21st century
  • Make national security our top priority
  • Create a development policy Britons can be proud of

the Conservative status quo

In an era where cross-border cooperation has never been more important, the Conservatives have taken the UK backwards – retreating from the global stage and threatening to break international law.

Under the Conservatives, Britain faces the risk of:

  • Dwindling influence abroad and weakened foundations at home
  • A race to the bottom on international trade
  • Further decline in our defence capability
  • Increased exposure to strategic threats
  • Abandoning our responsibility to the world’s poorest

Introduction

The COVID-19 crisis showed in stark terms the interconnected nature of the modern world: global challenges like the spread of disease do not stop at national borders, and neither can our response to them. When the next pandemic comes, we must learn the lessons of this one, and ensure that all countries work hand in hand: sharing intelligence, coordinating responses and exchanging scientific breakthroughs, and finally producing and disseminating a vaccine quickly and equitably all over the world, in the way we are still failing to do with COVID-19.

We must apply lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis to other issues in the decade to come. We know that the climate crisis is going to require the same level of international cooperation if we are to turn the tide and prevent catastrophic global warming. The Paris Agreement in 2015 showed what can happen when countries work together. We cannot afford to let that be the peak of our collective efforts.

Unfortunately, in an era where cross-border cooperation has never been more important, the Conservatives have taken the UK backwards: a retreat from the global stage based on antagonism and threats to break international law, and time and time again evidence that they are driven by short-termism rather than any sense of a strategic bigger picture – from the savage cuts to life-saving aid programmes, to their handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Conservatives fail to make the connection between our posture at home and overseas and the impact on people here  in the UK – be that in striking trade deals that undercut workers’ rights, refusing to clean up London-based international money laundering, or cutting international aid with a direct impact on domestic security.

A stronger future for our country on the world stage needs to start from the principle that you cannot disentangle the foreign from the domestic, and that we should pursue a self-confident strategy on international affairs that delivers for people at home. That means reinvesting in relationships around the world, including rebuilding a constructive partnership with our European neighbours. It means ensuring our foreign policy has a moral compass.  It means taking a values-based approach to China and a robust approach to Russia, alongside a 21st century trade policy that would protect the environment and improve workers’ rights at the same time as delivering prosperity for communities right across the UK. It means repairing our soft power, championing international law and restoring the international development budget. And we need to prioritise the security of our country above all else, with an unshakeable commitment to NATO and the multilateral system as we seek to rebuild and create new alliances and partnerships.

 

The Conservative status quo

The last decade of Conservative rule has left us with dwindling influence abroad and weakened foundations at home.

The Conservatives’ foreign policy has failed to defend the interests of people across our four nations and has undermined support for the union itself. They have taken a needlessly antagonistic approach to negotiations with Europe, too often reciprocated by the other side, which has cost us all.

There is no sense that they are prepared for the challenges of the coming decade such as the continued rise of China as an economic superpower and an emboldened Russia looking to cause instability wherever it can. That failure to plan or think strategically was brutally and tragically evident in the dramatic fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the scramble to evacuate British nationals and eligible Afghans, leaving thousands behind to face an uncertain fate. It  was also evident in the failure of the G7 meeting which the Prime Minister called in the midst of the crisis, during which he failed to achieve his key and clearly-stated objective of a delay to the US withdrawal timetable.

Despite the UK hosting COP26 this year, there is also no evidence that the Conservatives are thinking through the major geopolitical implications of the climate crisis: increased desertification, urbanization, less hospitable land and declining resources will all contribute to an increase in the frequency and scale of conflicts; along with predicted huge increases in migration.

If that approach to foreign policy continues, the UK’s influence on the world stage will wane even further and the impacts will continue to be felt by people back home in Britain.

The Conservative’s race to the bottom on international trade reveals that the Conservatives are not only prepared to undermine our international standing, but also to sacrifice British industry.

The chaotic early stages of the pandemic exposed the fragility of the UK’s reliance on imports, with shortages of supplies in everything from raw ingredients for medicines to finished PPE products. It also revealed that the NHS is currently dependent on supply chains which use slave labour.[1] The government has turned a blind eye to these abuses, much like they have done with the increase in authoritarian governments in Asia over the past decade, which raises serious questions over what they are willing to accept in their trade partners.

The government’s desperation to conclude trade deals has also triggered the abandonment of any effort to protect the UK farming industry against cheap imports produced to lower standards.[2] That coincides with the Conservatives’ attempt to do away with half the current safeguards protecting the UK steel industry – defeated by Labour and the unions – reflecting the same mentality to put free trade zealotry before the interests of domestic industries.

A further decade of Conservative government would threaten to add UK farming to UK manufacturing, in facing heavy competitive pressure from cheap imports. We could see rapid loss of agricultural jobs and businesses as a result, and knock-on implications for our food standards and the stewardship of our countryside.

The Conservatives have overseen a decade of decline in Britain’s defence capability, eroding our Armed Forces’ strength with £8 billion in funding and 45,000 personnel cut since 2010. The Prime Minister broke his election promise that he would not be “cutting the Armed Services in any form” when the Integrated Review announced that the size of the Army will be cut by 10,000 by 2025[3]. That amounts to the Ministry of Defence facing a 2.3% cut in day-to-day spending between now and 2024-5. Several former military commanders in the UK and US have questioned whether, after these cuts, Britain will be able to contribute strategically to NATO and US operations[4]. By 2030 it is possible Britain may no longer be able to deploy Afghanistan-sized operations overseas, or have sufficient forces to defend itself against a major attack.

The Government’s inconsistent and short-sighted approach means it is failing to act on the strategic threats we will face in the next decade. Far too much of recent Conservative-led security planning has been myopic – be that misjudging the menace of state-based threats (especially from Russia) or lauding a “golden era” in Sino-British economic relations while turning a blind eye to the national security risk arising from China’s involvement in critical infrastructure and the mass persecution of the Uighur population.

Unless the mistakes of recent years are addressed, the Conservatives risk leaving our country even more exposed to security threats.

This year, the Government has the opportunity of leading the world as hosts of the G7 and COP26. In Cornwall at the G7, what should have been the most important summit in a generation was derailed by the Prime Minister’s strained relations with fellow world leaders, failing to agree concrete plans to tackle the pandemic, vaccinate the world or address the climate crisis. Worryingly, the Conservatives have shut down the world-leading international development department, shunted development into the Foreign Office without a plan, and cut the aid budget without any impact assessments or clear objectives.

We have already seen the real-world implications of these cuts, most starkly in Afghanistan. The Conservatives cut funding for programmes in Afghanistan by almost half before the Prime Minister U-turned and returned to 2019 levels[5]. During the intervening period, the Government refused to provide information about which programmes were cut or paused, but we know that they included a project helping 10,500 women in rural Afghanistan and a programme to strengthen economic self-reliance, well-being and participation in decision-making that would have supported 6,000 women.

These are examples in just one country of the Conservatives’ decision to walk away from our responsibility to the world’s poorest. It is a pattern repeated in their failure to provide leadership on getting COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world’s poorest: as a result, new and more dangerous strains of the virus will emerge, more people will die and the hit to the global economy has been, and will continue to be, enormous.

This approach diminishes our standing on the world stage, leaving a vacuum that others will fill. It weakens our hand with some of the world’s most dangerous regimes and could directly lead to heightened security risks on our own streets.

 

A stronger future for Britain in the world

We need our country to be self-confident on the global stage, acting with integrity, courage and consistency to deliver for the people of Britain while making our world safer. In an uncertain world, we must always be a reliable partner and resolute ally, working to keep Britain safe and make the world more secure. We need to strike trade deals and build partnerships that deliver jobs and opportunity at home and support prosperity and fairness around the world. We must be steadfast champions for democracy and human rights, and lead by example in tackling the climate crisis. We should stand up for Britain’s interests and defend our values, knowing that we can best serve the former by being true to the latter.

First, we have to recognise that the world beyond our shores, and our ability to mould and shape it, affects the lives of people at home to an extraordinary degree – and that should inform our foreign policy choices: be that tackling the climate crisis which is increasing flood risk across the UK, targeting international criminal gangs that prey on the vulnerable across our country, or tackling the illicit financial flows through the City of London that sustain corrupt elites.

We need to restore Britain’s reputation as a consistent reliable partner, with the Good Friday Agreement as an article of faith. We should develop new and creative ways of working with the EU on issues from sanctions and trade to financial regulation and the climate crisis, and build a relationship with the USA focused on practical areas of future cooperation and not nostalgia. We also have to seek to breathe new life into multilateral institutions and do the heavy lifting needed to reinvest in our relationships across the world. We should invest in relations of mutual respect with our partners across Africa to empower their own development and tackle poverty, and work together on global challenges like the climate crisis, education, health and ensuring respect for human rights. We also need to deepen ties across Asia and the Middle East, to support human rights, democracy, and security.

Another imperative is an ambitious trade policy fit for the 21st century, prioritising fairness as well as market access, protecting the environment and championing labour and human rights at home and abroad[6]. Britain needs to have trade deals in place across the world making it easier for our world-leading service industries to do business overseas, triggering an era of strong growth for established sectors while creating new jobs and opportunities elsewhere. Importantly, democratic accountability must be built into that process, with Parliament having a vote on the negotiating objectives for all new trade talks, as well as on the final deal[7].

Our country should stand as an example of how trade can be used to drive progress towards net zero, with the effective use of trade agreements to speed up the transition to green technology and goods; and robust action to tackle carbon leakage and offshoring. We must make sure that the use of forced labour and child labour is in decline across the world, reverse the race to the bottom on workers’ rights, wages and conditions and reform our system of arms exports to help end wars of aggression and prevent internal repression by authoritarian regimes.

Overall we should be buying, making and selling more in Britain – and that is critically important for our farming and manufacturing industries, which need to be growing through the next decade, not shrinking in the face of cheap imports produced at lower standards. The UK needs cutting-edge industries, growing their exports across the world, from electric vehicles to new digital technology.

National security must be the top priority: defending the British people from new and traditional threats by protecting our armed forces, taking action to defend our democracy and working with partners across NATO – to whom our commitment must be unshakeable – and the EU to deal with Russian aggression. That means preparing for and responding to threats to our national security which are proliferating and becoming less conventional, less predictable and more continuous.

Our government’s approach to foreign policy needs urgently to change, so that upholding international law and universal human rights, and the multilateral treaties and organisations that uphold them, is always the norm rather than honoured in the breach. Our core Labour values are internationalist and multilateralist; cooperation and binding mutual obligation provide the greatest assurance of global progress and peace.

We also need to see British defence investment directed first to British industry. When done well, defence spending can have a multiplier effect: it can strengthen our UK economy, with the potential to buttress our sovereignty and security.

 The universal Sustainable Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda and the central idea of “leaving no one behind” must be used to bring people together to achieve a better world and create a development policy Britons can be proud of. This will involve reversing the Conservatives’ aid cuts from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income and working across other government departments and beyond to tackle poverty and inequality. Working in collaboration with civil society and communities on the ground will help restore our country to the position of a reliable global partner. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, this will require support for low-income countries to increase their financial resources to tackle the continued health and economic crisis and ramp up vaccination manufacturing.

Longer term, we must always be ready to provide humanitarian support in times of crisis and explore ways to prevent crises rather than only responding to them. We must protect our climate and nature by delivering on the promises within the Paris Agreement and subsequent agreements. And we must support the creation of jobs and opportunities which are better for workers and better for our planet.

[1] The pandemic also exposed to greater view the fact that the NHS is currently reliant on factories in Malaysia using slave labour for its supplies of medical gloves. The Guardian, ‘UK government sourcing NHS PPE from company repeatedly accused of forced labour’, 25 September 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/sep/25/nhs-sourcing-ppe-from-company-repeatedly-accused-of-forced-labour-top-glove

[2] Farmers Weekly, ‘Real impact of Aussie trade deal ‘to hit farmers in 10 years’’, 2 July 2021, https://www.fwi.co.uk/business/business-management/agricultural-transition/real-impact-of-aussie-trade-deal-to-hit-farmers-in-10-years

[3] Ministry of Defence, ‘Defence in a competitive age’, March 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/974661/CP411_-Defence_Command_Plan.pdf

[4] The Times, ‘Defence review that cuts size of army leaves Britain at risk, says former forces chief’, 23 March 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/defence-review-that-cuts-size-of-army-leaves-britain-at-risk-says-ex-forces-chief-msp0mjbqq

[5] Royal United Services Institute, ‘UK Foreign Aid Cuts and an Afghan Refugee Crisis’, 6 August 2021, https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/uk-foreign-aid-cuts-and-afghan-refugee-crisis

[6] Chatham House, ‘Advancing human rights through trade’, 26 May 2021, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/05/advancing-human-rights-through-trade/05-conclusion

[7] Labour Party, ‘Labour’s Trade Policy: Putting Workers First’, September 2021,  https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Trade-Policy-2021.pdf