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  • Writer's pictureTim Oliver

British Foreign Policy Must-Reads: April

In October I fell out of the habit of writing these lists of must-reads on all things British foreign policy. I partly blame an operation I underwent, but I also found myself busy most of the following Sundays. Decided I should restart it as a monthly list of the must-reads. A monthly list brings the benefit of screening out much of the noise to focus on the more significant, unique or broader pieces, especially academic journal articles, speeches and major reports. Here then is April: 

  1. Labour’s foreign policy—David Lammy in Foreign Affairs: The Case for Progressive Realism. Why Britain Must Chart a New Global Course.

  2. Economic security—Oliver Dowden at Chatham House: Britain’s economic security. The deputy prime minister, Rt Hon Oliver Dowden MP, shares his vision for balancing growth and security.

  3. Renewing UK FP—UCL: The World in 2040: Renewing the UK’s Approach to International Affairs. New report calls for ambitious reform of the Foreign Office and wider government machinery to safeguard future UK prosperity and security.

  4. Alliances—The Guardian: UK must nurture alliances in new era of global power politics, says policy adviser. In sweeping lecture on Britain’s ‘grand strategic moment’, John Bew warns ‘we cannot just manage risk, we are in a competition’

  5. Global turmoil—RUSI: UK Diplomacy and National Survival in the Global Turmoil of 2024. The world teeters on the edge of a wider conflict in both Ukraine and the Middle East. In Gaza, Kharkiv and Khartoum, life is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Modern British diplomacy is not suited to the chaotic and dangerous world of which Thomas Hobbes warned. What needs to change. 

  6. Trump—RUSI: Bracing for 2025: The UK and European Security Under a Trump Presidency. This paper examines the possibility of Donald Trump’s potentially radical programme of change, both at home and abroad, with a focus on the US foreign policy programme. It outlines the economic factors underpinning US defence and security and explores the question of alliances, especially in relation to Ukraine. The paper concludes with an overview of the impact of a second Trump presidency on UK and European defence priorities.

  7. Brexit—FT: We need to talk about Brexit. The UK's 2016 vote to leave the EU was the most dramatic political and economic decision for generations. But as the country prepares for a general election, it is no longer on the political agenda. This film examines why no political party wants to talk about it, why Brexit remains the elephant in the room for British business and how it could actually work better

  8. Brexit—New Statesman: The inside story of Brexit. We interview Tim Shipman about the third book in his definitive quartet.

  9. Defence spending—IoG: Rishi Sunak’s higher defence spending announcement does not add up. The prime minister should not be allowed to abdicate decisions about how to pay for his spending pledges.

  10. Defence spending—RUSI: Committing to 2.5%: Is Help at Hand for the UK's Defences? The recent announcement that the UK will commit to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by 2030 is welcome news for the country’s armed forces, even if how the increase will be funded remains as yet unclear.

  11. Taiwan—the Diplomat: Whisky or Weapons? Britain’s Changing Tone on Taiwan. Taiwan has quickly come to occupy a different role in British foreign policy amid growing perceptions of the “China threat.” 

  12. Central Asia—The Diplomat: UK Foreign Secretary’s Visit to Central Asia and Mongolia: An Urgent To-Do List. David Cameron is on a six-nation tour of Central Asia, underscoring the U.K.’s reinvigorated engagement with the region. 

  13. BBC World service—Political Quarterly: The BBC World Service: is it Waving or Drowning? Alban Webb: ‘Global Britain’ is as much a governing instinct as it is a statement of current policy: an idea that animates the United Kingdom's international relations. And for nine decades the BBC World Service, Britain's principal agent of public diplomacy, has been its exemplar. With a reputation as a trusted source of reliable news in over forty languages, the international BBC sustains a global capacity for intercultural dialogue founded on evidence-based journalism. At a time when digital media are rewriting the strategic communications playbook and reorganising our knowledge practices and behaviours, the BBC maintains a vital link between Britain and a transnational community of close to half a billion users. Yet, despite these evident strengths, recent confusion over the organisation and funding of the World Service means that its long-term future is in doubt. This article asks how and why it has come to this and what might be done to preserve the journalistic integrity and ‘soft power’ of the BBC World Service.

  14. EU Referendum—Political Studies Review: Braking and Exiting:  Referendum Games, European Integration and the Road to the UK’s Brexit Vote. Joseph Ganderson and Anna KyriaziThe UK’s in-out referendum on European Union membership is often attributed to an incompatibility inherent in the UK–EU relationship, or else a rising tide of Euroscepticism forcing a reckoning. We argue that the referendum should be understood as the culmination of parliamentary ‘referendum games’ in the preceding years, whereby backbenchers periodically applied pressure to office-seeking leaders who strategically defused this by promising public votes. These games were episodic and escalatory, coinciding with integrative European treaties which activated transient Eurosceptic backlashes. While referendum avoidance was personally rational, leaders’ repeated parlays created a standalone referendum politics, ratcheting up the intensity of backbench demands based on past promises and democratic renewal. After the Lisbon Treaty, a tipping point was reached, transforming calls for a ‘brake’ on integration to demand for binary ‘exit’ vote at the next treaty moment. This accompanied the Euro-area crisis in 2011, effectively ending David Cameron’s discretion to continue the game. To show this, we plot all mentions of EU-related referendums and adjacent terms in the House of Commons between 2000 and 2015. We descriptively identify five peak salience flares around EU treaty moments and then analyse 263 interventions  by Members of Parliament to show how referendum pressure ratcheted up over time.

  15. Pro-Europeanism—UKICE: Europhoria! Explaining Britain’s most pro-European moment, 1988-92. James Dennison: Britons have long been characterised as ‘reluctant Europeans’. This working paper expounds a period in which Britain was composed of highly ‘enthusiastic Europeans’ and, to explain it, proposes an expanded ‘calculation, cues, and community’ theoretical framework including emotions, events, non-material calculations, and a dynamic understanding of ‘Europe’. It thus contributes to explaining typically overlooked temporal variation in support for European integration. ‘Europhoria’ is thereafter explained using: (1) emotional, financial, rights-based, and geopolitical calculations driven by the emotional anticipation of ‘1992’ and trust engendered by unrealised negative predictions before the 1975 referendum; (2) ‘proactive’ – rather than ‘reluctant’ – domestic European policy leading to harmonious, influential, insider, partnership status; (3) benchmarking of comparable, better performing European economies; and – the only factor remaining today – (4) newfound belief that Europe was Britain’s most important international community. ‘Europhoria’ interplayed with a sense of European identity stimulated by the fall of the Berlin Wall and unusually ‘European’ cultural trends in media, sports, and arts. The removal or reversal of most of these factors -often at pan-European level – explains the British return to Euroscepticism thereafter.

  16. France—International Affairs: ‘BrOthers in Arms’: France, the Anglosphere and AUKUS. Jack Holland and Eglantine Staunton: Important French foreign policy dyads, such as relations between France and the United Kingdom and France and the United States, have consistently been subject to empirical, historical and policy analysis. However, France's relationship with the broader Anglosphere is rarely considered or conceptualized. This article theorizes France's relationship with the Anglosphere at a pivotal historical juncture. The 2021 announcement of AUKUS, a security partnership between Australia, the UK and the US, spectacularly excluded France despite a shared proclivity to use military force in defence of liberal international order. To analyse this vital contemporary case, we undertake a comparative, computer-aided discourse analysis of 540 political and media texts, triangulated with thematic analysis of 37 elite interviews. First, contributing to constructivist and ontological security theory, we develop a novel theorization of alliance politics, generally, through the concept of ‘brOthers in arms’, whereby a double identity inscription binds allies antagonistically together. Second, contributing to critical studies of foreign policy and research on national identity, we locate France–Anglosphere relations, specifically, towards the thick end of an alliance identity spectrum, held together in mutual alterity by complementary, competing and co-constitutive exceptionalisms. Third, contributing to studies of foreign policy and alliance politics, our analysis situates AUKUS within the fractious longue durée of France–Anglosphere relations.

  17. Food—Journal of European Public Policy: Political rhetoric vs practical reality of ‘Taking Back Control’: is the UK’s agri-food sector ready to break free from EU standards in the global arena? George Asiamah: In the vortex of the Brexit discourse, the phrase ‘taking back control’ emerged as a resonant mantra, encapsulating a desire for enhanced sovereignty and self- direction. Despite its widespread usage and political importance, the phrase’s practical implications remain underexplored in academic literature. This study introduces a novel analytical framework that conceptualises the notion of taking back control as an outcome of de-Europeanisation and aims to analyse its practical implications. It uses two case studies, Pathogen Resistance Treatment (PRT) or ‘chlorinated chicken’ and neonicotinoid pesticide bans, to investigate the intricate interplay between political aspirations and economic realities in the UK’s attempt to diverge from EU standards. It reveals that the process of ‘taking back control’ is not a straightforward assertion of sovereignty but is mediated by complex negotiations that consider the trade-offs between regulatory autonomy, market access, and environmental and health standards. The findings underscore the persistent influence of the EU on the UK’s regulatory landscape and the strategic considerations that underpin the UK’s approach to de-Europeanisation. This study contributes to the broader discourse on Brexit by offering empirical insights into the practical challenges and opportunities that the UK faces as it redefines its regulatory standards in the global political economy.

  18. Trust—Journal of European Public Policy: Establishing trust and distrust when states leave international organisations: the case of Brexit. Ben Christian and Dirk Peters: Although EU and UK participants in Brexit negotiations emphasise the role that trust and distrust played for them, existing Brexit research has largely disregarded this factor. From a trust perspective, withdrawals from international organisations are highly significant events. When states leave a common institution and their relationship with each other is deprived of previous institutional certainties, trust becomes both necessary and precarious. Building on insights from trust research in International Relations, we argue that the former partners gauge whether the other side can be trusted based on two types of signals: signals of benevolence and of integrity. Our analysis shows that during Boris Johnson’s premiership, the EU lost trust in the UK government’s benevolence and integrity, mainly because the UK repeatedly failed to honour previous commitments. Rishi Sunak’s government countered the signals sent by its predecessor. By demonstrating its integrity and benevolence, it succeeded in rebuilding trust and facilitated the conclusion of the ‘Windsor Framework’. This not only sheds light on an under-researched dimension of the Brexit process. It also contributes to trust research, which has yet to fully acknowledge both the significance of signals of trustworthiness and leadership transitions in creating windows of opportunity for changes in trust dynamics.

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