Bob Seely is the MP for the Isle of Wight.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister put a critical new element of global Britain in place by merging aid and diplomacy – and creating a super-department from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.
In Boris Johnson’s words, the merger aims to create a whole-Government approach. Although there are some Conservatives uncomfortable with the merger, it’s the right move.
We know that nations that successfully integrate the different arms of their overseas policies have more potential influence. The totality of their overseas policy becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Under our current arrangements, British foreign policy has risked being less than the sum of its parts, not only because of a lack of integration, but also because it is divided between a smorgasbord of Government departments: the Foreign Office, Defence, DfID, the Department for International Trade, the Cabinet Office, Downing Street… even the Home Office and BEIS have been funding overseas projects.
As a soldier in Iraq, I will never forget asking DfID representatives in Basra how many aid projects there were in the city and being told that they didn’t know, or of patrolling in the Afghan desert past empty ‘schools’ – in reality extraordinarily expensive huts – that would never be used to teach children. Throughout the world, there has been a disconnect between British aid and other elements of our overseas policy.
Last year, James Rogers from the Henry Jackson Society and I wrote our vision for Global Britain. We produced a series of cutting-edge ideas.
We did so in part because we saw how authoritarian states were using hybrid forms of struggle against democratic nations. We didn’t believe Britain or other free states should be like them, but we did need to learn from them and to be more joined-up in our overseas policy and use our power more efficiently. The foreword to that report was written by Johnson, shortly after he resigned as Foreign Secretary.
One of the ideas we proposed that grabbed the Prime Minister’s eye was the merging of DfID and the FCO. This merger won’t result in cutting aid, but it will result in an important first step of aligning aid with our diplomacy to create a more integrated foreign policy
Is this the be all and end all? No. It is a great start, but there is more we need to do to bring our overseas policy into the modern era.
First, to give vision to our aims for this century, we should unite our global policy around three great campaigns: freedom of trade, freedom from oppression, and freedom of thought.
Second, we need to rethink the art of thinking strategically, and do so by establishing a National Strategy Council to develop a global grand strategy for the UK and drive cross-government foreign policy integration. This new National Strategy Council should evolve out of the existing National Security Council. Every decade, the new National Strategy Council should lead a National Global Review. This should be needs-driven, not cost-driven, and encompass future Strategic Defence and Security Reviews.
Third, more DfID funds should be spent in two key institutions: the BBC World Service and the Armed Forces. First, the BBC World Service (both TV and radio) should be mandated by the new FCO to become the global broadcast of integrity on all major audio and visual platforms. It should be funded primarily from the “international development” budget and that funding assured to enable long-term investment. Funding should be earmarked at up to £1 billion per annum.
Second, all UK peacekeeping should be funded through overseas aid, with savings in the MoD budget used to increase the UK’s military capability.
Those ideas are for the future. What we have yesterday was an important step to an integrated Whitehall machine, as well as evidence that the Government is getting back on track by offering the radical and innovative ideas it was elected to bring to life.