Election 17: what you need to know about UK foreign relations and policy

on June 5, 2017

One area which has been received little coverage in this election campaign is the parties’ policies regarding foreign relations. Dominika Suskova has been digging into where they stand.

The result of the general election on June 8th may affect a lot of policies relating to the UK’s relationships with other countries. The key focus has been on the country’s future approach to Brexit negotiations with the European Union — however, there is more to foreign policy and international relations than meets the eye.

The future of the UK’s diplomatic ties, trade relations and global military co-operation are all at stake following the UK’s decision to depart from the European Union. Here are just three ways your vote will affect them.

Election 2017 and trading outside the EU

One of the key areas of UK’s foreign policy is trade. While the UK remains a part of the European Union’s Free Trade Agreement probably until the end of its Brexit negotiations, the future of the UK’s trade deals has already been debated even before the triggering of the Article 50 in March 2017.

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the UK will pursue a new trade agreement with the EU — indeed, the 2017 Conservative party manifesto details the plans of negotiating “free trade between the UK and the EU’s member states”, but hints at plans to strike our own trade agreements with countries outside the EU.

However, the Institute for Government’s latest report Taking Back Control of Trade Policy, published in May 2017, suggests that the key to a good trade policy requires constant efforts to collaborate with businesses, to work across departments and to be open with consumers and the public — and the focus should be put on replicating the existing EU trade deals with countries such Canada, South Korea, Switzerland or Turkey.

9 steps to take back control of trade

Source: Institute for Government (2017)

Much of the focus on the future of Britain’s international trade across the major parties’ 2017 general election campaigns has been put on securing a free trade partnership with the EU.

The Conservative party’s main rival, the Labour party, has addressed the area in its manifesto, stating that the party will retain unrestricted access for the goods and services and minimise the tariff and non-tariff barriers even after the country leaves the EU.

The Liberal Democratic party has vowed to maintain Britain’s membership of the Single Market and opposes customs controls at the border.

The Green Party wishes to remain in the Single Market, just as SNP pledges for Scotland.

UKIP, meanwhile, want to negotiate a “bespoke UK-EU trade deal” but have also ruled out any “Brexit divorce bill”. It is unlikely to be possible to do both.


At the moment, perhaps the biggest challenge to the UK’s diplomatic relations is the present and the future relationship with the EU.

The Conservative party aims to begin Brexit negotiations just 11 days after the general election, if they win. But the UK-EU diplomatic relations have already suffered some tensions.

PM Theresa May responded to the Britain and EU relationship in the beginning of May, when she addressed the European press and European officials and accused them of threatening Britain and trying to affect the general election result.

She has also warned of ‘serious’ consequences for the ordinary people across the country if the Brexit talks don’t succeed.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, was among those who criticised May’s statements and said:

“Brexit is too important to be used as a political game in this election.”

He furthermore addressed his party’s promises towards UK’s diplomacy in his speech to the Chatham House think tank, claiming that Labour will pursue a ‘triple commitment’ to defence, development and diplomacy.

His intention to resolve potential conflicts through political action and refraining from using military force, however, have prompted some to describe him as ‘weak’ on national security.

Security and defence

In the months leading up to the general election, the UK’s national security has been put at risk with terrorist attacks in London and Manchester and a nationwide cyber attack on the NHS, causing the government to raise the threat level for international terrorism to ‘critical’ on May, 23rd 2017 (it has since been pushed down to ‘severe’ and remains severe even after the attacks in London in June).

The attacks have been referred to at the NATO summit in Brussels on May 25th, when the Alliance has been pushed for greater cooperation.

Following the terrorist attacks in London over the weekend, the PM Theresa May promised that the UK’s tolerance of extremism will change and urged for the greater counter-terrorism action to be taken, including the governance of the cyberspace.

The Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for solidarity and the preservation of democratic values and pledged support to the police.

But even before the latest attacks in London, the leaders of the political parties standing in the UK 2017 general election have been pressed on the topics of international and national security, cooperation and the UK’s position in the international defence.

One of the most crucial topics has been the Trident nuclear programme, Britain’s set of nuclear weapons in its fleet of submarines, which will face its renewal this year.

While the Green Party opposes the Trident renewal, Liberal Democrats wish to make a ‘step down the nuclear ladder’, maintaining a minimum deterrent and cutting down the number of submarines to three.

Both the Conservative and the Labour parties have supported the Trident renewal, although Jeremy Corbyn has suggested keeping the fleet without nuclear weapons.

The Conservative leader Theresa May has said that Labour ‘cannot be trusted’ to defend the country. Jeremy Corbyn has been questioned over firing nuclear weapons in case of Britain being under attack in the crucial leaders interrogation on BBC’s Question Time – and he has spoken against the ‘first use’ of them.

He also added that he wants to work with the United Nations on the proposed multilateral disarmament.

As for the contribution to the international defence, the UK remains one of the few NATO member countries that contribute 2% of GDP on defence. While most of the parties promised to keep this contribution, the Conservative party added that it has plans to increase the budget by at least 0.5% above inflation in every year of the parliament.

Follow all our election coverage including live video on election night on our #UKVotes17 page here, on our Facebook page, on Twitter and on Instagram @bhameastside

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  1. Pingback: UK election: Parties’ policies towards foreign relations | DEF&SEC News.

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