Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Rebooting the UK Foreign Secretary Role

Richard G Whitman, Chatham House

Johnson image (not from article) from

With Jeremy Hunt replacing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, the UK government has the opportunity to step back and reconsider some of the key messages of its foreign policy.

Boris Johnson was the least successful of all Britain’s post-Second World War foreign secretaries during one of the most important and demanding periods. Where gravitas and grasp of detail were needed Johnson supplied bon mots [sic] and appeared to be preoccupied with domestic party politics to the cost of building the confidence of the UK’s allies and partners.

During Johnson’s term as foreign secretary the public diplomacy [JB emphasis] aspects of British foreign policy were particularly poor. The headline message of ‘Global Britain’ was intended to counteract the perception that Brexit was an act of insularity and reassure allies and friends that a post-Brexit UK would be internationally engaged and redefining its global profile.

But for many overseas governments and commentators (and especially those within Europe), ‘Global Britain’ was symptomatic of a vacuousness in British diplomatic thinking and action, and Johnson was tainted by association with the Leave campaign, perceived as unscrupulous by many across the EU. Notwithstanding the UK’s ongoing diplomatic, development, military and security commitments outside of the EU, Johnson’s performance fuelled a sense that the UK had lost a grip on both the medium and the message of its foreign policy. ...

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