Annual Policy Review 2015

Foreign affairs

Foreign affairs


  • European Union referendum commitment
  • Successful culmination of military intervention in Afghanistan
  • Humanitarian aid in areas of war and health crises, including Syria and West Africa
  • Progress in nuclear deal with Iran
  • Continuation of 0.7% aid commitment

1More-to-doMore to do

  • Ensuring political and economic stability in the period of uncertainty leading up to the EU referendum
  • Greater clarity on the UK’s position towards immigration
  • Ensuring the completion of nuclear deal with Iran
  • Enshrining commitment of 0.7% aid commitment into law

1UnexpectedThe unexpected

  • Rise of UKIP
  • Islamic State


  • EU reform made a national priority
  • Aiding the recovery of war-torn state of Afghanistan and withdrawal of troops
  • Fight against sexual violence in conflict



The Government’s foreign policy continues to be dominated by the ongoing debate around the UK’s membership of the European Union.

The Conservatives have committed to a referendum in 2017, while all parties talk of reform and treat the prospect of further integration very cautiously. The Government’s stance is increasingly straining relationships with European allies, and has created an air of uncertainty among the business community, with a possible knock-on effect on investment.

As UKIP have risen in visibility and popularity, the Tories and increasingly Labour have struggled to find a means of out-manoeuvring them. Immigration and EU membership have become crucial battlegrounds.

The Prime Minister hopes to outflank UKIP through delivering reform of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Some sort of control on free migration and reducing the UK’s financial contributions are particularly high on Mr Cameron’s agenda in order to resonate with wavering Tory voters, as well as quelling dissatisfaction amongst his own backbenchers. But neither seems a likely prospect, with Mr Cameron being told in no uncertain terms by his Scandinavian counterparts that limits to migration would be a difficult pill for EU members to swallow. And the ‘surprise’ £1.7 billion EU bill for the UK has served only to remind voters of the vast sums of money involved in EU membership (despite that the UK has previously received payments from the EU) and the UK’s apparent powerlessness to resist them.

Beyond the European Union, the UK has had to respond to new global threats. The rise of Islamic State has shifted foreign policy towards anti-terrorism and protecting UK interests in the face of increasing threats to our national security. With the continued escalation of the conflict in Syria and Islamic State’s dominance in Iraq, the UK has been under pressure from the international community to join military action against the group.

The rise of UK nationals travelling to Iraq and Syria to join military factions and take part in violence or extremism has seen the government introduce new powers to combat this trend. The Home Office have begun seizing the passports of those considering travelling to these areas, and police have been given extra powers to arrest those suspected of participating in terrorist activities overseas.

With the appointment of a new Foreign Secretary, the government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid was again called into question. Shortly after his appointment, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond argued there was no need to enshrine this target into law because the government is already meeting the United Nations target, with the comments attacked by his coalition partners. However, in the short term at least the government remains fully committed to aid spending, and has provided humanitarian assistance in Syria, as well as joining the fight to combat ebola in West Africa.

Ongoing negotiations with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme have continued, with Iran agreeing to curb the programme in exchange for United Nations sanctions being lifted. While the deadline has already been extended once this year, Mr Hammond has suggested a further extension may be possible if there is evidence of enough progress.

The UK government has increased its fight against sexual violence in conflict, hosting the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June. Former Foreign Secretary William Hague was appointed as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, and emphasised the importance of firm action following the conference.

The Government came to power hoping for a steadied foreign policy: less of the traditional Tory headbanging on Europe, and fewer of the energy-sapping military entanglements of the Labour years. Things have not quite gone to plan, though, and defining the UK’s position in Europe and indeed the world remains as big task for this Foreign Secretary as any. It will remain a major job in the years ahead.