Everything we do now as a party must have an international dimension

As if Brexit was not enough of an economic self-inflicted wound, the pandemic has struck at our very soul.

It is predicted that the world will have changed after the pandemic with the irony that China, where the virus originated, strengthened economically (although not in perfect shape because of “Belt and Road Initiative” debts owed by others and global supply chains broken), the USA weakened and Britain and the European Union, divided from each other, struggling not to become a plaything of those two superpowers.

However, this is not to say Tom Arms’ recent LDV articles on the crisis should be panda-ring to the originators of the panda-emic. Authoritarian regimes lack transparency and duck responsibility. They are also ruthless. It is now well known that China not only hid the virus’ existence for weeks, but suppressed Taiwan’s attempts to alert the World Health Organisation. This meant we all had less time to prepare for the disaster when it eventually spread from China.

Most effective in dealing with the crisis so far are our democratic and like-minded friends Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. The authorities of these countries have been rightly extensively praised for being transparent, for saving lives by having the necessary stocks of medical equipment ahead of time and for taking the right measures – but the fight for us all is by no means over, including in China.

Can Britain and its European partners adapt to the new world which seems to be shaping up? Both will find themselves more vulnerable than ever to predators which do not share our values and which are already undermining our democratic system through disinformation campaigns. Liberal International and the European External Action Service – amongst many others – are working hard to counter these.

This has also led to the acknowledgement more than ever by policy-makers that the boundaries between domestic and international policies have dissolved. We have known that for some time when it comes to climate change and the environment. But now it is increasingly so when it comes to, for instance, health, employment and education reforms to prepare our work forces for a tougher competitive future. That is why Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has emphasised for the first time the European Commission’s “geopolitical” mission, intricately linking all its domestic and foreign policy issues.

There is an opportunity for the Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) to assist our party here. Rather than limiting itself to its statutory quarterly meetings, it should be a dynamic organism within the party, helping guide party policy-making rather than leaving it up largely to the Federal Policy Committee (FPC). New FIRC Chair Jonathan Fryer is making a better connection by sitting on both FPC and having attended the briefings of the Parliamentary party Foreign Affairs Team. A full-scale review of the party’s pre-Brexit policy paper “Britain at the Heart of a Changing World” should be used also as a mechanism to integrate our domestic with our foreign policy agendas.

The Lib Dems Overseas, one of the three Lib Dems Abroad local parties totalling over 2,000 members in more than seventy countries and reporting to the FIRC, has the network to feed expertise to the party and to help make this happen.

* George Cunningham is Chair of the Lib Dems Abroad Steering Committee and an Elected Member of the Federal International Relations Committee, Twitter: @GFCunningham

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Denis Loretto 14th Apr '20 - 11:20am

    I agree completely with this article. As I have posted in another thread last week, at a time when the pressures towards hunkering down behind national boundaries will increase it has never been more important for Liberal Democrats to live up to the principle laid down in our constitution – “Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services. Setting aside national sovereignty when necessary, we will work with other countries towards an equitable and peaceful international order and a durable system of common security.”

  • I absolutely agree with George Cunningham’s article. Watching as it ceases to be possible to not rock the boat while the Government flounders about, making the Corona virus crisis worse, is it perhaps time to engage with the Labour Party, now apparently more pro European, to put maximum pressure on the Government, at least to extend the Brexit deadline?

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