Identifying the Party’s International Priorities

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Over the weekend the new Federal International Relations Committee (FIRC) met to discuss its priorities and strategy for the next three years.

The Committee’s prime purpose is managing the Party’s relations with like-minded parties, individuals and institutions in other countries, not least through our membership of the European (ALDE) and global (Liberal International – LI) Liberal families.

But FIRC also has a role advising the Party, including in both Houses of Parliament, on European and international policy. The composition of the Committee is particularly strong this triennial, with members coming from a wide range of relevant backgrounds, including academe, journalism, the Foreign Office (FCO) and the European institutions.

Europe must remain a key focus of the Liberal Democrats’ attention, despite Brexit, critically analysing how the Government is handling the evolving situation. The Committee’s Brexit sub-committee, established after the 2016 EU Referendum, will be resuscitated to help this process.

We will remain active members of ALDE, to whose Bureau Baroness Sal Brinton was recently elected. However, more effort now needs to be put into engagement with “wider Europe”, notably through such bodies as the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

On the global front, the Committee concurred with Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP’s key priority areas of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA), China and the United States, but highlighted the new dynamics in international relations caused by the challenge to the liberal rules-based order coming from both Beijing and Washington, the two current “super-powers”.

Liberal Democrats must remain active within Liberal International, which interestingly has dramatically expanded its membership in Africa in recent years. The Party is represented on three major LI project working groups: Human Rights (Phil Bennion), Climate Justice (Duncan Brack) and Combatting Fake News (Jonathan Fryer).

FIRC has oversight over the growing number of Liberal Democrat members living abroad, whose major concerns include unfreezing pensions and disenfranchisement in the EU caused by Brexit.

The Committee is also determined to reach out more to Diasporas within the United Kingdom, recognising that many of them have key foreign policy priorities.

We also reaffirmed our belief that far from being marginal, international issues are of major importance and indeed form an inalienable part of our Liberal Democrat identity.

* Jonathan Fryer is Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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  • Out of interest, Jonathan, has the team given any thought to the Chagos Islands? It may turn out to be an issue on the knife-edge of emerging post-Brexit foreign policy.

    On the one hand, if we support the rules-based order we should campaign to return the islands to Mauritius. On the other, what about the big US base there? Our policy choices on this issue will be relevant to our relationship with the USA and also the Commonwealth – which I suspect will on the whole be firmly in favour of our returning the islands, at least in public. A dilemma for Johnson.

    It seems to me that “the right thing to do” is clearly to return the islands. Will campaigning for this put Johnson on the spot? How will populists react to the Union Flag coming down on one of our last colonies? Our response might be that an “independent” Britain must have an ethical foreign policy or our independence is worthless. True patriotism should be about standing up for what is right.

    And while we’re about it (but this may lie outside the FIRC’s jurisdiction), how about campaigning to put the history of the British Empire on the schools syllabus?

  • Laurence Cox 25th Feb '20 - 11:49am

    @John McHugo

    if we support the rules-based order we should campaign to return the islands to Mauritius.

    Should we instead be offering the islanders independence? Freedom House ( says this about Mauritius:

    “Mauritius is home to an open, multiparty system that has allowed for the regular handover of power between parties through free and fair elections. However, the political leadership remains dominated by a few families, corruption is a problem, journalists occasionally face harassment and legal pressure, and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people face threats and discrimination.”

  • With the British economy failing under Johnson the number of British people seeking employment overseas is set to increase.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 26th Feb '20 - 8:46am

    Jonathan, could the Liberal Democrats produce two succinct pargraphs on where it stands in two interlinking areas. One would deal with inevitable changes taking place within the European Project which would include Brexit, the rise of Illiberal Democracy and much in between. The other would tackle pressures on the rules-based international order where issues range from the rise of China to paralysis of reform within the UN Security Council. In order to win votes and show clear Liberal leadership, the Party needs to know its own mind in these areas and prove it is ahead of the game.

  • John Hall
    If you are speaking about the West Bank then the settlements are regarded as illegal by the British government.

  • Peter Hirst 26th Feb '20 - 3:00pm

    Our main priority must remain the continent of Europe. The effect of Russian expansionism remains uncertain. The countries of eastern Europe remain vulnerable and if any are treated unfairly by the eu, we should speak out in support of them.

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