We need a new international narrative

For the last four years the Liberal Democrats have been intensely focused on stopping Brexit, but we cannot ignore the fact that we failed to win that argument and Brexit is going to happen next Friday. Many of us hope that at some stage in the future Britain will rejoin the European Union. However, we need to adjust to the new reality. There is a strong case for crafting a clear political narrative that addresses major domestic problems such as the strain on public services (including the NHS), homelessness and the growing gap between rich and poor. But it would be wrong to concentrate only on national or local concerns, important though these are.

The Conservative government is championing the notion of a Global Britain, which they see largely as an economic concept, export-oriented and with more than a whiff of imperial nostalgia. Though commercial relations with our European neighbours are bound to remain significant, whatever the outcome of EU-UK trade talks, greater emphasis will be put on reaching out to other markets around the world. This will probably involve closer diplomatic ties with countries that do not necessarily share all our values.

I believe this all means that the Liberal Democrats need to shape an alternative international narrative that is values-based, in particular promoting the principles of human rights and environmental responsibility. Human rights are under siege in many parts of the world, from China to Cameroon. And as we have seen from recent statements by the US President and the Australian Prime Minister, powerful forces resist accepting the urgent demand to respond to climate change. It’s all too tempting as Liberal Democrats, having had our fingers burned in last month’s general election, to refocus entirely on pavement politics, at which we remain especially adept. But we should simultaneously lift our gaze up from potholes and reassert our belief in international cooperation, a global rules-based order (including respect for human rights and sustainability). The old Liberal Party, as a founder member of Liberal International, had a slogan “If You’re Liberal, You’re International!” It is time to resuscitate that spirit and to make the Liberal Democrats the natural home for people who have a truly global vision, as well as a passion for justice and transparency.

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

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


  • Laurence Cox 28th Jan '20 - 9:38am

    While I agree that rejoining the EU should be a long-term goal for Lib Dems, I think that we also need a shorter-term goal in that direction: to rejoin the EEA, which we leave by default when we leave the EU. There is no reason why the EEA should not have a third group of countries (non-EU and non-EFTA) and this could also encompass those countries in the Balkans wishing to join the EU.

  • David Becket 28th Jan '20 - 10:24am

    For a start we would look more like a dedicated international party if we took the ridiculous outdated message “Stop Brexit” off the front page of our web site. The alternative page with “Winning Here” posters have little credence after December. If we are going to be taken seriously and develop international policies as suggested here we need to move on. There is also still too much of Jo on the web site.
    This matter has been raised on LDV earlier. I see no action. I see no sign of HQ listening to members and I see no leadership.

  • Toby Keynes 29th Jan '20 - 9:30am

    Absolutely right.
    Our leadership’s response to Donald Trump’s proposals on Israel / Palestine will be a very clear test of our commitment to “a global rules-based order”, for a start.

  • Ianto Stevens 29th Jan '20 - 3:37pm

    Strongly agree with the original post, and with David and Toby. We need to believe in, vigorously promote and become widely known for some big ideas. Do we all know what some of these are?
    As a long-time Lib (and then Lib Dem) voter, I joined the party in 2017, nudged by Brexit but remembering that the Liberals had successfully campaigned for devolution and believed in worker participation. There is life after Brexit.

  • If I can address the how rather than what, we should take advantage of Brexit and boost our diplomatic resources. We were world renowned for our diplomatic expertise and there’s no reason why we should not again. Future international issues will require the building of alliances and diplomacy is the way to do this on the ground rather than from a centralised Foreign Office.

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