You are here: UNA-UK statement on the appointment of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister

1 August 2019
Boris Johns at Chatham House

The major challenges facing Britain require global cooperation. To address issues like the climate crisis, conflict in the Middle East, pandemics and terrorism we need stronger links with our neighbours and the international community, not weaker ones.

We therefore welcome Mr Johnson’s pledge to pursue an "outward-looking and truly global Britain, generous in temper and engaged with the world" in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister.

UNA-UK also welcomes the emphasis on democracy and the rule of law and on the UK’s championing of equality at home and abroad. It will be important, though, for those words to be backed up by concrete actions and by a refreshed vision of Britain's role in the world.

In an era defined by increased connectivity, when events in one country can have global repercussions and when the most pressing threats we face are cross-border in nature, the line between international and national interests is fading fast.

There is also no inherent contradiction between a patriotic and a globalist outlook - indeed, British citizens can be proud of the role their country has played in building our rules-based international system. Successive governments have not succeeded in giving broad resonance to this messaging, which is all the more important given current trends. Mr Johnson is well-placed to articulate it now.

Doing so, however, will require a new narrative about the UK's future. Allusions to Britain’s "natural and historic role" and references to rekindling Britain’s past may not be helpful in this regard. Nor are they likely to be welcomed by many of the countries with which the UK seeks a deeper partnership post-Brexit (see, for instance, our report on perceptions of the UK).

In setting out to unite the country, UNA-UK hopes that Mr Johnson will be mindful of the urgent need for solidarity at the global level too. We hope he will set out, at the earliest opportunity, a vision that is forward-looking and values-driven, and honest about the UK’s historic and future role.  

In addition, almost three years after the introduction of the “global Britain” theme, we hope that the new Government will do more to demonstrate what this means in practice." Supporting the UN should be a key element of this. The UK has much to gain from strengthening the international system, which is essential to Britain's prosperity and security. The UK's role in fora such as the Security Council, as well as its major role in international development, are important levers of influence in the context of shifting global power dynamics and tensions.

In this regard, the UK's bids to host the UN Climate Change Conference and Gavi vaccine alliance pledging event in 2020 are positive. So too is the recent announcement of 250 troops to support the UN’s peace operation in Mali. We hope the UK will continue to add more substance to the "global Britain" agenda, from renewed efforts to fight poverty and boost girls' education, to more ambitious action to make the UN more effective.

The UN General Assembly's "High-Level Week" this September provides an opportunity for the UK to set out concrete implementation plans to tackle climate change and sustainable development. It is also a chance to signal a step-change in UK ambitions to make the UN more effective. Mr Johnson could announce greater financial support to the UN's cash-strapped human rights office, for example. He could also commit to more creativity on UN reform, and to stronger leadership by the UK in areas such as arms control and human rights.

In the past, Mr Johnson has made statements that were acutely at odds with the values set out in his recent speech. Going forward, we trust that he will champion human rights for all people, everywhere.

UNA-UK stands ready to work in good faith with the UK’s new leadership on this agenda and will continue to make the case for a values-driven Britain, delivering positive outcomes through global cooperation for British citizens and the wider world.


Image: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at Chatham House in London, 2 December 2016. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Flickr.