Think Tanks
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

UK Public says Coalition Government has Changed Foreign Policy for the Worse

According to a new Chatham House-YouGov Survey, the UK public overwhelmingly believes that the coalition government has changed UK foreign policy for the worse. There is also scepticism about interventionism, with nearly half of all respondents saying Britain should not involve itself in any way in uprisings like those in Egypt and Libya. Voters said that the government is contributing too much to the EU and overseas aid which doesn't enhance security and well-being.

The findings emerge from a poll of almost 2,000 electors across Britain, and a separate survey of almost 850 opinion-formers on the YouGovStone panel of business leaders, politicians, academics and journalists. The intention is to assess the differences in opinion between these two groups which represent competing domestic audiences that the British government needs to address.

Key findings include:

  • By a clear margin, most people think the most important focus of British foreign policy should be protecting its borders, including counter-terrorism; out of a list of ten items, the public's lowest priority is dealing with international crises.
  • The four greatest threats to Britain (from a list of 12) are thought to be international terrorism, interruptions to energy supplies, organized crime (including drug- and people-trafficking) and instability in the world's financial system. Climate change is seen as far less of a threat.
  • 40% think Britain's foreign policy over the past year has damaged Britain's reputation abroad; only 6% think it has enhanced its reputation. Regarding the Arab Spring, 64% think Britain should either not get involved in pro-democracy uprisings at all (47%) or do so 'only if it benefits national interest' (17%).
  • The biggest contributing factor to Britain's international reputation is thought to be the fact that English is a global language of business and diplomacy. However, by far the most popular cause is 'adequately equipping our armed forces in the field': as many as 64% think the UK spends too little on this, while just 5% say too much is spent.

'It's surprising that both the opinion-formers and public groups place a low foreign policy priority on more traditional security threats, such as preventing WMD proliferation and dealing with international crises, as well as on weak and fragile states such as Yemen and Pakistan,' says Robin Niblett, Director, Chatham House.

Former FCO minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, a contributor to the survey analysis, says: 'The real challenge of British foreign policy is the need to do more with less. In the survey, many still hanker for a role Britain is no longer equipped to play. The consequences of cuts have been on embarrassing display as the generals have struggled to mount an adequate British contribution to the NATO Libyan operation.'

When surveyed about Britain's diplomatic ties to eight nations, China tops by far the list of countries the UK should get closer to whilst the EU tops the negative ratings - 15% think the UK should have stronger ties, while as many as 35% want weaker ties.

Notes to Editors

Read the Chatham House-YouGov Survey Results and Analysis >>

Survey Website >>

A range of Chatham House experts are available to comment on the Survey. Please contact the Press Office.

Get more out of life! Join CSSC for only £4.95pm!