Britain's role in the world: Highlights from the Conservative Party Conference 2016

5 October 2016

"Britain is looking outwards" was the message that the Conservative Party wanted us to hear at this week's party conference. "Global Britain" was referenced in most speeches and was a core component of the international briefs.

Here is an overview from three speeches at the Conference that were relevant to international development. 

Priti Patel’s narrative

The Secretary of State made her first speech to Conference on Sunday afternoon, where she built upon the narrative she started when she was appointed in July. Making a defence of Britain’s aid commitment, she focused on: Britain’s place in the world, reforming aid, Conservative values, aid working in the national interest, and trade.

Patel pointed out that Britain is a country that “others look to for inspiration and leadership”, stressing that “we can and will play an active part in making our world a more peaceful and prosperous place.”

Like Secretaries of State before her, Patel assured Conservative voters that she’ll be driven by a value for money agenda, ensuring every penny goes to those who need it most. She was clear that she would be “demanding more” from the “best performing institutions.”

Patel further outlined bringing Conservative values into the Department for International Development (DFID). Her Department plans to: empower people, encourage trade, build open and democratic institutions, reduce barriers to trade, and champion growth and investment.

Perhaps worryingly to some, aid will also be increasingly focused on Britain’s national interest. She highlighted how conflicts around the world are destabilising our world and increasing migration, more money will be diverted to focus on these areas as per the Government’s Aid Strategy of November 2015. 

During her appearance at the reception held by Bond with the Conservative Friends of International Development (CFID), Patel said that Brexit had given the UK an opportunity to talk loudly about DFID’s work and show leadership on the global stage. In her speech at Save the Children’s Reception, there was less on national interest and more on delivering aid because it is the "right thing to do". She spoke about the moral imperative of our aid and recognising the global contribution we make.

Boris Johnson’s vision

Boris Johnson stressed the importance of the liberal international order, human rights and the rule of law, and warned against an arc of instability that is spreading across the world.

On Syria, Johnson said that bombing hospitals is stalling the peace process and worsening the refugee crisis. He also called attacks on civil society around the world deeply and dangerously wrong. He praised the UK’s commitment to 0.7% and stressed the role it played in building a better world.

Theresa May's speech

In her speech to Conference this morning, Prime Minister Theresa May said that she viewed the Brexit vote not just as a vote to leave the EU but "to call for a change in the way our country works - and the people for whom it works – forever."

In talking about the new role Britain will place in the world, May said: “In fact, now is the time to forge a bold, new, confident role for ourselves on the world stage. Keeping our promises to the poorest people in the world. Providing humanitarian support for refugees in need. Taking the lead on cracking down on modern slavery wherever it is found. Ratifying the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Always acting as the strongest and most passionate advocate for free trade right across the globe.”

About the author

Ali Louis headshot

Bond's public affairs and government relations manager, Ali has previously worked for Unicef UK and in parliament. She has an MA in International Politics and Development from Newcastle University.