You are here: UK sets out strong vision for "Global Britain" but playing by the rules begins at home

20 September 2017

UK Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the UN General Assembly today. The 21-minute speech contained a powerful vision for the role the UK could play as a supporter of the "international system with the United Nations as its heart". 

It has been praised as a rebuttal to US President Trump's remarks yesterday, which outlined a narrow interpretation of sovereignty. UNA-UK was pleased by May's acknowledgement of the "special responsibility" that the UK has as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and her support for the Secretary-General's reform agenda. 

However, for the UK to embrace this role, it must first ensure its own conduct does not impede efforts to realise the Prime Minister's vision.

UNA-UK’s research suggests that UK performance is inconsistent. On peacekeeping and overseas aid, the UK has a positive record, although the announcement - made earlier by International Development Secretary Priti Patel - that the UK could hold back 30% of core funding to overstretched UN humanitarian and development agencies will cause some alarm.

When it comes to issues such as arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, the UK is falling short of discharging its "special responsibility".  

Lord Wood of Anfield, Chair of UNA-UK, said,

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to say that the major challenges we face do not stop at national borders. We welcome her assertion that the solution lies with our multilateral system, and that, at present this system is not delivering for all.


But the Prime Minister needs to recognise that playing by the rules must start at home. The UK’s  conduct in selling weapons for use in Yemen and boycotting nuclear ban talks has an eroding effect on our rules-based international system which the Prime Minister herself said supports the national interest.


We hope the Prime Minister uses this speech as the starting point of a process of developing a truly comprehensive strategy for a Global Britain, so that in future our deeds will match our words.

Global Britain Scorecard

Earlier this week, United Nations Association - UK (UNA-UK) released a scorecard that looks at whether the UK is living up to its vision for a "Global Britain".

The scorecard analyses seven foreign policy issues that are indicative of the UK's current contribution to the rules-based international system, and assesses the UK's performance using the words of UN officials, cross-party committees of MPs and the UK's attendance and voting record as part of UN processes.

Analysis reveals that the UK is making a positive contribution in the areas of UN peacekeeping and development aid. However, the UK's conduct on arms exports and nuclear disarmament is undermining the international system, with harrowing consequences for people in places like Yemen. There have also been missed opportunities in preventing atrocities, climate change and human rights.

Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak