UKIP’s Scorched Earth Foreign Policy

This week, via a YouTube video, Prince Jan Zylinski of Poland denounced UKIP’s disparaging attitude against Polish immigrants in Britain and challenged Nigel Farage to a duel replete with swords. Farage, busy on the campaign trail in advance of the May 7 General Election, responded through a spokesman, saying he wasn’t intending to take Zylinski up on his offer.[1]

Image courtesy of Duncan Hull, © 2014, some rights reserved
Image courtesy of Duncan Hull, © 2014, some rights reserved

Considering that UKIP’s pockets of support within Britain will at least amount to a smattering of support next month, an analysis of the rise of the party and its policies within mainstream British politics and its potential impact on foreign policy is in order. It would be an understatement to say that UKIP’s entry into national politics in the last two decades has sparked a conversation about British identity. Much of the debate has been introspective, focused on the integration of immigrants into Britain and the contested and plentiful ideas of what is and what should be ‘British’. Very little of the conversation has surrounded what UKIP’s anti-Europeanisation stance means for the UK’s foreign policy, although UKIP’s rise has certainly affected ordinary political discourse. Although UKIP have gathered support by using the immigration issue as a catchall scapegoat, it is important to remember that a vote for a party in the general election is not just an issue vote, but rather an affirmation of support for that party’s platform, including their foreign policy.

The anecdote of Zylinski’s invitation to draw swords illustrates the obvious point that Britain’s relationship with countries from which the greatest numbers of immigrants come faces potential strain. Relying on the reductionist and misleading stereotype of the job-stealing, non-English speaking immigrant, UKIP has met some success in blaming a slew of economic and social issues on the 624,000 immigrants to the UK.[2] Though in reality fewer of the net migrants are actually from the European Union, the main policy proposal from UKIP entails leaving the European Union, to “take back control of our borders” and “negotiate our own trade deals again” according to its current manifesto, Policies for People.  Though UKIP is not the only political party to call for a fundamental renegotiation of Britain’s membership in the EU, the party has made this it’s hallmark and goes further on this issue, calling for an immediate withdrawal. In praxis this would have a huge range of short and long-term effects on the regional political and economic order and would put almost every aspect of UK foreign policy into flux. Though the Foreign Secretary during the 1971-72 negotiations, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, said that, “It seems to me that the only way to preserve our independence for the future is to join a larger grouping. It may seem paradoxical but I believe it to be true,” UKIP’s raison d’être is the antithetical belief.[3]

An essential component of this policy programme would be to cut the UK overseas aid budget to less than half of the current £9 billion. Despite recently having passed a law committing itself to spending 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on aid, making it the first G7 country or major economy to meet the United Nations spending target set in 1970, UKIP promises to cut this budget to 0.2% of the GNI as well as to close the Department for International Development altogether.[4] This proposal goes beyond a budget- it is a total reverse of British commitment to promoting international development and playing a prominent role in humanitarian conversations. Aside from angering NGOs and globally-minded taxpayers, this shift would mean a reduction of British influence in the international community.

Additionally, however combative their rhetoric, UKIP makes a case for doveish policy in their manifesto, arguing that, “Britain has been involved in too many wars which have not brought peace, but instead have made our world an even more dangerous place.”[5] However, their manifesto calls for an increase in defence spending, an increase of manpower levels and capability within the Army, and a commitment to the Trident nuclear programme. It appears that it is not so much the idea of the use of force that UKIP rejects but it’s purpose- whereas protecting the “British sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Gibraltar and the Falklands is a priority for UKIP, military commitments in the Middle East are specifically opposed.[6] Though the current manifesto cites an interest in pursuing a “peaceful two-state solution” to the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict, the persistent undercurrent of Islamophobic rhetoric from party candidates would suggest that impartiality in this endeavour would be sparse.[7]

Although their inflammatory xenophobic remarks get the most media attention, it it worth noting that UKIP’s vision for British foreign policy boils down to the idea that the UK is fundamentally unique. For them, the UK is not only different from other European countries on many levels, but British interests are also discrete and require unfettered independence. The implication of these suggestions on British involvement in other multilateral organizations, particularly NATO, cannot be understated. Clearly, UKIP’s conception of Britain is closer to the global power it once was rather than that of a medium-sized European country, which informs its projections for its role on the world stage.  Whereas the initial decision to apply for membership in the European Communities in 1961 was in part due to the recognition of declining British influence in the world, UKIP’s self-written history book tells a different tale and suggests a different role for Britain by pinpointing an enemy other within.

On a more basic level though, the rejection of the notion of mutual interests and alliances is worrying in and of itself, but the implication that the UK would do better to “foster closer ties with the Anglosphere” is even more so.[8] The notion that the main mutual interest that should underpin modern alliances is a shared language or culture, based on prior colonization by Britain, is at best short-sighted and excessively exclusive and at worst racist. Though the Commonwealth of Nations as an intergovernmental organization certainly has its place, in a globalized world where the very nature and role of diplomacy is shifting, Britain would do well to analyse its interests based on concrete economic and strategic factors rather than the cloudy lens of Anglo-centrism. For example, Britain’s controversial decision to become a founding member of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank may have angered the US, the other half of the so-called ‘special relationship’, but few would argue that it is most likely sage for Britain to have an economic partnership with the formidable rising power in the region and the second largest world economy.

Though UKIP’s rejection of the multicultural, internationally-committed Britain and British foreign policy is based on a narrow conception of the country’s heritage and shared values, many of the problems that are cited by multiple parties in the lead-up to the upcoming General Election are not uniquely British problems. Issues related to crime, the environment, terrorism, and the economy are by their very nature international problems because they cross borders in today’s globalised world. The UK is economically and otherwise dependent on other countries and has a greater power to influence and prosper in some form of partnership with other states, however basic that may be. Though this may not be ideal for some, or allow for a great degree of autonomy, it is reality and must be the foundation for crafting a foreign policy fit to purpose. Independence, the ‘I’ in UKIP, translates in praxis to something closer to Isolationism.


[2] In 2014. Net migration closer to 300,000.

[3] Speech reprinted as Our European Destiny, Conservative Group for Europe, 1971, quoted in



[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid,

[8] Ibid.

‘Teeming Shores’ is a biweekly column that broadly covers issues related to global migration and how the movement of peoples can reshape traditional conceptions of sovereignty and security. The title is referential to the sonnet “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty in America.

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