Britain’s new Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, has indicated that the new Labour government’s foreign policy will be based on the concept of “progressive realism.” Lammy is the proponent of this concept which advocates “using realistic means to pursue progressive ends.”

Progressive realism envisages the use of power in the service of just goals such as countering climate change, defending democracy, and advancing the world’s economic development, Lammy says in an article he wrote in the American magazine ‘Foreign Affairs’ dated April 17, 2024.

Among the basic ingredients of “progressive realism” are: an implacable hostility to Putin’s Russia; a mix of firmness and accommodation vis-à-vis China; and closer relations with the countries of the Global South, including India.

As per the ‘Foreign Affairs’ article, Lammy is committed to calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and also to working out a “Two State” solution to the Palestinian question.

Fifty-one-year-old Lammy, who is of Guyanese origin, had built his political career in the Labour Party as an ardent campaigner of social and racial justice.

“From the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the Labour Party has stuck to progressive principles, urgently calling for international law to be respected in full by all parties.

“The United Kingdom cannot end this terrible conflict (over Gaza). But it does have the capacity to surge aid to support rebuilding, and a key goal for the Labour Party is to work with international partners to recognize Palestine as a state, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution,” Lammy says.

As America’s cooperation will be essential in this endeavour, Lammy has promised to work with any regime that is established in the United States after the November 2024 Presidential election.

He wants to develop closer ties with Europe also, though he feels that the UK cannot now re-join the European Union (EU), a group from which it quit in 2020 to its detriment.

In his previous avatar as Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lammy had used harsh language against US President Donald Trump and the French Right Wing leader, Le Pen. But his line now is that the UK should work with any leader elected in the US or France.

Lammy described the emerging global situation as “messy and multipolar”. China has become a superpower, with an economy more than five times as large as the UK’s, he noted. There has also been a shift in power to a wider variety of States. As a result, geopolitics takes place on a much more crowded board.

Countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are striking bargains and setting their own agendas. Wars are increasing in scale and intensity. Democracies are on the back foot. Climate breakdown is no longer a future worry; it is already here, he laments.

Calling for bold UK initiatives to redeem the world, Lammy slammed past Conservative governments’ for pursuing inward looking policies. Lammy recalled that the UK left the EU “without a clear plan on what to do next.”

The Conservatives also treated with contempt the UK's global reputation for upholding the rule of law, he said. The UK left the European Convention on Human Rights. It tore up net-zero carbon emission commitments, throwing business plans into disarray.

Lammy described the Conservatives’ approach to the Global South as “callous” as it undermined the UK’s standing as a “development superpower.”

Instead of fighting for the hearts and minds of the new global middle class, the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson publicly recited a colonialist poem by Rudyard Kipling during a 2017 visit to Myanmar, Lammy recalled.

The government compromised one of the UK’s greatest international strengths — its soft power — by attacking institutions such as universities, courts, and the BBC, Lammy said, adding that the UK should champion multilateral causes, build institutions, defend democracy, stand up for the rule of law and combat poverty.

He lamented that democracies have become more economically dependent on authoritarian states, with the share of world trade between democracies declining from 74% in 1998 to 47% in 2022.

Western democracies have increased their dependence on China after it joined the WTO in 2001 with US help.

Lammy points out that Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates among others have acquired the power to shape their regional environments. As a result, they ignore the EU, UK and the US. And to maximise their autonomy, they strike deals with all the great powers.

Calling for corrective steps, Lammy said Western inaction has high costs. Russia’s Putin annexed Crimea, ushering in “the age of impunity.”

Lammy approved of the West’s taking Moscow’s threats seriously, describing Russia as a “long-term, generational threat that requires a long-term, generational response.”

The other danger is Russia’s getting the support of a large number of countries,” Lammy noted.

“In UN General Assembly votes over the past two years, countries that collectively represent approximately two-thirds of the world’s population have either abstained or voted against motions to censure Putin.”

“Many of those countries have rebuffed Western attempts to persuade them, accusing the West of having double standards and noting that its interest in their needs has been erratic at best.”

Given the emerging scenario, Britain’s policy should always be founded on relations with the US and Europe, Lammy said.

Americans need to convince Europeans to do more to protect their own continent’s security as the US has to focus more on Asia.

“To handle these changes, it is ever more important that the United Kingdom develops closer foreign and security cooperation with the EU,” Lammy said.

“The centre piece of UK-EU relationship should be a security pact that drives closer coordination across a wide variety of military, economic, climate, health, cyber, and energy security issues—and that complements both parties’ unshakable commitment to NATO, which will remain the foremost vehicle for European security.”

On Ukraine, he said that the UK must continue with its support to that beleaguered country because the future of European security depends on the outcome of the war there.

“The British government must leave the Kremlin with no doubt that it will support Kyiv for as long as it takes to achieve victory. Once Ukraine has prevailed, the United Kingdom should play a leading role in securing Ukraine’s place in NATO. European security will be the Labour Party’s foreign policy priority,” Lammy said.

On China, he said that the UK should simultaneously compete and cooperate with China, while acknowledging that the Chinese Communist Party poses “real” security threats.

But the UK should not ignore China’s importance to the British economy, he cautioned. “The UK should accept that no grouping of States can address the global threats of the climate crisis, pandemics, and artificial intelligence unless it cooperates with Beijing,” Lammy pointed out.

Lammy called for a UK-India Free Trade Agreement which is yet to see fruition. During meetings with the Indian diaspora and public addresses, Labour Party leader and the PM to be, Keir Starmer had affirmed that Kashmir is an internal issue and will be resolved by India and Pakistan. This is a major change from Labour’s consistent pro-Pakistan stance.

For conducting foreign policy successfully, the UK must re-establish itself as a trusted and reliable partner—particularly with allies. Labour will seek to improve the country’s trade and investment relationship with Europe, as well as with India and the United States, Lammy said.

Though a Labour government would not seek to re-join the EU, the Single Market, or the Customs Union, there are plenty of pragmatic steps the UK can take to rebuild trust and cooperation and reduce barriers to trade with the EU, Lammy said.