UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy and Global Affairs

Annual Survey – 2022

The British Foreign Policy Group’s (BFPG) Annual Survey of UK Public Opinion on Foreign Policy finds the UK in a state of transition, with Brexit and the pandemic receding, but the war in Ukraine, tensions in alliances, and the cost-of-living crisis, forging a new period of uncertainty for Britons.

The BFPG’s Annual Survey, in partnership with Opinium, is the leading study of British attitudes on international affairs and the 2022 survey is the most extensive ever undertaken. Public opinion is becoming an increasingly powerful force in shaping foreign policy decisions in the UK and among our key allies – affecting defence choices, spending, trading relationships and climate commitments.

Key findings:

  • Global Britain: More than a quarter (27%) of Brits have never heard of the term ‘Global Britain’, and only 12% of Brits believe they fully understand its meaning.
  • Trust: Trust in the Government to make foreign policy decisions on behalf of the British people’s interests has fallen over the course of the past two years. Just 35% of Brits now trust the UK Government on foreign policy, and 51% actively distrust the Government.
  • Pride: 43% of Brits are proud of the role the UK plays in the world, and 40% are not proud, with pride highly linked to views of the Government. Hence, 67% of Conservatives are ‘proud’ and 66% ‘patriotic’, while just 24% of Labour voters are ‘proud’ but 37% ‘patriotic’.
  • Globalisation: Recognition of the benefits of globalisation to the UK overall (was 66%, now 58%), and to areas outside of London (was 54%, now 46%), have declined since 2021.
  • Alliances: Two-thirds of Brits (67%) believe that international relationships and cooperation make the UK more resilient. But many perceive a deterioration in the UK’s relationships.
    • Almost a third of Brits (29%) don’t believe the UK has any particularly close allies.
    • Germany (63%) is judged as the most likely to act responsibly in the world, above France (55%) and America (51%). Only 27% of Brits trust India to act responsibly.
  • America: USA remains Britons’ choice as the UK’s closest ally (42%). But half of Brits (50%) believe the instability in American politics has weakened this alliance, and that America’s fragile society and democracy will compel its focus inwards for the near future (55%).
  • The EU: Most Brits support a wide range of cooperation areas with the EU, with the most popular being to reduce trading barriers (55%), to facilitate freedom of movement of people (41%), research and academia (40%), and cooperation on global geopolitical issues (39%).
  • Reputation: Brits judge the UK’s pandemic response (38%), joining AUKUS (37%), and defending Ukraine against Russia (37%) as giving the biggest boost to our global reputation.
  • Foreign Aid: The largest single group of Brits (34%) think the UK’s aid budget should remain reduced into the future, a further 24% think the 0.7% commitment should only be restored when HMG finances reach pre-pandemic levels, and 17% want it restored now.
  • Threats: The three most common security threats perceived by Britons are, in order, climate change (42%), international terrorism (36%), and the rise of China as a world power (34%).
  • China: 81% of Brits do not trust China to act responsibly in the world. A large plurality of Britons (45%) view both Russia and China as equally dangerous to the UK’s interests, and fewer than one in five (19%) support the UK pursuing economic engagement with China.
  • Military: Britons remain sceptical of UK military deployment and only support a limited scope of intervention scenarios. The largest group (37%) only authorise responses to direct attacks on British soil or British assets, or in the case of humanitarian disasters or genocide.
  • Afghanistan: The largest group of Britons (40%) think earlier preparations should have been made to ensure a more orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. But just 19% think the UK should have maintained a presence in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal date.
  • Climate Action: Support for the UK’s international climate action leadership remains robust (66%). But it is assumed that this will mean we need to make the domestic transition on net-zero at a faster pace than our peers (48%), and a majority of Britons believe the costs of the transition will be greater for the disadvantaged than the wealthier in society (51%).

Read the full report here: