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Will Foreign Policy Shift Under Britain’s New Government?


William Hague is Britain's new foreign secretary. On his first day in government, he signaled that Britain's relationship with Europe will not be getting any closer.

He says that decision was made unanimously with his own party, the Conservatives, and with their coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

"It was not difficult to agree between us that neither party is in favor of handing any more powers to the European Union," he said.

He said the two parties had agreed that no proposal will be set out for Britain to join the euro.

Britain's relation with Europe was expected to be a major stumbling block in the coalition formed between the two parties. The Liberal Democrats have favored closer ties to the European Union.

But Mark Wickham Jones from Britain's University of Bristol says the Conservative euro-skepticism is likely to win out.

"The big possible change regards the relations with Europe -- already not terribly positive, but I think there is a sense in which they will be less positive under the Conservatives," said Jones. "Conservatives have clear antipathy for Europe, have said there's to be no major initiatives in Europe and the Liberal Democrats will be forced to accept that agenda," he said.

Foreign Secretary Hague said his government wanted to form closer relations with emerging economies - especially in South Asia, North Africa, and Latin America where, he said, "the economic action is".

He also indicated that under a Conservative government Britain may see some changes in its attitude toward the United States.

"David Cameron and I have always said we want a solid but not slavish relationship with the United State," he explaineds "No doubt that we will not agree on everything. But they remain in intelligence matters, in nuclear matters, in international diplomacy, in what we're doing in Afghanistan -- the indispensable partner of this country," Hague added.

Professor Michael Cox from the London School of Economics says a move to distance relations with the United States reflects a mood across Britain.

"Very much in the wake of Tony Blair's relation with George W. Bush during the Iraq war, there's been quite a lot of talk over the past few months and indeed years about Britain not being quite so slavish towards the United States and maybe pursuing policies more defined by Britain than its relation with the U.S," said Cox.

But, he says, he thinks any difference will be in rhetoric, rather than policy. Significantly, he says, Britain's policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan are unlikely to change.

Also unlikely to change, he says, is Britain's focus on development. He says the Department for International Development should continue to play an important role with a continued focus on issues like debt and the environment.

The big difference to Britain's foreign policy, says Kerry Brown from the London-based research group Chatham House, will be caused by having a coalition government in power.

"You know you're not probably going to get someone suddenly start some big unilateral move, some initiative, it's going to have to be about consensus," said Brown.

He says more thought may need to be put into big decisions, which might also come more slowly - and, he says, this may be a positive thing for foreign policy.

Brown also emphasized that the economy is the major concern of this new coalition - and no major foreign policy shifts are likely to be evident in the immediate future.

The new government that took power Tuesday evening is the first coalition Britain has had in almost 70 years.

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