Britain in the Middle East: Does it Still Have a Role?

Tuesday 9 November 2021, 5:00-7:00pm GMT
Britain in the Middle East: Does it still have a role?


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Opening words: PVC (International) Professor Philip Gilmartin


Moderator and Discussant: Sir Tom Phillips (MESG)

Rt Hon. Alistair Burt, former Minister for the ME and North America  

Sir Richard Dalton (MESG) 

Sir Vincent Fean (MESG) Chair of Trustees, Balfour Project Charity

Britain has some strengths in the Middle East – friendships, trade, investment, culture, military presence and aid programmes. But its status as an influencer of events is not assured.  The region is unruly and its powers go their own way.  Britain lacks leverage and is not a heavyweight in the competition for bilateral advantages.  Its reputation for policy innovation, effectiveness and reliability has suffered since 2003.  Moreover, its alliances are problematic: Britain’s hand no longer contains EU cards and, as the scramble out of Afghanistan showed once again, the US will always give its own counsels far more weight than it gives relations with Westminster politicians.

British diplomatic activity will remain intense: there will be Security Council debates, multilateral discussions about conflict in different formats, in-country partnerships to sustain, all kinds of commerce to foster, arms sales to promote and citizens to support.  But what will this activity amount to when confronted with the big issues – regional security, climate change, Palestine, Saudi-Iranian rivalry, international terrorism, economic development, and governance and rights?  What changes in policy could HMG consider to reduce the risks, benefit from the opportunities and promote its values?



Rt Hon.  Alistair Burt was an MP for thirty-two years, retiring in 2019. During his ministerial career he served in the FCO as Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and North America between 2010-2013, and as Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa between 2017-2019, combining the role as Minister of State, DFID during the same period. He is now a Distinguished Fellow of RUSI, and is on the Council of the European Council for Foreign Relations. He is also currently Chair of the friendship group between the UAE and the UK, and Pro-Chancellor of Lancaster University.

Sir Richard Dalton was a British diplomat from 1970 to 20006.  From 1993-1997 he was UK Consul General in Jerusalem, responsible for dealings with the Palestinian Authority after the signing of the Oslo Accords. He re-established UK diplomatic relations with Libya in 1999 as the first Ambassador to Tripoli for 17 years.  From 2002-2006 he was UK Ambassador in Tehran, playing a part in European negotiations with Iran.  He co-wrote the Chatham House Research Paper of September 2014: “Iran’s Nuclear Future” and has been President of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce.

Sir Vincent Fean: Chair of trustees of the Balfour Project (, a charity raising awareness of what Britain did in Palestine/Israel in the first half of the 20th century, and advocating equal rights today for Palestinians and Israelis. Co-patron of the Britain Palestine Friendship and Twinning Network. Vincent also chairs the Libyan British Business Council, stimulating trade and investment. In his career as a British diplomat, Vincent’s postings included serving as Consul-General, Jerusalem (talking to Palestinians), as Ambassador to Libya and as High Commissioner to Malta. 

Sir Tom Phillips: A consultant and governance adviser with the UK government’s Stabilisation Unit. In his main career as a British diplomat, Tom’s postings included serving as Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as Ambassador to Israel, and as High Commissioner to Uganda. After retirement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office he worked as Director of the Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery at St Mary’s University and Commandant of the Ministry of Defence’s Royal College of Defence Studies, as well as international adviser to the Prince’s Charities’ International Sustainability Unit, and adviser to the business intelligence company GPW Ltd. Tom is a member of the MESG Advisory Board.


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