The U.K.’s Conservative Party indicated Wednesday that if it wins a spring election, it would deepen relations with countries beyond its famously close bond with the U.S., partly in anticipation of a relative decline of American power in the years ahead.
The comments by William Hague, the opposition party’s top foreign-affairs official, come ahead of a general election expected in early May. In a speech in London, Mr. Hague criticized the ruling Labour government for being too focused on Europe and North America, and “slow to recognize that a comprehensive approach to international relations is now essential.”
The Conservatives are favored to win the election—though a once-commanding lead has shrunk in polls—and other countries are increasingly focused on the party’s foreign-policy intentions. The U.S. has long enjoyed especially close ties with Britain in what is often described as “the special relationship.” In recent years, the U.K. has been a key ally in Afghanistan, in exerting pressure on countries such as Iran and in sharing resources, such as intelligence.
Mr. Hague said the U.K. must “acknowledge that a vast proportion of the world’s economic activity, followed inevitably by its political weight, has moved in recent decades beyond the confines of Europe and North America.” The Conservatives, he said, would look to strengthen ties with Persian Gulf nations, India and China. He also said the country would change the present “neglectful attitude” toward the Commonwealth of former British colonies.
Mr. Hague said the relationship with the U.S. will continue to be an “irreplaceable bond in the conduct of our foreign policy”—however, “solid but not slavish.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been criticized in Britain for being too close to the U.S. and too uncritical of it.
In the past, the party of Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill has put much of its diplomatic efforts into close cultural, military and economic ties with the U.S. The Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have taken up that baton over the past decade. Foreign Secretary David Miliband was in the U.S. on Wednesday.
In his speech, Mr. Hague also reached out to the European Union. The Tories and Mr. Hague have typically struck a belligerent stance toward the EU, which they have often painted as an undemocratic body that impinges on British sovereignty.
“It is our firm intention that a Conservative government will be active and activist in the European Union from day one, energetically engaging with our partners,” he said.
Separately, the former head of Britain’s intelligence service MI5 criticized her U.S. counterparts for hiding that information from alleged Sept. 11, 2001, plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was obtained through methods classified as torture in Britain, such as waterboarding. A spokesman confirmed that Eliza Manningham-Buller, in a lecture this week at the House of Lords, said her staff had been told the prisoner talked because he had wanted to boast, and that it was only after retirement that she read he had been subjected to waterboarding 160 times.
Representatives for the Foreign Office and Mr. Miliband didn’t return calls.