‘Global Britain’ can be more than a soundbite

‘Global Britain’ can be more than a soundbite

For a long time there has been a gloomy narrative. A narrative of British post-war decline. Any attempt to question the inevitability of decline is shouted down as unrealistic. We are apparently too small a country with too little to offer. Strikingly it is these voices that insisted Britain needed the EU because we can’t compete as an independent nation. Well we are leaving the EU, we will be an independent nation, and crucially this is a real opportunity to end the narrative of national decline – to build a ‘Global Britain’.

The idea of the ‘Anglosphere’ as a political block – generally thought to consist of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has been advanced by eminent historians such as Andrew Roberts. The cause of the Anglosphere has now been taken up by some Brexiteers who see the UK’s departure from the EU as an opportunity to reinvigorate the UK’s relationship with its former colonies.

The argument goes that the ‘English speaking peoples’ share common political, cultural and historical ties – indeed these countries can trace their political and economic structures to common foundations in the writings of John Locke and Adam Smith – therefore the ties between these countries should be deepened in order to provide a powerful global force in geopolitics. A force well equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

It is easy to dismiss talk of a resurgent Anglosphere and even a Global Britain as the romantic thinking of historians, reminiscing about Britain’s former role as the world’s foremost power, or as the starry eyed dream of young Tories with ambitions to be the next Disraeli or Churchill.

But as we leave the EU we continue our search for an answer to the question that has long dogged British foreign policy: what is Britain’s place in the world? Firstly it is worth repeating we are not leaving Europe – the Prime Minister has made clear we will seek to maintain the bonds of friendship with our continental neighbours and allies.

Granted – inside the EU we seem more able to nudge Europe into taking collective action, such as imposing sanctions against Russia. However we shouldn’t fall into the trap of understating the UK’s value as an ally outside the EU. We should continue to support our neighbours with our world class intelligence services and military capability – and whether we say it plainly or not – that ensures we retain influence.

However the Anglosphere is the obvious starting point for a renewed focus beyond Europe. As economic power shifts from the developed to the developing nations, from West to East, the UK – if it wants to play a global role – will have to engage in its own pivot to the Asian Pacific. The close security and intelligence-sharing relationships built upon the Five Eyes alliance provides a strong foundation to secure greater cooperation and influence.

Today, the Prime Minister will meet a US President well disposed to Britain. The Prime Minister will be the first foreign leader to hold talks with the new President in the White House – we are, quite literally, at the front of the queue. Leading members of Congress including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Bob Corker, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have highlighted the importance of the special relationship and a keenness to negotiate a trade deal as quickly as possible. Australia and New Zealand have already set out similarly positive positions.

To those bashing the ‘Protectionist, America First’ rhetoric of Donald Trump, they would do well to listen more closely. In a meeting with Union leaders the President indicated a keenness to negotiate bilateral, one-on-one trade deals. That suits the UK. As Theresa May sets out her desire for Britain to be a global champion of free trade, negotiating bilateral deals with the Anglosphere is the obvious place to start.

A powerful gesture beyond new trading relations would be a commitment to spending 2.5% of our GDP on defence. This would show that ‘Global Britain’ is more than just a soundbite, highlighting our commitment to NATO and enhancing our hard power.

We thus have an achievable path to global engagement. And with that engagement we can start to build consensus around common foreign policy objectives.

Despairing liberals at Davos might have been hoodwinked by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s defence of globalisation. China is a human rights abuser and should not be allowed to assume a global leadership role. In a world with increasingly powerful alternatives to liberal free-market democracies we must strengthen our common resolve. A ‘Global Britain’ can act as a linchpin for the West.

When the EU or US sound protectionist, we should shout loud the merits of free trade. When those resigned to Western decline insist we must accept diminished moral authority and influence we should point to the institutions and rule of law that sets us apart from those countries that abuse their own citizens. When President Trump appears to think more highly of Putin’s Russia than the EU, we should remind him of the common values and cause shared by Europe and America.

These global ambitions require focus at a time when the Government is quite rightly absorbed with negotiating our exit from the EU. But they are not starry-eyed thinking. If the Government is willing to dedicate the resources, Brexit can be a catalyst in our search for the answer to what our role in the world really is.