Brexit Britain will be at its best when it leads – in aid, trade and diplomacy

Brexit Britain will be at its best when it leads – in aid, trade and diplomacy

Regardless of how you voted in the EU Referendum, most people will agree Brexit is an historic moment which is forcing the UK to redefine our country’s role in the world. We now have the opportunity to reconsider what sort of nation we would like to be – and we should use this opportunity to forge an even more positive, global future for ourselves.

We can and should be a friend and ally to our European neighbours but we should also reach out wider and foster trading relationships with emerging economies – spreading prosperity across the world. Brexit is a chance to make us a more global and outward looking country.

As we chart a new course for our country, and strengthen our international partnerships, we should not forget that UK Aid has a vital role to play in forging a more globally-orientated Britain.

The UK is one of the most widely respected aid donors in the world. Despite what you read in the papers, the Department for International Development is held in high esteem by other donors. As Bill Gates has frequently said: “DfID is widely recognized as one of the most effective, efficient, and innovative aid agencies in the world”. UK Aid is a crucial part of the UK’s soft power, flying the flag for Britain across the world.

UK Aid is also a vital component in spreading global prosperity and growth. One recent academic review, conducted by the Project for Modern Democracy, points out that aid was responsible for around 1.5 per cent additional annual growth in recipient countries, and that the average aid recipient country would be 30 per cent poorer without aid. By stimulating economic growth and job creating, we can make sure that our development partners of today become trading partners of tomorrow.

South Korea is a good example of a country that has successfully graduated from being a former aid recipient to become a high-income country, providing jobs, investment and trade for the UK. Last year the UK traded £7.2bn worth of goods and services with South Korea, making them one of our top trading partners in East Asia.

There is a huge amount of talent and potential waiting to be unlocked in developing countries. I have worked in Sierra Leone and Tanzania delivering employability and enterprise training, where I met determined young people who desperate to find good jobs, or to set up their own businesses.

The demographics are stark. In Africa alone we need 55,000 jobs a every day to accommodate new entrants into the workforce between now and 2035. If we do nothing we risk a lost generation and mass migration. But by investing in job creation in Africa, we can help realise the economic power of this young population. Harnessing their talents and energies will help to build vibrant economies and a future where development assistance is no longer necessary. Moreover, their prosperity creates more opportunities for global trade and investment, creating jobs at home and abroad.

The UK is good at this. CDC, DfID’s economic development arm, helped create over one million new jobs in Africa and South Asia in 2015. If you believe that Britain should embrace the new trading opportunities that Brexit offers, then this is the type of initiative that we should support.

But it’s not just about the economics. UK Aid also sends a clear message about Britain’s values and our role in the world.

We may be leaving the European Union but that doesn’t mean we are pulling up the drawbridge and turning our backs on the world. Our investment in aid is an important way in which we prove our commitment to maintain our global moral leadership. We invest in development because it’s the right thing to do and sends a signal about our values as a country.

Our leadership demonstrates that we do not neglect our duty to the world’s poorest people. It gives us the opportunity to save and transform lives. To give you just a few examples, British aid means 80 children each minute will be immunised against terrible diseases by 2020. UK Aid ensured Mozambique was landmine-free by 2015. I’ve spent time visiting communities affected by Ebola in West Africa, and I was proud that it was British aid workers, like NHS nurse William Pooley, who put their lives on the line to help. This is all work we can all be extremely proud of. At its best, our aid budget is doing extraordinary things to help the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world.

I would never try to claim that aid is a silver bullet – it’s not. On its own it cannot solve all the world’s problems – but alongside our free trade agenda, active diplomacy, and our strategy for defence, it has the potential to be an incredible force for good in the world, while also helping to ensure the UK maintains its position as a leader on the world stage.

Britain is “Great” when both at home and abroad we boldly champion our values in response to the defining challenges of our time. And we should not forget that countries which today are our development partners will become our future trading partners tomorrow.