Today marks five years since the Brexit vote and how things have changed. There is consensus, even amongst the Brexiteers who had fought so hard for it. “80% achieved” was how one leading light in the campaign described things – praise indeed from one of the ‘Spartans’ who had helped bring down the May government. Now, the missing 20% is a reminder that there is still an awful lot to be done, but there is one area that is exceeding all expectations.
Do you remember the snorts of derision at the phrase ‘Global Britain’? It was either “how can our small island dare to be so presumptuous?” or “the unicorn fantasy of Little Englanders heading for an inward-looking bunker”. These glib attacks relied on wilfully misconstruing the idea of ‘Global Britain’ – but the truth is now emerging.
Brexit is about looking beyond Europe, moving to more unified global trade networks and relationships. As the tally of Free Trade Agreements grows, Global Britain is becoming not just a slogan, but a coherent strategy with real world implementation. It is not just focusing on reinvesting and maintaining our relationships in Europe, but around the world, developing trade with ambitious emerging and developed economies alike. Global Britain is about championing rules-based international order and demonstrating that the UK is open, outward-looking and capable of acting independently on the world stage.
The UK’s vaccination drive is a case in point; the Government was able to make confident and early decisions, quickly and rapidly scaling up vaccine procurement and production, while implementing an effective delivery strategy. Outside the EU, the UK was able to set its own goals and achieve them successfully. Now that 75 million doses have now been administered, thousands of lives have been saved and, even with the delayed lifting of restrictions, well on the way to a post-pandemic economic boom.
Our independence has also enabled us to quickly agree a succession of Free Trade Agreements, applying deals to 95 countries or territories covering 65% of our total international trade. The latest feather in Trade Secretary Liz Truss’ now rather downy hat is the Australia deal. Not only will this be an important deal in its own right, it’s also a significant step towards joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). If only had the EU had the same generous recognition of what the UK brings to the party, how different our relationship could now be.
The CPTPP is a huge potential prize. The agreement spans an EU-sized market of 500 million people and joining would refocus Britain’s trade relationships, provide stronger strategic positioning and open lucrative links with Asia-Pacific nations. This sends a strong signal not only to nations in these waters but around the globe of our commitment to building bilateral trade and relationships worldwide.
Beyond the UK’s outward international development, we are also the destination of choice for both capital and talent. The Department of International Trade has just announced that the UK is “#1 in Europe and #2 in the world for foreign direct investment”. Indeed, our FDI stock rose to £2.2 trillion in 2020, helping to cement our place as the world’s fifth-largest economy and major global hub for financial and professional services, innovation and advanced manufacturing. London is officially Europe’s most attractive city for investment, and our universities attract the most international students, second only to the US. We have important strategic military assets and our geographical locale make us a valuable ally, demonstrated by our permanent membership of the UN Security Council, our central role in the NATO alliance, and membership of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance.
It’s not just about investment, it’s about people. Five million EU citizens have taken up the Government’s offer of permanent residence in UK, and they are currently being joined by tens of thousands of Hongkongers keen to make their home in a dynamic, welcoming Britain. What’s more, generous visa options have been remarkably effective in appealing to global innovators, encouraging them to set up their businesses in the UK. A business-friendly visa system is an integral part of the post-Brexit strategy, sending an unmistakable message that the UK is open to the world.
So let’s embrace Global Britain and leave the last word to Glinda the Good Witch of the North:
“You’ve always had the power … you just had to learn it for yourself.”
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