One of the things that has kept us going through the Brexit process is the promise of a Global Britain. The desire to reach out into the world, to forge our own partnerships and deals, as the United Kingdom, independent from the EU.
As conceived, Global Britain was to be powerful and compassionate. We wanted nations to be able to trade their way out of poverty, and for us to make a difference in the world through strong values. We could be so effective because of our capital, our communities, our commerce, our charity, our capacity, our technical expertise and professions. It was about all our nation was and had to offer.
Global Britain is not just a chance to re-establish our relationship with parts of the world beyond Europe’s borders, but also with our own nation too. To reconnect the British public with what they enable and what we together stand for, and make them proud of their country. Global Britain was as much about a domestic outlook as it was about our ambitions on the world stage. So how will we make that vision a reality?
A crisis of confidence
There are moments when we are proud of our nation, of the actions of our Armed Forces and our sporting heroes. But too often in recent times we have doubted our ability and our offer – our diplomacy, our defence and, of course, our development work. Why have we lacked confidence?
In part it is because the challenges facing our generation can seem overwhelming. How to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. Ending extreme poverty in Africa. Being relevant to emerging powers. Delivering the Global Goals from which we are so far adrift. The scientific challenges of global health insecurity and antimicrobial resistance. The challenge of ensuring that new technology is a force for good. Protecting the environment and biodiversity. Dealing with the consequences of climate change. Uncontrolled migration, and the increasing number of stateless and displaced people. The challenge of China. The threat from Russia. The ever-changing shape of violent extremism and terrorism, cyber threats, organised crime and illicit money flows.
We have what appears to be a crisis of leadership in the West. People feel let down by their leaders and their institutions. We’ve had the banking crisis in 2008. Institutions methodically pulling the rug out from under the feet of wealth-creating entrepreneurs in order to keep their own balance sheets strong. Big business cheating. The vehicle emissions scandal, the failure of regulation, the failure to protect the consumer. Many charities have lost support from hard-working donors and life-long believers due to incompetence, or extravagance, or the tolerance of predatory behaviour towards the world’s most vulnerable people. And we don’t trust our political leaders. In recent times, our politics has sometimes failed to lead those it serves. Critics claim the aid budget “is wasted”, our foreign policy effects are short term, and the executive can no longer be trusted to deploy Her Majesty’s Armed Forces without a parliamentary check.
The need for a strategy and an action plan to cope with all of that is magnified for our citizens through the prism of social media, which demands the impossible from its politicians – immediate and simple answers to complex, long-burn challenges.
As a consequence, cynicism and pessimism prevails. Love is in short supply. It is easier to give up than try. Or better still, let’s not start at all. Better to disengage, better to retreat. To save our resources, to save our energy. Protectionism, tied aid and populism appear a much safer bet.
We feel powerless and impotent. And how it feels matters. It affects our ambition. It affects what we believe is possible. It affects our direction as a nation.
Have we lost confidence in our own ability and right to exercise hard and soft power? Have we forgotten why we have the values that we do? Why free trade and freedom matter? Are we afraid of the future? The necessary conditions for Global Britain to be possible seem a distant hope. So how do we regain our confidence in what is possible and what our nation can do?
The role of Britain in the world
First, we should recognise that by any standards, the world is actually becoming a better place. Over the last few decades we have reduced global poverty by around a billion people, largely thanks to the liberalisation of trade. We have become more resilient, more able to withstand natural disasters. Since 1990 almost 50 per cent more of the world’s children are now in school. Health has improved dramatically. People are living longer – the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has almost halved, from 12 million, since 1990. We have the ability to halt plague, and famine.
With new technology we have breathtaking possibilities. New solutions to old problems. And a faster way of finding those who can help. There is growing democracy and human rights across the world. Women, LGBT, disability and minority rights are improving. We are seeing signs of peace and prosperity in parts of the world where there was only doom.
And Britain has been responsible for much of that positive change: the peace and stability we have brought to parts of the world; education; the benefits of our scientific discovery and knowledge; humanitarian relief; and, perhaps more importantly, our support for the multilateral system, international rules and the liberalisation of trade. Our law; our language; the City of London; our charity sector; and the immense generosity of our citizens. From the British Council to the Royal Society, from our diaspora community groups to faith organisations, our universities to our industries and entrepreneurs, it is the values we hold as well as the actions that flow from them that have helped make this progress.
Even the Brexit vote was a sign of our strength and unity as a nation – although, I grant you, it sometimes doesn’t feel like that. It was a vote of self-determination, confidence and hope. The acceptance of the result by the vast majority of those who voted Remain was patriotic and part of our strong democratic tradition. That democratic tradition is one manifestation of our nation’s unselfish values. We believe in sharing, in helping, we volunteer, we donate to charity, we pay tax.
And it’s that collective action that defines us, our desire not to sit back and watch from the sidelines, but to get stuck in, to help, to lead, to fight, to make the world a better place and to protect the weak.
Look at the humanitarian crises around the world. We, more often than not, are leading the response. Look at who have been the innovators and look at who have been the trailblazers. Our qualities, habits and institutions are the things that make us a great and strong nation, as do the actions of individuals who believe that they can make a difference.
We are a force for good in the world and a force to be reckoned with. While Parliament reached peak Brexit crisis, grappling with indicative votes, our nation was leading the Cyclone Idai recovery. We sent NHS and humanitarian expertise, international search and rescue, DFID and the RAF, £32 million of UK aid and £18 million raised by the British public in voluntary donations. In the same period the United States, Canada and the EU managed £3 million each.
At a time when the world is changing so fast, we are the gamechanger nation. What other nation has so much to offer to so many? We are strong because we are capable and we are relevant. That is the Global Britain that our citizens want to embrace.
We are not in a bad place with regard to our international relationships. Just think about the incredible response to our diplomatic efforts in the wake of the Salisbury attack. The esteem in which the UK is held as a development superpower. And the fact that our Armed Forces are still the prototype others seek to emulate, and the defence partner of choice.
We have growing coherence and fusion in the component parts of our national security, and a new industrial strategy. Our approach to development is becoming more sustainable, for both us and others. We are moving from a project-based approach to methodical capacity-building in developing nations. We want healthcare programs to yield healthcare systems for the long run. We measure human capital investments and reward nations that are stepping up. We are dealing more with the real impact issues of money flows and corruption. We are working to be more relevant to those nations that no longer need our aid and who will be shaping the future. We have a clearer idea of what is in the national interest and how the tools of hard and soft power are used coherently, strategically and effectively.
At the same time as we unite Whitehall around a more coherent offer, we must unite the nation behind a national mission, in the national interest. Without their help, without their talents, without their entrepreneurial spirit, their business opportunities, their inventions, their discoveries and without connecting all our citizens with those elsewhere in the world who share their ambitions, we will not deliver those ambitions.
Global Britain is about looking out into the world and seizing the opportunities that come from those freedoms we gain by leaving the EU. But it also needs to be about our own communities and organisations, businesses, charities, institutions and the people that make them.
DfID is already doing this through UK aid match and a new small grants programme. The diversification of our suppliers and other initiatives give us a good base to work from. But we must go much further, working strategically with big business, and building networks of entrepreneurs, civil society and community groups to connect them with people and opportunities.
That is why the public’s view of the strategy and execution of our diplomacy, our development assistance and our defence of this nation is critical. Because they are critical to its delivery. Because the world needs their leadership. And their humanity. We need to forge the GREAT partnership.
So what might that look like? Let’s look at three areas where the UK has a good track record: financial services, education and healthcare.
The City of London manages over £8 trillion worth of assets, but little is invested in poorer countries. Even a small increase would have a huge impact on these economies. For example, if we could redirect just 1 per cent of those assets to investment opportunities in Africa, that would generate additional investment of around $110 billion. By contrast, global aid flows to Africa last year were worth just $50 billion. We should enable the City to expand its role as a financing hub for the developing world. Already, 111 African companies have listed on the London Stock Exchange and many more are keen to join them. When British investors are struggling to find good returns, these markets also offer good opportunities for pension holders. For example, CDC has achieved a 7 per cent annual return in sterling over the last six years while investing in developing countries, including older investments in China and Latin America. If done well, the opportunity for British investors is significant.
We should create new ways – from Global Goal ISAs to green finance for infrastructure to opportunities for British pension funds – to enable people to have a positive impact in the world via their savings. We should lead the world on impact investing and learn from the philanthropic platforms that are so established in the United States, to enable smarter giving for high-value donors in the UK.
We also need to support consumers who want to help Global Britain by giving them the power and knowledge to hold companies they invest in, work for or buy from to account. After the Great Depression, common accounting standards were developed to ensure that, in future, businesses reported their financial performances consistently and accurately. And now, at the start of the 21st century, we need common standards for reporting impact: compassion as well as compliance. The World Benchmarking Alliance is a start and we must continue to develop such tools to give consumers, investors and employees the chance to make a difference.
We have already a great partnership between our education establishments and the world: Commonwealth scholarships, connected classrooms, exchanges and study schemes and much more. We are already making moves to develop the International Citizenship Service into an employment programme, changing it from its current status as a 12-week placement for young people from the UK and developing nations to deliver an aid project. In the UK, it will become part of our Jobcentre Plus offer for care leavers too and we are scoping an apprenticeship scheme which will also benefit both the UK and those nations we are helping develop.
However, we can do more. The demand for English language training is huge. English is the greatest soft power tool we have. Nations wanting to develop a tourism offer and do business with the rest of the world need a workforce with English language skills. We know from our UKaid education programmes how to deliver great teaching via EdTech. The learning outcomes proved so good those schemes are now being used back in the UK to improve education outcomes.
We have a shortage of teachers and, in particular, foreign language teachers. We could bring together our goals to promote our soft power, help developing nations grow their economies through skills support and job creation and improve the foreign language offer to Britons by creating language-teaching technology.
The contribution we have made to eradicating disease, developing new drugs and treatments, and helping other nations grow their health systems has been immense. It has also been hugely beneficial to the UK. But as a global nation, we should worry about global health security.
There is more we can do. We can create a greater partnership by fully utilising our healthcare training and our technical expertise in health economics and enabling more research and care delivery organisations – public, private and charitable – to lean in too.
Instead of just letting healthcare staff from overseas work in our system, can we not establish a more sustainable training offer for those nations? We should be thinking beyond the basics in primary and community health and towards building surgical capacity. And we should be using our expertise on controlling costs and the life sciences to make drugs and treatment more affordable.
Where there are issues around the supply of low-cost treatments, such as oral hydration powders, we should look to the global need to create manufacturing jobs by the millions to set up production factories. As we go global, the finest manifestation of those unselfish British values – our NHS – can be both enhanced and help lead huge progress around the world.
Want a vision for Global Britain? Then look at the people of this country, look at who we are. Courageous, compassionate, committed to democracy. And with those values, just think what we can become and what we can do for the world. To deliver the promise of Global Britain, we need to harness all we have to offer as a nation and the spirit of our times to tackle the remaining challenges of our times. We must stand ready to forge that deep and special and GREAT partnership.
This article first appeared in ‘Britain Beyond Brexit’, a collection of essays published by the Centre for Policy Studies. You can purchase a copy of the book HERE.
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