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Global Britain for a Flat Earth: Will leaving the EU damage Britain’s image?


This week’s Sunday Roast focuses on the concept of a Global Britain, a manifesto policy that has been undermined by Brexit since day one.


As we stroll towards the Christmas season, spare a thought for government ministers who will spend all of December holding back tears as they wrestle with Theresa May’s impending defeat in Parliament.


Another domino fell on Friday night, Sam Gyimah, the minister for universities and science, was compelled into action after news came that Theresa May officially pulled the UK out of the Galileo satellite project. Seen as a rising star in the Conservatives, Gyimah’s motivation is now for a second referendum, which he believes could avert chaos.

The resignation has sparked a potential turning point in parliamentary attitudes towards a People’s Vote. Notably, news came on Sunday morning that the Labour frontbench is beginning to show signs of action towards a People’s Vote.


The Prime Minister was in Argentina for the G20 Conference this weekend, and the usual intrigue and suspicions were rife. Of course, Brexit was on the agenda and in an embarrassing blow to May, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appealed to her to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Defending Japanese car manufactories such as Nissan and Honda, the risk posed by additional customs and bureaucracy would damage both the industry and Britain’s economy. Both Nissan and Honda have already issued warnings that any threat to the accessibility of trade would have serious implications for British industry.  


Considering all this international chatter, the phrase ‘Global Britain’ has been fluttered about to promote the economic changes after Brexit. Global Britain was first established as a policy for the Conservatives in 2016 at conference. But after such a hectic and unpredictable two years, can we call ourselves a Global Britain?


Here’s this week fact-checking Sunday Roast:

  • Name: Global Britain policy
  • Role: Official foreign affairs policy adopted at 2016 party conference
  • Author: Conservatives led by Theresa May – Labour also have responding policy
  • Intentions: Promote reinvesting in global relationships, trade, and diplomacy
  • Claim: The UK will deliver on its Global Britain policy after Brexit
  • Source: Broadcast interview with Theresa May, 30/11/18

The concept of a Global Britain has been revitalised several times and under different governments. Though this review will focus on the Conservatives 2017 manifesto pledge, it should be noted that the Labour Party also maintain a Global Britain stance. Both are similar in their dedications: working with multilateral diplomacy, promoting human rights, committing to development, etc. The biggest difference is the Conservatives pay specific attention to an international free trade policy, reforming asylum, and the spurious “Promoting British culture”. Labour are aligned more to specific international issues and conflicts, and the list of examples is rather weighty.

But the big picture is largely the same, more Britain for the world to take in. However, in both party’s Global Britain policies, the effect of Brexit is not readily mentioned. Labour slip one reference in when referring to development goals for poorer countries, but otherwise is omitted. Brexit does have its own chapter in both party manifestos, but the specific effect on the Global Britain aspiration is not present.


This already suggests a degree of uncertainty over the effects of Brexit. In fact, it’s probably a justified omission considering how sketchy Brexit is, even in 2017. But this Global Britain policy is regularly tossed around by politicians to promote the view that the UK will continue to act on the international stage after Brexit.


In February this year, Theresa May gave a speech to the Munich Security Conference reassuring delegates that the UK would continue to be a global actor. “Europe’s security is our security... the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining it,” the Prime Minister boldly spoke evoking a Thatcher-lite diplomacy.

Alas, now that the deal is forged the heady days of early 2018 are distant memories. The speech detailed that Britain was to seek a significant post-Brexit security treaty that retained an access to EU-wide services such as Europol and the European Arrest Warrant. Both would mean adherence to the European Courts of Justice and maintain their adherence in judicial matters. In mid-November, it was announced that the UK would leave Europol. This was soon followed by accusations from the Police Federation that the deal has made no efforts to maintain security co-operation.


Not a great look for Global Britain, if all your avenues are blocked. Arguably the golden envoy for Global Britain has been the International Trade Minister (the disgraced) Liam Fox, who has been flying around the world with a long coat and standing on street corners to plug his wares. Sadly for Dr Fox, he’s not got many punters interested in his dodgy gear.


The anti-Brexit group Open Britain has assessed the potential for trade negotiations with 26 years of talks awaiting the UK until India, China, the USA, Australia and New Zealand are all finalised. The ‘global’ look would undoubtedly need to include the USA, and when the deal was announced, the disappointment for Liam Fox must have been monumental as Donald Trump called May’s Brexit “a good deal for the EU”.


You must show some sympathy for Liam, he’s travelled hundreds of miles and sat in big plush offices only to be told you’ve wasted your time.

The final of my critical assessments (or bollocking) is the Global Britain assertion on protections for the environment. Since the topic of climate change has become more mandatory for politicians, it’s often been used as a blanket policy without much engagement required or voters interested. However, Brexit has now ripped the gear stick off the car and thrown it at a passing herd of cows.


The EU is a global leader in environmental protections and climate change policy. It also is a large funder of green initiatives and climate finance. But Michael Gove’s leadership of DEFRA has prompted criticism for failing to adequately prepare for environmental policy changes after Brexit. He’s admitted that there is a ‘governance gap’ that must be narrowed, and that standards are essential to maintain.


Gove has also famously added Green Brexit to the embarrassing list of Brexits that exist in our timeline. The think tank Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has raised great concerns over the potential loss of environmental regulation and policy from leaving the EU with May’s deal or with no deal.


The closer tied to EU regulation, the stronger the protections will be. With so much at stake, activists put pressure on the EU to create a bilateral environment watchdog to ensure the UK is aligned to EU rules. Can Britain be committed to a global/continental effort on environment and climate change, if Brexit goes ahead? Backs are against the wall, but the short answer is: not really.


In short, leaving the EU without a strong alignment and relationship would undermine the Global Britain policy immensely. The major concern for Conservatives is obviously the trade implications, and leaving the EU is a clear sign of demotion. The Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee published their report on Global Britain back in March, and even they were confused by what the phrase means. The instability that Brexit brings has larger consequences than realised back in 2016. Indeed, the entire order of international relations for the UK could be altered, affecting diplomacy, trade, defence, and environment. Chaos is certainly a ladder, but Brexit could take the UK toppling to the ground.🔷




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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)


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Deputy Political Editor of PMP Magazine. Also a writer and aspiring PhD student at UEA in Norwich. Interested in culture, comedy, and ideology.
Poole, England. Website

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