Expert View

Britain doesn’t need to leave EU to be ‘Global’

by David Hannay | 05.02.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

The steady stream of Brexit-related slogans and mantras shows no sign of abating, even if the government is completely incapable of setting out a negotiating strategy. No slogan is more vacuous than that of “Global Britain”. Britain became a country with global interests and global influence some four centuries ago. It did not cease to be such when it joined the European Communities in 1973, indeed its membership enhanced its influence. And it does not need to leave now to become global.

The emptiness of the government’s rhetoric about Global Britain was well illustrated by the publication this week of a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on the future of UK diplomacy in Europe. There appeared in evidence to be three different versions of what the UK should be aiming to do in and with the rest of Europe – that of the foreign secretary, that of the minister for Europe and that of the head of the Diplomatic Service. We are getting used to dysfunctionality between government departments, but that is to convert dysfunctionality into an art form.

The report also revealed that, in a period when Britain’s future relationship with Europe was at stake, we were reducing our diplomatic personnel and outreach in Europe. As the recently returned British ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, put it: “The [Foreign Office] is very, very thinly stretched across the EU capitals.”

And then this week too we had testimony from recent heads of two of Britain’s intelligence agencies. John Sawers (MI6) and Robert Hannigan (GCHQ), reminded us that the continued exchange of vital information and intelligence needed to combat terrorism and serious international crime was at risk if we could not secure seamless data protection rules between us and the EU. As yet the government has shown no signs of how they intend to achieve that, beyond repeating monotonously that we are leaving the single market and the customs union, which will actually make it more difficult.          

What is urgently needed now is for the government to set out its negotiating objectives in all these fields, in terms which go beyond the generalities contained in the prime minister’s Florence speech and in position papers last autumn and to engage in serious negotiation with the other 27 EU countries to secure mutually beneficial arrangements and ones free from any trace of transactional thinking. Without those, there will be yet another reason for questioning whether leaving was such a brilliant idea.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    One Response to “Britain doesn’t need to leave EU to be ‘Global’”

    • In my work, I have had the opportunity to visit several British and also German trade missions in the embassies and consulates in a few European countries; representing my company, with the purpose of obtaining business development assistance and contacts.
      I don’t wish to do a disservice to the Foreign Office, whom I’m sure do a great job within the budgets which they are provided with, but I can only say that the German missions were better geared up for small enterprises wishing to establish a foothold in these countries.
      When we hear from Fox and Co. pressing the argument for British companies to generate more trade, I can only say that it seems that the very tools and infrastructure required for successful business development fall far short of that provided by one particularly successful trading country.
      Indeed, many SME’s cannot afford the time and cost of flying around half the world to do new business – instead they do it where thay can – in continental Europe!