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Global Britain: a phrase in search of a meaning

by David Hannay | 13.11.2017

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

One by one Leave campaigners’ promises are being revealed as the untruths they actually were. No £350 million sent each week to Brussels, no chance of Turkey becoming an EU member by 2020, no continued membership of the single market.

But one, less tangible claim is still hovering out there, encapsulated in the phrase “Global Britain”. It has no more substance than the others.

The Brexiter claim is that EU membership has prevented Britain from being a global player; and that leaving the EU will enable us to become one. Neither part of that proposition stands up to scrutiny.           

For one thing Britain has been a global player since roughly the 16th century. Joining the European Communities in 1973 did not bring that to an end; it actually enhanced it, as our influence in Brussels helped to propel Europe into a succession of global trade liberalisation rounds, brought many of Britain’s former colonies into a close trade and aid relationship with the EU, and made us a more interesting interlocutor for other global players such as the US, China and Japan. Ask any foreign ambassador in London whether the propositions in the preceding sentence are true and they will tell you they are.

So what is the Global Britain that we will be better able to become if and when we leave the EU? Where is the added value going to come from? Some talk in nostalgic terms about the Commonwealth, but that organisation, valuable as it is, is not about to become a major trade bloc or to coordinate its foreign and security policies, however much we might wish that it would. Just ask the Indian government if you doubt that. Nothing that the Commonwealth can realistically be expected to do is prevented or hindered by EU membership.

How about trade, the environment, human rights, the fight against terrorism and the other great challenges we all, Britain and the EU, face? Will we be better able to handle them on our own? The EU is already negotiating or about to negotiate free trade arrangements with the most promising countries – Japan, India, Mercosur (the South American trade bloc that includes Brazil), Australia and New Zealand.

It is with our fellow Europeans that the Foreign Secretary is lobbying in Washington to head off Donald Trump’s misguided aspiration to destroy the Iran nuclear deal. If the Paris environmental agreements are to be saved in the face of US withdrawal from them, it is going to be by the joint efforts of the EU and China – not by the UK, a relatively minor player so far as pollution is concerned .

So next time you hear someone banging on about “Global Britain” or read, as a somewhat discredited Priti Patel put it in her resignation letter, about “a great future for Britain as a free, independent and sovereign country”, reach for your critical faculties.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Global Britain: a phrase in search of a meaning”

  • Agreed— who are these gl0bal players going to play with, apart from themselves?
    En francais, they see themselves as “vainqueurs”, or conquerers—huge scope for self-delusion there!

  • Why are the articles contained on this site not front page news in every news provider’s site in the country? Forget about competition, it is our lives that infacts.org are fighting for and they need our support and encouragement.

  • I’d like to ask Lord Hannay why the Lords didn’t hold up the Withdrawal Bill for longer? Once it gets Royal Assent we are doomed.