Great Britain: Not in fact an island of greedy, selfish xenophobes
(Credit Image: Nigel French/EMPICS Sport)   

No one would expect the New European to be happy about Brexit; but a column by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown last month was especially downbeat. Here’s the conclusion:

“So bring it on – the dull small island life, grey, inward, with shops full of pies and chips and blue passports in our bags. Groan.”

Her words contain a curious echo of something that Emma Thompson said in the run-up to the referendum campaign. After declaring her preference to remain in the EU, the British actress gave a rather tart description of her country:

“…a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island.”

The British people may be no strangers to a carb-heavy snack; but do we really rely on Europe to save us from small-minded, mean-spirited isolationism?

As a citizen of two nations – France and Britain – it seems to me that the latter has a remarkably global outlook. And, yes, that does extend to our dietary habits – we don’t just consume British fare with enthusiasm, but also the food of other nations: China, India, Turkey, Italy, America, Mexico, we invite the world to clog our arteries.

There’s further evidence of the UK’s willingness to engage with the planet in a report by John McArthur and Krista Rasmussen for Brookings. It takes the form of a systematic survey of national funding for international organisations, including various UN bodies such as UNESCO and the World Health Organisation as well as a number of non-UN bodies such as the Global Environment Facility and the Council of Europe:

“The 53 multilaterals in our sample received around $63 billion per year in estimated direct, recurrent grant funding during the 2014-2016 period… In absolute terms, the U.S. is the largest overall funder at $14.1 billion per year, providing 22 percent of the sample’s resources. The U.K. is the second-largest funder at $7.6 billion (12 percent), followed by Japan at $5.4 billion (9 percent) and Germany at $4.4 billion (7 percent). These four countries contribute approximately 50 percent of the total funding…”

(An interesting aside is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the 17th largest funder, contributing more than either Saudi Arabia or Russia do.)

(Credit Image: Getty Images)

Of course, America, Britain, Japan and Germany are large, rich economies that one might expect to provide much of the money. But how generous do they look when funding levels are calculated on a per capita basis?

From this perspective, the Scandinavian countries (plus Switzerland and a number of very small countries like Monaco and the Vatican) are the biggest givers:

“The graph shows that Norway contributes by far the most per person to the multilateral system, at $399 per year, followed by Sweden at $229 and Denmark at $160.”

Nevertheless, the UK’s record is nothing to be ashamed of:

“Among the top three absolute funders… the U.S. ranks 20th overall in per capita terms at $44, the U.K., is eighth at $116, and Japan is 21st at $42.”

Thus the UK is not only the second biggest donor in absolute terms, it is also the biggest per capita donor among the G7 and G20 nations.

None of this depends on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Indeed, the Brookings study does not include the UK’s big net contribution to the EU budget. Nor does it cover the Commonwealth (though it does include the Francophonie group of French speaking nations). And let’s not forget Britain’s vital role in what is still the most important international organisation in the world today, NATO.

Not too bad for a “grey” and “inward” little island. I shall celebrate with a generous slice of cake.