by Peter Franklin
Monday, 11
January 2021
Response
15:16

There’s a world beyond China and the EU

by Peter Franklin
Britain won’t need to roll out too many warplanes if it becomes a giant version of Switzerland. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Chatham House, a.k.a. The Royal Institute of International Affairs, is Britain’s premier foreign policy think tank. Today it publishes Global Britain, global broker — a report written by its long-serving director Robin Niblett. It’s tone is exactly what you’d expect from a pillar of our foreign policy establishment: slightly condescending.

Noting the “speed of global change in the past 10 years”, Niblett remarks “what a time for Britain to strike out on its own”. But Britain is not “on its own”. It is part of NATO, the WTO, the Commonwealth and a host of other multilateral organisations. What it is no longer part of is a project to build a supranational state — something that most Britons never agreed to and which few Remainers ever openly defended or even acknowledged.

So what we voted for, first and foremost, is to keep on being ourselves. Nevertheless, for those who insist on countries having a ‘role’ — our exit from the EU requires us to choose a new one. So what should that be?

Niblett doesn’t want us getting any ideas above our station. We must not “reincarnate” ourselves as a “miniature great power” he says. He even finds the language around a “Global Britain” problematic:

“The notion of ‘Global Britain’ may have a convenient alliteration with ‘Great Britain’, but in the minds of many, Britain became ‘Great’ by building a world-spanning empire whose injustices and inequities are now rightly being re-examined.”
- Robin Niblett, Chatham House

So much nonsense in so few words. For a start, the “injustices and inequities” of the British Empire are not only “now” being re-examined — in fact, it’s been decades since we’ve heard much else about it. Also the “minds of many” (whoever they might be) really ought to educate themselves: the “Great” in “Great Britain” has nothing to do with empire. Finally, the official language around a “Global Britain” is there to emphasise that Brexit is not an isolationist project.

It’s obviously not an imperialist project either. So if not ‘empire 2.0’ or ‘Little England’, what are we left with?

Robin Niblett wants the UK to “marshal its resources to be the broker of solutions to global challenges.” There are worst fates than being a super-Switzerland, but our future should be a more dynamic one. This should be a country which makes a virtue out of doing things differently — and even disruptively, where the established order could do with shaking up.

For that reason, and contra-Niblett, we should not align ourselves too closely with the European Union — or the United States for that matter. Indeed, we should set ourselves against the neo-imperial tendencies of all the big trade blocs.

Believe it or not, there is a world beyond the US, EU and China — and it is full of successful, sovereign, democratic nations. So let us be a productive and innovative member of that community.

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  • January 13, 2021
    Sounds good - Troll on Read more

  • January 13, 2021
    Nicely put. Read more

  • January 13, 2021
    The framing of debate about *Britain's role* using that old Dean Ascheson quote; a great one in it's time, but now over 60 years old, is self serving. Maybe inside a chin-scratching collective of academic/FO/punditocrats this 'Empire Nostalgia' idea is a *thing* but I can only say I have never... Read more

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