Reorienting foreign policy

| Publication date: 30 Oct 2019 | Theme: Macroeconomics, Exiting the EU | External Author(s): Greenstock, J | Journal: National Institute Economic Review Issue 250 | Publisher: Sage Publications, London

After Brexit, the UK must show that it has a voice. It will need to re-earn international respect, and in particular establish the concept of a ‘global Britain’ on the basis of performance, not rhetoric. That means re-establishing a strong network of relationships around the world in support of its security and economic health, but also continuing to play a leading role in support of the international rules-based order. For example, it should make the most of its continuing status as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council to act as a problem-solver and systemenhancer in the collective interest.

An early, first-order priority will be establishing a new, mutually beneficial partnership with the European Union, which continues to form our economic and political neighbourhood. Reconstructing a modern relationship with the United States is not secondary to that, but cannot substitute for it and must be undertaken in recognition of the differing interests and instincts of the two sides. A further challenge is building the right relationship with China based on mutual interest in trade, peace, and international respect and on confronting expansionist or opportunistic practices. With Russia, too, it is possible to design a predictable set of behaviours on either side, and with both countries good communication channels will need to be maintained. 

Brexit gives the UK the scope to construct a more deliberate diplomatic approach to the rest of the English-speaking world than was explicitly possible as an EU member – notably in working with Canada, Australia and New Zealand to promote the international rules-based order. But this should be complemented by more effective outreach to nonEnglish-speaking countries, notably in support of trade and investment opportunities with emerging nations. But with them as with all the UK’s interlocutors, the need to earn its place, and to show that it realises that, will be vital.

In defence and security, the UK will continue in its commitment to the strength of NATO as its essential alliance under US leadership, while also liaising carefully with EU Member States as they seek to improve their own capacities to contribute to European security. But it cannot simply rely on old institutional structures. It needs to lead, for example by playing a stronger role in the control of non-military forms of aggression, such as cyber warfare, economic sanctions, rivalry in space, and commercial espionage.

A strategy for realising the UK’s interests in the international arena will require the Prime Minister’s constant attention, but also a specific mandate for a very senior minister to supervise the interlinked policy areas of foreign affairs, international development, and international trade within a single government department.