House of Commons Library

Brexit: 'Global Britain' - reading list

Published Wednesday, June 13, 2018

‘Global Britain’ has become a rallying cry for those who want to see the UK stride confidently into a post-Brexit future. This reading list draws together a wide range of material on this topic. It is one of several reading lists published by the Library in the context of Brexit.

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Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said in December 2016:

Yes – a country taking back control of its democratic institutions.

But not a nation hauling up the drawbridge or slamming the door.

A nation that is now on its mettle.

A nation that refuses to be defined by this decision.

A country galvanised by new possibilities and a country that is politically and economically and morally fated to be more outward-looking and more engaged with the world than ever before.

When I speak of Global Britain – and the need for us to commit ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the world –  I know that there will be some who are wary that this sounds pretentious, in a nation that comprises less than one per cent of the world’s population.

I know there will be cynics who say we can’t afford it. I say we can’t afford not to.

To those who say we are now too small, too weak, too poor to have any influence on the world, I say in the words of Robert Burns:

‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!’

Opponents of Brexit say that this perspective ignores the damage being done to the UK’s national interests by leaving the European Union.

Some of those willing to give the idea of ‘Global Britain’ a chance have their doubts too. In a March 2018 report, the Foreign Affairs Committee argued that the term:

has not been precisely defined by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has also appeared reluctant to respond to our requests for basic information about the objectives of Global Britain and the resources to be devoted to it.

The time is right to take stock of the UK’s role in the world, not only in the light of domestic developments but also in the light of long-term changes in the international system and global balance of power. The UK has a wide range of attributes that have traditionally made it a global player, but it remains unclear what the Government believes the UK should do with these resources and assets in the post-Brexit environment, and how the UK should exercise leadership on the most urgent and complex issues facing the international system. For Global Britain to be more than a worthy aspiration, the slogan must be backed by substance. The FCO should place online, in one place, all the statements and speeches that Ministers have made about Global Britain, and all other Government documents in the public domain that set out what Global Britain means, translated into the world’s ten most-used languages. If it comes to be perceived as a superficial branding exercise, it risks undermining UK interests by damaging our reputation overseas and eroding support for a global outlook here at home.

This reading list draws together a wide range of material about this topic. It is not, of course, comprehensive. We have included some sources that we thought might be relevant even though the phrase itself is not invoked. Under each heading, the most recent item is set out first.

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