The turn of the new year has been seen by the British government as an optimistic day for a new ‘Global’ Britain, full of opportunity and freedom as the shackles of European Union membership have been removed. This tone, which reflects a form of British exceptionalism, has been adopted by Boris Johnson and his fellow Eurosceptics and this must be assessed realistically. To achieve such an outcome will require competent governance, a stable and indeed united country and, ultimately, a continued close partnership with the European Union. Without these, the United Kingdom will gradually become a solitary and isolated island in an increasingly globalised world.
Britain has the opportunity to shine on the global stage in the upcoming years, showcasing its new global leadership potential. This November, Britain will be the host of the United Nations COP26 climate conference – arguably the most important diplomatic international event of the year. COP26 is the logical next step after COP21 to enact significant climate reforms. COP21 led to the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. In Glasgow this November, countries have a real chance to implement an accord even more ambitious than the 2015 agreement. For the sake of the climate, this is imperative.
For Britain to be able to project itself in a new light and maintain a strong international presence, it must remain united and stable at home
The government, however, has been allocating few resources and limited attention to this event. Alok Sharma, who was the business secretary, is the president of the talks in November, yet his role in organising the conference has only been part-time up until now. Given the magnitude and importance of the conference, not only has the British government appeared as if they are not as committed to the issues of tackling climate change from a more global perspective, they have also given the impression of disorganisation. Although there is an argument that it is important to keep the government close to this conference, by stretching its resources thinly the government may find a lacklustre outcome given the last minute change. This goes directly against the objectives of a post-Brexit Britain. The British government must use opportunities such as this to bring about a positive outcome, so they must seize them, and turn rhetoric into action.
For Britain to be able to project itself in a new light and maintain a strong international presence, it must remain united and stable at home. This is unlikely under current circumstances. One of the greatest challenges for Boris Johnson’s premiership will be Scottish Independence with the very real prospect of ‘indyref2’. In the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National Party (SNP) holds almost half of all seats, and in Westminster they hold a total of 48 out of 59. Their majorities in both chambers are staggering. Scotland also voted in favour of ‘Remain’ by a larger margin than any other country in the United Kingdom, and this will lead to grievances amongst the electorate. A symptom of this grievance is growing support for independence in favour of rejoining the EU. In fact, a recent poll conducted suggested that 58% of the population would give a ‘Yes’ vote for an independent Scotland, and it is not only Scotland whose loyalty to the Union is uncertain.
Ultimately, even if Britain has left the political bloc of the EU, geographically, it is still part of Europe
Northern Ireland is also at risk of growing distant from the UK. The last-minute deal agreed with the EU resulted in a much more “hard” border in the Irish Sea in an attempt to avoid one on the island of Ireland itself. As a result, goods that travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will need more administrative papers. This hampers the ability for goods to travel freely and easily between the two. The fact that Northern Ireland also remains in the EU single market will consequently bring it closer to Ireland, and therefore the country’s interests will be closer with the republic rather than the UK.
The government should work harder to preserve the Union if they aim to achieve the vision of ‘Global’ Britain. With a disunited country at home, the government will be unable to focus their attention abroad. It is vital, though, that Britain maintains a close and working relationship with the EU. Ultimately, the interests of both parties align with one another. Both have the shared interest of promoting democratic values abroad and strengthening NATO defences to combat Russia’s ever increasing aggressive military policy.
Ultimately, even if Britain has left the political bloc of the EU, geographically, it is still part of Europe. The UK and its interests, immediate priorities, and most important trade partners will always remain in the EU and it is vital that British policymakers and diplomats keep this mind. If the UK continues and chooses to take a cold approach to the EU, the country will slowly find itself becoming internally divided, and will fail to deliver its glowing vision of a ‘Global’ Britain.