One of the arguments that was put forward by the remain campaign during the European Union (EU) referendum debate was that leaving the EU would take Britain back to a time of internal national self-reliance. The result of this, the argument went, was that Britain would decline in its global standing, and would fail in its mission to lead in such a globalised world.
It was also argued that if Britain were to follow similar paths of global withdrawal that countries such as Russia, America, and Germany, had pursued at various times throughout the twentieth century, it would become an abstract entity on the global stage, and would suffer from a crisis of identity as it struggled to find a national new purpose in the global community.
The outcome for both Germany and Russia was that they were unable to raise inward investment, and as such were unable to project themselves as world-leaders in arts and industry. In contrast, America was able to rediscover its international legacy, and subsequently reconstituted itself as a global superpower through investment in infrastructure and the extension of economic opportunity – the American Dream.
Following the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s America was able to stabilise itself as a modern nation, which cared about its people. For example, through the development of so-called ‘Alphabet Agencies’, American public policy was orientated to focus on the micro-level regeneration of local communities. As such, America was able to regain both public trust and global confidence.
Stalin’s Russia, however, was unable to project a positive international image, and suffered from a lack of credibility as a result. Under Nicholas II, finance minister Count Witte was able to generate financial support from other countries, such as Britain, to sponsor infrastructure and heavy industry. For example, a settlement built by Welshman John Hughes dramatically increased Russia’s steelwork production. In contrast, Stalin’s aggressive self-reliance (self-autarky) stifled inward investment, and led to the collapse of the free market through excessive state regulation of the economy.
Whilst there are many lessons to be taken away from such incidents of economic and political isolationism, the greatest must undoubtedly be that the international reputation of a nation is one of its fundamental aspects – how well a nation is able to project it’s values and beliefs on the global stage affects the credibility and authority that others attach to it.
I have previously compared Britain’s exit of the European Union to the eruption of a volcano, the political explosion of which shook up Britain’s constitutional balance. What I haven’t written much about, however, is what this situation means to Britain as an international player.
Although Brexit is not an outcome that I encouraged, I do believe that it presents Britain with an opportunity to reshape its global image. Indeed, with such a monumental decision, it is inevitable that it will redefine Britain’s status as a global player.
Through the projection of Britain as a One Nation society, there is evidence that with new national leadership through Theresa May, Britain is being viewed as a strong and progressive nation to undertake business with.
Indeed, Britain’s economic strength, exemplified by its position as one of the world’s fastest growing economies, is arguably an opportunity to attract increased inward investment from the global, not just the European, community of individual sovereign states.
It has now been exactly a month since Britain’s impending exit of EU was announced – and it is only at this point that we are beginning to understand the wider economic landscape post-EU.
Admittedly, the value of the pound did fall sharply over the hours following the announcement of EU referendum’s outcome – and France was able to compete with Britain for its economic position – but there is evidence that Britain is starting to regain its economic standing.
With nations such as Australia and Germany expressing an eagerness to negotiate a trade deal with Britain, there is a chance for Britain to make the best out of its newfound economic autonomy. Britain is now in a position to negotiate face to face with other nations without EU interference, and this brings its diplomatic abilities firmly onto the agenda. With controversial figures such as Boris Johnson taking lead, it would be logical to question this optimism about Britain’s future economic success. Britain’s trade surplus and ability to produce quality products, however, could definitely work in its favour. Indeed, this was exemplified through Sajid Javid’s visit to India, a nation whose businesses employ 110,000 people in the UK, days before Theresa May’s appointment as British Prime Minister. As such, whilst the argument that Britain in a post-EU world will certainly need excellent reputation management to develop its international branding, it is also an opportunity for market development and occupational specialisation.
For example, programmes specifically tailored to equip individuals with higher-based skills could once again unleash Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit, and enable individuals to change the global economic landscape through innovation and creative autonomy.
Additionally, increased regionalisation of the British economy, combined with higher educational standards through further competition and choice are two mechanisms which could unleash such economic potential.
The development of Britain’s regional University Technical Colleges, and apprenticeships specialising in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are significant indicators of what this transition could look like in practice.
Whilst it is too early to predict the exactitudes of Britain’s future without the EU, with the right sense of judgement, and the courage to take the lead through diplomacy and collaboration, Brexit can be the much-needed moment of redefinition Britain has been waiting for.