How to make a reality of ‘Global Britain’: The role of development and diplomacy
Authors: Tom Cargill & Theo Clarke
In early April the Coalition for Global Prosperity and the British Foreign Policy Group brought together analysts, civil servants and development agencies to consider practical answers to this challenge. In particular we were interested to understand views on how the UK’s development agenda should relate to the government’s Global Britain policy and how to encourage the development and diplomacy sectors to work better together. At a time when the UK’s role in the world is being redefined, this roundtable was especially timely and there was general agreement that whatever Britain’s redefined role is, we are at our best when we act as a global leader in development and diplomacy.
The event was held under the Chatham House Rule of non-attribution but generated a number of useful insights and ideas. It was widely recognised that the UK is facing a critical moment in its history in which we must reflect on Britain’s values, presenting both opportunities and challenges for the international development and diplomatic sectors. There was also a wide recognition that we should be under no disillusion that support for aid in the UK is at a low and that we need to be doing a better job reaching out to these audiences.
Attendees expressed an eagerness for Britain to remain a global leader and leverage its existing prestige on the world stage, for example as a member of the UN Security Council and the Commonwealth, as a financial and business leader and through our world-leading aid. A clear, though somewhat contested point was that UK aid is a key arm of Britain’s soft power, flying the flag for Britain around the world. We should be proud of the edge this gives us in international discussions which is arguably now more important than ever.
There was agreement that the current period of national introspection should lead to greater internationalism, not isolationism. Participants discussed the need for new messages and a new vision to respond to the current climate and challenges including Brexit, anti-globalist movements, climate change and epidemics.
There was a discussion on how best to engage and educate the public, including updating charity fundraising appeals and ensuring that the right messages through the right messengers are used to demonstrate how an effective aid budget, which leverages British expertise, can really transform lives. We discussed the ways in which Britain could redefine its messages on development from national interest to moral arguments. There was acknowledgment that soft power is built on partnerships and relationships, and that there is a need to invest in a national narrative that is inviting to other countries in order to enable us to build future international coalitions that effect change, as we reach out to new global partners and alliances post-Brexit.
For us, the meeting re-emphasised the need for both our respective organisations. There is such a huge amount of change going on, that it can be hard for many of us to take a step back and recognise the new circumstances we are in as a country and a planet. There was a lack of clarity about what ‘Global Britain’ means and whether this is just a slogan, but the discussion offered practical ways to make ‘Global Britain’ a reality. Part of our discussion also focussed on the intersection of development with other sectors such as defence, trade, culture, and the role of soft power.
Critical to all this is a recognition that people around the world rarely if ever interact with the UK in relation to just one or even a few of these areas. It’s the sum total of these and so many other experiences that colour and inform international reactions to UK interventions – including on development. Sometimes it feels that many people across the UK understand this instinctively better than we do as specialists in a particular field.
The meeting we co-hosted is just one of many separate activities both organisations are undertaking to consider Britain’s place in the world from different angles, which is more important now than ever before. Our roundtable was a reminder of the value and urgency of building more constructive touch points between those of us working in development and diplomatic fields, as well others, in support not just of UK interests, but global ones too. While we may not all agree on what ‘Global Britain’ will, and should look like, we can surely agree that Britain is at its best when we boldly champion our principles and values around the world.