New Report: A Truly Global UK - Voters' views on working with the world

Best for Britain has published this landmark new report setting out what people in the UK really think about working with other countries and international organisations. 

Download the full report here or read in full below.

BEST FOR BRITAIN'S NEW INTERNATIONALISM INDEX

Best for Britain's Internationalism Index is a brand new tool developed with Number Cruncher Politics to look into how the most and least internationalist demographics in the UK view particular policies.

The Internationalism Index splits the UK population into three equal groupings - Low, Medium and High - depending on how internationalist their attitudes are. The Index shows that the median British voter supports cooperation with other countries on a wide range of issues.

As we launch the Index, we have found that within the ‘Medium Internationalism’ group, 76% believe that overall Britain is better solving the world’s greatest challenges through cooperation, while only 15% disagree. There was also considerable support for global cooperation amongst the least internationalist grouping, with 45% saying the world’s greatest challenges must be met in cooperation with international partners.

The Internationalism Index will be updated on a regular basis to understand how public attitudes towards international cooperation change over time.

Read more about the launch of the Internationalism Index here.

The Report


CONTENTS

 

 

 


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Having left the European Union, the UK finds itself at a crossroads. In 2021, it has a choice to become a convenor nation, a leader in a collaborative sense, to overcome the global challenges of international disorder, protectionism and the climate crisis. But to do that, the UK must first repair its relationship with the EU. Without this underlying relationship with its nearest and closest ally, the UK risks being set a drift in a stormy global environment. 

The long-awaited Integrated Review sought to bring coherence to the UK’s actions on the global stage, tying in trade and development as tools to meet foreign policy objectives. The Review has been well received in many quarters, primarily for its emphasis on bringing countries together to meet global challenges like climate change and strengthening the rules-based international system by leveraging the UK’s assets and legacy position: membership of NATO, membership of G7, the UK’s economic strength and particularly its ‘soft power’. The ultimate aim is to position Global Britain as a “force for good” in the world over the next decade.

But in order to fulfil this potential, a truly Global UK’s foreign policy focus must be longer-term in orientation. Inward-looking policies like cutting the international aid budget may be part of a wider plan to balance the books after the economic damage caused by the covid-19 pandemic, but doing this “on the backs of the world’s poorest” carries serious reputational repercussions – and should be reversed as soon as possible.

Vaccine protectionism and continued wrangling over the Northern Ireland Protocol have exacerbated an increasingly tense relationship with the EU. This must be overcome if Global Britain is to succeed in its policy objectives – because the international community requires unity and cohesion to enforce the rules-based system that has served both the UK and the EU so well. The Integrated Review labelled Russia as an ‘active threat’ and China as a ‘systemic challenge’; both require the UK and the EU to act in concert with one another. The election of Joe Biden in the United States adds further incentives to pursue cooperation over antagonism.

In the same vein, the Integrated Review emphasised the role of trade as a tool within foreign policy, allowing the UK to take full advantage of its new ability to strike trade deals. But if a truly Global Britain is to emerge, policy makers must avoid being chained to an anti-EU stance. 

While the importance of Europe, both in its proximity and the magnitude of shared trade, was touted by the Conservative Party as the ‘first pillar’ of its Global Britain strategy in early 2019, this has been recently abandoned. Yet, with prospective bilateral deals offering meagre benefits to the British economy amidst a fractious multilateral trading environment, strengthening the Trade and Cooperation Agreement looks increasingly appealing. Accession to the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) will play an important role in the UK’s ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific’, but this does not prevent the UK improving trading arrangements with its largest trading market, while simultaneously initiating a dialogue that builds future regulatory practices in the UK and EU’s mutual favour. Combining this work with efforts to reinvigorate the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) influence would be an effective way of standing up to China and upholding the rules-based international system which Global Britain advocates.

This must be matched by a real commitment to Global Britain’s ambitions on the world stage, primarily its leadership on the climate agenda. A green and fair recovery, prioritising sustainable jobs, renewable energies and low-carbon industries, has emerged as almost a consensus position in UK politics. Taking this ambition to the world stage, at a time when most countries will be preoccupied with recovering from the pandemic, will be a tough ask – made even more difficult if the UK is unable to practice at home that which it preaches abroad. 

Once again, a closer relationship with the EU can support this objective, as well as mitigate the faint, but distinct, tension between the UK and Biden’s administration in the US. Hosting COP26 in November gives the UK a unique and critically important opportunity to act as a convener nation. Mirroring proactive carbon reduction methods deployed by Europe, like a carbon border adjustment mechanism, and working to incentivise green finance, would signal a willingness to cooperate to solve global issues and possibly inject much-needed credibility into the arm of Global Britain. Failing to do so would be a real blow to the idea of a truly Global Britain.


INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS GLOBAL BRITAIN?

What does it mean and why is it so important to get right?

Since the 2016 referendum, governments have attempted to define the new role Britain will play in the world and how it will project influence now that it has become independent from the world’s largest trading bloc.

For the most part, those who should know what it means, do not understand it. If policy-makers and academics cannot get their heads around this Government’s vision, it is little wonder the public do not understand the concept either. Recent Best for Britain/Number Cruncher Politics (BFB/NCP) polling shows that just 18% of Britons say they understand what is meant by Global Britain. More shockingly, more than two-thirds say they either do not understand the meaning of Global Britain or have not heard of the term at all. 

Britain is no longer a ‘great’ power; at least not in geopolitical terms. The scaling back of its empire in the 20th century, the US’ journey towards being the world’s sole superpower, and the more recent growth of Chinese influence, have long pointed to a future where Britain operates as a medium-sized country with medium-sized influence – albeit with a disproportionately large economy. For some, this fate was confirmed by the referendum vote in 2016. For others, Britain is due a return to the height of its imperial glory.

Neither of those visions feel right in 2021. Announcing the Integrated Review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development on 16 March, the most detailed articulation yet of the Government’s plans for Global Britain, the Prime Minister emphasised the UK’s “historic mission as a force for good”. The Review itself, however, appreciates a reality where Global Britain’s leadership means “leading by example where we have unique or significant strengths … and identifying where we are better placed to support others in leading the advance towards our shared goals.”

Britain will not resume a position on top of the global food chain, but its assets and legacy position mean it is uniquely placed to take a leading role in global affairs. The public are on board with this: 67% of British voters think Britain should collaborate with other countries to set global standards rather than impose its own will – just 7% disagree.

A similar figure (68%) say the world’s greatest challenges must be met in cooperation with international partners, including 45% of the least internationalist group defined by Best for Britain’s new Internationalism Index. A medium-sized country yes, but Global Britain must surely be more ambitious than to settle for medium-sized influence.

Fig.1 Britain should collaborate with other countries to set global trading standards, not try to impose its will

Source: Number Cruncher Analytics. The full question posed was: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements: Britain should collaborate with other countries to set global trading standards, not try to impose its will. Sample size was 3,004 UK adults. Fieldwork was conducted between 18 February and 8 March, 2021. This poll was commissioned by Best for Britain.

A truly Global Britain would understand its strengths, as well as its weaknesses, and leverage these to meet not just its own needs, but truly global challenges. Of course, a truly Global Britain would also understand how these overlap.

The need to reinvigorate the global economy while meeting the climate crisis, combined with the growing strategic threat posed by China, have increased the pressure on the UK to get this balance right in 2021 and beyond. An overwhelming majority of the public believe the pandemic has demonstrated the need for international cooperation.

Fig.2 In general, do you believe the world’s greatest challenges in future can be best met by the UK acting by itself or in cooperation with international allies and through international organisations?

Source: Number Cruncher Analytics. The full question posed was: In general, do you believe the world’s greatest challenges in future can be best met by the UK acting by itself or in cooperation with international allies and through international organisations like the United Nations?Sample size was 3,004 UK adults. Fieldwork was conducted between 18 February and 8 March, 2021. This poll was commissioned by Best for Britain.

In this report, Best for Britain challenges and builds on the UK Government’s vision for Global Britain by examining the interlinking areas of foreign policy, trade and climate change. Public sentiment is built into this analysis via fresh polling and Best for Britain’s new Internationalism Index, which divides the UK into ‘High’, ‘Medium’ and ‘Low’ internationalist groupings. In doing so, policy recommendations are offered that reflect domestic public opinion, modern Britain’s strengths and limitations, and the UK’s overall ambition to be a force for good on the global stage. 

While the UK will need a coherent narrative across the board, understanding how to work with the world and maximise its influence in the three key areas examined will be a vital part of building a truly Global Britain.


Fig.3 If the covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that countries must work together because no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Source: Number Cruncher Analytics. The full question posed was: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements: If the covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that countries must work together because no one is safe until everyone is safe. Sample size was 3,004 UK adults. Fieldwork was conducted between 18 February and 8 March, 2021. This poll was commissioned by Best for Britain.


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