Naomi Smith's speech: What is Best for Britain?

Best for Britain relaunched its campaign at an event on 26th April 2021 and our CEO, Naomi Smith, set out our values and our aims for the future of the UK in a landmark speech.

The whole event is available to watch online here, including contributions from speakers Sir David Lidington (Conservative former Cabinet member); Emily Thornberry (Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade); Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP); and Sir Peter Westmacott (former UK Ambassador to the United States).

Read Naomi's speech in full below.

Naomi Smith: What is Best for Britain

We were set up in 2017, as a reactive campaign, responding to an emergency. 

Internationalist values were under threat, Britons with multiple citizenships and cultural identities were cast as citizens of nowhere, and multilaterally brokered peace in Northern Ireland was at risk. 

Since we left the European Union and subsequent transition period, we have been asked repeatedly, what Best for Britain is still for and what it hopes to achieve. 

So here it is. We have transitioned from being a temporary campaign against Brexit, to being a permanent organisation for internationalist values and working with the world. 

Many individuals worked very hard, but collectively, those who shared our values were complacent for too long. Just a decade ago, Brexit felt inconceivable to many. 

We must never again accept or allow a decline in trust of multilateral dialogue, and international solutions. Yes, Brexit was in part driven by xenophobia, nativism, and a boosterish sense of British exceptionalism, but our brand new data that I’ll talk about later, shows a much more positive outlook. Our lesson is not to shut up shop, but never to allow internationalists to repeat that error of complacency again

Internationalism as a practical approach to global problems

Internationalism isn’t an abstract philosophical theory, it’s a practical approach that can help improve the world we live in, our lives and the lives of future generations in tangible and profound ways - peace, security, research, climate solutions, cures, vaccines, trade and more. We won’t again let such important values become the subject of cynicism. 

We have a lot to work with. And Best for Britain and those who share our worldview, must never allow society to flirt with isolationist impulses again. If the pandemic reaffirmed anything, it’s that we are not better off alone. 

So Best for Britain’s new mission, is informed by the often brutal political – and emotional – journey that has taken us to this point. 

For those of us who have spent five years of our lives fighting this country’s self-imposed isolationism, the options have been to learn and adapt, or to get off the field.

That’s the first thing you need to know today: we are still on the field, and we are staying on the field but as a proactive rather than reactive force in British politics.

Internationalist patriots

And a big part of the reason that we are Internationalists is our patriotism.

We are internationalist patriots. You can be an Austrian proud of Mozart, a Brit proud of Shakespeare, or an American proud of Martin Luther King, without denying the important role of international cooperation and integration between and among nations to address common problems and shared interests. 

Over the past few months, Best for Britain has reached out in new directions, working ever more closely with cross-party groups in Westminster. 

One of our particular areas of focus is international trade, and we are proud to be supporting the cross-party Trade and Business Commission, launched earlier this month and convened by The Right Hon. Hilary Benn MP and the Chairman of Virgin, Peter Norris. It includes MPs from all major UK parties and all four nations, as well as industrialists from every major sector of the economy. It will scrutinise the TCA and other trade deals, providing recommendations for rapid improvement.

But we’ve also stuck to our bread and butter - producing granular public opinion insights. 

And so rather than guessing at what our role in a post-Brexit world should be, we’ve sought evidence, carrying out some very detailed research into what the nation thinks about Britain’s international role, now and in the future. It’s enlightening.

Majority of Britons want us to work with the world

We partnered with Number Cruncher Politics to poll more than 3,000 Britons last month. And we oversampled by a further 1000 respondents, two groups: those who got us through the last year - frontline workers, and job creators - business owners and business leaders who in no small part can help to grow us out of the worst recession of three hundred years.

This was a heavyweight piece of work and I’d urge you all to read the report we have released this morning called A Truly Global UK - Voters’ Views on Working with the World - it contains the detail, read more here.

But I’ll run through some top lines now.

The results show that views on Britain’s international role don’t divide neatly along the old Leave/Remain fracture lines; far from it.

Not only that, on key issues, there is overwhelming agreement from both sides on the importance of close international relations. For example:

  • 79% of people want the UK to work with international bodies to tackle climate change; 78% to tackle the pandemic, and 76% to deal with threats from Russia and China.

  • 81% support cooperating with international bodies on science and research, rising to 91% of 2019 Conservative voters

  • 79% of Remain voters and 72% of Leave voters support countries working together to regulate social media companies

  • And there is overwhelming support for international cooperation across the UK by region, gender, age group, ethnicity and political outlook

[the full report, including our polling findings, can be found here]

In other words, when you strip away the divisive shell of Brexit, Britons are inherently internationalist. 

New Internationalism Index finds cause for optimism

And we want to be able to track this sentiment over time, so, today we are also introducing a first of its kind Internationalist Index. Our index splits the UK population into three equal groupings based on high, medium or low support for internationalist policies.

Initial findings give us great cause for optimism – the median British voter is internationalist, and future elections could be swung by those who support cooperation with other countries on a wide range of issues.

More details are available on request but looking just at the Medium Internationalism group, we see 76% believe Britain is better solving the world’s greatest challenges through cooperation, while only 15% disagree.

91% of this group believe the pandemic has taught us that countries must work together because nobody is safe until everybody is safe. 

Crucially, the Medium segment voted Leave by 54%. So those positive views on cooperation are from a predominantly Leaver group.

It’s proof that our country is far from being the xenophobic and inward-looking island that some – who should know better – would have us believe. Our research shows even those who are least internationalist expect the Government to work with the world on key challenges.

There is an overwhelming need within civil society for a group that stands up to the Government on internationalist issues, be they trade, climate change or security related, that can provide a voice for those in any party – including the party of government – when our leaders try to lead us down a self-defeating, nativist path. 

And that is where a reinvigorated, re-energised and re-focused Best for Britain comes in.

We’ve done our due diligence, and we know Britons are inherently internationalist in outlook.

Those business owners and leaders, and those frontline workers who we over-sampled well, they too, believe strongly that Britain’s future is about working with the world.

And we agree with them. Completely.

A truly 'Global Britain'

We believe that a truly ‘Global Britain’ stands firm in its commitment to the treaties that it signs, the financial aid it promises countries that need it most, and sets a clear example for all nations to follow.

That’s why Best for Britain is here to stay, pushing for closer relationships with Europe and the world, and holding to account those whose political myopia serves only to damage all our futures.

But much of what we want to uphold can’t be achieved without wider democratic changes. Brexit was a symptom of a much wider malaise. That’s why we are also going to start campaigning for democratic equality, so that people are enfranchised and their votes not wasted. 

We’ll stand up for much more decentralised decision making, for power to be put back in to local communities, so that people feel democracy is something they do, rather than something done to them. 

We’ll support work that explores new economic models, to help reduce the very wealth inequalities that were exploited by xenophobes who blamed migrants, rather than failed socio-economic policies, for their existence, and we’ll make openness and inclusiveness a defining part of Britishness. 

And we believe that technology, used for good, has the ability to solve or drastically reduce many of the world’s crises, to boost educational attainment, health outcomes, and better distribute the proceeds of economic growth.

We believe that there is more that unites us than divides us, and that the culture war being waged for political interests on the people of this country exposes small disagreements and turns them into deep-running societal divides. 

We stand firm in our commitment to building consensus, and providing the common ground that paves the way for a forward-thinking government to take us back to being world-leading, not bombastically pursuing us being world-beating.

Because that is what is best for Britain.

Thank you.

Naomi Smith
CEO, Best for Britain

Speech given at 'What is Best for Britain' relaunch event on 26th April 2021.