Britain must face hard truths to become a global force for good once more
Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Westminster Hall
4 min read
Despite turbulent times, I believe Britain should still aspire to be a leading power and a global force for good. Not out of some unchecked idealism, but because building a better and fairer world is vital to our own best interests. But doing that requires change: better political leadership, a reinvigorated approach, and a new spirit of internationalism.
The UK is interdependent, interwoven, and inextricably linked to the rest of the world, in our challenges, our opportunities, and our responsibilities. This truth should guide our actions as an international leader in an age of uncertainty. To prevent this century being one of further decline for our country, the UK needs to start acting like the global player the public and our allies expect.
While Britain has done the right thing on Ukraine, the reality is that on other fronts, ‘Global Britain’ has been in retreat. The UK’s recent political instability meant we arrived at the greatest threat to peace and stability since the Cold War with our name carrying less cachet and our word less consequence.
What can we do about it? Meeting the challenges of this generation requires a new internationalism that reasserts British soft power while ensuring the capability of our hard powered armed forces.
First, the basics of diplomacy. We must repair damaged relationships and work with our European allies who share most of our foreign policy objectives. The urgency to repair our alliances has become more apparent with the continuing war in Ukraine, and closer alignment between China and Russia.
If the government really wanted to ‘stop the boats’, they would never have cut the aid budget
The strategic lodestar of this effort must be the idea of a rules-based international order. That does not mean being naive about the word we live in. But from the UN to the Ukraine, we should work to rebuild and reinforce norms of non-aggression, human rights, and the rule of law – because in the past few decades we’ve seen just how dangerous the world will be without them.
Second, we must restore foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of GNI. The government’s decision to cut aid spending was as mean as it was self-defeating. The moral case notwithstanding, improving international stability will blunt mass migration, which will only increase as climate change and conflict cause greater displacement. If the government really wanted to ‘stop the boats’, they would never have cut the aid budget.
But soft power is not just food parcels and diplomacy. The British Council had to close 20 offices because of funding cuts. Our touring musicians are battling bureaucracy at the border. The BBC’s international services are losing staff they rely on. Now is the time to enhance our soft power capabilities, not least Britain’s precious cultural exports.
Thirdly, with more hostile actors confidently showing their military strength, our armed forces must be properly resourced to counter these threats. The government has reduced serving personnel by over 45,000 since 2010, and, as a US general put it, Britain no longer boasts a “top-level” fighting force. When the need has never been clearer, the government has not resiled from its plan to cut a further 9,000 troops.
The most fundamental duty of the state is to keep its people safe. While we rightly supply defence equipment to Ukraine, the government's defence policy means we must bolster our own supplies should crises erupt elsewhere. The refreshed Integrated Review will not repair the damage. This matters because Britain must always be NATO's leading European nation, and both major parties must continue with their unshakeable support.
Britain should always punch above its weight. We can and will again, but that means facing up to some hard truths. In an increasingly volatile world, the UK needs a new internationalism that truly understands shouldering our global responsibilities is interwoven with our security and prosperity. As President Zelenskyy said on the steps of Westminster Hall, "The world needs your leadership, Britain."
Dan Jarvis MBE MP served as a Major in The British Army.
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