Dr. Erik Strandness says it’s not just historical facts that...
The idea of “Global Britain” has appeared in the speeches of both Boris Johnson and Theresa May before him. What does it mean and how seriously should we take it?
There is no doubt a hundred years ago these words deserved to be taken seriously. In 1922 the British Empire included a quarter of the world’s population (412 million people) and 24% of the planet’s total land area. In those days Britain was genuinely “Great” but those days are no more. It is still true that the UK is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the power to veto any proposal with which we disagree but that is because of our past and not our present significance.
The bald reality is that the UK is no longer a superpower in the sense that China, the USA, and possibly Russia are. Even France, under Emmanuel Macron’s leadership, has more clout than the UK. Japan has more embassies and Germany more aid workers in Africa than the UK. This is reflected in the Foreign Office budget that has been cut by 40% in the last five years. Whilst we commit 0.7% of our GNP to overseas aid, that is less than the Netherlands, Norway or Sweden.
On Boris Johnson’s lips “Global Britain” is about our liberation from membership of the European Union to trade freely with the rest of the world. In 2016 43% of our trade in goods and services was with the EU. When we leave the EU at the end of the month we will have eleven months to negotiate a new trading relationship with them. EU leaders say that is too short a timetable but Johnson insists that if no deal is agreed by 31st December we will leave without a deal. That could lead to serious unemployment at least until new markets are found under WTO rules and we have first to negotiate a new relationship with the World Trade Organisation.
Talk of “Global Britain” also ignores the possibility of Scotland voting to leave the UK in a second independence referendum. 55% voted not to do that in the 2014 referendum but in the 2016 referendum 62% of Scots voted to remain in the EU so the break-up of the UK is not unimaginable. Nor should we assume that Northern Ireland, angry with how the Province is treated in Johnson’s deal with the EU, will not see union with the Republic of Ireland as more advantageous for their trade. If those changes happened democratically there would be no United Kingdom to be “Global Britain”.
Of course none of these gloomy possibilities may happen and there is an alternative scenario in which the UK could become a global leader once again. We could, for example, be a leader in introducing measures to slow down global warming and limiting climate change and export the technology to other nations. Our foundational role in the Commonwealth points to opportunities to serve other member nations cope with the consequences of climate change.
The smallest member of the Commonwealth is the island of Tuvalu with a population of 10,000. Global warming and rising sea levels could see it disappear under the ocean. The heavily populated parts of Bangladesh, another member of the Commonwealth, could go the same way. Global Britain could help both these members cope with the consequences, which is surely what the Commonwealth is about. Could we also do more to educate the young people in poorer countries and equip them to lead their people out of poverty?
What differentiates these suggestions from Johnson’s talk of Global Britain is that they suggest a servant hearted approach. Of course we need to find new markets for our goods and services but that would surely be helped, not hindered, if others see us serving and caring about them. Jesus’ words in Luke 22:25-27 affirm that approach.