THE BLOG

'Taking Back Control' Is Doomed - How About Cooperating Instead?

03/07/2017 12:19 BST | Updated 03/07/2017 12:19 BST

The global commitment to international cooperation has seldom been more in doubt.

The feeling of being left behind by globalisation is not just a developing world phenomenon. In the West, people are dissatisfied and political parties are quick to capitalise. Not least, because embracing this trend has led to electoral advantage for some, at least in the short-term.

But this is not a strategy for the future.

No government can deliver positive benefits to its citizens by ignoring the outside world.

Whether we like it or not, Britain's future is bound to that of our neighbours.

If sovereignty is defined as a country's ability to shape its own future, attempts to "take back control" by turning inwards are doomed. Instead we need to focus on extending our diplomatic relations to help shape the international landscape on which the UK's future prosperity depends. We need to take forward control.

Whether it's addressing cyber vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure (think NHS ransomware), counter-terrorism, climate action, or responding to the highest levels of displacement on record, the things we care about rely heavily on international cooperation.

But policy makers are slow to get the message.

Despite the momentous task ahead rebuilding Britain's foreign policies, the recent election was largely fought on highly politicised domestic issues. Even 'Brexit' was most often considered in narrow terms of parties' suitability to lead negotiations. Beyond the specific international dimension to the appalling terrorist events in Manchester and London, meaningful foreign policy debate was sparse.

Are parties still subscribing to the old maxim of "there are no votes in foreign policy"? The placement of the international section of parties' manifestos would suggest so - almost always languishing at the back and short on detail.

Perhaps not unintentionally, the vagueness of the commitments means less accountability and freer reins once elected.

As a result, some of the biggest questions of our time are being ignored:

  • How will the UK invest in its remaining diplomatic networks post- Brexit?
  • Will the UK retain its traditional role as a bridge between the US and the EU, and if not what might replace it?
  • How will the UK maintain its influence at the UN if our allies increasingly see us as unreliable?
  • Faced with a US administration that consistently undermines the rules-based international system and a Saudi government that is complicit in war crimes, do we have the right alliances in place?

The UK should view its recent humiliation in the General Assembly over UK conduct in the Chagos Islands as a wake-up call signalling waning UK influence and credibility on the world stage. The vote went against the UK by a margin of 94 to 15, with many traditional EU allies abstaining. Unless Britain takes a more cooperative approach to foreign affairs, this trend looks set to continue.

There is nothing inevitable about the UK's security and prosperity. Sustaining these things requires energetic, consistent action at the global level. Only through significant investment - political and financial - in international cooperation can the new Government take (forward) control and marry UK foreign policy with national interest.

Alongside policy makers, the media, educators and civil society all have a role to play. By highlighting how all UK citizens benefit from the international system, we can start to build a society that cares about global institutions (like the UN) in a similar vein to our concern for national institutions like the NHS. After all, both are fundamental to our country's well-being.