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Global Britain in a Competitive Age

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The term ‘Global Britain’ has become synonymous among Brexiteers with the sort of post-Brexit powerhouse that Britain will endeavour to become. However, what exactly this means, is fairly ambiguous. The recent success of the UK vaccination campaign, led by the UK government and without intervention or guidance from EU regulation, is looking like a tremendous success. Half of all adults in the UK having now received 1 dose of the vaccine compared to Germany only having 12% of the population injected. This disparity between the EU and UK’s rollout points to a stark inability of the EU commission to act swiftly and decisively. This success is causing many to believe that a strong independent Britain is a possibility and nobody more than Boris Johnson with the recent review of ‘security, defence, development and foreign policy.’ 

On March 16th the Government published “Global Britain in a competitive Age” which has the ambition to make this idea a reality. The Review considers a measured expansion of strategic and diplomatic interest in Asia. This is exemplified by the aircraft carrier soon to be dispatched into Indian waters, described by Admiral Ben Key as “our most significant peacetime deployment in over 25 years.” Britain is also looking to become a dialogue partner of ASEAN, the most influential economic union in South East Asia. The review even insists that cooperation with China is vital, to the dismay of many conservatives. Despite the report signalling China as a “danger,” it is viewed that we are more likely to be able to influence Chinese behaviour interacting with them rather than not. However, the report affirms that Europe will remain Britain’s biggest Priority abroad. 

Amongst the review is a plan of how the extra £24.1bn defence spending, that was announced in November, will be spent. Following a changing of approach, it is expected that the army are to be reduced by 10,000 with Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary stating “when the threat changes, we change with it.” Armed forces are to be spread more widely around the world also with increased funding for bases in the middle east and Asia. Up to two offshore vessels will be held in Asia permanently which will have nuclear capability and provide a greater deterrence in the region. This is supported by the increasing of the limit on the nuclear stockpile up to 260. 

However, the centrepiece of this review is the ambition of “Global Britain” to become a technological superpower. With this being a stated aim by 2030. A big part of this is research into climate change which is stated as Britain’s “number one priority.” In the fields of carbon capture and hydrogen technology £1bn has been pledged in this regard. The Government has also pledged to increase research and development from 1.7% of GDP to 2.4% by 2027, and a £6.6bn increase in R&D is set aside for the defence sector. This review also sees a movement towards more regulatory diplomacy so that the UK can influence norms of cyberspace and how data is handled internationally. 

However, COVID-19 has already caused drastic amounts of spending to keep afloat an economy who’s regional inequity has been placed under the microscope with certain areas being affected much worse than others. This may cause many to question whether this spending is valid given the priority of the issues facing Britain. However, these two issues do not have to be mutually exclusive. The new defence spending initiative is causing a new national Cyber Force being headquartered in the North, building defence ships in Scotland, satellites in Ireland and armoured vehicles in Wales. Therefore, this huge investment into technology and manufacturing may help to even up the regional divides across the UK. If Boris Johnson is successful, his bid to create a ‘Global Britain’ may also create a more equal global stage. 

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