A lot of the articles at the end of 2017 asked what the UK’s role should be following Brexit. Some see Brexit as the next stage in the UK’s loss of international influence; others see scope for a new role, resetting relationships with the US, other European countries/the EU and countries further afield. There have been suggestions about the role the Foreign & Commonwealth Office can play in representing the UK’s interests overseas and how the arts, universities and even football can be key components of a soft-power toolkit.
These are all outward-looking initiatives. How the UK presents itself to the world and keeps and deepens its friendships and influence will be important following Brexit. But there also needs to be a clear vision of what post-Brexit UK will be like for the people who live here.
That clear vision is something the UK must decide for itself; in other words, it’s an internal matter. I’m not encouraging excessive navel-gazing here. It’s rather that the UK needs to decide what type of country it wants to be – for its citizens, not just in what’s presented to the rest of the world. That approach – that vision – should be one a majority of citizens can sign up to and shouldn’t offend minorities to a point one or more will seek to overthrow it by constitutional or other means.
Secondly, it’s pretty much inevitable that there will be conflicting messages to the rest of the world unless there’s a broad consensus within the UK about what the country stands for after Brexit. The current government doesn’t always appear to be singing from the same song sheet on the subject so it’s safe to assume that a miscellany of football teams, universities, schools and businesses of all types and sizes will have wildly different messages and approaches rather than something that’s recognisably from the UK.
Thirdly (and going back to the topic of the previous post), there needs to be a narrative to ‘sell’ whatever Brexit deal is reached to UK citizens. That requires a narrative and you can’t put together a coherent narrative without a vision – in this case, of what life will be like after Brexit.
Part of the difficulty in setting that vision is that none of the political parties seems to have a robust vision that encompasses the whole of the UK; it’s arguable that some of them aren’t clear about what they stand for themselves. I don’t have a soundbite vision to hand, but I’d say it should:
- Offer something for everyone, something that’s relevant to them and that they can relate to;
- Set out the values that will be our post-Brexit touchstones, the ones we’ll keep coming back to;
- Be recognisable, not too novel or gimmicky;
- Provide opportunities to everyone and to the country; and
- Show how these will underpin how we deal with the rest of the world.
These are more inward-looking than outward-looking and that’s deliberate. Carrying the people of the UK through the Brexit process together is more important than – and is critical to – how we present ourselves to the outside world.