It’s now over 4 years since the UK electorate decided on 23rd June 2016 by referendum to leave the European Union, a decision which came into effect under the terms of the Withdrawal Treaty on 31st January 2020.
The big Brexit choices over the UK economy and trade policy are fully known with a decision by the UK to leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union, though negotiations continue over other aspects of a future relationship, which we hope will be successfully concluded with an agreement between us.
The UK government is now actively promoting the concept of Britain as a fully independent trade and foreign policy global actor. It is inevitable at this stage, because negotiations have focused on the economy, that there is not yet sufficient detail about how the UK will seek to enhance its role beyond promoting global trade, especially in its key foreign and defence interests post Brexit or to what extent it will remain constructively engaged in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and participate in broader European security both internal and external and defence matters in which it has been so actively engaged in shaping for the last 47 years.
Many of the challenges we experienced as an EU member state from potential migration crises, to the impact of Covid-19 and possible future pandemics, to the common challenge of climate change and the impact these will have on our economies and way of life, will still need discussion with our international allies and in particular our EU neighbours, as we realise who are our closest friends in the world and with whom we share common culture, history and geographical proximity.
The collection of essays in this paper from CGE members, with a variety of backgrounds from retired diplomats and politicians to business, share a Conservative perspective in presenting a common approach on how this UK post Brexit vision can be delivered by the government in a pragmatic way, whilst reconciling past divisions on the subject of the EU.
The EU is by no means perfect but it has brought peace and prosperity to Europe for the last half century and is a force for good in a modern world in which globalisation makes cross- border cooperation ever more necessary. The UK will continue to share with the EU its core democratic values and its long-term peace, security and prosperity objectives. The overall theme of this paper echoes the writers’ views that multilateral political cooperation with the EU, as well as the bilateral relations with its member states in other international fora like the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and NATO where we continue as full members, remains in the UK’s best national and independent interest. We would seek for more structured cooperation on CFSP and CSDP matters as the UK cannot be considered merely as another third country by the EU given our security surplus and P5 status.
The paper and its authors do not wish to dismiss the primacy of NATO in which the UK remains a member but there has to be a way of also keeping the UK bound to the non-NATO EU neutral states in vital security and defence questions.
The paper is designed not only for Conservative members at all levels, but as a contribution to the ongoing discussions about the UK’s role in an ever changing and challenging world, where resources will be stretched and priorities must inevitably be chosen. It cannot answer all questions, nor mention every area of interest to all readers, and any omissions should not be seen as oversight, but only as necessary for space and sense in a short paper. The authors and others will update their opinions regularly through the CGE website, so as to provide opportunities for continuing debate.
Whatever the future relationship between Britain and its wider allies in the US, its longstanding Commonwealth friends and in particular the EU, the British Government has some very tough choices to make. We hope this paper makes a timely contribution to such arguments, and we wish the Government, and the UK, well as Global Britain.