Tortoise Festival of ThinkIns – What is Britain's role in the world now?

Friday 28 June 2019

Duration: 4:30PM - 5:30PM

16-19 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DY

Status: Completed

What is Britain’s role in the world now? After the decision to leave the EU, the UK might have opened its eyes to a new role in the world. Instead, the country has done the opposite. We’ve turned inwards. And we’ve done so at a time when everything feels in flux – in world politics, in security, in the great, global institutions. What role should a medium-sized democracy on the edge of Europe play in the United Nations or NATO? What part can we play on global issues like climate change, or international terrorism? After the EU, the UK has to find a new role. What should it be?

Our special guests for this ThinkIn included:

John Browne, Executive Chairman L1 Energy, former CEO of BP.

Laura Citron, CEO of London & Partners Limited since May 2017.

Fiona Hill, political adviser. 

Helena Kennedy, Scottish barrister, broadcaster, and Labour member of the House of Lords.

John Sawers, diplomat, civil servant and former Head of MI6. 

Peter Westmacott, senior diplomat, former ambassador to the United States.


The Readout

What’s Britain’s role in the world now? 

Whatever the terms of Brexit prove to be, Britain will have to reinvent itself for the 21st century.  First, as an economy. The UK needs greater pools of risk capital that allow for failure and celebrate success; a material increase in investment in research and technology; fundamental educational reform that ends the silos we put students into so young; and a determined effort to hold onto our graduate students.  

Second, foreign policy.  We don’t have one.  We have history, tradition and long-standing relationships.  But not a clear articulation that’s forward-looking and realistic about British power in a post-EU future.  

Third, politics.  We need to look beyond the personalities and the day-to-day politicking at the structural problems with democracy in the United Kingdom: the threat to the union; the obstacles to thinking long-term; the disincentives to becoming a politician; and, as we’ve said at Tortoise before, the need for a written constitution.  

And, fourth, values.  The UK’s future in the world can be as an example and exporter of rule of law and human rights.  The opportunity is to apply those values to the modern challenges of the climate crisis and technological disruption.  

What next?  Stories to examine: 

–       Post-populism in Europe: is the populist wave over-estimated, has it peaked? 

–       People leaving the UK; what’s happened to European electoral rolls in Britain? 

–       The UK’s place on the UN security council.  Will it last?  How to make it count?