The article originally appeared in the Times.
We have all by now seen pictures of the British army training young Ukrainian soldiers in the idyllic English countryside. Like young men of past wars they go forward with memories of an English summer. Our thoughts and prayers go with them.
Those images also serve as a reminder that Britain has much to offer the world. Yes we are a small island, but we are also Europe’s premier military power, with a nuclear deterrent and two aircraft carriers. Finland, Sweden and Ukraine know that too.
We have the best universities in Europe and among the best in the world — in whatever metric you care to name. The reason for this is that unlike most continental European nations, our university faculties are full of people from around the world.
Openness has always been our strength. As a small island we had to look to the world. The world looks at us, too. It’s hard to imagine how others see us — so I think of my parents, originally from Kenya and Mauritius. For them, Britain offered hope and opportunity. Our ability, still, to attract hard-working and dedicated people from around the world provides the cross-pollination of ideas. Those who come here return home with a different perspective. These informal exchanges have an impact on the world. But for some reason — perhaps oversteering on de-colonisation — we feel that it is wrong to intervene in the global battle of ideas. Communist China has no such compunction — they have an active, decades-long plan to shape the way the world thinks. The free world needs to step up.
Just as we’ve been training Ukrainian soldiers, we should make Britain the first choice for advanced and specialist military training for the Commonwealth and our friends and allies in the free world. Britain used to lead on this but in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, it is Communist China that is training and indoctrinating the young officers — and future leaders — of Commonwealth forces. We need to be the democratic alternative.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee parade was a cavalcade of all sorts of cultural icons, but I did feel a special pride as I saw all the soldiers of the Commonwealth march past. It is rare to have so many nations marching together — but it doesn’t have to be. The last great Spithead Review that had ships from around the Commonwealth and allied nations was in 1953, at the start of our monarch’s glorious reign. We need to rediscover this spirit of co-operation. We should sail East of Suez more often, inviting others to join us. In 1907 the American Great White Fleet toured the globe, signalling it had “arrived” as a world power. Our foreign policy should be a series of concentric circles, with friendship and co-operation at almost all levels, but stronger links with those who are most aligned. I would seek to strengthen 5EYES and free world co-operation, focusing on collective security. The way we behave, we look like we’ve given up. We haven’t — but we need to show it.
For starters, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office should be flying the Commonwealth flag every day. We should show our support for the Commonwealth family that we are so lucky to be a part of. Government buildings flew the EU flag for every day we were a member. Find the other blue and yellow flag and hoist it up for all to see.
The Commonwealth should not just be about symbols. Let’s give Commonwealth students reduced university fees — reciprocally with countries that can afford it but unilaterally for those that can’t. As in times past, we should let Commonwealth students join our university reserve units — which promote UK values and the service-leadership ethos of our great armed forces.
The UK should shape international law once more. Under my leadership, we would lead on an international Common Law Rights Charter, forming a political commitment between like-minded countries who share a similar human rights tradition — a kind of international Magna Carta. Consistent with parliamentary sovereignty this would not cede any jurisdiction to a foreign court. The advantage of this document, as compared to the ECHR, is that it could be drafted broadly enough to encompass the “New West” – including India, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.
A government I lead will redouble efforts to reduce tariffs and increase our global trading footprint — ideally as part of a process of negotiation with trading partners, but to reduce the cost of living we should look at temporarily abating tariffs. The Internal Market Act allowed mutual recognition of standards throughout the United Kingdom. Lord Frost’s TCA extends that to the EU. We need to apply this concept to other countries that have the same high standards we do, like Japan.
On immigration, let’s attract the world’s best and brightest. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore are like-minded countries with comparable labour markets. Now we have left the EU we should improve reciprocal working visas and educational exchanges. Recognise professional qualifications from countries on par with ours, making it easier for skilled engineers, doctors, and lawyers to work here.
We could have been doing all this from day one. But others are not as committed to Brexit and the Commonwealth as much as I am. Let’s make “Global Britain” more than just words.