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Sunday, 21 April 2024
Global Britain Finds Its Champion
James Denselow

Whilst the British Government has been mired in the worst weeks of the Johnson administration, there is hope that on the foreign policy front the post-Brexit placeholder concept of ‘Global Britain’ may have finally found a champion in the new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.  

Politically Truss is in a strong position. Whilst Downing Street haemorrhages support, Truss remains high or top of the regular polling done by Conservative Home of the party’s membership. Despite campaigning for remaining the EU, she has since grasped what she sees as the opportunities of leaving for free trade. She’s a canny communicator whose use of Instagram has seen a series of memorable photographs follow her time in government, one in particular with her in a tank drawing obvious parallels with the former Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.  

Her accession into one of the ‘great offices of state’ as the Foreign Office is known, came as a result of her predecessor, Dominic Raab, carrying the can for the debacle that was the end of the UK presence in Afghanistan earlier in the year. Raab oversaw the merger of the Development Ministry into the Foreign Office and the widely feted ‘Integrated Review’ which set out the government’s vision for foreign and defence policy. Yet he hadn’t seen to pin down exactly what this vision meant politically and that is where Truss may be a champion for a clearer sense as to what the UK stands for beyond its borders. 

She gave a more in-depth breakdown of her perspectives at Chatham House this month in a speech entitled “Building the Network of Liberty”. Despite less than 3-months in the role, the speech didn’t hold back from an assertive call for “the free world to fight back” against the forces of mistruth, authoritarianism or other malign ideologies. She quoted JFK as she argued that “complacency” in the post-Cold War era was a serious weakness for like-minded countries. 

The “age of introspection” must be now followed by a UK that uses its trade and economic links in particular to project influence across the globe. Truss’s Foreign Office will be “unashamedly commercial” in the battle for economic influence but also to answer foreign policy quandaries, such as the EU’s dependence on Russian gas. New economic partnerships will give the UK the ability to project new economic influence. Much has been made of the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative which has seen trillions of dollars invested across 60 countries as a means of supporting Beijing’s growing influence.  

Truss didn’t directly reference her inspiration from China’s playbook, but instead went on to articulate how economic power would be combined with Defence and Technology partnerships, all knitted together by the UK as a convening power. Indeed, her call to action for a “network of liberty” that takes advantage of the UK’s unique position as a member of NATO, a member of the permanent five of the UN Security Council and a part of the Commonwealth is an intriguing prospect indeed.  

As ever the proof of Truss’s vision to ‘step forward’ will be tested by events. Most immediately the task of preserving a united front against a Russian incursion into Ukraine. Truss also faces the domestic challenge of politics from within. Since being appointed Foreign Secretary, she has since been given the role of leading the country’s continued Brexit negotiations following the resignation of Lord Frost in mid-December and has retained her role as Minister of State for Women and Equalities. 

The challenge of bandwidth and prioritisation within this vast brief is a serious challenge that shouldn’t be underestimated as much as it speaks to Truss’s ambitions being reflected in her status. What is more if the Johnson administration does continue its path to self-ruin, then Truss will have to add another role of organising and running a leadership campaign on top of all the efforts to lead a ‘network of liberty’ that she described at Chatham House. In short, the limits of the hours in the day may be the biggest Achilles Heel when it comes to Truss’s ability to turn her “Global Britain” rhetoric into reality.

BY: James Denselow