Tom Tugendhat is MP for Tonbridge and Malling and is one of the leaders of the One Nation Group.
The moment a revolution happens is often only clear with hindsight. Last week’s landslide needs no time for review. It was a lightning bolt releasing an energy that has jolted Parliament and our country into action – and could kickstart new partnerships around the world.
For the first time in a political generation, the UK has a leader able to make a mark on the world. With a five-year term looking certain, a voice tested on the G7, the EU and NATO, and with the ability to legislate others can only dream of, Boris Johnson is positioned to achieve what he has previously only spoken about: Global Britain.
He now has the mandate to act to make this more than a slogan. Over the coming months many will focus – rightly – on the EU trade talks. They are going to determine much of the change that is coming to our economy and the relationships our businesses build with the world.
But despite its proximity and economic weight, it won’t be in Brussels that our future is written, but here in London. How we decide to act will shape our future. To harness the storm, there are three things we should do now.
The first is to build a new partnership of democratic powers. The creation of a new alliance of those orbiting between the might of the US or China would see mid-sized democratic nations – the Mid-Dems – defend the rule law and economic system that has made us largely prosperous and peaceful since the Second World War. As newly freed-spirits, we can lead a new way of working together. On defence, there is no doubt that our American alliance is the underpinning of our sovereignty, but on trade? That’s where China’s importance grows.
China poses its own challenges. We want closer trade relationships, but the absence of the rule of law, the undermining of civil liberties, the lack of respect for intellectual property and more, leaves little chance to freely exchange ideas and deepen relationships.
That’s why a networked alliance is what we should be looking for. Together with other Mid-Dem countries, such as Australia, Chile, Germany, France, South Korea and Japan, we can build a partnership to defend the rules that have made us all stronger, working together on climate change, and protecting us all against the whims of powers more inclined to use leverage than law.
Working together would help reawaken many of the existing institutions. In the United Nations, for example, where the US has played less of a role than many of her allies would like, China has become dominant. Buying votes on UN bodies like the Food and Agriculture Organisation may not sound a good investment until you factor in the influence it has on UN members dependent on aid who will be voting in the upcoming ballot to lead the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
As companies like Vodafone know well, WIPO controls international use of frequencies that modern technology relies on, and sets the norms to prevent the IP thefts now normal in China. Beijing is slowly taking control of the existing international order as America steps away. We need to work with like-minded states to protect what matters and contain what doesn’t.
As well as new partnerships, we should join existing bodies, like the TPP. Opening talks with the members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, as the new club of 11 states was recently renamed, would expand our horizons. Setting a new trade agenda without aiming for the harmonisation of the European Union will give us reach. Though the geography sounds distant, shipping costs are near historic lows, and our alliance with countries from Mexico to Japan, who have already invited us to join, would build on existing trading relationships and demonstrate to suitors that Britain has options.
That’s the only way we’ll get the deals we need. If we look like beggars, we’ll get crumbs and would be selling ourselves short. We have a huge market, a skilled workforce and some of the most innovative technology in the world, matched with the rule of law and the firm expectation of five years of stable government. So we’re in a stronger position than anyone to benefit from the network building TPP.
The third decision we must take is to invest in ourselves. A house divided makes easy prey for other and the fractures in the United Kingdom are clear for all to see. That’s why the One Nation agenda is so important. Uniting our country so that we’re more than a city state of London with a UK hinterland is essential to everything we seek to achieve. Investment in rail, road, communications and education are as essential to our future prosperity as reforming the Foreign Office.
The new strategic policy review could bring all this together. For the first time in decades the levers of British influence – defence, diplomacy, aid and trade – could sit alongside domestic efforts in education and infrastructure to give the Prime Minister the strength to act.
While Emmanuel Macron has pension problems and a looming election, Donald Trump is going through impeachment and a coming poll, and Angela Merkel has already announced her resignation, Johnson can look out with confidence at the coming five years certain his majority and with a more distant horizon than any of his global peers makes.
This is a chance Britain can grasp to shape not just our home but our world. I’m confident that the Prime Minister can bring his words to life and make Britain global again.