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Ryan Henson is Chief Executive at the Coalition for Global Prosperity, and was the Conservative candidate for Bedford in the 2019 General Election. 

Levelling Up and Global Britain are two sides of the same coin. The Levelling Up agenda exists because the UK voted to leave the European Union. Brexit voters like me took a hard look at the UK’s relationship with the world, and its impact on our lives at home, and decided business as normal would not do.

Something had to change. The UK needed to be bolder and less constrained on the world stage, and ferociously determined to improve the lives of those in left behind areas of Britain. If Global Britain succeeds, Levelling Up will too.

For as long as the world collectively fails to address the root causes of migration, desperate souls will seek refuge in Europe. For as long as viruses have no regard for national sovereignty, and millions of people overseas continue to lack access to basic healthcare, all of us will be at risk from future pandemics. What we choose to do or not do overseas directly affects what happens at home.

Michael Gove’s ambitious Levelling Up White Paper fired the starting gun on a decade-long project that will spread opportunity and prosperity to the parts of the UK where it is needed most. Getting Global Britain right will make Levelling Up more resilient and more likely to succeed.

Take overseas aid. It was always short-sighted to suggest international development spending prioritised helping foreign people ahead of those struggling in Britain. Increasing trade boosts living standards in the UK, improving healthcare abroad helps stem the spread of viruses, while tackling conflict at its source makes extremism and violence less likely to spread to our streets too.

Prevention is always cheaper and more effective than cure. Helping people overseas helps Britain too.

Our values are also being challenged. Authoritarian powers are on the rise, and their vision of how the world should look is very different to our own. The likes of China and Russia see democratic values and liberal principles as dangerous to their own existence. Putin’s despicable, unjustified, and unlawful invasion of Ukraine is tragic evidence of this.

But we can be enormously proud of the fact that the UK is the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, along with the leadership shown by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in rallying the international community in opposition to the Russian invasion. This is Global Britain in action.

China meanwhile has weaponised international aid with its Belt and Road Initiative, as well as its economic and geopolitical push into Africa and South America. Underpinned by a trillion-dollar budget over the next thirty years, China will provide investment for developing countries while seeking to capture their political elites so they support, or at least do not challenge, China’s broader international objectives.

In partnership with our allies, we should continue to use our soft power tools of development and diplomacy to contest this advance, every inch of the way.

The Government’s Integrated Review was right to identify the fundamental national interests that bind together the citizens of the UK. Sovereignty, security, and prosperity – alongside our values of democracy and a commitment to universal human rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and faith, and equality.

The battle for ideas is being played out from the Baltic to the Sahara, and we will need every weapon and asset at our disposal to ensure freedom and democracy wins.

Levelling Up and Global Britain are inextricably linked. With a smart and effective aid budget working hand in hand with defence and diplomacy, the UK can transform lives, spread prosperity at home and overseas, and truly deliver on Levelling Up, and Global Britain.