20 Mar #GlobalBritain And The Value Of A Nation Brand
The ‘Global Britain’ inquiry published this week by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) supported – in some detail – the views expressed by many critics: that there is little clarity and strategy behind this much-used slogan. The FAC concluded that “If Global Britain comes to be perceived as a superficial branding exercise, it risks undermining UK interests by damaging our reputation overseas and eroding support for a global outlook here at home”.
They make a very valid point. Yet whilst slogans or soundbites like ‘Global Britain’ or ‘we are leaving the EU not Europe’ can be infuriating to many, particularly when repeated ad infinitum without further detail or explanation; but they can still have value as branding.
Global Britain is in many ways an example of attempted nation branding. The UK has in recent times, conducted similar nation branding exercises – from Cool Britannia to the GREAT campaign to variable levels of success. In the memorandum provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the scope of Global Britain is “the UK’s overseas presence, influence and capability”. But is it just a reminder of our old brand when it comes to these aspects of our international presence or is it presenting something different, a form of re-branding UK foreign policy?
At first sight, it appears to be primarily a reminder of our old brand as a global player. Exiting the EU looks to critics a lot like Unglobal Britain, which doesn’t appear to reflect what the Government claims its foreign policy stance to be. As stated by the FCO, one of the aims of Global Britain is to “resist any sense that Britain will be less engaged in the world in the next few years”. Before strategies and policy can be thoughtfully drawn up and implemented, it has been important for the UK to provide a statement of intent that, post-Brexit, we will continue to have a truly global vision. This statement of intent is one directed both internationally and at the UK public.
Does Global Britain not have a role in re-branding our foreign policy? Exiting the EU not only alters perceptions of the UK’s role in the world, it will also inevitably lead to UK foreign policy change too. So there is a strong case to be made for the branding of our foreign policy to undergo a similar change in order to create a new, positive narrative, but this path has its own obstacles. Changing the perception and a brand of a nation is extremely difficult; nation brands such as that of the UK have been built over centuries and, major events aside, can only be very slightly chipped away, or added to, at the margins. There is a lot the UK already does very well when it comes to our foreign policy, and there is not a need or public desire to move away from that. But our foreign policy evolves as the world around us evolves, so it would not be outlandish to suggest that our nation branding should do the same.
So yes, as the FAC points out, the lack of detailed strategy accompanying Global Britain to date is regrettable. But it is also understandable – the need to provide reassurance on the essence of UK foreign policy, regardless of detailed strategy, was urgent in the months following the vote to leave the EU. However, if an innovative strategy that addresses the key points highlighted in the FAC report does not follow soon, Global Britain will lose substantial credibility and it will become difficult for the British public to get behind and support this vision for post-Brexit UK foreign policy. This risks undoing any of the initial benefits achieved from the current branding exercise. The FAC have requested the FCO provide an answer to the question “What does the UK want to achieve in the world?”. It would be a wasted opportunity not to answer that with a positive vision that goes beyond the current approach of reassurance.