The UK’s World Position Put up-Brexit: What’s Value Researching?


No matter challenges face the UK’s authorities after leaving the European Union, a scarcity of recommendation shouldn’t be considered one of them. An unlimited quantity has been written concerning the UK’s future international coverage (Coverage Change, 2019; Chatham Home, 2021). This text summarises a number of the key debates and factors in the direction of areas that could be fruitful to analysis. The UK’s energy as a state is troublesome to put in writing about in a balanced approach. There’s a jingoistic aspect in British media and throughout the Brexit motion that grossly overstates its energy in Europe and past. Nonetheless, in debunking these delusions, many go too far and by any regular measure the UK – even for the reason that lack of its empire – has been an awfully essential nation: culturally, economically, financially, politically and militarily.

In a way, the theme at hand – the UK’s relationship with European powers, the US and the broader world – shouldn’t be new. Since 1945, students have analysed the UK’s international coverage based mostly on Churchill’s well-known paradigm of the three circles: America, Europe and the Commonwealth (Gaskarth, 2014). In current occasions, the latter has been lowered to the Anglosphere (the CANZUK thought) or expanded to incorporate the entire world. The query of Britain’s international coverage posture has been framed extra critically within the well-known quip of former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, that Britain had misplaced an empire however had not but discovered a job (Sanders, Houghton, 2017). The notion of the UK being a “bridge” between the US and the UK has additionally been widespread however this was at all times problematic. Writing in 2005, after the Iraq conflict had began, William Wallace wrote that this place had crumbled because the UK had been lowered to being a vassal of George W. Bush’s America.

Any nation claiming to be a bridge ought to at all times be considered with wholesome scepticism and that is true within the UK’s case. The implication that, for instance, Germany wanted the UK as an interlocutor with the US stretches credulity. The UK’s relative marginalisation in current disputes such because the Ukraine disaster was noteworthy, and Brexit has certainly put the lid on the coffin of the “bridge” superb. The UK was very helpful to the US as a robust, assertive nation within the EU that may very well be counted on to assist its core insurance policies and NATO centrality. Its curiosity for the US will certainly have diminished. Some new paradigm or framing is required, however the phrase “World Britain” shouldn’t be propitious on this case, because it shaped part of the pro-Brexit motion (Daddow, 2019), and given the fact of Brexit, seems contradictory. The UK’s scenario affords a captivating real-time case research for constructivist students of a serious nation attempting to (re)assemble its international function (Daddow, 2019).

Northern Irish historian John Bew has been main the UK authorities’s formidable coverage evaluation entitled “The built-in evaluation of safety, defence, improvement and international coverage,” because of be launched in early 2021 (Cooper, 2021). The involvement of a historian is considered by many as factor, because it ought to instil a sober evaluation of the UK’s prospects. Nonetheless, Britain’s historical past has been extraordinary and a few historians have provide you with extravagant visions of the UK’s energy exterior the EU, failing to differentiate adequately between the UK and the US or between the UK’s historic function and present energy buildings in Europe (Simms, 2017). It’s seemingly that this new, post-withdrawal, doc will probably be extra life like. It’s being billed as an important strategic doc in a long time however it is going to do properly to maintain tempo with such a fast-moving world. Whether or not any form of “grand technique” (versus a set of ideas) remains to be possible within the twenty first century is questionable. This final level doesn’t simply apply to the UK by any means.

One of many key points is the extent to which the UK’s future international coverage may be disentangled from Brexit (which is now a actuality) and the related angst. To know the UK’s future function, we first have to have a look at Brexit, what it tells us concerning the UK and the prospects for future UK–EU relations. There may be little doubt that the withdrawal course of was humbling for the UK’s pretensions as a serious energy, and that the EU very a lot dominated proceedings. The Withdrawal Settlement of 2019 positioned a commerce border throughout the UK, dedicated the UK to paying tens of billions of kilos to the EU and positioned it in a transition interval throughout which it needed to implement all EU legislation with no illustration. This was all in return for the chance to barter a commerce deal. The Commerce and Cooperation Settlement of late 2020 avoids tariffs however affords comparatively poor market entry for the UK (albeit this was largely the UK authorities’s alternative), leaving key future selections about monetary companies and information within the fingers of the EU. It didn’t even succeed within the symbolic (“simple win”) job of recovering full management over its fishing territories.

May it then be stated that the Brexit course of “revealed” the UK to be a weaker energy than thought? No. Right here, the excellence between a rationalist positivist view of the world by which actuality is revealed, and a extra, broadly talking, reflectivist method to issues by which actuality is co-constituted, is related. It’s not the case that the UK was at all times weak within the EU, however extra that the inner political crises of the UK set it on a path to assemble its personal (for the second at the least) lesser function in Europe. In plain language, all of the Brexit course of “reveals” is that if a rustic decides to withdraw from a complicated regional integration mission with out a possible plan and with positions primarily based mostly on home politics and an unrealistic view of its personal leverage, it is going to find yourself leaving on unfavourable phrases and/or economically broken.

Extra essential for our functions is that this query: the place does Brexit depart the UK as a serious energy? It now definitely has extra choices to pursue a distinct form of financial coverage. It may search for commerce agreements with states such because the US, India and China (all tremendously troublesome prospects although). On the pro-Brexit aspect, it may very well be argued that the UK’s swifter COVID-19 vaccination course of exhibits some great benefits of not being tied to an EU-wide method, however the jury remains to be out on which method works higher. Extra broadly, you will need to perceive that the EU didn’t actually constrain the UK’s international coverage (international and safety coverage remains to be “intergovernmental” fairly than collectively managed like agriculture and commerce), subsequently the good thing about leaving the EU shouldn’t be clear.

The UK might think about itself freer (now that it has ended its freedom of motion with the EU international locations) to liberalise journey with a wider vary of nations or to go additional with the “5 eyes” group of Anglophone intelligence allies. A serious query is how a lot to align itself with the EU’s international coverage positions or find out how to distinguish itself from them. It’s noteworthy that the UK, as part of the Partnership Council with the EU, refused to incorporate structured cooperation of international coverage points. Not an excessive amount of needs to be learn into this, because the UK may nonetheless cooperate as and when it sees match, together with on points comparable to sanctions. Even within the Trump period it was noteworthy that the UK saved to the “European” mainstream on points such because the Iran deal, the Israeli-Palestinian battle and local weather change. Brexit affords an perception into the enduring energy – or not – of the liberal (and specifically, European) West. Can these basic frequent values overcome financial and political rivalries?

Put up-Brexit UK might show to be a captivating case research of the usefulness (or not) of the comfortable energy idea. Delicate energy is usually criticised as primarily vacuous, though its widespread use is considerably oversimplified in comparison with Joseph Nye’s unique formulation (2004). Clearly, the recognition of the Premier League or Sherlock doesn’t translate into any form of political affect for the British authorities. The in depth function of UK universities or the status of British science could also be understood as a form of long-term affect for the UK as an entire. Model Britain on the entire has been gravely broken by Brexit, which is usually portrayed as an act of self-importance and self-harm by the worldwide media. Such reputational harm may very well be overcome with time.

The UK’s uncooked capabilities are nonetheless spectacular. It’s a nuclear energy with in depth intelligence capabilities and army sources. It’s nonetheless a everlasting member of the UN Safety Council. Its financial system is likely one of the largest on the earth and its scientific sources are distinctive as is its cultural and academic clout in lots of respects. Nonetheless, it isn’t large enough to guide or power different international locations to its will by way of onerous financial or army energy. A current paper by Chatham Home argues that it ought to purpose to be a world dealer fairly than an important energy (2019). It ought to attempt to play a lead coordinating and networking function in pursuing key aims comparable to ‘defending liberal democracy; selling worldwide peace and safety; tackling local weather change; championing international tax transparency and equitable financial progress.’ On this regard, the current discount of the UK’s help goal (from 0.7 to now 0.5 p.c of GDP) sends a horrible message on this yr of worldwide disaster. Nonetheless, the UK remains to be on the right track to offer proportionately greater than different giant international locations. Controversial for some, the report stresses that the UK ought to work most carefully with the EU and never waste time attempting to differentiate its function from it. It notes the pressure on the UK’s diplomatic sources based mostly on the necessity to improve exercise in Europe (now that it’s out of the principle establishment) and within the WTO.

The UK additionally has vital vulnerabilities. Its numerous abroad territories (together with Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands and the Falkland Islands) have been aghast on the financial and political influence of Brexit, which has left them uncovered in several methods. The federal government’s curiosity within the Indo-Pacific is comprehensible, however it’s onerous to understand how sustainable that’s, given the UK’s location and the pressure on its sources. Usually, doing one thing for the sake of it isn’t a good suggestion and the UK needs to be cautious the place efforts to redeem its satisfaction and standing could lead on it. That is the form of factor the Chatham Home paper warns towards, however this modest proposition to be a “international dealer” might not fulfill the wounded satisfaction of post-Brexit UK. There are considerations that elevated army involvement within the Pacific merely attracts bother with out giving the UK a major function in shaping US coverage within the area (which would be the defining issue). The function of psychology has been more and more introduced into the research of IR (Lebow, 2018), and post-Brexit UK will provide a captivating case research.

The most important hazard is the inner risk to the UK’s integrity posed by a tough Brexit not supported by Scottish or Northern Irish voters. Added to that is the fallout of poor administration of the pandemic and the way which will exacerbate Brexit tensions. Irish unity is one thing that has lengthy been accepted in precept as a risk by British elites, however the lack of Scotland could be a physique blow to the UK’s nice energy pretensions and should even put its everlasting seat on the UN Safety Council in jeopardy.


Chatham Home (2021) World Britain World Dealer, 21 January 2021

Cooper, c. (2021) ‘The person who is aware of what World Britain means’, Politico, January 14, 2021,

Daddow, O (2019), ‘GlobalBritain™: the discursive development of Britain’s post-Brexit world function’, World Affairs Vol 5, No. 1,

Gaskarth, J. (2013) British Overseas Coverage: Crises, Conflicts and Future Challenges, Polity Press.

Lebow, R. N. (2016) Key Texts in Political Psychology and Worldwide Relations Principle, Springer.

Nye: J. (2004) Delicate Energy: The means to success in World Politics, New York: Public Affairs.

Coverage Change (2019) Making World Britain Work,

Sanders, D and D. P. Houghton (2017) Dropping an Empire, Discovering a Position: British Overseas Coverage Since 1945, Palgrave.

Simms, B. (2017) ‘The world after Brexit:  The essential variable shouldn’t be British energy however the weak spot of Europe.’ New Statesman, 1 March 2017,

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