Britain is failing to reap the benefits of Brexit because its ruling elites in Westminster, Whitehall and the professions are still in the grip of a defeatist mindset that views the country as doomed to perpetual decline, according to a seminal new report on its future after leaving the European Union.
The paper from the think-tank, the Centre for Brexit Policy, produced by a team of leading politicians, foreign policy specialists, and academics, declares it is a post-War myth that Britain is a fading force on the world stage.
On any objective and scholarly ranking of the country’s international standing in terms of economic and military might and cultural influence, it is in the top six world powers, just as it was 300 years ago. In fact, it is marginally higher than it was when King George I was on the throne.
But this understanding is not shared by many in the governing elite. Because of their declinist mentality, they vehemently supported joining the then European Economic Community in the 1970s and, despite the Brexit vote that they deplored, are still intent on ensuring that Britain remains handcuffed to the European Union.
The dire result is that they are effectively denying the nation the opportunity to escape the EU and use its new-found freedom to forge trade links across the world and to play a dynamic and leading role in helping other democracies stand up to the serious new threats to peace and prosperity posed by the twin authoritarian “Goliaths” of China and Russia.
The 100-page paper, whose authors include Professor Robert Tombs of Cambridge, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, Professor Gwythian Prins of the LSE, and foreign policy experts from the Kings College War Studies Department and Cambridge University, warns:
“The notion that we are a country in decline is deeply ingrained in our elites, especially Whitehall and Westminster. It explains why we joined the EU and why we are struggling to escape its orbit even after our departure.
“How different would our view of the world and of our role in it be if we thought of ourselves as a new and rising force, rather than a nation in decline?
“Whether post-Brexit Britain will in fact turn out to be a rising or a declining force is not determined by history or geography: it is essentially in our own hands.”
The report, to be launched this week and entitled Defining Britain’s Role in the World after Brexit, is the first substantive multi-disciplinary analysis to offer a considered UK strategic response to the recent shifts in global affairs.
It urges the elites to ditch declinist thinking, embrace the opportunities of Brexit and revitalise alliances with like-minded countries such as the USA and members of the Commonwealth to check the rise of authoritarian states, notably China and Russia.
It says: “After Brexit, Britain needs a new self-confident national mindset, one that sets aside the myth of declinism and recognises that the country has huge assets, not least the fact that it is held in high regard across the world and that it plays a pivotal role in the Commonwealth.
“We are powerful advocates of genuine free trade but opposed to a ‘globalisation’ that tramples over national sovereignty and engenders popular resentment by placing supranational interests over national interests.
“Above all, Britain needs to re-establish a cohesive national purpose respectful of our past and our traditions and patriotic without being jingoistic.
“The most powerful remedy available to the Government to resolve national division is to ensure that Brexit is a tangible success and to make it unambiguously irreversible.
“Brexit has, we believe, restored the United Kingdom to a path in both domestic and foreign policy that is more in accord with its political culture of self-government and its global interests and affinities.”
The report is scathing about the EU, saying that Britain would be far better off bypassing Brussels and forging closer links with individual member states, especially the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe.
The Ukraine war has exposed the empty pretensions of the EU – a “paper tiger” with neither the means or the resolve to play a pivotal role in helping Kyiv resist Russian aggression.
The report says: “The bigger and more grandiose the EU becomes, the more it is exposed as an enormous paper tiger (how many divisions has the EU?), which is increasingly irrelevant on the world stage.
“Once it mattered what West Germany or France thought, now does anyone care?
The authors condemn “supranationalism” in which vast bureaucratic and undemocratic structures seek to eclipse the nation state with its direct links between governed and governing.
But the road back to re-establishing pride in the nation is threatened by the so-called ‘culture wars’ in which the elites, obsessed with their ‘woke’ dogma, delight in running the country down.
The report says: “An ‘identity politics’ of minorities has focused on race and gender. This involves the propagation of a caricatured version of British history centred on slavery, violence and colonial oppression.
“It seems almost calculated to increase internal dissent and ethnic and religious conflict; and it certainly works in the interests of our global opponents in the rapidly crystallising ‘grey war’ between the Authoritarian and Free Worlds.”
It argues that it is time Britain woke up to the global threats to its future peace and prosperity. Other countries, particularly authoritarian regimes, do not see the world in the same way as Britain.
The West, whose elites are immersed in notions of cosmopolitan ethics, is losing the contest with its hard-headed rivals.
“We must now return to what we were, a fully sovereign, independent, United Kingdom that needs a coherent understanding of its national interest. We must do this promptly because we are, as Henry Kissinger said, ‘in the foothills of a second cold war’.
“A renewed sense of national purpose would also reject both isolationism and the liberal tyranny of guilt that seeks to atone for past imperial power.
“This dismal cosmopolitan mentality invariably prefers a policy of temporising neutrality in dealing with the authoritarian Goliaths that now strut the world stage.