Ronnie Cohen wonders if nostalgia for Britain’s imperial past is damaging its future.
One buzz phrase frequently used about the UK’s post-Brexit future is Global Britain. But what does it mean? The UK Government has published its vision of Global Britain on its official website. It tells us about an aircraft carrier operating in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific, a tilt to the Indo-Pacific, being a force for good in the world and a renewal of trading relationships with Commonwealth countries.
On 3 February 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a speech about the government’s post-Brexit vision of Global Britain, saying:
“We will reach out to the rest of the Commonwealth, which now has some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
It was fantastic at the recent Africa summit to see how many wanted to turn that great family of nations into a free trade zone, even if we have to begin with clumps and groups, and we will take these ideas forward at Kigali in June.
We will engage with Japan and the other Trans-Pacific agreement countries, with old friends and partners – Australia, New Zealand, Canada – on whom we deliberately turned our backs in the early 1970s.”
Sceptical government officials have privately branded this vision “Empire 2.0”. Commonwealth leaders have told the British to forget Empire 2.0, saying that they do not want to be treated like colonies anymore. The Global Britain vision sounds like elements of Rule Britannia and a longing for a lost empire. The language of being a “force for good” sounds similar to what the British tell themselves about the empire. Not to mention “Gunboat diplomacy”. Hence the Leave campaign’s slogan of “Take back control” may be seen as the desire for the nostalgia of the lost empire. The problem with the trade plans is that the EU is the UK’s main market. The UK exports over four times as much to the EU as it does to the Commonwealth.
The desire to go back to imperial measures in market stalls and shops seems to be related to the same mindset, an attempt to turn the clock back and recreate a lost imperial past. The nostalgia for an imperial past is also reflected in the desire to keep imperial measurements on British roads. The continued visible use of imperial weights and measures in so many areas of British society contradicts ministers’ attempts to promote the UK as a modern, forward-looking country.
- Ex-colonies to UK: Forget Brexit ‘Empire 2.0’ – POLITICO
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- Empire 2.0: UK trade deals squeeze wealth from the Global South | War on Want
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- UK government post-Brexit plans to create Africa free-trade zone are being internally branded ‘Empire 2.0’ | The Independent | The Independent
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- Empire 2.0 is dangerous nostalgia for something that never existed | David Olusoga | The Guardian
- Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Global Britain: delivering on our international ambition – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)