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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today published the latest edition of its magazine Centre Write, entitled “Global giant?”. On the eve of the Commonwealth Summit, Bright Blue and the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, advocate in the magazine for a stronger focus on the Commonwealth in Britain’s post-Brexit foreign policy.

Following the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s recent report urging the Government to build a long-term strategy for the Commonwealth, Bright Blue is calling for Britain to use its new tenure as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth until 2020 to ensure free trade and human rights are the central pillars of this country’s post-Brexit foreign policy.

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, Director of Bright Blue, said:

“As the UK is leaving the European Union next year, it is incredibly important that Britain’s foreign policy is now focussed on shaping and leading the work of prominent multinational organisations. In particular, Britain needs to now help strengthen and lead the Commonwealth, which it founded.

“Britain exported two important ideas to the rest of the world – free trade and human rights. These should be the central pillars of Britain’s post-Brexit foreign policy, including through the Commonwealth.

”During the Brexit transition period, Britain should use its chairing of the Commonwealth until 2020 to prioritise negotiating Free Trade Agreements with those countries that are members of it.

“But we should not sacrifice standards for quick wins on trade deals. We should ensure our trade deals, where possible, include obligations for partner countries to improve human rights.

“Britain should use our respected resources such as our military capability, aid budget, diplomatic and intelligence services, institutions such as the BBC and our universities, as well as UK settlement and sanctuary, to influence global affairs. Post-Brexit, all these resources need to be sufficiently supported, funded and reformed. We should maintain spending commitments to our aid and military budgets. And reform our immigration system to ensure talented students, workers and investors are not deterred from coming to this country.”

Speaking ahead of the Commonwealth Summit on 16 April 2018, Tom Tugendhat MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said in Bright Blue’s magazine:

“It is a matter of great sorrow to me that when we spoke to the Secretary of State he told us that the Commonwealth was not one of the priorities. Now that is a concern, because if the Commonwealth is not one of the priorities in a post-Brexit era, one wonders what is. The reality is there are very few organisations or associations that demonstrate quite so clearly the centrality of the United Kingdom. It’s a great shame if the Foreign Office don’t see that.

“It’s not enough just to talk about the Commonwealth. We’ve got to invest in it. That doesn’t mean just countries where we have traditional links and where we have serious investment, such as India and Australia. We have to multiply the efforts in other places. For example, we really do need to invest in our African network. Countries like Rwanda and Ghana offer serious opportunities, not just for British business, but much more importantly than that, they offer opportunities for the United Kingdom to demonstrate what British friendship means. If we were to invest properly in Ghana – partnering with her militarily, through the rule of law, through trade and aid – then we would see that country transform and through it, I think, we could transform West Africa.

“This is an amazing network. But unless we invest in it and take it seriously, and unless we see that it’s a relationship based on values and not just on trade, then we will be failing to gain its full value.”

Speaking about the Foreign Secretary, Tom Tugendhat MP added:

“I think Boris has got some amazing strengths. He has the ability to make his voice heard and that is a real asset for the United Kingdom. People listen. But it is important, of course, that they hear the words that Britain really wants to project. Those words must have to do with promoting the values of the United Kingdom and promoting our interests around the world.”

In an interview in the magazine with Former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Heseltine, said:

“The Brexit performance – and Boris Johnson’s performance in that context – is the issue. Our reputation as a nation is essentially interwoven with the words of the Foreign Secretary and his political postures. You cannot sweep this aside.”

Sir Lockwood Smith, former High Commissioner of New Zealand to the UK, wrote:

“Brexit has rekindled debate on the future of the Commonwealth with some saying it could even supplant the EU in the UK’s trade relations. Such talk is nonsense. The UK needs to negotiate an excellent trading relationship with the EU, but when it comes to the future, the Commonwealth does offer opportunity.

“The Commonwealth has has been described as an “economic powerhouse in waiting”. In hosting CHOGM the UK has the opportunity to electrify that powerhouse. To do that […] the UK must regain the competence to develop its own global trade strategy. It cannot do that if it remains part of the EU Customs Union, or if it remains bound to the EU regulatory system. […] A world leading FTA with the EU is needed and should not be too difficult to negotiate unless politics trumps reason.”

This edition of Bright Blue’s Centre Write magazine includes contributions from Tom Tugendhat MP, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, the Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, the Rt Hon Anna Soubry MP, Baroness Helic and Lord Heseltine.

The magazine includes ideas to secure Britain’s place, post-Brexit, as a global giant, focussing on key areas such as: trade, diplomacy, defence human rights, international development, and climate change.