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On 9th October 1948 in Llandudno, Wales, the elder statesman and Leader of the Opposition, Sir Winston Churchill, boasted of a new, post-war vision for British foreign policy at the 69th Annual Conservative Party Conference. In his speech, Churchill outlined three overlapping spheres of British influence: the Commonwealth of Nations, the Anglosphere and a ‘United Europe’. Coined Churchill’s ‘Three Majestic Circles’, the model saw Britain as one of the ‘Big Three’ (Britain, the US and the USSR), destined for a post-war role fit for a great power which reaches beyond the confines of Europe.

Some 73 years later, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party frequently refer to ‘Global Britain’ as a new epoch for British foreign policy outside the European Union. Global Britain, commonly used to refer to the Government’s foreign policy agenda, intends to portray Britain as an outward-looking and confident nation state, committed to reinvesting in its partners and championing the rules-based international order. Its vision of a greater role for Britain, which incorporates but is not limited to Europe, chimes with Churchill’s model.

Further parallels between Churchill’s tripartite model and Britain’s foreign policy today are apparent in the Government’s recently-published Integrated Review. With its message that Britain is “a European country with global interests”, the comprehensive review of Britain’s national security and international policy continues and reaffirms the notion of a greater, global role for an independent Britain. This is Global Britain in action.

The seminal review identifies Churchill’s three circles as key areas of British influence. It envisages Churchill’s first circle, the Commonwealth, as “an important institution in supporting an open ability to strike our own trade deals”. Tying to his second circle, the Anglosphere, the United States is affirmed as Britain’s “most strategic ally and partner” and pledges that we “will continue to invest deeply in our partnerships with Australia, Canada and New Zealand”, often now referred to collectively by the acronym CANZUK. The review vows that his third and final circle, a ‘United Europe’, will not be left ashore for the high seas, assuring that our “European neighbours and allies remain vital partners” and highlights close bilateral relations with France, Germany, Ireland and other European countries.

However, despite these assurances many critics claim that Britain is ‘turning its back’ on Churchill’s third, European circle with Brexit and is, therefore, breaking with his model. Consequently, this has brought into question whether Churchill himself would have supported Brexit.

Despite the overlap between Churchill’s Three Majestic Circles and Global Britain, accompanied by the Integrated Review, the world has also changed a lot since the 1940s. A more recent geopolitical shift towards Asia with the rise of China and the Asian Tigers has occurred since Churchill’s time. As such, the Integrated Review identifies the Indo-Pacific region as a key area for growth in Britain’s foreign policy agenda, claiming that we will establish “a greater and more persistent presence than any other European country”.

In addition to this geopolitical shift, there is also now a great emphasis on the strength of Britain’s soft power. Put simply, soft power is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce. The Integrated Review draws on this extensively, highlighting Britain’s great contributions to media and culture, education, sport and people-to-people links. Coined by the political scientist Joseph Nye in the late 1980s, the term soft power was not part of Churchill’s rich vocabulary. By this measurement, Britain does still enjoy its great power status, ranking second by the Soft Power 30 study.

These differences reveal the limitations of using Churchill’s model to forecast the future of British foreign policy. Despite historical change, what remains is a shared vision of Britain which rejects the notion that its political class should manage the post-imperial decline of a middling power and concentrate on its regional, European influence. Instead, both note that Britain has had a historically greater role which it continues to enjoy and should take advantage of it by reaching beyond its own European back door. In this way, Churchill’s model for foreign policy has endured with Global Britain. Its efficacy in practice will now be revealed.

Luke is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Levan Ramishvili]