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“Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath”. These words of Athenian statesman Solon should help guide how Britain rethinks its diplomatic efforts for the years ahead.

In the process of redesigning our international relationships after Brexit, we must think not only in terms of the newly formalised trading and security commitments Britain will with forge with old friends and new allies around the world, but about how the nation is seen to behave at home and abroad as an indispensable part an effective foreign policy toolbox. Although as a country we will be swearing ‘new oaths’, we cannot ignore the character of our conduct in collecting the essential currency of diplomacy, trust.

An element of UK foreign policy regularly trumpeted in government and the media are Britain’s ‘soft power’ credentials. The term soft power, coined by Joseph Nye in his 1990 book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, refers to the idea that the power to persuade offers a potent alternative to coercion as a means of wielding influence. This can crudely be divided into the ‘power of attraction’ and the ‘power of example’.

In the British context, discussion of soft power often ends up revolving around the attraction of cultural exports or the international appeal of the Royal Family. In recent years, the GREAT campaign has done an excellent job of providing a coherent and handsome shop-window to the world for this. Soft power, however, must not be understood merely as an exercise in national advertising. .

Part of Nye’s thesis was that the United States, basking in its reflective post-Cold War glow as “the shining city on a hill”, had monopolised soft power not only through the unparalleled reach of its corporations, popular culture and academic institutions, but fundamentally because it lived its values and was seen to succeed in doing so. The leadership by example practised by the United States is now far from guaranteed.

The world has moved on a great deal from the western optimism of the early nineties and promises of an inexorable march toward increased freedom and prosperity. We are now faced with a multipolar world in which the only certainty is a more splintered international landscape where rising powers will contest values once assumed to have carried the day.

How best can Britain respond? March’s National Security Capability Review (NSCR) contained some important first steps. The inclusion within the NSCR’s ‘Fusion Doctrine’ of soft power and communications elements as well as the promise of a cross-government “soft-power strategy” are welcome developments. Nonetheless, accompanying greater strategic thinking in government about soft power as a British foreign policy asset, must be an understanding of the value to genuine moral purpose in the world to shape and successfully deliver foreign policy priorities. As put by Tom Ridge, the first US Secretary of State of Homeland Security, “trust is a great force multiplier.” As we reach out beyond Europe’s shores against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile geopolitics, we should treat trust as a precious resource and recognise that it is engendered by our behaviour.

In terms of the tangible value of generating trust, a recent British Council study entitled “The value of trust” highlights its economic as well as political value. It found that “those who trust the UK are roughly twice as likely to want to do business or trade, study, experience UK arts and culture or visit as a tourist than those who do not trust the UK”. The research also makes clear that it is not just how states conducts themselves abroad or the admiration for how other country’s domestic societies operate which helps build trust, but also the quality of the person-to-person interactions between citizens. We are all in a very real way, ambassadors.

Bright Blue has made the case for Britain to become a world leader in the practice and promotion of human rights in alongside the government’s stated wish to become the leading advocate for global free trade. An important consideration is, that in a post-Brexit context, a foreign policy with real integrity which we can all take ownership of has the potential to unite the country in common cause. There is a strong yet underappreciated case to made for Britain as the intellectual home of human freedoms and rights which, to achieve public support and material success, ‘Global Britain’ must be true to.

A high-profile example of conducting a morally compromised foreign policy has been the continuing cosiness of the relationship with Saudi Arabia, all while it carries out an indiscriminate blockade and bombing campaign of the Yemen. This has been a serious failure to lead by example.

As the international arena slips into a more transactional mode, there is a clear opportunity for British foreign policy to stand out as one of principle. The perennial contrariness and hand-wringing about the utility of discussing British values must give way to a willingness to isolate what Britain stands for, the strength of those values and how we plan to acquit ourselves in accordance with those maxims.

Oscar Rocklin is a graduate intern at Bright Blue The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.