European Union

Britain can’t afford austerity

Country must look outward and avoid isolationism, argues Dan Jarvis

The world is changing fast and so could Britain’s role within it. Brexit means that our country stands at a crossroads, with the path ahead further complicated by both austerity and the aftermath of the Iraq war. If the new prime minister does not demonstrate leadership in responding to each challenge to secure our interests, it will result in strategic drift and diminish the UK’s standing in the world.

Over the next 20 years, the world will witness the economic rise of not only India and China but the entire Pacific Rim. The economic shift east will cause a rebalancing of international diplomacy and security efforts as the United States seeks to remain the world’s leading power.

Simultaneously, global competition for resources will increase, we will see the UK’s population grow and our dependency on imported energy, food and raw materials rise. Globalization will continue and the world will become ever more interconnected.

Millennials across the developing world will see the wealth of the West and aspire to make their lives better. But if their aspirations are not met, they may turn to alternative ideologies. Inequality on the scale we see today disenfranchises the very people we need to build the economies and societies of the developing world. If the global economy does not share the proceeds of growth fairly then the moral foundations of the global system will be called into question.

For the UK, Conservative Party austerity has come at a cost. Our government should look strategically, consider all the risks to the UK and decide how best to mitigate them. Instead, David Cameron’s administration focused too much on cutting costs and while it was right that the deficit was reduced, the rate of reduction resulted in a shrinking of our ambition, a decline in our international standing and strategic drift.  Austerity became the UK’s mindset.

We have the sixth largest economy in the world, the fourth largest defence budget and the second largest overseas aid budget. We must be outward looking and still aspire to make a responsible contribution to international affairs.

My party, Labour, is an internationalist party. Internationalism is at the heart of our desire to change our world for the better.  At our best, we are prepared to put aside our differences to serve in the national interest. Never more so than when Attlee and Bevin went beyond party politics to serve in Churchill’s War Cabinet. We can all learn from that.

The EU referendum campaign demonstrated the frustration people feel at a public debate that often appears too remote. Many understandably question why jobs and opportunity go elsewhere, while concerns over how their community is changing are ignored. People feel left behind. The choice they made went beyond the transactional benefits of EU membership and instead became about their own lives.  

'We must be outward looking and still aspire to make a responsible contribution to international affairs'

The Brexit vote must be respected. Yet if we are to tackle the world’s economic problems: slow growth, tax evasion, corruption, financial instability and inequality – we must do so not just through bilateral trade treaties but by coordinated international action through institutions such as the G20, the OECD, the IMF and the World Trade Organization. Only then can we coordinate and implement effective solutions. This will require leadership and a foreign secretary who has the gravitas to leverage our influence around the world.

The publication of the Chilcot report  into the Iraq war has led to renewed soul-searching over whether and how the UK should become involved in international conflicts. It is the duty of every MP to scrutinize the basis of any future proposal to use military force and be able to justify it to their constituents. Because of this, the government should review how intelligence is shared between Whitehall and the decision-makers in parliament. It is only through such information-sharing that MPs can make informed decisions.

Development aid saves lives, promotes economic growth, and furthers the UK’s influence. Morally it is the right thing to do. We must continue to fund it, and we need a secretary of state who believes in it. Development aid should be properly funded and integrated alongside a more specialized diplomatic service, with intelligence services and a ministry of defence ready to meet the new challenges of global counter-terrorism and cyber warfare.

However, for most people in the world today it is our culture that defines us.  And that is about more than the English language. Our universities are among our greatest embassies and our researchers and scientists are our most admired ambassadors.  

London now rivals New York, Milan and Paris as a global fashion capital. Our sportsmen and women are our greatest brands, and music, television, film and the arts are among our most successful exports.  The success of these industries ensures the influence of the UK. None of this should change; so mitigating the risks posed by cuts to the BBC and the arts, and reducing the impact of Brexit on university research should be a priority.

The challenges of the 21st century will be more complex than ever before. To meet them, the new government must always look outward and so enable our industries and people to do the same. Its objectives must be more strategic and wider than austerity; it must learn the lessons identified by Chilcot and tackle the aftermath of the Iraq war and Afghanistan deployment; and it must not let the UK be defined by Brexit. It is not through isolationism that we will find security or prosperity. To think otherwise is both a denial of reality and a poverty of ambition.