Britain, Europe and the World. Rethinking the UK’s Circles of Influence

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Series Details October 2015
Publication Date October 2015
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Given the international context, it is in Britain’s best interests to treat Europe as the ‘inner circle’ of its foreign, security and international economic policy, writes Robin Niblett in the Chatham House Research Paper.

The British government’s approach since 2010 of seeking to enhance the UK's relations with the world’s emerging powers while balancing these with relationships with the United States and Europe has had only limited success. With constrained resources, and in the face of intense global economic competition, mounting security challenges and decaying international institutions, trying to commit the UK equally on all three fronts will not succeed in the future.

This paper calls for a different mindset and strategy towards the UK’s place in the world – one in which Britain is surrounded by three concentric circles of influence:

+ The first or ‘inner circle’ is the EU, the region with which the UK’s relationships need to be strongest and most active.
+ The ‘second circle’ consists of the protective and enabling set of economic and security relationships with the US.
+ Finally, an ‘outer circle’ comprises the UK’s other key bilateral and institutional relationships.

Should the UK vote to remain in the EU, policy-makers should commit to placing the EU at the centre of Britain's foreign policy, using the country’s economic weight, diplomatic skills and networks to play a leading role in leveraging more effective EU-wide policies.

Should the country vote to leave, the UK and the EU would enter an extended period of dislocation before arriving at a new, mutually diminished settlement. British policy-makers would be forced to deal and negotiate with the EU on critical policy issues from the outside. It is hard to see how that could lead to EU policies or an international context more in line with British interests.

In a related podcast 'The EU Referendum: Britain's Choice on Europe' (see related url) Robin Niblett discusses his new paper on the EU and the UK's circles of influence and argues for why the UK benefits in trade, security and global influence from membership of the EU.

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Chatham House: Podcast: Episode 2: EU Membership and Britain’s Role in the World, October 2015
ESO: In Focus: Brexit - The United Kingdom and the European Union
Chatham House: Expert Comment, 27.10.15: Britain Needs to Rethink Its Circles of Influence

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