What is the UK’s national interest?

The government  defines the UK’s interest in terms of two central alliances – the American and the EU. This is old thinking.

It is true that the government has sought to improve and develop the UK relationship with India, and has recognised the growing economic strength of China. We are moving rapidly from a world with one superpower, the USA,  to a world where the super power has an important and increasingly powerful rival in China. We will wtiness the progressive relative decline of the EU as an economic force, as the surge of wealth and income generation from the emerging market economies continues.

In such a world the UK needs to reconsider and modernise its strategy.  The UK’s interests are not necessarily the same militarily and in foreign policy terms as the USA’s, and the UK’s economic interests are not automatically alligned to those of the rest of Europe. The UK needs a modern foreign policy based on the world as it is and is becoming, not firmly rooted in the world of the last century where the two fixed poles were US military and diplomatic power and EU  economic power.

The case for the old strategy was simple. The US is the dominant military and diplomatic power in the world. As an English speaking democracy our best course was said to be to seek to be special friends with the US. The price was supporting the US military endeavours. The gain was US protection during the Cold War and the exchange of  military technology and intelligence.

On the economic front the defeatists about the UK who argued and put us into the EEC in the early 1970s believed that the EU economy was livelier and more thrusting than the UK’s. They thought that binding  us into EU rules and procedures would let the greater dynamism of Germany and France rub off. Shortly after we joined in the 1980s the UK transformed its own performance for the better. In the 1990s much of the rest of the EU sank into a new big government  low growth model.  We will examine the problems our twin foreign policy strategy has created for us later this week.

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24 Comments

  1. lifelogic
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    One again it seems Cast Iron Dave and William Hague are preparing to cave in on their current strong EU negotiating position. So it looks as though will be stuck with the “big government low growth (and totally undemocratic) model”

  2. The ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    We’ll look forward to your further analysis and was pleased to see you on Jeff Randasll lat night. Jeff is a good thinker and broadcaster and here’s to DC being able to put his recent words into action today.

    We’ve come to enjoy statistics since becoming converts to this site. However we couldn’t get our heads around what any quarterly GDP figure actually means as part of the bigger picture economists always argue over.

    So…last night we tried the Moving Annual Total method that our friends The ESSEX BOYS bang on about. We looked up and took the last 11 quarterly GDP figures from Mar 2008 to Sep 2010 (announced this week). The aggregate of the 4 most recent quarters back in Dec 2008 showed a minus 2.7% figure for the UK economy.
    By adding the latest quarter thereafter and dropping the ‘year ago’ quarter we came to these figures:
    -5.6%; -6.0%; -5.3%; -3.9%; -0.2%; +1.7% and now +2.7%.
    This December the year ago figure that’s to be dropped off is +0.4% so if that is exceeded the upward trend will continue (which looks quite likely).

    Subject to the interpretation of folk cleverer than ourselves we believe this shows us that:

    A) The UK economy is already achieving the growth rates forecast in the budget
    B) We need only grow modestly in this current quarter to accelerate this trend.
    C) This gives us a context into which all future figures can be anticipated and judged.

    Are we thinking straight please?

    Reply: Yes you are. There is one issue with Q3 figures however. Construction was particlularly buoyant, which seems unlikely. They have recently changed the sampling method to produce this figure so it may be subject to revision.

  3. Alan
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    As someone who supported our joining the EU in the 70s I rather object to being called ‘defeatist’. I regarded those who opposed joining as being defeatist ‘Little Englanders’ who were frightened of the outside world and wanted to protect their own interests at the expense of the rest of us. I’m not denying that there were some people who wanted to stay out of the EU on the grounds that they thought it important that we should run all our own affairs and that we could be successful without the wider market of the EU, but the opposition seemed to me to consist mainly of industrialists who did not want to face up to competition of Europe and trade unionists who thought the EU was a conspiracy to keep wages down. They combined well with people who are frightened of any change.

    It wasn’t unreasonable to hope that competition with the EU would improve our industries, and our trade unions, and there is some support for this in the way our economy did improve once the EU was integrated by the trade agreements of the 80s. Don’t forget that an important part of Mrs Thatcher’s economic reforms was to improve our contacts with the rest of the EU; it wasn’t just a matter of trade union legislation.

    We fail to get the most from the EU because we fail to seize opportunities. We consistently keep ourselves on the outside of its policy making and then find ourselves arguing against proposals that would never have got off the ground if we had contributed to discussions at an earlier stage. Our MEPs are either invisible or a joke. There is a danger that our government will look the same.

    It is in our interest that the euro should be run well, whether we are in it or not, but we find ourselves in a situation where we may oppose a treaty change that would help the eurozone at no cost to ourselves, in order to oppose a budget increase that most other governments do not want either. That doesn’t make us look serious.

    We should not only be supporting (or perhaps being neutral) on the treaty change we should be involved with the other major countries in assessing what is a good budget for the EU and working for that. We need to be leaders in the EU, not reluctant followers; in the centre, not at the periphery.

  4. The ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Thanks – we’ll look out for that.

    For other readers we meant Jeff RANDALL (on Sky) of course.

  5. Jose
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Surely our interests are security and economic success.
    We will never realise economic success whilst members of the EU. We are one of the biggest contributors and one of the EU’s biggest export markets. And still they want more. Cameron and Hague need to strengthen our Commonwealth ties and create more 2 way trade with China. The USA is yesterday’s beast which is completely in hock to China.

  6. Richard1
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I think you are unduly harsh on EEC supporters in the 70s – after all Margaret Thatcher was in the forefront. The argument was: 1) more free trade is always a good thing and a European single market – whilst not the end goal of global free trade – is a good step in the right direction; and 2) at the time – the 1970s – economies such as Germany’s were far better run – more open, more disciplined in govt spending, less prone to union militancy – than Britain’s. Thats why socialists opposed EEC membership. They saw it (rightly) as a bulwark against the imposition of socialism in Britain. It is right to criticise the bureaucracy, costs and protectionism of the EU. But we should also recognise the undoubted benefits of the single market.

  7. Cliff
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Sadly John, when we signed up to the EUSSR, we agreed, amongst other things, to never put our own national interests above that of the EUSSR….What kind of democratically elected British government would sign up to such a thing if they had our nation and our own national interests at heart? Surely it can only harm our nation and, in time, bankrupt it.
    Cue our resident EUSSR apologist(SJB), who will come on now to say why the gut feelings and opinions of nearly all other posters are wrong;-)

  8. English Pensioner
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    The UK’s National Interest should be the UK, no ifs or buts, the UK should come first.
    No-one in France would ask “what is the French Nation Interest”, simply because everybody knows and expects it to be France; why should we be any different.
    And to start, Cameron should state quite firmly that it is NOT in the UK’s National Interest to pay any more money to the EU, as widely reported today, but that we will be cutting our expenditure in line with other government cuts.
    What can the EU do if he took such a line? The French went their own way when deporting the Roma, the EU huffed and puffed and the French ignored them. Finally the EU apparatchiks crawled back into their holes well knowing that nothing they might do would change the French position.
    If I were French, I would admire my government and laugh at the British.

  9. Stuart Fairney
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    An interesting post as ever, but I take issue with only one aspect. The US is in a desperate financial position. Since the collapse of Bretton Woods, world currencies have been on a de facto dollar standard. This has allowed the US to clock up ruinious debts and when the first few bricks in the dollar dam start to fall, total collapse won’t be far behind. The political elites are wholly unable to deal with the problem and variously in denial or uncomprehending (save perhaps for Dr Paul and he isn’t going to be elected). We will still be in a one super power world, it just won’t be America any more.

  10. Freeborn John
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    There must be some at least quasi-scientific way of calculating national interest; and from that to determine the ‘natural’ relative important of good relations with one country versus another, to be used when prioritisation of one over another becomes unavoidable. From there one could compare the evolving ‘natural’ order to the current priorities we give to the USA or European partners and recalibrate as necessary to suit the age.

    (One would hope the Forign Office have such a quais-scientific approach, but one can’t helping thinking they just bumble along in a direction set by others).

    The EU does however prevent any re-calibration. Ever-closer union presupposes that prioritisation of relations with other European countries over all non-European countries is the increasingly ‘natural’ order of things. Once Brussels has de-facto decision-making authority to decide for us in matters affecting our relations with 3rd countries, then we can no longer re-calibrate our policy with with those 3rd countries to suit our own national interest. E.g. we cannot negotiate free-trade with the USA for example even if it were shown to be on our national interest to achieve that. Since the economies of the eurozone are low-growth, and the populations of most Continental countries – especially Germany and Russia – are fast declining, there is an increasing tension between the pre-supposition upon which the EU has been built and the natural order of things as they are evolving in the 21st century.

    De-coupling ourselves from the EU-ratchet has therefore become a pre-condition for any foreign policy based on our national interest.

  11. Markj
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    A £450 million increase in our contributions to the EU is unacceptable in the current climate. David Cameron and William Hague – once (not so long ago) euro sceptics, however they now seem to changed their attitude towards the EU by refusing a referendum for the British people to have their say, and caving into EU demands.

    Referendum please otherwise watch your (the Conservative partys’) core vote disintegrate at the next election!

  12. lola
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    What about the Commonwealth? A ready made free trade bloc that wants to trade with everyone – and generally does. There’s a future in that.

  13. Alan Wheatley
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps on October 4th last there is a clue to where our Prime Minister see the future of British interests, for he is reported as speaking in favour of stronger links with the Commonwealth and has encouraged William Hague to pursue this objective. I also read that “The Commonwealth accounts for a fifth of all world trade, and over the last decade, trade within the association has grown by 50 per cent, reaching £3 trillion per year.” Moves are afoot to form a Commonwealth free trade area.

    So, as Cameron comes back from the latest EU summit, having found out once again that the British view is at odds with the rest of the EU, the Commonwealth offers an increasingly attractive alternative.

  14. EJT
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Seen elsewhere – “Dave the Cave”

  15. JimF
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    “On the economic front the defeatists about the UK who argued and put us into the EEC in the early 1970s believed that the EU economy was livelier and more thrusting than the UK’s”

    No, I think we were just free traders who didn’t like tariff walls and not being able to travel, work and sell freely in Europe.

    The UK as a bridge speaking English with the USA but on a tariff footing with the EEC worked so well in services that our currency shot too high. Unfortunately, it didn’t work quite as well in manufacturing which needs the right attitude from planners (not scaring factories away), government (deciding that a quick-buck-estate-agent-mentality needs balancing with a technology manufacturing one) and the people (ditto).

    It was the EU which carried the project over and above what was envisaged in 1973, and various governments which went along with that.

    An enhanced EFTA model would still be no bad thing for Europe; it’s geographically “where we are”. As the UK we just need to use our relationship with the EC and US to build new bridges with those nice English-speaking people in India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam,… not burn the old ones to the USA and Europe.

  16. Ross J Warren
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Edited Version:

    The National interest in my opinion is to draw closer to Russia, and seek insights into how they have over come a Soviet state.
    We have every right to foster relations with our cousins now they have adjusted. We might also talk more to the Germans about mutual interest, after all we are as tied in as France and far better ruled for the most part. The French have endemic and generational unemployment and strong Unions. We have had one generation of low achievement after another, but finally and painfully slowly we are seeing the light. Rather than seeking to fund Europe we should be seeking an over all benefit from membership. Of course we cannot talk of reparations but we can insist on full value of membership, and we should not be so proud as to pretend we can afford more than we have. The World doesn’t owe Great Britain a living but its high time the world reconsidered its assumption that we can “fix all their problems” Fact is having saved the World yet again G.B. under G.B. was in danger of losing the peace.
    We must not make that mistake, and we must extract our proper fee. Britain cannot afford to look weak in the face of the E.U. and D.C. must not give anything “we cannot afford” away.

    The Gnomes have to understand that the banking crisis was a loan crisis, and that those loans must be paid in full before we can say we have overcome the deficit.
    In this case the principle is everyman, these really are National loans made against our collective name.

    Why have we been left propping up the whole darn edifice?

    What is our individual liability ? (Knowing might put a smile on our faces)
    In fact the very knowledge that you Owe or rather are in for a “finite sum” is in itself liberating. By simple deduction we can also work out that we are owed a finite sum, don’t get all that excited our collective wealth has taken a real body blow recently, and far to many people still run deep into the red.

    We all need a bottom line which is why a universal pension or welfare rate gets so many people vote. A certainty under pinning an uncertain and difficult world, rather than our current welfare system which encourages people to live in housing that otherwise would be unaffordable. £50,000 a year to house a single person at a luxury address?

  17. Acorn
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    My big fear is that the EU will end up like the US. The US has a federal government which is out of control. I fear that an EU federal government will likewise become out of control.

    So far, the EU parliament has not usurped the powers from its constituent States, anywhere near as much as the US federal congress has from its founding States. US States have been reduced to the status of English Counties in the UK system.

    Most US States are now bankrupt. Some have global sized economies and have no control over local interest rates; and, have to use a common currency which can’t respond to local monetary conditions; just like the Euro currency States of the EU.

    The US federal Executive and Congress are slowly killing the natural enterprise of the American people; it is rapidly becoming a Socialist entity. We have to stop the EU going the same way; or, get out of it. Bring back EFTA I say and dump the EU parliament for a starter.

  18. Alan Johnson
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m old enough to remember when the European Free Trade Association used to impose high tarrifs on non members goods. e.g. Japanese Ball bearings. We were told it was one of the advantages of belonging. We had to vote for common market membership to protect prime industries and jobs. Then along came free markets, gloabalisation, federalisation, EU Supra state. Unemployment, loss of sovereignty, uncontrolled movement of millions and Europoean politicians who are at best, medicocre middle managers, promoted light years beyond their capabliites.
    You are right John, the world is changing and much more rapidly than anyone forecast, especially the EU.
    As for me. I want my country back, no matter what the cost.
    If things continue as they are the British (English, Irish, Scots and Welsh) will disappear as an ethnic majority in our own country within 50 years.
    The EU is a major contributor to many of the problems we are experiencing. We are a net contributor and a major importer from Europe. It is very hard to see the positive benefits of continuing membership.
    Who amongst our political parties will give us a referendum?
    In or out. If the EU is so good, let the people confirm it.
    I believe Mr. Cameron failed to gain a majority because he refused a referendum. If he comes back with nothing, other than having “saved the great British Banger” a la Yes minister,
    I think many “real Conservatives” will not vote for Him again.

  19. Austin
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    The biggest threat to the UK’s survival will always come from the Continent. The biggest threat to the US’s survival as a dominant power will still come from the Continent. Thus the UK and the US still share a common threat and destiny besides the cultural and sentimental ties that bind.
    China is not a stable regime and won’t be capable of projecting power across the Pacific to seriously threaten the US militarily for a long time, if ever.
    The most immediate danger to the UK as it has existed for nearly the past millenium is a Vichy style surrender and sell out to the EU [French and Germans–mainly Germans] and their new friends, the Russians, by British/Euro politicians.

  20. Robert K
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Interesting, isn’t it, that the Eurocrats want a 6% budget increase. Mr Cameron turns up and gets agreement for a 3% increase and claims a political victory (at least that’s how it was presented on the news). At no point in this little quickstep does the fundamental question get raised: why are we part of this supra-national club for quangocrats and if we are, why do we think an increase of any sort in an already excessive and unaccountable budget is a victory?

  21. Winston's Black Dog
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    £450,000,000 the price of Cast-iron Dave’s latest tummy tickle by his masters in the EU at a time British subjects are facing death sentences because health trusts (make mistakes) or refuse them life saving cancer drugs. Other British subjects are to be compelled to work longer for less. Young people seeking to better themselves by going to university are being condemned to high levels of debt whilst banks who’ve mugged the taxpayer refuse to give mortgages.

    Yes some (a lot in fact) is Labour’s fault but they are socialists and hate their country so it is to be expected. The green man made climate change scam is a good way of using the EU to turn our country into a province of the authoritarian, totalitarian state they want to create.

    At election time Conservatives perennially wrap themselves in the Union Jack and pretend to be British patriots. If there really are any genuine Conservative Eurosceptics it is about time they started rattling a few sabres!

    Cameron is as (anti UK) as Heath. You guys have degrees from Oxford and Cambridge and are supposed to be intelligent. I’m just a thicky who went to Poly but I can see it. Why can’t you?

  22. alan jutson
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Alan Johnson

    Yes I am old enough to remember the Japanese ball bearing tarrif as well, I was in the Engineering Industry (having completed an Apprenticeship) and remember well that we used to design and make things in this Country, that both we and the rest of the World purchased. The problem we had at that time (and the writing was on the wall) was Poor Quality, Poor Management, and disruptive Unions. What we did have was Hundreds of thousands of skilled workers/tradesmen

    Sadly we solved most of those problems too late, but in failing to recognise our real faults at the time, we joined the Common Market believing that it was the way to go (protected Markets) and have since lost most of our skilled workers.

    The EU is now an expensive busted flush, if we do not grasp the nettle, it will strangle us.

  23. Conrad Jones
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    It’s in the UK’s National Interest to remain a Sovereign Nation and for the people who vote in the elections to know that they are voting for people who control and regulate the Banking System. In fact – in my opinion; the key and overwhelming issue now would be to go back to a Scottish Model of Banking used in the 1700s up until 1845 which was a true Free Private Banking Model. Individual Private Banks could print their own Bank Notes but genuinely compete against rival Banks. This promoted stable financial environment when in England – the Banking community lurched from one crisis to the next panic – bit like now.

    If a Scottish Bank failed in the 1700s there were no bail outs and therefore, no need for regulation.

    We here stories of RBS and think that Scottish Banking is weak but they had a very strong Banking System with limited interevention from the Bank of Scotland which could not lend to the Government unless decreed by Parliament. After the English Central Bank invaded their system, this period of financial prudence and stability vanished.

  24. Nick
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Just a reminder: the UK isn’t a nation. The English, Scots and Welsh peoples are nations, and when ‘our’ government finally agrees that we deserve the same right and advantage as the Jews, most famously, with their right to a Jewish state devoted to the interests of the Jewish people, we’ll be a lot better off for it.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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