If Britain wants to move on from the EU it cannot turn its back on humanitarian action

The exit of Britain from the European Union has continued to be a headline stealer for the country. Since the process from referendum to the… Read More »

If Britain wants to move on from the EU it cannot turn its back on humanitarian action

The exit of Britain from the European Union has continued to be a headline stealer for the country. Since the process from referendum to the process of leaving to the current stage of existing outside of the EU, countless pieces have been written and debates have been had regarding whether such a decision has benefitted, and will benefit, the nation.

While such occurrences in the aftermath are to be expected, it is past the point where such worries should be central to how the country progresses into the future. Britain cannot get bogged down in a cynical cycle of debating the merits of the results, arguing over what may have been gained or lost, and instead must ground its actions in a renewed perspective.

Importantly, the country must not treat the European Union as a newfound rival and must also reestablish a strong transatlantic relationship with the United States. Recent events show more than ever the urgency with which the country must begin to consider its new global role, particularly in relation to the EU and US.

In the immediate aftermath of war breaking out in Ukraine, other European countries began to prepare plans to accept those fleeing the country. It quickly became scandalous how slow the UK was to react to such events regarding the acceptance and processing of those fleeing Ukraine. This was seen as highlighting the shortcomings of both humanitarian actions on the part of government institutions and humanitarian concern on the part of government officials.

This comes at a time when the Nationalities and Borders Bill has remained under continuous scrutiny. The stated aim of the Bill has been to “increase the fairness” of the immigration system in the UK and “deter illegal entry” into the country. Certain aspects of the bill, however, have raised particular concern, which if passed would give the government significant power in stripping individuals of citizenship, as well as allowing the government to block or criminalise those who do not arrive through specific pre-established resettlement routes. The Bill has raised concerns from organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UK-based Refugee Council.

While many bemoan the results of Brexit, the move of the Conservative government to impose new border regulations, and the apparent inability to react appropriately to humanitarian concerns resulting from the invasion of Ukraine, the problem is less each of these in isolation. Although each of these events has rightly been scrutinised, the greater issue is that this is beginning to reflect a concerning pattern of a country unable to establish a clear idea of where it wants to move into the future. Britain can simultaneously be independent of the EU and also avoid becoming a regressive, inward-looking country unable to adapt to a new role in global politics.

The country must make sure it is taking an active humanitarian role. Although immigration itself is a hot button issue dividing the public at times, ensuring that the country has effective and efficient systems of accepting, protecting, and integrating refugees and asylum seekers into the country is important not only in maintaining stability within the country, but serve an important public good. The UK must not only focus on its own borders, however, but should be thinking beyond its borders. One policy area in which the government must change is foreign aid spending. In 2021, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the government would be cutting foreign aid spending to 0.5% or Gross National Income (GNI), down from 0.7%, until at least 2024. 

Now is a time in which the country should be looking to increase, not decrease, foreign aid spending. As policymakers should understand, leaving the EU does not mean global events stop affecting the UK. This means that with greater independence from the EU itself, the UK must focus on putting in more direct effort to ensure assistance and stability to areas of humanitarian need. This can serve the dual purpose of providing for the protection of both the most vulnerable and working towards ensuring that areas outside of the UK are not destabilising in ways that can further affect the economy and security of the UK itself.

This also includes ensuring that it takes a lead on global environmental action. Such changes can be useful both for the domestic health of the country and the international leadership of the country. This would involve exploring increasing offshore wind development, the expansion of solar energy farms, and establishing new hydroelectric power stations. Such environmental progress can be economically beneficial as well, providing work in areas outside of urban centres as well. By harnessing government policies aimed at progressive climate action and technological advancement, particularly in areas outside of urban centres, the UK can not only serve as a global leader in working to ensure better environmental standards, but can redevelop the domestic economy and social relationship with nature. 

These changes can serve as the basis for a country not hung up on Brexit, but one that can move forward as an independent country outside of the EU that acts in the interests of its own people and a greater global good. While Brexit has certainly caused numerous headaches for Britain, the greater challenge now is not focusing on how much to complain about these headaches, but on how the country can take steps towards being a strong humanitarian actor, not a country stagnated through internal squabbling.