ACROSS Whitehall, a new task force is quietly creaming off the very best civil servants for a special project that could come to define Britain for the 2020s.
In Downing Street and the Foreign Office, Boris Johnson’s pending presidency of the G7 — the group of nations that pumps out nearly half of the world’s economic output — is already top of ministerial in-trays and officials are plotting the summit.
Boris Johnson’s Britain will become a tougher player on the global stage after finally escaping the shackles of the EU[/caption]
After finally cutting ties with Brussels, the UK will host America, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy next summer in what the PM hopes will be a defining moment for “Global Britain”.
And it’s no surprise that he’s eyeing a Red Wall location for the gathering.
But is the good ship Britannia really ready to sail alone again?
Behind the scenes a major review into our place in the world has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but it has been picking up again in recent weeks.
And no part of the machine, from defence and spies to diplomats, is safe from a root-and-branch inspection.
A clue of things to come can be found in the PM’s merging of the vast aid department and its £15billion budget into the Foreign Office.
Luvvies howled but the concept of getting more bang for our buck seems pretty straightforward. And in the last few months even the gloomiest of naysayers have struggled to dismiss a marked change in our foreign policy.
ENRAGED THE CHINESE
From pointing the finger squarely at the Kremlin over cyber attacks, and slapping sanctions on a raft of Russian and Saudi baddies, we have also enraged the Chinese over Hong Kong and Huawei.
After China’s handling of Covid-19, menacing warnings of a “reckoning” in relations with the superpower came out of Downing Street.
Such talk would have been unthinkable under previous PM David Cameron.
And the increasingly bizarre rants to come out of Beijing threatening retaliation against Britain shows it is hurting.
But as the boss of the Commons Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood, says, “Britain has clearly taken a big stick and chosen to poke the dragon.
But is this just a tactical reaction to China’s behaviour or is this part of a geopolitical reset?”
The evidence points to the latter, especially as Britain can now be tougher on foreign policy as it does not have to worry about upsetting other members of the EU.
Britain really was alone in leading the charge over the Communist Party of China’s brutal crackdown on Hong Kongers.
The UK side are at their wit’s end with the EU’s demands
Where was the EU offering to throw open its borders to millions of its citizens to mirror our own offer?
All of these actions would have been significantly harder if the UK was still in the EU — and there has been a noticeable harder edge to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab since we quit in January.
As a diplomatic source told me: “The EU has always wanted to be a foreign policy player but time and again shows itself to lack any coherent voice or position. It’s a talking shop.”
And while everyone was screaming that the Government would have to go cap in hand to Brussels to beg for an extension to trade talks with the bloc, Dominic Cummings flatly refused to budge.
This is another significant difference to previous administrations in dealing with the EU. That firmness instilled a sense of urgency previously lacking in the talks — talks that have made a lot more progress than either side is prepared to admit publicly.
Tobias Ellwood says Britain has clearly taken a big stick and is ‘poking the dragon’[/caption]
The UK are at their wit’s end with Michel Barnier and the EU’s demands[/caption]
Liz Truss is cranking up the machine after outsourcing our trade negotiations to Brussels for decades[/caption]
Despite pleas to speed up, Brussels negotiation chief Michel Barnier has packed his bucket and spade for three weeks off with less than six months to sign, seal and ratify the future relationship plans.
The UK side are at their wit’s end with the EU’s demands on how the talks are structured through so-called “parallelism”, where everything is on the table at the same time.
Thorny issues are not allowed to be kicked down the road as they would be in normal negotiations.
Instead disagreements on testy subjects slow down the areas of talks where there is actually agreement.
As one UK Government source said: “The particular way the EU insisted on parallelism led to paralysis.”
But the number of sticking points is slowly decreasing.
The particular way the EU insisted on parallelism led to paralysis
UK Government source
This week’s chats held in London ended in predictable stalemate over the totemic Brexit issue of fishing rights and outrageous demands from Brussels to tie Britain to EU red tape for ever.
While the mood music has been dire at times, ultimately ministers are still confident that a deal will be done and the EU will eventually back down on some of its more extreme demands.
A source directly involved in the talks confided to me yesterday: “It’s a group of 27 and only about half a dozen care about the fish.
“Is Germany going to blow up a deal because of fishing? No way.”
Ministers are also desperate to move on from a period of Britain’s foreign relations being dominated by our closest neighbours.
Instead, the exciting developments are happening across the road at the Department for International Trade.
After a slow start, energetic trade boss Liz Truss is cranking up the machine that has got rusty after outsourcing our trade negotiations to Brussels for four decades.
As The Sun revealed yesterday, Britain is poised to sign its first trade deal post-Brexit with Japan and talks are progressing with New Zealand and Australia.
Talks about talks have also begun with Colombia, India and Turkey.
The target list for trade deals gives a big clue to where Boris wants his Brexit Britain to aim — Asia and the Americas.
And the big goal currently being sought is membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The free trade alliance that includes Australia, Japan and New Zealand as well as Canada, Chile and Mexico accounts for 13 per cent of the global economic output.
This is partly about reconnecting with like-minded friends and allies in a way that we couldn’t do as part of the EU
Were the UK to join, that would soar to 16 per cent.
Figures being studied by ministers at Truss’s department show that Britain’s decline in trading with all the countries in the TPP since 1999, when EU trade was stepped up, has seen £171billion of lost opportunities.
In 1999 just five per cent of all New Zealand imports were from Britain but this has now nearly halved to 2.8 per cent.
And Truss has Johnson’s backing to stem this tide.
An ally tells me: “This is partly about reconnecting with like-minded friends and allies in a way that we couldn’t do as part of the EU.
“Asia-Pacific is home to some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, so it is very much in Britain’s interests to look to that part of the world.”
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One fly in the ointment has been the lack of any breakthrough in tricky trade talks with America, but there remains huge uncertainty in Washington over Trump’s future.
While no one is pretending the size of the task that the UK has taken on in leaving the EU is not enormous, few but the most die-hard of Remainers could deny a new Britain is emerging.
While it’s a good start so far, it’s still a long way up the mountain to next year’s summit.
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