Today, Prime Minister Theresa May will make her debut at the UN General Assembly in New York.
In the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, it is a significant opportunity for her to define the nation’s brand in a post-Brexit world and to lay out her vision for the UK’s role in international diplomacy, trade, business, and more.
As the dust settles on the referendum there is still considerable concern and uncertainty about what the future may hold for Britain. Commentators on both sides have made strong claims about the impact the decision will have on the UK economy and its influence within Europe and the rest of the world.
In reality, I believe Brexit is likely to be a non-event, and for three key reasons.
- The UK’s refusal to adopt intrinsic European policies such as the euro, Schengen visa rules and the EU tax system, already demonstrated Britain’s commitment to maintaining a level of autonomy from its European counterparts.
- There is now an opportunity for Britain to secure bilateral trade deals with the rest of the world which could be larger than the value of the EU single market.
- Once May invokes Article 50 this will trigger a two-year negotiation period giving many businesses enough time to implement changes to mitigate risk, and allow them to continue to succeed outside of the EU.
Britain's Brexit branding
The two main factors that Mrs May needs to be concerned with are trade levels and foreign direct investment. Success in both of those areas is underpinned by a strong UK national brand – how you position yourself towards, and are perceived by, foreign stakeholders.
However, the UK does not need to entirely reinvent itself to assure it remains globally competitive, as some commentators have suggested. Instead, May must find new ways to affirm the current Brand Britain and highlight its areas of leadership and expertise so that it continues to be seen as an open shop. The UK remains at the forefront of many industries: automotive; engineering; financial services; fashion; and technology.
When it comes to nation branding, other political leaders who May should watch are Argentina’s new President Mauricio Macri and Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Both are making their debuts at the UN General Assembly this week, as well, and are taking important steps to define their nation’s image.
Just last week, Mr Macri hosted nearly 4,000 CEOs, investors, and business leaders from 67 countries at the first-ever Argentina Business and Investment Forum to showcase the progress of Argentina’s ambitious economic reform programme. The goal of the summit: secure investments and commitments from international leaders that can help strengthen Argentina's economy and rebuild trust and confidence.
Trudeau aims to bring his vision of a “New Canada” and highlight the country's leadership in tech and innovation, its commitment to diversity and human rights as well as its welcoming of refugees. Trudeau has been dubbed a master of ‘soft power’, using the power of moments, such as an image of him greeting Syrian refugees at the airport, to make headlines around the world and to project an image on behalf of the whole country.
Just as Trudeau and Macri are promoting a positive view for Argentina and Canada, Mrs May needs to reinforce the point she made in her maiden speech as Prime Minister, to forge a “bold new positive role for ourselves in the world”.
Bold and positive are excellent brand attributes for the UK which would set it on the right track for the future.