Britain must deploy its vast soft power reserves to prove to the world it remains globally engaged

Lloyd Dorfman
Union jack at Olympics
We may be a small nation, but we're a great country (Source: Getty)

The precise ramifications of the Brexit vote will take a while to shake out, but many people overseas have interpreted it as the UK pulling up the drawbridge and retreating from its international role.

This is both unfortunate and troubling. We must show everyone that we are more committed than ever to international cooperation economically, militarily and, above all, through our “soft power.”

There are many dimensions to soft power, defined as the capacity of a country to achieve through attraction and persuasion rather than force or coercion. The UK is rather good at it. In this year’s Soft Power 30 ranking, compiled by Portland, the UK came second behind the US.

The UK’s world-leading culture, sport and education system are major assets in the country’s arsenal. In the film Love Actually, Hugh Grant playing the Prime Minister gives an amusing speech which effectively talks about UK soft power: “We may be a small country but we’re a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that.”

The global reach of Premiership football (total TV audience of 4bn) and broadcasters like the BBC World Service (350m audience) boost the UK’s reputation overseas. As a creative and cultural hub, we punch well above our weight. While the UK accounts for only 1 per cent of the world’s population, we represent 13 per cent of the world’s creative industries.

Hugh Grant
Millions of people know about Britain through our creative industries (Source: Getty)

Another component of our soft power has been the UK’s record in sharing its best practice, creativity and ideas in solving social problems. Charities founded in Britain have become international success stories – for example, Oxfam started in 1942 as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief.

Tonight we will be celebrating another UK-born charity that is taking its expertise across the globe. At the Guildhall, alongside the lord mayor and secretary-general of the Commonwealth Baroness Scotland, we’ll be marking the UK launch of Prince’s Trust International. It builds on 40 years of success of The Prince’s Trust in the UK to help disadvantaged young people get into some form of education, training or employment. Across the UK, the Trust now helps 60,000 young people every year.

Of course, the problems of youth unemployment, and the accompanying frustration felt by young people at the lack of opportunity, are not confined to our shores. It’s a global challenge, facing every country, large or small, developed or developing. More than half of the world is under the age of 30 and we know that over 70m young people worldwide are unemployed. In some countries, the youth unemployment rate is over 50 per cent. It is alarming that, as a general rule, young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

As Boris once said, we're a soft power superpower (Source: Getty)

We know that there is a tremendous need for the work of Prince’s Trust International. It aims to equip young people with the confidence and skills to flourish in the modern world. Our charity cannot do everything all at once, so we are building partnerships with NGOs and funders in different countries in order to enable us to roll out our programmes. We are conscious of the need to tailor our work in different countries to the particular requirements of the labour market there. We already have pilots in Malta and Jordan, and are successfully delivering programmes through our partners in Barbados, Canada and India, with specific further programmes planned in Australia and New Zealand.

Prince’s Trust International is very much a global charity with a worldwide remit, yet our roots and origins were in the UK. It is, therefore, part of the rich tapestry of UK soft power. In the words of foreign secretary Boris Johnson, the UK is a “soft power superpower.” We will need to deploy this in the post-Brexit landscape more than ever before.

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