By Integrated Care Journal-
“Expect a more engaged, active Britain on the world stage. ” This was the key message of Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the diplomatic community at a Public Policy Projects International Fringe Hub at Conservative Party Conference today in conjunction with Diplomat magazine.
In discussion with Public Policy Projects Co-Chair Stephen Hammond MP, the Chancellor expressed his optimism for the world economy post-Covid. While acknowledging that “the path out of this virus is unclear,” the Chancellor examined two common challenges that the international community is collectively grappling with: unemployment and public finances.
“I think it is right that economies have been borrowing at scale,” he clarified, noting that the challenge now is “differentiating what is permanent and what is temporary. ” Outlining his priorities, the Chancellor emphasised that the UK was focused on finding people new opportunities, reskilling and preparing for the future.
Remaining optimistic, the Chancellor described some of the changes that, while forced upon the UK, may well stay for good. Changes such as the rapid uptake of digital healthcare tools must be “embedded for the long term”, he added.
It is clear that in the immediate term support is focused on finding a balance for the economy and current health risks, but the Chancellor did not shy away from raising some the UK’s more ambitious international goals.
With the diplomatic community in mind, the Chancellor sought to reassure ambassadors that “global Britain” is not an empty slogan. Instead, he emphasised, it is a deeply held government belief that has injected a “new sense of urgency” with which Britain should go out into the world and “make a difference” to the global community.
Acknowledging that even in times of international crisis priorities differ, Mr Sunak said the UK must be “robust” in sticking to its own, especially in the context of growing global uncertainty.
Facing a period of global economic challenge, the Chancellor’s mind is fixed firmly on international collaboration. “We have a G7 finance ministers call every couple of weeks,” he said, expressing the international appetite for sharing learnings and maintaining transparency in grappling with this unprecedented challenge.
Looking at Brexit as an opportunity, the Chancellor dismissed the challenge that communication between European nations will be damaged by Britain’s exit from the EU. “My primary forms of communication are through the G7, G20 and bilaterally,” said Mr Sunak, removing any doubt that his sights are set anywhere other than international horizons.
Evangelising the benefits of free trade, the Chancellor sought to express that both in terms of values and practicality, having an open economy and encouraging foreign direct investment are priorities the UK should have.
On China, he called for Britain to be “realistic, hard-headed and transactional” in our approach to a future relationship. With regard to the Commonwealth, his ambitions are equally positive referencing an upcoming dialogue with India. “It is incredibly exciting;” said the Chancellor, “we are now a sovereign nation that is free to sign our own trade deals. ”
When pressed further on Brexit, Mr Sunak clarified he feels the greatest opportunities sit around revising regulation, establishing an immigration policy that meets the needs of the UK economy and establishing trade deals with international partners.
“Not being in the EU gives us opportunity to do things differently,” he said, responding to a question on financial services and regulation. Calling for the “right balance” to be struck between regulation, government and industry, he nevertheless clarified that “people should be under no doubt that our desire is for industry to remain internationally competitive. ”
Trade aside, the Chancellor also spoke passionately about the UK’s ambitions on climate change. Outlining offshore wind and a strong research and development ecosystem, the Chancellor confirmed that tackling climate change is a priority for 2021. This will no doubt be aided internationally by the UK’s Presidency of the G7 as it takes a more active role in ensuring targets are met.
Following the discussion, Public Policy Projects Co-Chair Stephen Hammond MP said: "I am really pleased that the Chancellor made the time to speak directly to the diplomatic community. It is clear that he thinks the post-Covid world will require increased global cooperation. I am confident that everyone was also pleased to hear his comments regarding a green economic recovery and the opportunities open to the UK as it takes the chair of the G7."
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