Once out of the EU, Britain must again find its place in the world
Mark Logan says in the midst of a separation from the European Union, the UK needs to define anew how it relates with its friends and competitors, including China
Theresa May, in her maiden Conservative Party conference speech as UK prime minister, said she wanted to design a country that works for everyone. But will it work for relations with China and Hong Kong?
The UK has been a highly sought-after destination for Chinese students. Over 500,000 can boast a degree from Britain. Following the vote to leave the EU, there is an exceptional opportunity for the UK to position itself as a paradise for international students. Will Brexit mean a more or less welcoming environment for them? The overall feeling at the conference was that this group is a low priority in terms of politics and policy, despite playing an important economic role.
One idea proposed was for international students to be removed from the “immigrant” category of visas. Certainly, action must be taken if May wants to prove Brexit isn’t about the UK turning its back on the world.
What about the economy? Hong Kong was mentioned in the panel session dealing with how the next five years would pan out for Britain. The SAR is seen as one of the main international competitors for London, along with New York, Dubai and Singapore. On the panel, economist Gerard Lyons and MP John Redwood were both bullish on the future of London’s financial services. Most feel there will be short-term challenges, but that those in finance value too much the ease of doing business in London, and the use of English, to move elsewhere.
But with the top cabinet team refusing to give away details of the strategy for negotiating the UK’s way out of the EU, there was concern about uncertainty. Arguably this works both ways. Hong Kong and other financial centres could benefit from this uncertainty between now and the implementation of Brexit. In the long term, though, there is a real opportunity for the UK to position itself as the Hong Kong of the North Atlantic, sandwiched between the US and EU.
May began her speech by touching on domestic politics. But she quickly moved onto Britain’s place in the world. However, there was little by way of policy detail to give us a clear map of the spider web of relations.
A leading policy expert at the conference said there was a real risk that, without international students, the UK would become increasingly inward-looking. The same applies if it doesn’t develop the quality and quantity of positive relationships with other countries essential to thriving in a globalised world.
Mark Logan was head of communications and spokesman at the British consulate general in Shanghai from 2012-16 and a global communications adviser to Chinese organisations