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On Britannia - Thursday 20th May

On Britannia
Thursday 20th May, by Jeremy Hutton
A full newsletter this week covering free trade, national infrastructure, EU-UK diplomacy and more. Enjoy.

Leading the agenda
Does ‘Global Britain’ have an appetite for free trade?
Boris Johnson has had to speak in defence of a coming trade deal with Australia in light of a Cabinet divide over the issue. The Prime Minister is said to side with Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, and backs a deal with Australia that lowers agricultural tariffs and increases competition. Michael Gove and George Eustice, however, are said to be apprehensive about easing barriers to Australian meat. Farming groups are resisting the move that would offer consumers more choice and lower prices, but this argument does raise the question of whether the UK is willing to embrace some of the potential benefits of departing the European Union. The Times has a write-up here. ConservativeHome‘s Paul Goodman has also written on the topic, highlighting this as a historic divide of the Conservative Party.
Lord Frost speaks on the difficulties of maintaining a positive UK-EU relationship
The Spectator has published an interview with Lord Frost, Britain’s lead negotiator on the UK-EU trade deal, that is worth a read. In the piece, Lord Frost speaks of the difficulties of getting the EU to take Britain seriously after his predecessors occasionally didn’t match words with deeds, the problems surrounding the Northern Irish 'backstop’ and his concerns about a European ‘zero-sum’ attitude to the relationship. Read the interview in full here.
The UK is set to reform its railway system with a new Great British Railways organisation
The government will create a new body to better integrate the railways, modernise the fares system and lead to more reliable services. This is important to level up the country’s strategic infrastructure, but according to James Rogers of the Council on Geostrategy, it should be considered only a start and what is needed is a national strategy to modernise the UK’s strategic infrastructure to make it more effective and beneficial to the economy in an age of increasing geopolitical and geo-economic competition. You can read more about the reforms here.
In the halls of power
Little new in parliament since Monday’s newsletter, although today Lord Ahmed will make a statement on Britain’s efforts to secure a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine.
Speaking of which, the Labour Party have criticised the government’s lack of leadership over many global issues. Writing for The Guardian today, shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry is calling for the UK to take a lead in the global vaccination effort and has outlined steps a Labour government would take. You can read the article here. It is difficult, however, to think the article is being entirely fair given the efforts made to ensure the Oxford vaccine is as cheap and easily distributable as possible, and the substantial amounts contributed to Gavi, the vaccine alliance.
In the House of Commons yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn, asked for clarification around how close the UK military relationship to Israel is, questioning whether UK weapons have been used in the present conflict. The questions were put to James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister, who iterated the UK’s arms export licensing regime. The Daily Mail has a write-up of the session here.
Below the radar
According to the new Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans, Leo Docherty, plans are under consideration to fast track civilians into senior positions with the Strategic Command in crucial areas such as space, cyber and military intelligence in a bid to make up lost ground with adversaries. Read more here.
The Strategist has published an interesting article on the UK’s announced increase in the nuclear warheads stockpile, asking why the UK wants more warheads. You can read it here.
Russia has recently been criticised for militarising the Arctic, with Sergey Lavrov for his part also rebuffing the West for trying to counter Russia’s build-up. The BBC has now published a very interesting dispatch from the Russian military base in Franz Josef land in the Arctic which is well worth your time. We recently discussed Arctic security issues with James Gray MP, the head of the Polar Regions APPG, on Geostrategy360. You can listen to it here.
Nigel Biggar has written for Unherd today in a piece considering how racist the British Empire really was in light of controversy around war graves for colonial soldiers. In the article, Prof. Biggar considers the story in greater depth than it has been reported stating that closer inspection reveals a different story altogether. Read on. Prof. Biggar will be joining us for an event next week on how narratives surrounding the British Empire have fuelled Scottish separatism, sign up here.
HMS Queen Elizabeth’s final exercise before heading east is going well according to the UK Defence Journal having now entered the more dynamic ‘free-play’ phase after the initial scripted section of the exercise. Read the report here.
Writing for Britain’s World, Dr David Scott has considered how UK-India relations will continue to improve after a recent ‘quantum leap’ in the virtual summit. You can read the article here. Recently Britain’s World has held a number of interesting articles on the UK-India relationship, you can find more in this piece by Dr Jagannath Panda on the recent G7 ministers’ meeting and this piece about foreign perspectives towards the Integrated Review.
Over and out
That is all for today, be sure to sign up for our two upcoming events next week. On Wednesday we’ll be hosting Andrew Bowie MP, Nigel Biggar and Doug Stokes to discuss the Scottish elections, and on Thursday we will gather Tom Tugendhat MP of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sophie Katsarava, the Georgian Ambassador to Britain and Nikoloz Samkharadze of the Georgian Foreign Relations Committee to discuss Georgia’s 30th independence anniversary.
Enjoy the last two days of this week, and enjoy your weekend.
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