Britain’s Global Future: Harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions

Publication Details

Launched on 12th July, ResPublica’s new report Britain’s Global Future: Harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions provides a timely reflection on the UK’s international engagement and how to ensure Britain’s voice continues to be heard as we face the global challenges of our time.

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union will have major consequences for our foreign policy and our place in world affairs. In this context, the concept of soft power – the influence a country can command on the world stage without relying on economic or military strength – is more relevant than ever. To increase the UK’s authority on the world stage, and ensure we remain at the forefront of discussions on issues such as security or migration, will require not only new trade deals but also a focus on our cultural links with other nations and a heightened awareness of how Britain is perceived overseas.

We advise that Government places a coordinated soft power strategy at the heart of its foreign policy, and make recommendations as to how this can be achieved. Yet we also make the case that government cannot undertake this task alone. Britain has a worldwide presence through institutions such as the BBC, the British Council, museums, and universities, and this provides a foundation on which positive perceptions of the UK can be built globally.

The report makes two key arguments. First, that genuine soft power is derived from consistently upholding British ideals admired abroad – such as the transparency and accountability of our major political and cultural institutions – in all the UK’s actions across the world, an authority we refer to as the “power of example”. Second, as we argue above, that civil society is better placed than the state to take forward the task of establishing the long-term relationships with countries and their citizens such consistency can foster – especially at a time of declining trust in governments worldwide. The report therefore calls on Government to ensure domestic policy and funding frameworks support these organisations’ work abroad.

Director of ResPublica, Phillip Blond, said:

“In a post-Brexit world we need to develop a new mindset towards Britain’s place on the global stage, not only through trade but in our relationships and level of influence in all parts of the globe. Soft power means bringing together diplomacy, cultural relations and national interest in a way which turns away from relying solely on military intervention and humanitarian aid and instead provides a more holistic way to promote our values and help others. We need a smarter approach to international aid policy which would see a reallocation of funds to British institutions, including educational, creative and cultural organisations, to deliver this.”

Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee 2015-17, in a foreword to the report, says:

“I welcome ResPublica’s timely report on the role of soft power in Britain’s foreign policy. Following Brexit, the United Kingdom must present itself to the world anew, re-engaging with old friends and new allies alike. Summed up by the Foreign Secretary as the building of a “Global Britain”, this vision must be based on the country setting an example of openness, fairness and creativity. I commend ResPublica’s account of institutions as the best agents of promoting the values of our country to others. If re-elected as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee this is a subject I will propose for early Committee attention.”

Gareth Thomas MP, former Minister for the Department for International Development (DFID) and Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), said:

“This report bring into clear focus why we need to support building civil society in developing nations around the world. It is in our mutual interests and should be integral to our commitment to supporting developing nations. The work of institutions like the British Council is very valuable in this, not just through activity on the ground but in promoting Britain’s reputation as a country which places value and takes an active interest in the social and political health of other nations. I saw this at first hand when I was a DFID Minister. The challenge is how we support and enhance our commitment to civil society institutional building and ResPublica’s report outlines how this can be achieved.”

Sir Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council, said:

“Our world-leading universities, museums and charities give the UK a unique role on the global stage. I see the impact as I travel, whether through the British Council’s own projects or through our partners’ work. Around the world, UK institutions are helping give a voice to the next generation, to women, and to others who are marginalised. By opening up the chance to engage effectively in society and the economy, people start to realise their hopes and ambitions. The UK is helping them to build a better future for their countries, but also for our own.”

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said:

“Culture is a powerful bridge between nations and an area where Britain is fantastically placed to create global impact, both in terms of its individual talent pool and its wealth of great institutions. Internationalism is second nature for the Science Museum Group because cross-border collaboration is integral to the history and future of innovation in science, technology and engineering. We, and Britain’s wider museum sector, are rightly celebrated as unique and powerful players in cultural diplomacy.”

In partnership with the British Council and the Science Museum Group

  • Phillip Blond


    Phillip is an internationally recognised political thinker and social and economic commentator. He bridges the gap between politics and practice, offering strategic consultation and policy formation to governments, businesses and organisations across the world. He founded ResPublica in 2009 and...

    Phillip Blond
  • Duncan Sim

    Research Associate

    Duncan worked at ResPublica for three years. He graduated from Oxford University (Keble College) in July 2014 with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE), where his studies focused on UK and US domestic politics and central banking. Working...

    Duncan Sim
  • Dr James Noyes


    Dr. James Noyes is an Associate at ResPublica, he was previously our Head of Policy and Strategy. Prior to joining our team, he was a lecturer at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po). James has a PhD from...

    Dr James Noyes