Diplomatic Report – The Chancellor’s Global Message – Rebooting the UK economy post-Covid

By - World Healthcare Journal

Speaking directly after his keynote address to the Conservative Party Conference, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP joined the World Economic Series exclusively to speak directly to Heads of Mission and deliver his key messages for them.

In conversation with Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, the Chancellor spoke of the difficult decisions faced by all governments as ministers around the world grapple with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

But alongside this he was keen to stress that Britain is open for business. “The world comes to London to buy, to sell, to raise capital, to invest. And that will remain the case,” he said. Not only did he stress the importance of Britain’s financial services sector, but he also went on to emphasise that Britain will emerge from Brexit as a key player in global affairs. “Expect a more active, engaged Britain on the world stage,” he said.

A global issue 

Mr Sunak, who has been in post only since February 2020, has been faced with hard choices almost immediately. As he said, the possibility of a grand vision in the face of unprecedented economic uncertainty during a pandemic is outside his current scope but, like his fellow foreign ministers he is trying to calibrate the right level of support for the economy.

“All our economies are going to be undergoing some degree of change as a result, and for a functioning, dynamic market economy that process of change needs to happen. It would be wrong to stop it and, in the long run, it would be detrimental. I'm trying to differentiate between what is temporary and what is permanent, and targeting our intervention. That's quite tricky,” he said.

“People can’t always go back to the job that they had. So employment support should now be more targeted and focused on finding people new opportunities and reskilling and training, looking to the future. ” 

He revealed that he is in constant communication with his counterparts around the globe, either by text message or phone calls. By comparing notes they are learning from each other, and this synergy gives a cohesion to global interaction in the face of such economic uncertainty.

Unemployment is rising across the board, he noted, while all countries have been borrowing at scale this year to provide fiscal support for their economies. “It’s not as if we had a playbook for this situation so we’re trying to design and target interventions in a similar way,” he said.

A global village 

As Mr Sunak commented, dozens of countries have needed support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during this time and the UK is very proud of its investment and contributions to some of the IMF funds. “We’re providing support to the most vulnerable countries on the economic side, but also on the health side with some of the interventions around vaccine funding, as well as Gavi and the WHO. ” 

The UK takes over as chair of the G7 in 2021, and in partnership with Italy will be assuming the COP26 Presidency, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties which will be held in Glasgow. “Tackling climate change is something that we will champion very hard next year,” he confirmed, adding that the focus will be more on offshore wind and research and development opportunities. He also welcomed China’s decision to prioritise decarbonisation to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

With regards to Brexit, he spoke of his enormous optimism. “We are trying to be at the forefront of championing free trade, both in multilateral forums, but also bilaterally through trade deals and maintaining the spirit of openness that the Prime Minister has talked about. We believe strongly in the rules-based international order. We helped create a lot of that,” he said.

“People should expect a more engaged, more active and energetic return to the world stage from a UK that is confident and comfortable in its ability to make a difference, but also has a desire to do so.

“With China, we need to be realistic and hard-headed, appropriately transactional in our approach to that relationship – we should be robust in defending our priorities and values with China or other countries,” he said.

Referencing an upcoming dialogue with India, he noted that Britain is now a sovereign nation free to sign its own trade deals. The financial services sector, for example, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Switzerland, giving an opportunity to strengthen and deepen relationships. “We want the UK to remain as one of the best places in the world for financial services. ” 

Not being inside the European Union gives the UK an opportunity to do things differently now, he added. “People should be under no doubt about our desire to make sure industry remains internationally competitive,” he said. “We want to make sure that the global trading system is one that continues to provide growth and opportunity for countries for years to come. ” 

A silver lining 

The Chancellor was keen to highlight an unexpected consequence of the pandemic: the rapid move to digital health provision. He recalled much resistance to it previously, but now all health services have discovered the benefits of telehealth and he is keen for the UK to strengthen and expand its digital health services across the board.

He finished by focusing on Britain’s “desire to be a vocal, active and engaged member of the international community. We think we can make a difference to the global community. And we're interested in engaging on a deep level with countries all around the world to enhance our security and economic prosperity and opportunity for all.

“A global Britain – not empty words; a deeply held belief, as we are excited about the opportunities that leaving the EU brings. It will be an exciting time for the UK in 2021. ”

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