Out and Into the World


A Union Flag-patterned butterfly bursts from the confines of the European Union. The Spectator magazine, announcing its support for Brexit before the 2016 referendum declares: “Out and into the world”.

This ‘Butterfly Brexit’ seems to be the ultimate goal of many leading Brexiteers. They envisage post-Brexit Britain as forging a role for itself in the 21st Century as a globalising world leader. For the likes of Hannan, Gove and Rees Mogg, Brexit is an exercise in freedom. The abstract notion of “sovereignty” will have returned to Westminster. And crucially, Britain will now be free to sign trade deals around the world, without the EU holding it back.

However, there exists a fundamental problem with the Brexiteer elite’s ‘Butterfly Brexit’. And it’s that no one has voted for it.

Despite the Prime Minister’s repeated assertion that “Brexit means Brexit”, it really doesn't. The Brexit which won the referendum was a Brexit of protectionism and isolationism, not the libertarian ideals represented by The Spectator’s butterfly.

It was anti-immigration sentiment and xenophobia, not buccaneering globalism that fuelled Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The economic woes which created the anger which prompted people to vote ‘Leave’ were blamed on too much globalism, not too little.

How the Government succeeds at attempting to marry the globalist Brexit with the isolationist Brexit remains to be seen.

But one area in which the isolationists appear to be gaining the upper ground is the debate over international development spending.

Less than two pence of every pound the UK government spends goes to international development. But given how often development spending dominates the front pages of the right-wing tabloids, it is probably the most disproportionality over-debated aspect of government spending.

In some ways this is understandable – international aid doesn’t directly benefit UK citizens. In times of austerity especially, it surely makes sense that the overseas aid budget is the first to be cut?

But what would it say of us as a people if when we cut our government budget, we start by targeting the very poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet?

The principle of spending on international aid should be beyond question. It’s about a global redistribution of wealth; the wealthiest countries recognising their obligation to assist the poorest.

It is important that this principle is widely accepted. Otherwise, when stories of financial mismanagement, or worse, allegations such as those levelled against Oxfam in recent weeks, the first instinct of politicians and the press will be to question the very principle of international aid.

It is impossible to have a proper discussion about aid spending without at least mentioning the legacy of imperialism – a key cause of many modern development issues – and something I shall return to in later blogs.

The neo-imperialist trappings of the ‘Butterfly Brexit’ are clear, both in the subtleties of Daniel Hannan urging that Britain reassert itself as a “maritime nation”, and the dog-whistle calls for Britain to strengthen its links with the Commonwealth. An honest discussion about empire in Britain is difficult, as the truth of the realities are still studiously avoided, most glaringly in our schools. So politicians are still able to get away with fetishising empire, ignoring its foundations of genocide and racial supremacism. This, just as much as the rhetoric surrounding international development, is something in urgent need of change.

Over the next 10 weeks, whilst I’m volunteering in Zambia, I’ll use this blog to share my experiences and discuss international development issues. But for my first post, I wanted to emphasise, especially in the current turbulent political climate, the importance of international development expenditure.

If the Brexiteers’ ‘sunlit uplands’ of Britain as a global leader and moral bastion are to become reality, a good place to start would be reaffirming the government’s international aid obligations, and maybe even consider spending just a little more…

Jack O'Dwyer-Henry is a co-founder of Challenges NI.

N.B. Any opinions expressed here are not endorsed by Challenges NI.


#JackODwyerHenry #DispatchesfromZambia

challenges ni

2020