The world watches with bemusement as the Brexit imbroglio seems to get from bad to worse. Everyone has his or her opinions about how the nation that was the seat of the mightiest global empire ever has been reduced to a state of utter confusion and chaos. But they seem to miss the point- the world is transfixed because the UK is still perceived as a world power.
This is the case, in spite of the fact that the world seems to be confused with the rise and rise of China. In fact, if one were to go by the sheer number of Chinese interpreter and Chinese translator services, one would imagine that the Chinese are taking over the world. Consider some other facts. The UK gave the world the English language, which is the official language of 10 of the largest global economies.
This widespread use of the English language means a world of convenience to international businesses on account of not having to hire the services of interpreter agencies or a certified translation service, when doing business in the UK. Doing the same in China and Japan, on the other hand, would require one to always hire an interpreters service or a translator company.
The UK is the world’s number one exporter of services as well as the biggest foreign investor in Europe.1 It is still a formidable military power and a nuclear one at that. Not only do the well-heeled of the world love to shop in the UK, but they also send their children to study at the UK’s world-class universities. Students from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and many Commonwealth nations where English is the language of education do not have to get in touch with document translation services to help themselves complete the admission formalities pertaining to gaining admission in a UK college or university.
For a country with only 0.7% of the total global population, the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and has a nominal GDP of $2.8 trillion. As mentioned above, the UK is a services powerhouse, and it is no surprise that London is the world’s de facto financial headquarters. That apart, the UK has a major presence in aerospace as well as the pharmaceutical industry.
Is it any wonder then that the world is exercised over the apparent chaos that the Brexit issue is causing within the UK and the European Union? The UK is one of the important pillars of the global economic order, and if any event threatens to destabilize its economy, it is bound to have a ripple effect across the European economy.
The fact of the matter is that the UK is nothing if not a globally integrated economy, and nowhere is this more evident than in its trade with nations across the globe. Though the nation is fortunate in that English is the global language of trade and commerce, that has not stopped any business or government from a non-English speaking country from forging relations with it.
As a matter of fact, any business or government from a non-English speaking country that needs interpreting services and translation companies to help them in the UK is likely to find a large number of them. In fact, there are a number of companies doing a thriving simultaneous translation business on account of the large volume of international trade that happens in the UK day in and day out. Given what is at stake here, it is more than likely that all the noise surrounding Brexit will eventually amount to nothing, for a workable solution will eventually be found.
The UK as a nation has faced many grave crises in the past including the threat of being invaded by Germany in the Second World War and the loss of most of its colonial empire in the second half of the twentieth century. But every time it has emerged more or less unscathed and not once has it looked like losing its global pre-eminence.
The UK’s soft power is reflective of its global heft. The perfect English accent is looked upon with awe by the rest of the English-speaking world and their artists have always ruled the roost. There are way too many of them to recount here- Chaplin, Hitchcock, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Peter Sellers, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Roger Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, and so on and so forth. English football stars like David Beckham have a global cult following. and the British royal family and everything associated with them has the world perpetually in thrall. The nation that gave the world William Shakespeare hundreds of years ago also gave it JK Rowling and Harry Potter in the present times.
The UK is unique among the nations of the world in its having several zones of great influence. Apart from its European identity, the UK also has a strong cultural, political, and economic affinity with the members of the 53 nation Commonwealth block that spans all the continents of the world. Then there is also its special relationship with a fellow English-speaking nation, the United States. The U.S. is in many ways considered the inheritor of the British Empire’s legacy, what with their shared worldview and vision.
Looked at it another way. The UK headed the largest empire on which the sun famously never set less than a century ago. You just cannot reduce such a nation to the fringes and imagine that they don’t matter anymore. People still talk about the Roman Empire that ended many centuries ago, but the almighty British Empire existed in living memory (it still exists, albeit in a very truncated form).
Without going into the demerits of colonization and the ills it spawned, the fact of the matter is that an entity as humongous as the British Empire will continue to exercise considerable influence upon the world for a long time to come. Why else would a nation comprising a small land mass and such a small proportion of the world’s population have a vote on the UN Security Council?
While no one really imagines that the UK is in any way going to dominate the agenda of the 21st century like a China or even an India are expected to, the UK will definitely continue to be an important player on the world stage for the foreseeable future. As Hugh Grant says in his speech, as the Prime Minister of the UK in that delightful comedy, Love Actually- “We may be a small country, but we’re a great one too. Country of Shakespeare, Churchill, The Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter, David Beckham’s right foot, David Beckham’s left foot!”
The UK as a nation has enjoyed the privilege of being a leading member in the club of the world’s elite nations, but in a dynamic and rapidly-changing world it will have to display both nimbleness and innovativeness to maintain its position at the top. That is not to say that it won’t. If the history of this small island nation that has always punched far in excess of its weight is anything to go by, its people will find a way to keep the flag flying. In any case they have had a great run at the top for a reasonable length of time.