How does the rest of the world view Britain?

A new Ipsos MORI poll reveals that the further you travel away from Britain, the better Britain looks.

Our position in the world and how we are perceived from abroad matters economically and politically. A positive image abroad can support export-led growth and inward investment, but also facilitates "soft power" and British influence on the world stage. Has 2012 changed global perceptions and improved brand Britain?

New Ipsos MORI research for the British Council suggests that Britain’s three big events of the past year – the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Diamond Jubilee – have contributed to an improvement in its reputation overseas and created additional interest in Britain as a place to visit, study and do business. This comes on top of an already positive global image of Britain, one which contrasts with, in many cases, an unnecessarily self-deprecating outlook among Brits as evidenced by our pre-Olympics research, Britain 2012.

Our latest Global Advisor survey across 11 countries including the US, China, India and Russia suggests that the Great British summer has had a positive impact overseas. Almost two thirds of those we polled said that they thought Britain did a good job at organising the Olympics (compared to only 6 per cent who disagreed), and 44 per cent believe that Britain has a greater influence over world affairs as a result (only 3 per cent take a negative view).

More than one in three said the 2012 Games have made them more likely to visit Britain and the same proportion said the Games have made Britain more attractive to them as a place to do business or study. Fewer than one in five said the Olympics have not made them any more likely to want to visit, study or do business in Britain.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee also appears to have contributed to improved perceptions of Britain, albeit to a lesser extent. More than a quarter of those surveyed around the world said they had experienced or been aware of the Jubilee in some form. Of those, one in three said they now think more positively about Britain as a result. Only three per cent say that it has had a negative effect on their perceptions of Britain.

So far so good, but is Britain distinctive? There is some evidence from our polling that Britain stands out from other western nations in a way that could be good news for UK plc if harnessed in the right way. For example, other research for the British Council finds that people from the UK are more trusted than, say, those from Germany and from the USA.

Across a whole range of topics, we find people around the world see Britain in a pretty positive light with, for instance, a majority seeing us as a country committed to culture and the arts (54%), with strong democratic values and institutions (56 per cent) and with a good standard of living (59 per cent). The power of the English language is a positive, and cultural activities have a beneficial impact on views of Britain.

As is always the case though, there are some caveats. Much of the research we have conducted over the last twelve months suggests the further you travel away from Britain, the better Britain looks. Our European neighbours and trading partners tend to take a rather less positive view. Perhaps we should not be too surprised that Europeans give us a cool reception – along with ‘in/out’ debates, they are hardly hearing and seeing British confidence, something Boris Johnson pointed out at the CBI annual conference recently.

There is no getting away from the relatively poor self-assessment the British people give Britain. Is this a good place to invest, for instance? Only 24 per cent of us think so. Looking at Britain from outside, however, the figure rises to 42 per cent. The same poll found that only 13 per cent of Brits feel we have a strong economy whilst globally, 48 per cent feel Britain’s economy is strong. And one of the more striking Global Advisor poll findings this year is that Germans were four times more likely to be positive about their economy’s prospects than the British were of theirs.

Still, back in August, 78 per cent of the British public thought that the Olympics had had a positive impact on the way Britain is viewed by the world, and our polling for the British Council shows that they have been proved correct. This means that while this Olympic year is fading fast and interest in Rio 2016 is only just in its infancy, the 2012 legacy opportunities for Britain are still evident and exciting.

Ben Marshall is a Research Director at Ipsos MORI
Follow him on Twitter @BenM_IM

Fireworks light up the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ben Marshall is a research director at Ipsos MORI.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.