Brexit is looming, yet ministers should not buckle to the pressure. Britain should put some steel in their spines and look at the success of Qatar and Taiwan, writes Emily Barley. 

If the Covid crisis has taught us anything, it is the danger of abandoning a long-term strategy out of fear. The government's current struggles amid rapidly dwindling public goodwill are the consequences of abandoning the far-sighted pandemic strategy initially advocated by our chief scientists – namely protection of the vulnerable combined with herd immunity. Carefully planned during calmer times, it was overruled by fearful Ministers who have now snookered themselves and their own advisors. And with the Brexit stakes are raised ever higher as we hurtle towards the autumn deadline, we must not make the same mistake with the EU.

Once a national obsession, Brexit has only periodically raised its head in recent months as Covid has taken centre stage, and yet I would wager that our international trading relationships will have more impact on the fortunes of this island in the coming years than the current pandemic. In a sea of U-turns, it is the one policy area in which, thus far, the government has managed to maintain a long-range trajectory and not buckle to the short-term vicissitudes of media pressure. The strategy of holding firm on the UK's national interest, striking trade deals around the world, and publicly demonstrating willingness to walk away has reaped dividends as a nervous EU has begun to fragment, its unity failing as the internal pressures for a productive trading relationship exert themselves.

But as the end of the transition period looms, the pressure to do a deal will intensify, and the prophecies of doom asking 'should we not bend the knee to the EU?' will grow ever louder. Will the government have the fortitude to stick to its strategy? If Ministers need to put some steel in their spines, then they need only look to Qatar and Taiwan.

When it comes to holding to a solid plan in the face of difficulties, Qatar has a lot to teach us about remaining focused on your objectives while weathering a sustained barrage of both economic and information warfare from its opponents. Unlike the relatively minor threat of tariffs that we face from the EU, the Gulf state has endured a full-on, three-year blockade by land, sea and air imposed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, seeking to either topple Qatar's emir or subdue him.

Remarkably, rather than panic or bend to the pressure, Qatar simply adopted what might be called the Taylor Swift Strategy – choosing to "shake it off". Not only has it kept up its economic development, recently becoming the richest nation per capita in the world, its businesses adapted to the tricky climate by pursuing new opportunities, new suppliers and new markets, such that as early as 2018 the journal Foreign Policy declared that it had "won" the blockade.

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Much like the EU trying to gain what academics call the 'information advantage' over the UK, arguing that somehow the fifth largest economy in the world – with a history of successful global trade – couldn't survive without remaining in the EU's orbit, Qatar has also had to put up with a relentless tide of negativity and 'fake news' from envious competitors looking to take down the fast-developing nation by accusing it, without evidence, of sponsoring terrorism.

Just as the EU seems unable to tolerate having a dynamic and prosperous UK on its doorstep, several of the developing Arab states complain that others in the region suffer from "tall poppy syndrome", launching disinformation operations to undermine those who are believed to be growing too quickly. Instead of responding tit-for-tat, Qatar has continued to develop its sovereign foreign policy, such as acting as a truly independent peace broker between the US government and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Similarly, Taiwan is another exemplar of how to succeed in economic and foreign policy terms over the long haul when dealing with often hostile neighbours who are acting in bad faith. Despite China claiming Taiwan as its own territory, frequently threatening invasion, working to subvert Taiwanese democracy, pushing Taiwan out of international forums and bodies, and attempting to delegitimise the state, the country has also kept to the 'shake it off' approach.

Correctly predicting that the situation with China, its main trading partner, would worsen, in 2016 Taiwan embarked on an ambitious plan to diversify its economy and reduce reliance on its regional rival. As the US-China trade war heated up in 2019 and hostility from Beijing toward the leadership of the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen intensified, instead of being cowed Taiwan increased its efforts.

It launched a re-shoring programme to incentivise its companies to move their manufacturing back from China, and continued to foster good relations with its allies around the world. Much like Qatar, while its enemies went low Taiwan soared high. Both countries are now increasingly being viewed as key allies by the West who should be brought closer into the fold and whose economic success can be learnt from as we work to foster a v-shaped recovery.

Qatar and Taiwan demonstrate the success that can be achieved when a winning strategy is stuck to without deviation, in spite of unrelenting slings and arrows from poorly-informed commentators or envious competitors. As the UK heads into the storm of the final act of the Brexit negotiations, it should take heart from these two unlikely models, stick to its guns, prepare for the inevitable pressure and get ready to 'shake it off' in the pursuit of victory.

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