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The country’s culture was ranked second globally, remaining behind the US and ahead of France and Germany.

People on an escalator at Tate Modern
Visitors at London's Tate Modern

Strength in culture has helped the UK reclaim pole position in the annual index of global soft power, moving ahead of France. It is the first time since 2015 that the UK has led the world.  

The UK was ranked second in the culture category, remaining behind the US but ahead of France and Germany for the fourth year running. The BBC World Service, described as “the world’s most trusted news provider”, and the British Council were highlighted as key cultural assets that help the country spread its influence.

Cultural strength

The Soft Power 30 report, compiled by Portland Communications and published last week, assesses the resources of 30 countries in six categories: culture, digital, enterprise, engagement, education and government.

The UK’s large number of incoming tourists and the worldwide popularity of its music and sport were among the other factors contributing to its culture ranking.

“British art, film, music, fashion, and sport continue to flourish in highly competitive global markets,” said the report, which singled out Ed Sheeran, Adele, and the English Premier League as internationally successful brands.

It added that “tourism in the UK, especially London, continues to thrive, with its abundance of museums, galleries, and theatres”.

Vital contribution

Strong performances in digital, education, and global engagement also contributed to the UK’s overall score, and enabled it to pip France – which led the index last year – to the top spot.

The report bases 70% of a country’s score in each category on objective data, and 30% on polling results from 25 countries. The metrics used for the culture score ranged from a country’s number of tourist arrivals and the size of its music market to the performance of its men’s football team.

Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council, described the UK’s ranking as a “deeply positive result”.

“It shows the vital contribution of culture, education and engagement to driving our global positioning even at a time of political uncertainty,” said Devane. “The British Council is proud to be supporting our creative and education sectors in achieving that impact.”

Brexit challenge

But Portland Communications said that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit had thrown many of the strengths identified by the report into jeopardy, meaning that 2019 would be “a make or break year for the UK’s soft power.”

The company said that making a success of Brexit would require “a positive and inclusive narrative” and policies that maintain Britain as an attractive prospect for foreign investors, tourists and students.

It concluded: “Continued investment in the institutions and vehicles that export British soft power will only become more vital as Brexit is completed.”