Sat, Jun 30, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Great Britain risks being reduced to a footnote in global politics

By Mark Malloch-Brown

Nowadays, Britain’s words and actions on the world stage are so at odds with its values that one must wonder what has happened to the country.

Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, British foreign policy appears to have all but collapsed — and even to have disowned its past and its governing ideas.

Worse, this has coincided with the emergence of US President Donald Trump’s erratic administration, which is pursuing goals that are completely detached from those of Britain — and of Europe generally.

Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal, combined with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasing belligerence and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) growing ambitions, indicates that the world is entering an ever-more confrontational and dangerous phase.

Trump’s evident lack of personal chemistry with British Prime Minister Theresa May — and the Anglophobia of his new national security adviser, John Bolton — ensured that this was never going to be the best of times for the UK.

However, it also does not help that generations of British foreign-policy hands have regarded themselves as ancient Greeks to the US’ Rome. To a Brit like myself, this analogy always seemed too confident. Having lived in the US, I suspected that US leaders did not heed the advice of British diplomats nearly as much as those diplomats liked to think.

Still, if ever there was a moment for Britain to sprinkle some of its characteristic calm and resolve over world affairs, that moment is now. And yet, the UK appears to have checked out. Since World War II,

Britain’s close relationships with continental Europe and the US have served as the two anchors of its foreign policy, but now, both lines have essentially been severed.

At the same time, the British government’s all-consuming preoccupation with untying the Gordian knot of Brexit has blinded it to what is happening in the rest of the world. And its blinkered view seems certain to persist.

Negotiating the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is likely to take years, and the outcome will inevitably have implications for the country’s unity, given the intractable issue of the Northern Irish border. Even if that issue can be sorted out, a campaign in Scotland to link it to the EU rather than to London will continue to command the attention of the government and civil service for the foreseeable future.

At any rate, the promise of a “global Britain” freed from the chains of the EU was never more than idle talk and sloganeering. At the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, business and political leaders from Commonwealth nations around the world heard plenty of Brexiteer bluster, but little concrete talk of future trade deals.

A country like India could potentially be a major UK trade partner after Brexit. The problem is that Indians see Britain and Europe as one market. To them, Britain’s quest to adopt its own rules and standards amounts to a frivolous inconvenience. Before expanding trade and investment with Britain, India will most likely pursue a deeper relationship with the EU. Indeed, India never saw Britain as a particular champion of its interests inside the EU.

Likewise, most of those outside of the “Leave” camp regard the Brexiteers’ aspiration for Britain to lead the vast “Anglosphere” into a brave new world as a comical delusion. To be sure, the show of US and European support after the nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England, might suggest that Britain is still punching above its weight. The coordinated expulsion of Russian spies from the EU and the US was a victory for British diplomacy; and suspicions that the Russians were exploiting Britain’s increasing isolation seem to have mobilized NATO. However, the larger truth is that the Russians are right: Britain is now Western Europe’s weak link.

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