A knock­out for the UK:

Why Great Bri­tain is los­ing clout on the in­ter­na­tional arena

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Michael Binyon, Lon­don

Michael Binyon on why Great Bri­tain is los­ing clout on the in­ter­na­tional arena

It was al­ways as­sumed that Bri­tain, en­joy­ing a “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” with the United States, would be the first for­eign fo­cus of any new Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. No longer. Don­ald Trump made his first pres­i­den­tial visit over­seas to Saudi Ara­bia. And Em­manuel Macron, feted across Washington af­ter a tri­umphal state visit, is now seen in the White House as Trump’s best friend and the Euro­pean leader with whom he can do busi­ness.

Build­ing on his suc­cess, Pres­i­dent Macron set off for Aus­tralia, un­der­lin­ing Bri­tain’s hu­mil­i­a­tion by as­sert­ing his global role in an An­glo­phone coun­try long seen as one of Bri­tain’s clos­est Com­mon­wealth al­lies.

Theresa May, mean­while, re­mains at home as yet an­other cri­sis shakes her gov­ern­ment. She suf­fered an­other po­lit­i­cal set­back when it was re­vealed that the gov­ern­ment has been de­port­ing black peo­ple from the Caribbean who had lived all their lives in Bri­tain but who did not have pa­pers to prove when they ar­rived as chil­dren of im­mi­grants in the 1950s. The scan­dal grew when it was re­vealed that elderly peo­ple in their 60s and 70s had been forced to go to Ja­maica or other

Caribbean is­lands where they knew no one and had no roots. As a re­sult of the up­roar, Am­ber Rudd, the Home Sec­re­tary, was forced to re­sign, and the gov­ern­ment an­nounced it would change its pol­icy of deliberately cre­at­ing a “hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment” for im­mi­gra­tion.

This new cri­sis is dam­ag­ing to May for sev­eral rea­sons. First, it sug­gests that the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment had a clearly racist pol­icy to­wards black Bri­tons, de­spite its pub­lic in­sis­tence on racial equal­ity. Se­condly, May her­self was Home Sec­re­tary be­fore be­com­ing Prime Min­is­ter, and was largely re­spon­si­ble for the at­tempt to de­port black Caribbean Bri­tons and for try­ing to force other im­mi­grants to leave. And thirdly, Am­ber Rudd was a woman whom May was hop­ing to pro­mote to show that women had equal op­por­tu­ni­ties in pol­i­tics.

The scan­dal has erupted at a time when Bri­tain is strug­gling to keep the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions on track. Some progress has been made, but sev­eral of the vi­tal key is­sues re­main un­re­solved. There is now less than a year be­fore Bri­tain is due to leave the Euro­pean Union, and with­out a deal there could be a dis­as­trous col­lapse of all talks and an undig­ni­fied Bri­tish de­par­ture that would cost the econ­omy mil­lions of pounds in lost ex­ports. The dif­fi­cul­ties were un­der­lined re­cently when Michel Barnier, the chief EU ne­go­tia­tor, made a visit to Ire­land to see whether it would be pos­si­ble for Bri­tain to leave the EU cus­toms union with­out im­pos­ing full bor­der con­trols be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic of Ire­land. The EU has said a bor­der-free cross­ing is es­sen­tial, but is im­pos­si­ble with­out com­mon tar­iff bar­ri­ers for both Bri­tain and the EU.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions are all the more dif­fi­cult for May be­cause her cab­i­net is still deeply di­vided on Brexit. Boris John­son, the For­eign Sec­re­tary, and sev­eral other hard­line pro-Brexit min­is­ters in­sist that Bri­tain must leave the EU cus­toms union; oth­ers are hop­ing to keep Bri­tain still in the free trade zone with Europe. The gov­ern­ment has been de­feated again in the House of Lords, which voted to block any de­par­ture from the cus­toms union, and a big vote on this is­sue is com­ing up in the House of Com­mons, which the gov­ern­ment is also likely to lose.

All this means that May is seen at home as a weak and in­ef­fec­tive prime min­is­ter. She is un­able to push through much leg­is­la­tion, as the rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive party has no over­all ma­jor­ity in par­lia­ment. And be­cause of her weak po­si­tion at home, she is not re­garded as an in­flu­en­tial politi­cian over­seas. As a re­sult, Bri­tain counts for lit­tle in ar­eas where it has tra­di­tion­ally played a big role and where his­tor­i­cal links used to be strong. In the Mid­dle East, Bri­tain has of­fered no new ini­tia­tives and has not used any in­flu­ence be­hind the scenes to re­solve dif­fi­cul­ties such as the civil war in Ye­men, the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian ques­tion or the ar­gu­ments over the Iran nu­clear deal. In In­dia, Bri­tain’s hopes of rapidly ex­pand­ing trade and po­lit­i­cal links have met with a cool re­sponse. And in the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, Bri­tain is now seen as the weak­est of the five per­ma­nent mem­bers.

The most galling and vis­i­ble re­sult has been the lack of in­ter­est in Washington in Bri­tish af­fairs. May was one of Trump’s first visi­tors, but the two of them were mocked for hold­ing hands in pub­lic and the per­sonal chem­istry did not seem to work well. May was em­bar­rassed that Trump seemed in no hurry to ac­cept an early in­vi­ta­tion to make a state visit to Bri­tain. He has al­ready post­poned an­other visit that was planned for the spring. He has been ir­ri­tated by May’s crit­i­cisms of some of his tweets and has been an­gered by hos­tile re­marks from the mayor of Lon­don and by the large num­ber of peo­ple who signed a pe­ti­tion that the in­vi­ta­tion for a state visit should be with­drawn. The visit has been resched­uled for July, but lit­tle is now ex­pected of it and Trump may ex­pect a cool wel­come from the Bri­tish pub­lic.

Re­la­tions be­tween Bri­tain and Rus­sia are far worse, fol­low­ing the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Sergei Skri­pal, a for­mer Rus­sian spy, and his daugh­ter Yu­lia in the English town of Sal­is­bury. The Rus­sians mocked Bri­tain’s ac­cu­sa­tions that Moscow or­dered the poi­son­ing of Skri­pal with a nerve agent made only in Rus­sia, and tried to iso­late Bri­tain from its al­lies.

May was en­cour­aged that more than 20 allied coun­tries sup­ported her when she ex­pelled 23 Rus­sian diplo­mats by also ex­pelling Rus­sians from em­bassies across Europe and Amer­ica. But the break­down in re­la­tions with Rus­sia has also posed a big ques­tion about whether there should be tighter con­trols on the large num­ber of Rus­sian oli­garchs liv­ing in Bri­tain. They have brought in a lot of money, but May’s gov­ern­ment is now ac­cused of al­low­ing them to laun­der dirty money in Lon­don with­out ask­ing ques­tions about where that money came from.

Of course Bri­tain’s big­gest loss of in­flu­ence has been within Europe. Bri­tain is still tech­ni­cally part of the EU, but min­is­ters now at­tend few of the reg­u­lar EU coun­cil meet­ings, and their views are not taken se­ri­ously. The coun­try’s limbo sta­tus now means that Bri­tain’s voice counts for lit­tle in Euro­pean dis­cus­sions of com­mon for­eign pol­icy or of the EU’s own de­vel­op­ment. And with An­gela Merkel head­ing a shaky coali­tion gov­ern­ment and clearly hav­ing lost pres­tige at home, Pres­i­dent Macron has stepped into the lead­er­ship vac­uum and is demon­strat­ing a global ac­tivism – po­lit­i­cally, mil­i­tar­ily and in pub­lic re­la­tions – that used to be as­so­ci­ated more with Bri­tish pol­icy. He clearly hopes that busi­ness and bank­ing com­pa­nies will move their head­quar­ters from Lon­don to Paris and that over­seas in­vest­ment from coun­tries such as Ja­pan with now go to France rather than to Bri­tain.

Bri­tons have barely no­ticed their loss of in­flu­ence over­seas, as they are pre­oc­cu­pied with the Brexit is­sue, the slow eco­nomic growth and the ap­par­ent po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis within the gov­ern­ment. But to many, the coun­try al­ready seems very dif­fer­ent from the Bri­tain of Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago, when min­is­ters used to boast that, like a good boxer, Bri­tain “punched above its weight”. Like a poor boxer, Bri­tain now seems knocked-out and on the floor.

BE­CAUSE OF THERESA MAY'S WEAK PO­SI­TION AT HOME, SHE IS NOT RE­GARDED AS AN IN­FLU­EN­TIAL POLITI­CIAN OVER­SEAS.

AS A RE­SULT, BRI­TAIN COUNTS FOR LIT­TLE IN AR­EAS WHERE IT HAS TRA­DI­TION­ALLY PLAYED A BIG ROLE AND WHERE HIS­TOR­I­CAL LINKS USED TO BE STRONG

Spe­cial no longer. The most galling and vis­i­ble re­sult has been the lack of in­ter­est in Washington in Bri­tish af­fairs

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