• August 31, 2021

‘Global Britain’ is Brexit’s most enduring and egregious fallacy

In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum, leading conservative politicians underscored their desire for the UK to remain open, inclusive and outward-oriented on the world stage – a ‘global Britain’. Now, five years later, this phrase is still being repeated incessantly, becoming a rallying cry for a conservative-led post-Brexit diplomatic renaissance.

Given this, the internal logic of “Global Britain” is well known; insists that, outside the straitjacket of a sclerotic EU grouping, the UK can maximize its access to the world, while diversifying our diplomatic and economic life.

Under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this mantra has become the official government discourse, a narrative garnish that accompanies trade and foreign policy missions around the world. But there remains a paradox at the heart of “global Britain,” one that back-to-back Conservative governments have notably failed to recognize. The trope advocates for a more internationally engaged UK, despite the fact that Brexit saw us disassociate ourselves, politically, economically and diplomatically, from our closest neighbors.

Any scrutiny reveals a clear thinness of the “Global Britain” project. Johnson, now prime minister for 2 years, has not provided clarity on what “global Britain” might mean in practice. A recently published security review titled “Global Britain in a Competitive Age” failed to clarify the details, despite being billed as “the most radical assessment of the UK’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War.”


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While the logic of “global Britain” employs the rhetoric of British foreign policy of the past, in particular Tony Blair’s conception of the UK as “the bridge between Europe and America”, the project “A better world, a Best Britain “by David Miliband and William Hague’s” Active “project. and “activist” foreign policy – the difference now is that Europe is pushed to the margins.

Forged with Brexit in mind, “Global Britain” is a project designed by and for government Eurosceptics. As part of a broader diversion strategy, it aims to supplant the diplomatic fallout of Brexit with a narrative of the resurgence of British “soft power”. Johnson hopes that by flaunting Britain’s imagined internationalist future he will ease concerns about Britain’s loneliness after Brexit.

With this project in mind, Johnson was fortunate that the reality of Brexit coincided with the British presidency of the G7 and the co-presidency of COP26. Sensing a unique opportunity to promote the dream of “global Britain”, our prime minister even declared 2021 “a year of British leadership.”

But any post-Brexit sentiment of diplomatic optimism has been shattered by events in Afghanistan. While the UK may have been surprised by the speed of the US withdrawal, Johnson’s inability to flex any diplomatic muscle in the wake of the fallout proved particularly embarrassing. Indeed, while UK officials have insisted that the “special relationship” is now more stable than under the unpredictable Trump, there is no hiding the fact that it took President Biden 36 hours to return our Prime Minister’s call. at the beginning of the crisis.

Shocked by these blows and under pressure from the home game, Johnson tried to persuade Biden to extend the August 31 deadline for troop withdrawal. This request was quickly and publicly rejected, again underscoring the UK’s inability to influence American strategy.

The aforementioned security review envisioned the US as “the UK’s most important strategic partner and ally”. Clearly, the crisis in Afghanistan has introduced a great deal of reality to such delusions. The fury of the conservative parliamentarians, expressed in the Commons, represents a party that has long negotiated with the idea that British greatness is reconciled with our newfound diplomatic impotence.

And what about the sociocultural dimension of Britain’s “soft power”? Our self-assertive foreign policy preeminence has invested a great deal of faith in British political entrepreneurship and the ‘power of our example’. But today this seems absurd. After Brexit, countries no longer want, or even admire, what Britain has to offer.

European eyes can only roll at Johnson’s arrogance; there is no evidence that any outside actor is convinced of the purpose or meaning of “global Britain”. In 2019, a report by the United Nations Association conjectured that “there is still no clarity on what ‘global Britain’ could mean, even from the UK’s perspective.”

And at the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, where Johnson intended to launch the ‘Global Britain’ project, public discussions about Brexit, the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol and deteriorating relations between the UK and the United Kingdom dominated. the European Union. Johnson’s backlash on the NI protocol seriously disproves the often-repeated myth that global Britain would mean a “rule-based” reinvestment in diplomatic relations.

Furthermore, the merger of the UK’s Foreign Affairs (FCO) and Development (DFID) ministries, followed by the reduction of the UK’s aid budget to 0.5% of national income, underscores that while “Great Global Britain “is happy to pursue the coattails of the US, less willing to commit to its international responsibilities elsewhere.

In 1962, the former Secretary of State of the United States, Dean Acheson, famously said: “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not been able to find a role.” At the time, this uncomfortable truth was avoided by a close and growing relationship between the UK and its continental partners. Post-Brexit, “global Britain” is the latest manifestation of this quest for a meaningful role, and in this it wholeheartedly fails.

It was inevitable that the 2016 Brexit decision would lead Johnson to seek alternative benchmarks for UK foreign policy; it could hardly affirm the regional fate of Britain after the referendum result. But Global Britain is mere performance, a show for cameras at G7 summits and climate conferences, but undermined by the deeply isolationist sentiments at the heart of the Brexit cause.

So while Johnson reinvents British foreign policy discursively, post-Brexit realities act in defiance. If Brexit was the first politically motivated assault on Britain’s geopolitical destiny as part of a European “pole” in world politics, then “global Britain” is the logical continuation. This unwavering refusal to acknowledge and compromise with Britain’s European identity now threatens to squander whatever geopolitical weight Britain has left.

Any post-Brexit diplomatic strategy must be grounded in reality and, unfortunately, “global Britain” fails this most basic test. Once we shed the political rhetoric, particularly in the wake of Afghanistan, Britain seems a lonely and desperate figure on the international stage.

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