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Analysis

Davos shows how Brexit is turning us into a “me too” player

by David Hannay | 28.01.2018

Plenty of commentators have demonstrated how poorly the mood at Davos in any one year indicates the likely course of future events. But the gathering does provide a snapshot of the global elites of the day, their attitudes, hopes and fears. Davos 2018 has been marked by the extraordinary mis-match between the benign global economic conditions and the absence of accepted geo-political leadership in a world where the great democracies are being shaken to their foundations by the forces of angry populism.

The razzamatazz surrounding Donald Trump’s first appearance in Davos far exceeded anything he had to say which, apart from the absence of expletives and tweets, did not add up to very much. But it did illustrate an important reality. The United States may now be living in what some have called its “post primacy” era. But the rest of the world is still deeply interested in its international strategies and in the direction its policies are taking. America’s soft power may be, perhaps only temporarily, in eclipse but its hard power remains a fact of which all still have to take account.

But no amount of surface bonhomie and European politeness could conceal the reality of US isolation on pretty well every policy issue in sight. “America first” may not be “America alone” in the eyes of the president – but on trade policy, climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and the status of Jerusalem, that is exactly what it is. Most of Trump’s closest advisers would deny any charge of isolationism and argue they favoured a realistic rather than an idealistic foreign policy, but that does not seem to have got through to the president himself.

There is little doubt who was the European star of the occasion. Emmanuel Macron continues to be favoured by luck, that commodity which Napoleon demanded of his marshals, and he continues to make the most of it. Of more durable significance is the probable re-emergence, if and when Angela Merkel successfully completes her coalition negotiations, of a Franco-German duo providing leadership to the EU.

Britain is nowhere in that equation. And transatlantic dealings will in future pass between Washington, Paris and Berlin, without any significant role for London, except as a “me too” player, usually on the European side of any argument.   

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Theresa May made a worthy and workmanlike contribution to the debate over the behaviour of the global communications behemoths, although it did rather reprise the speech she made to the United Nations General Assembly last September. But was anybody listening? It is not evident they were even if its impact had not been drowned out by one of those weekly, now almost daily, outbursts of infighting over Brexit within the Conservative party. The sad reality is that, so long as the government remains in a state of civil war over its Brexit strategy and continues to give master-classes in how not to negotiate, Britain’s voice is a marginal one at such gatherings.               

It really is time we woke up and smelled the coffee. For the rest of the world, including our closest neighbours and allies, Brexit is an aberration and a distraction from other more pressing issues. The government may claim that it is building a new Global Britain, but that is just a slogan without any real policy content.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Davos shows how Brexit is turning us into a “me too” player”

  • “No amount of surface bonhomie and European politeness could conceal the reality of US isolation.”

    And that isolation infects Britain where politicians bleat about that ‘special relationship’ no one living more than 2 millimeters outside the Washington beltway has ever heard of!

    Theresa May gets it wrong at home and away!