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Analysis

Is this really a clever time to burn bridges with Europe?

by Hugo Dixon | 14.03.2018

As we launch a diplomatic war against Russia, Donald Trump starts a trade war and China’s Xi Jinping turns himself into president for life, we need to ask ourselves: Who are our friends? Which are the countries with whom we share values and interests? Who can we rely on to stand with us shoulder to shoulder, rather than to bully us?

In the old days, we had simple answers to these questions: North America and Europe. That was a formidable support network. And we were in the middle of it. The US listened to us because we had weight in the councils of Europe; the other EU nations paid heed because we had clout in Washington.

Brexiters thought we could burn our bridges with Europe and stride the world arm in arm with America like Churchill and Roosevelt did in World War Two. That was naive even during the referendum, when Barack Obama was in the White House and before a Russian spy had been poisoned with a nerve agent in Salisbury.

But now it’s sheer folly. Trump has been slow to come to our defence. His press spokesperson declined to even name Russia as the source of the nerve agent. The president himself eventually said: “It sounds to me that it would be Russia based on all the evidence they have… As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.” That will have Putin quaking in his boots.

Our most vocal supporter in Washington was Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, but the US president fired him yesterday. Can we really rely on Trump to stand up to Putin given the investigations into links between his entourage and the Kremlin? Can we trust him to ride to our aid when he used to say that Nato was “obsolete”?

Friends in Europe?

The European reaction has been better. France’s Emmanuel Macron condemned the attack and offered his solidarity after a call with Theresa May. Meanwhile Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, tweeted: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with the British people. It must be made clear that an attack against one EU & NATO country is an attack on all of us.”

But as we kick 23 Russian diplomats out of the UK and tighten financial sanctions against those who abuse human rights, other European countries haven’t been rushing to join us in taking retaliatory action. Maybe it would have been no different if we were staying in the EU. But it is possible that Putin now sees us as weaker prey – and Brexit certainly isn’t making it easier to pull together a network of allies.

Our loss of influence doesn’t just make us vulnerable to Putin. We are living in dangerous times. One of the reasons Trump gave for sacking Tillerson was that the Secretary of State was too keen on the Iran nuclear pact. How would ripping that up protect our security?

The US president is also slapping tariffs on our steel exports. How are we going to face down American bullying if we are on our own? As part of the EU, we are in the world’s largest trade bloc and so can’t be pushed around.

Looking further afield, China’s Xi is tightening his grip on power. He’s not directly threatening us. But he will be ruthlessly pushing his interest and China’s in the coming years. He respects other big powers. Post-Brexit, he probably won’t think the UK is one of them.

Immediately after the end of the Cold War, it seemed like the world might enter an era of peace and democracy. But we are actually in a period dominated by tyrants and bullies. The best way of defending our interests is to cancel Brexit and reinforce our position as a leading European power. That, too, would be the best way to retaliate against Putin, who rubbed his hands with glee when we voted to pull out of the EU.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

Tags: , , Categories: UK Politics

3 Responses to “Is this really a clever time to burn bridges with Europe?”

  • What would hurt Putin most would be if his careless assassination directly provoked the UK into abandoning Brexit. Putin has long been a supporter of Brexit and it would be nice to see his plans for our downfall collapse. On the other hand, given Putin is a strong Brexit supporter you have to wonder about the motives of Mogg, IDS, Boris and so on. Haven’t they also been on RT TV for a few quid? When you sup with the Devil, etc., etc.

  • The attempted murder of the former spy and his daughter is absolutely reprehensible.
    Theresa May agrees to supply massive amounts of weapons to the Saudis, facilitating a genocide in Yemen.

  • I doubt we’d ever prove in a Court of Law that Putin etc ordered the dirty deed, but it does seem highly likely that the Russian government currently thinks it can literally get away with murder in the UK. And the Russians may well be right given that Her Majesty’s Prime Minister is clueless, timorous and indecisive; and her Foreign Minister a posturing buffoon. ‘In Facts’ would do well to take note – thus far much of the argument for cancelling Brexit has been ‘economic’, but you should also be asking just how many ‘foreign policy’ humiliations the Brexshitters would be willing to countenance. For if the UK does leave the EU this episode will probably be the first of many.