Expert View

UK missing in action on Syria

by David Hannay | 27.02.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Look behind all the blather about “Global Britain”. Look rather at what actually happens in the world of diplomacy when critical decisions are at stake. Look in recent days, for example, when attempts are being made to alleviate the suffering of civilians trapped in the “hell on earth” of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.

Last weekend, belatedly thanks to Russian foot-dragging, the UN Security Council agreed on a resolution calling for a thirty-day, Syria-wide ceasefire to enable humanitarian supplies to reach besieged communities. Within hours France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel had jointly contacted Vladimir Putin urging him to use his influence with the Assad regime to give immediate effect to the ceasefire.

Where was our own prime minister? Missing in action apparently. When asked repeatedly in Parliament yesterday why Theresa May did not join in this approach, the best the foreign secretary could say was that he will be calling in the Russian ambassador. Phew! The Kremlin must be quaking in its shoes.

This revealing, and rather shameful, diplomatic cameo has two possible explanations, both equally damaging. The first is that the prime minister either did not think it worthwhile weighing in or was too preoccupied with other matters (for example, Brexit) to do so. The second is that Macron and Merkel did not think it useful to include Theresa May in their approach to Putin.

Thus is international diplomacy practised in this pre-Brexit limbo through which we are currently living. What will it be like after Brexit?  We are buying ourselves a ticket to irrelevance.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe