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Analysis

What a bad time to pursue a solo foreign policy!

by David Hannay | 04.12.2019

Nato’s 70th-anniversary leaders’ meeting at Watford may have papered over some of the cracks and tensions in the Alliance. But it cannot conceal the fact that the British government, with its determination to leave the EU on January 31, has chosen a singularly unpropitious moment to launch out on a solo foreign policy course. The leaders (well most of them, most of the time) may have been on their best behaviour on this occasion. They may have not made things any worse. But they certainly have not made them any better.

Take the lack of consultation between Nato allies before one of them withdrew its troops which had been fighting alongside the Kurds in NE Syria and another then seized the opportunity to launch a military operation against our erstwhile allies. Any chance of that sort of thing not happening again? Not much. 

Take the Turkish decision to buy Russian air defence equipment which could seriously prejudice the Alliance’s capabilities; and their refusal to endorse strengthening the defences of the Baltic and East European members of the alliance. No improvement there either. 

Earlier this week Boris Johnson said: “We’re the country that historically helped to bridge the Atlantic together and to bring Europe and America together, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.” Dream on! He seems unaware of the extent to which that influence has, for the past 45 years, been due to our membership of the EU and our ability to shape its policies from the inside. Does he seriously believe that will continue when we are no longer a member and become just another third country?

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The Europeans’ improved contribution to burden-sharing in the Alliance has led to some easing of the transatlantic tensions over that. In the years ahead the improvement in those contributions will often take the form of building up the EU member states’ own defence capabilities and decision-making capacity. Would it not be better if we were part of that, making sure that what the EU does is consistent with and supportive of overall Alliance requirements? But we will not be able to do that from outside the door.

And then the “noises off” from this week’s gathering, on trade policy in particular, are hardly reassuring. Threats of US retaliation against a French move to tax multinational companies for the profits they make in France (a move that our own government intends to emulate next spring – presumably triggering similar threats); hints of a lengthy prolongation of the US/China trade war beyond next year’s presidential election. 

These are just as bad auguries for any prospect for a beneficial UK /US trade deal as are the war of words over whether the NHS will be on the table, on which one can surely have no more confidence in Donald Trump’s latest assurances than one can in any other of his erratic and often contradictory pronouncements.

What this week’s gathering does, yet again, is to remind us how close our national interests are to those of our main European partners and how much we will put at risk if we press ahead with leaving at the end of January. 

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Categories: Brexit

4 Responses to “What a bad time to pursue a solo foreign policy!”

  • I have just posted on the FT deploring the failure of the Republicans and the American people to call out Trump for his disgraceful actions and words in manoeuvring the Ukrainian President to investigate the Bidens for his personal benefit.
    I now deplore the failure of the political class in the UK, the press , and the British people, for failing to understand the point made in the 4th paragraph of David Hannay’s article that the UK’s influence in foreign affairs for the past 45 years has been through its membership of the EU, and that once outside all that influence will be lost. That’s so obvious, it’s not rocket science. So why is it ignored?

  • The sad truth, John, is that the majority of the ‘British people’ are politically illiterate. If you watch some of the popular quiz type programmes you will witness a terrible ignorance of basic historical and geographical knowledge- the same for politics.
    The majority read tabloid right wing red tops which indoctrinate them and they do not realise. They don’t question or analyse, merely follow the pack. American culture and even spellings (tires) have infiltrated the UK- trick or treat, Black Friday etc. It’s a country on the slide and Brexit has made the slide a lot more slippery.
    The standard of world leaders leaves much to be desired, as shown by the NATO meeting. Trump is a disgrace and Johnson used a meeting of international leaders to make a party political election broadcast and made an attack on Corbyn. It was embarrassing. He even got ‘get Brexit done’ in.

  • I completely agree, most sadly, with William’s analysis. It reminds me of seeing a young woman interviewed in North Carolina just before the Obama-Romney election – and she proudly said she was voting Republican, but hoped they wouldn’t cut Medicare as she was poor and really needed it. One of the main and loudly touted aspects of the Republican she was going to vote for in that very election was to cut Medicare. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – so did both. Now we are the same – and the media say our collective IQ is going up; I don’t believe them.

    Napoleon (for one) used to say of the British that we were lions led by donkeys – I cannot imagine what pithy and painful phrase he’d use to describe us now!

    Does anyone else here remember a move to make a law in Parliament some approx 15-20 years ago to make MPs deselected if they did not keep their election promises? Practically no MP voted for it – I thought it should be law and wrote to my MP saying so, but he still (though in many ways a good man) voted against it. Now look at the mess we are in!