Another week’s sleep and Boris Johnson gets to be the center of worldwide attention. Next weekend, he’ll meet the leaders of the G7 in Cornwall.
For Johnson, it’s an opportunity to show that the UK still matters after Brexit. Independence was the promise of Brexit; delivered with the majestic slogan take back control. Now the question is what a medium-sized Western Power can do, only on the big stage.
Johnson himself likes to talk about Global Britain. The foreign strategy he published this spring therefore exudes global ambition. Two weeks ago, a new aircraft carrier left for Asia. HMS Queen Elizabeth was not out of sight before the government announced the construction of a new flagship. The new navy ship, intended for promotional trips and trade missions, “will be the first ship of its kind in the world and reflect the UK’s status as a large, independent seafaring trading nation,” said Johnson.
Do Brexit Britons allow themselves to be intoxicated by geopolitical fairy tales about their own abilities? Wouldn’t be the first time. FT commentator Philip Stephens wrote a delightful book about the British role in the world since WWII and the struggle of the UK to find an appropriate role for himself. Britain alone begins with the humiliation of Prime Minister Anthony Eden in the Suez Crisis (1956) and leads through Tony Blair’s defeat in the Iraq war to Johnson’s Brexit.
Stephens talks with Taste about the creation of the special relationship with the US, which is much more special for London than for Washington. And about the independent British nuclear weapon, which is actually not so independent British because the US demands that it should only be used in NATO context. The relationship with the US did give the UK an influential role as an intermediary between Washington and Brussels. By lifting the European anchor, the UK has deprived itself of that role.
How serious is this Global Britain story? The UK, as a medium-sized power, is not only a member of the G7 and G20, but also a permanent member of the UN Security Council and, in any case, a nuclear-weapon state. The British military still counts, and British espionage enjoys world fame. The UK economy has strengths – think financial services in London – and education and science have a good reputation.
There are also downsides. Trade with the EU has become more difficult and new trade agreements with others have yet to be concluded, Although negotiations with Australia are well advanced. The military is only a fraction of what it was at the time of the Falklands War. The development cooperation budget, long a British pride, has cut Johnson by £ 4 billion.
Every child sees that the UK does not fit into the list of global players: USA, China, Russia – that’s a different division. The UK is in France’s division, with one big difference: Paris can mobilise the combined power of the EU, the UK cant’ do it no longer.
Just as Eden thought it could go back to the days of the British Empire, writes Stephens, the Brexiteers think they can easily go back to the days before EU membership. “The delusion that Britain can do what it wants is destined to be shattered,” writes Stephens. In the Suez Crisis this happened in one fell swoop, after Brexit the disillusionment comes slowly but steadily.