There was a vision there—but her successor now looks set to destroy itby Steve Bloomfield / July 23, 2019 / Leave a comment
I’ve been rereading Theresa May’s speeches on foreign policy and second time around they are slightly more interesting than they first appeared.
Trying to describe May’s foreign policy has been difficult, even for those who work in her foreign policy team. The government has clung to the “Global Britain” slogan even as they have struggled to articulate what it actually means in practice. (The official Global Britain strategy, which the foreign office has been tasked with writing, remains unpublished). But in half a dozen speeches, from Philadelphia to the UN, from Cape Town to Chatham House, there are the beginnings of an idea.
For the past 20 years, Britain has viewed itself as the bridge between the US and Europe. But since 2016 both of those relationships have been called into doubt. May is the first prime minister who has had to grapple with the new reality and it hasn’t been easy, particularly since the election debacle of 2017 left her running a minority government.
Our future relationship with Europe is yet to be negotiated and while those talks have been taking place, each side has become increasingly exasperated with the other. As for America, too many people in Whitehall—officials, not just politicians—convinced themselves that Donald Trump would behave differently once he got into power. Then, they convinced themselves that he was surrounded by adults—Jim Mattis, HR McMaster, Rex Tillerson—who would keep him in line. Now, belatedly, many of them have realised that our most important ally is an authoritarian ethnonationalist who really means it when he says “America First.”
There is a seriousness—and a weariness—about these speeches. They are the words of a prime minister who recognises the need to deal with the world as we find it, not the world as we want it to be. The international rules-based order is often defended, the importance of multilateralism is continually stressed. Agreements that sound impressive are announced—an ambition to make the UK the G7’s “number one investor in Africa” in Cape Town, for instance—even when in reality they will probably make little difference.
Her speeches need to be read in the context of her actions, for it is here that we see what the May doctrine might have become. For despite what her critics on the left say about her embrace of Trump, May…