The Insider

Radek Sikorski is the new foreign minister of Europe to watch

David Cameron has been steadfast in support for Ukraine—but he’s only giving sheen to a dying administration

February 28, 2024
David Cameron and Radek Sikorski earlier this month. Image: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo
David Cameron and Radek Sikorski earlier this month. Image: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo

The new foreign minister of Europe to watch is Radek Sikorski, not David Cameron. 

Radek Sikorski of Poland is the one literally to watch in his brilliant four-minute demolition of Vladimir Putin at the UN Security Council last week. He nailed Putin for lie after lie, and made the compelling case as to why winning the Ukraine war is so vital for Europe. 

Cameron has been steadfast in maintaining British support for Ukraine. But Poland is on the front line against Russia and its voice is critical, not least in taking on the fainthearts in Germany and the Putin apologist Orbán in Hungary. When that voice is as powerful and reasoned as Sikorski’s—in flawless English—it will have a big impact in Washington. 

Cameron and Sikorski have a social past in common as flamboyant members of Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon Club in the 1980s. But Sikorski is shaping Europe’s political future while Cameron is a fleeting presence.

Partly this is about rising and falling regimes. Donald Tusk’s liberal government, of which Sikorski is part (Sikorski was also Tusk's foreign minister for seven years until 2014), has just taken office in a massive election upset evicting a desperate populist regime, while Rishi Sunak’s government is a deeply failing administration in its dying days. Cameron has given it a bit of sheen at the Foreign Office, but it won’t improve the rusting metal underneath.

Poland is arguably Europe’s fastest rising country, both economically and diplomatically. Sikorski and Tusk, a former president of the European Council, are putting it centre-stage within a European Union to which the UK no longer even belongs, thanks in no small part to Cameron. 

This is the British foreign secretary’s fundamental problem. Even in military matters where the UK’s influence is at its greatest, through our defence spending and membership of Nato, Brexit has hugely diminished the UK’s capacity to speak for—or lead—Europe. It will continue to be so until the UK has a government which seeks fundamentally to revisit Brexit and starts engaging closely with mainland Europe once again. 

The Sunak government is not remotely on that page and Cameron cannot disguise that fact. He has no mandate to revisit Brexit. More telling than his appointment is the fact that his boss in Number 10 has yet to visit Berlin. Nor did Sunak attend this week’s meeting of heads of government in Paris called by Emmanuel Macron to discuss Ukraine. Cameron was appointed largely because Sunak did not want to engage with Europe, not because he wanted to make a pro-European statement. 

No amount of Cameroon activity on other fronts can make up for this. Visiting the Falkland Islands was a trip down nostalgia lane, and a warning to Argentina not to miscalculate on the UK’s current weakness and attempt another invasion. It was certainly not a harbinger of any new imperialism. 

As for Cameron’s statements on Gaza and Israel, the futility of floating the possibility of the UK recognising a Palestinian state at some point in the distant future, when not even the Biden administration—let alone the UK—can stop the evisceration and bloodshed in Gaza, is a testament to weakness and irrelevance, not strength. 

Poland, not the UK, is at the heart of the new Europe. And the foreign minister to watch is Radek Sikorski.