Boris missing the boat on post-Brexit foreign policy

The Prime Minister may be successful in getting Britain out of the EU, but it seems he is slowly putting Britain at risk of being an introverted and vulnerable ‘Global State’ that pays scant regard to the dangers posed by China

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British embassy Beijing. The message from Boris is?
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Konrad Whitehouse
On 20 March 2020 13:28

One of the more attractive aspects of Brexit is the independence from the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Being relieved of conforming to the EU’s foreign policy missions, which were often limp and slow to respond, means an opportunity for the UK to regain its rightful place in the global hierarchy as a leading economy, commanding global standards, and expanding a network of allies through international consultations and trade.

Make no mistake, Brexit is the pinnacle of foreign policy achievements the UK has implemented since the Falklands War victory in 1982.

The Prime Minister appeared to take this new international responsibility in his stride when he promised to ‘overhaul’ the UK’s foreign policy approach post-Brexit. However, the reality is Boris Johnson hasn’t yet fulfilled this promise, and in fact has done quite the opposite.

Even as Foreign Secretary, his track record was questionable: unwavering support for Turkey’s President Erdogan and advocating Turkey’s accession to the European Union, although perhaps understandable due to his partial Turkish heritage, was dubious positioning for a newly appointed Eurosceptic Minister.

Then there is the ongoing case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which continues to haunt him. Finally, advocating arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the backing of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen caused complications for the UK over Saudi war crimes. This is to list just a few items.

Even prior to COVID-19, perhaps the lack of energy in striking out with a new foreign policy has been because Brexit is not yet complete, and remains the primary focus for Number 10.

Or could it be the decades of being confined to a common foreign policy with no real authority and so, like a newly-homed cat, Britain seems curious and questioning of its fresh and emerging place on the world stage? We even failed to send a senior government minister to the Munich Security Conference last month!

This newfound responsibility seems to have dumbfounded the Prime Minister.

His fixation over China is alarming. His stance on their interference in digital infrastructure – see facial-recognition lampposts in Hong Kong and surveillance motorways all across China – is nothing less than dangerous. There is an ambiguous grey-area around where the Chinese state’s control ends and the private sector’s control begins.

Huawei is a prime example, and the Prime Minister is on the verge of opening the digital gates to them. Even if Huawei is nominally independent of the Chinese state, it doesn’t detract from the fact that, due to Chinese national security legislation, when the Chinese state requests data which Huawei possesses, it must comply and hand it over.

The national security risk this poses for the UK is staggering. Our greatest security ally -- the United States of America -- has made it clear we risk our security alliance and intelligence-sharing with them and the 5-EYES (the intelligence alliance between the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) due to a ‘back-door’ into our security infrastructure. Should the UK be stripped of these security assets, it leaves us extremely vulnerable.

This isn’t the only warning sign from Boris as our PM. He is a vocal supporter of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative -- a dangerous project by the Chinese to offer loans to countries in return for building vital infrastructure. China then hikes up the interest rate to levels the country cannot afford.

When defaulting on the loan, China then appropriates the assets for the utilisation of the Chinese state. This Belt and Road Initiative is a modern-day land-grab which will have extreme ramifications on the globalised world in years to come.

Acknowledging this recurring theme, it is not hard to imagine there will be more cooperation with China under Boris’s tenure. The ban on petrol and diesel cars will surely be supplemented by a massive increase in cheap Chinese-built electric vehicles in the coming decades. Another quick fix for Boris’s Chinese friends.

We cannot allow the UK to become a lame duck on the world stage post-Brexit, and we still need to maintain the opportunity to revolutionise our foreign policy, unburdened by the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. However, at present it appears Boris has opted to largely out-source our foreign policy to the Far East.

The Prime Minister may be successful in Getting Britain Out of the EU, but it seems he is slowly putting Britain at risk of being an introverted and vulnerable ‘Global State’.

Konrad Whitehouse is a Research Executive at the grassroots cross-party campaign Get Britain Out

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