Rishi Sunak to Play Post-Brexit Role with Global Britain Pivot
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has mothballed the projects large and small of his predecessors, from Liz Truss’ tax cuts to Boris Johnson’s revamped royal yacht. But one of Mr Sunak’s most iconic changes since he took office as Prime Minister five months ago has received less attention: the ditching of the ‘Global Britain’ slogan.
The phrase, a bold relic of Britain’s debate over its post-Brexit role, no longer appears in speeches by cabinet ministers or in the government’s updated military and foreign policy plan it released last Monday.
In his place, Mr Sunak has made expert trade and immigration deals with Britain’s closest neighbors – France and the rest of the European Union. In doing so, analysts and diplomats say, he has begun to outline a realistic role on the global stage for the first time since Britain left the European Union.
The global Britain proposed by Mr Johnson was intended to produce a Britain that could be detached from Brussels, agile and opportunistic, a lightly regulated free trade powerhouse. In practice, it symbolized a country with far-fetched ambitions and, under Mr Johnson, a habit of bickering with its neighbors.
Mr. Sunak has changed all that, with a pragmatic approach that to some extent reflects his hard-nosed, technocratic style. (In domestic politics, he has also eschewed the ideological experiments of Mrs Truss and the bombastic politics of Mr Johnson in favor of a more methodical approach to Britain’s deep-rooted economic problems.)
But a leader’s style counts, and on the world stage, Mr. Sunak’s no-nonsense approach pays off in striking fashion.
In recent weeks he has struck a deal with Brussels over trade with Northern Ireland, eased years of Brexit-related tensions with France, launched the next phase of a submarine alliance with Australia and the United States and announced £11 billion ( approximately $13.3 billion) in increased military spending over the next five years, cementing Britain’s role as Ukraine’s leading arms supplier.
“It’s too early to tell if Sunak has found a role for Britain post-Brexit,” said Peter Westmacott, who served as Britain’s ambassador to France and the United States. “But he has banned the much-ridiculed Johnsonian slogan ‘Global Britain’ and prefers to under-promise and over-deliver. He also acted quickly to remove some of the obstacles to better relationships with our partners.”
There are persistent obstacles to a new British role, not least the right flank of Mr Sunak’s Conservative Party, which remains suspicious of the European Union and could yet derail its trade deal with Northern Ireland. Human rights experts have also condemned the government’s new plan to prevent asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel, saying it violated international law.
Still, Mr Westmacott said: “Let us not underestimate the value of restoring trust and mutual respect at the level of heads of government at a time when like-minded liberal democracies have more reason than ever to work together.”
Mr. Sunak has embarked on a big fence repair tour. Unlike Mr Johnson, who once feuded with French President Emmanuel Macron over sausages, Mr Sunak called Mr Macron “mon ami” after they met in Paris this month and agreed to work together to try to curb migrant crossings.
When Mr Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the deal on new trade rules for Northern Ireland, known as the Windsor Framework, she referred to him as “Dear Rishi”. It was a stark contrast to the stilted encounters she once had with Mr. Johnson.
President Biden has also warmed up to Mr Sunak, although not always in a way that will help the PM at home. During Mr. Sunak’s visit to San Diego for the inauguration of the submarine alliance, Mr. Biden noted that Mr. Sunak was a Stanford University graduate and owned a home on the coast. “So I’m being very nice to you,” Mr. Biden said, “perhaps you can invite me over to your home in California.”
Mr. Sunak’s Santa Monica home is a reminder that he is wealthy and held a US green card during his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, issues that dogged him as he ran unsuccessfully for Conservative Party leader in 2022. (He claimed the job a few months later after Ms. Truss’ economic missteps forced her to resign.)
The White House did not address Mr Sunak’s role in finalizing the Northern Ireland deal with Brussels in its statement. The prime minister told Mr Biden at their first face-to-face meeting as leader in November that he hoped to settle the issue in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday deal in April.
“I suspect the US is cautious,” said Simon Fraser, a former senior official in Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. “There have been a lot of false starts with the UK since Brexit.”
British officials said the wording of the White House statement was helpful as verifying Mr Sunak’s name could have given him a headache in Northern Ireland’s thorny political landscape, where Mr Biden’s endorsement is a mixed blessing. Many refer to the President, a proud Irish American, as a sympathizer with those in the region who want union with the Republic of Ireland.
Separately, the deal opened the door for Mr Biden to visit Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, next month to commemorate a quarter-century since the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence known as the Troubles. The President also invited Mr. Sunak to visit the White House in June.
The submarine pact is a reminder that Britain remains the most important military power in NATO after the United States. American officials said they were heartened that Mr Sunak has failed to tone down unbridled British support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which began under Mr Johnson and only bolstered on Thursday when Mr Sunak and Mr Zelenskyy discussed Russia’s relentless attacks in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
In addition, the government budget announced by Mr Sunak’s Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday promises to increase UK military spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP, although no date has been given for when that target will be reached. The extra money will be used to build new nuclear submarines and fighter jets, as well as to replenish stocks depleted by the arms pipeline to Ukraine.
“The past week tells us something very important about how Rishi Sunak sees the world and how he wants the world to see Britain,” said Sophia Gaston, head of foreign policy at Policy Exchange, a London-based think tank. “We are connected, open, ambitious, but pragmatic when it comes to delivering on our promises.”
Ms Gaston argued that there was more continuity in British foreign policy than the change of language would suggest. For one, the updated military and foreign policy review was authored by John Bew, the same foreign policy adviser who authored the 2021 review entitled “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”.
And while the new document uses less encouraging language, it still underscores Britain’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. That could soon get a boost if, as expected, the UK joins the 11-nation regional trading bloc known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But it also says more about Britain’s cooperation with its European neighbors, something that wasn’t in vogue three years ago.
“It’s rooted in the reality of Britain as a major middle power – but not a superpower – that needs to work with others,” said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, a research organization in London.
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/19/world/europe/rishi-sunak-global-britain.html Rishi Sunak to Play Post-Brexit Role with Global Britain Pivot