A refrain of Remainers during the EU referendum campaign was that Britain will lose all weight and influence in the world if the country voted to leave the EU. With that in mind – and how nebulous all things post-Article 50 activation look like as it stands right now – it is worth asking what a desirable foreign policy would be once the UK is no longer an EU member.
It is an extremely complex question that this article only seeks to begin a conversation around. This was all made even more difficult by the release of the Chilcot report last week, asking more questions about what went wrong with the approach the government of the time took to the Iraq War.
Certainly, Iraq needs to be thought about when it comes to contemplating future British foreign policy. Fear of that war’s fallout has clouded every foreign policy decision since. The fog of it hung over discussions regarding what to do about the Syrian situation in 2013, with Labour MPs who had voted in favour of Iraq fearful of what voting for intervention in another Middle Eastern conflict would do in terms of political blowback.
I argued against Iraq in 2003 and for Syrian intervention – the latter as far back as 2012. As I did so four years ago, I had Iraq constantly thrown back in my face – as if any libertarian intervention had been demonstrated to be a bad idea by dint of the mission to depose Saddam Hussein. I will respond to this point as I did in 2012: when western forces marched into Iraq in 2003, there was no war going on there at the time. Therefore, it was the West that started the conflict. In 2012/2013 in Syria, the idea was to try and halt the progress of a conflict all ready raging out of control. This is an important point that isn’t raised enough.
There is a lot more to foreign policy than when and where to go to war, of course. It will be interesting to note how the Americans will treat Britain post-Brexit. Many Eurosceptics were interestingly enough Atlanticists as well, despite the US being vocally pro-Remain (other than Donald Trump, as it happens). Obama has said that the “special relationship”, such as it is, will continue as always. One wonders whether these are simply stabilising noises or genuine reassurance; I fear the former may be the case.
Most of the immediate concerns about post-Brexit Britain will be around how any post-Article 50 deal impacts domestic affairs. We are entering a period in which foreign policy and home affairs uncomfortably collide. Let’s hope the right decisions are made.
Radix will be setting out a paper this autumn exploring foreign policy in a post-Brexit world. Stay tuned.