*European dreams and fears for 2018
VIEW FROM LONDON
Top of Theresa May’s New Year’s resolutions for 2018 is to bring to life the idea of ‘Global Britain’. This is the dazzling international role that, she has promised voters, will replace the constrained and undervalued ‘European Britain’.
But despite the UK’s military strength, its world class diplomacy, and its leadership on international aid, it is unclear what this notion really means. So what May’s government hopes for next year is a crisis or two that would allow them to define this ambition through action. Something that shows that Britain is a serious actor, with the ability to get the right people round the table to find solutions that protect the interests of the UK and the liberal order. That it draws strength from its special relationships, but that when needs must it can also take its own line – its challenge to Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as a capital of Israel being a case in point.
If this sounds selfish, it is because it is. Time is not on Theresa May’s side in delivering Global Britain to UK voters. In 2018 she needs to create facts on the ground that make clear that the UK will not fade into global insignificance after March 2019, when it leaves the EU.
This is not just about proving to voters that they were not lied to about the ‘huge opportunity’ that Brexit represents.
The demonstration is also about convincing EU members that the UK still matters enough diplomatically that they should co-operate closely with it on security and trade matters, and give it privileged access to council working groups and formats that shape European foreign policy.
And it must be a sufficiently emphatic display to win over Europeans who have been put off by the UK’s chaotic approach to the separation negotiations.
Theresa May’s single biggest fear for 2018 is that the story she and her government have been spinning about the UK’s ongoing relevance, and about Europe’s need to keep the UK close after Brexit, will be exposed as false. She needs Global Britain to put on a good show in 2018, both to keep her domestic political situation under control, but also to remind other European countries of the valued partner the UK can be – evidence of which has been thin on the ground of late.
For Theresa May, Global Britain has to become real in order to secure a good arrangement for the UK in its future relationship with the EU. As superficial as the plan is, there is no plan B. Splendid isolation stopped being so appealing for the UK a century ago. In an interconnected world, the prospect looks positively frightening.
have to happen in the most disastrous way possible.
* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: http://ecfr.eu
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