Boris Johnson’s exit from the contest for Conservative Party leadership supports the conspiracy theory that he never really expected the “Leave” option to win the referendum – and he has no intention now of picking up the poisoned chalice that managing the outcome will entail. By backing out, Johnson has made Home Secretary Theresa May the odds-on favourite to be the next British PM. Will she take advantage of the current disarray within the Labour Party to hold a snap election and seek a fresh mandate of her own for Brexit?
Most of the analysis of Brexit this week has focused on the economic effects. The foreign policy implications seem just as dire. An EU weakened and distracted by Britain hands over political, trade and investment opportunities on a plate to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and to China. Given the current extent of EU/US co-operation, the United States will also be a substantial foreign policy loser from Brexit. A less obvious impact will be at the United Nations, where Britain’s clout in future within the Security Council will be severely diminished, over time. Here’s one example why:
…..[British PM David] Cameron has commendably treated stabilising Somalia as a major UK priority, and the UK has led on this in the Security Council. But Britain has been able to play this role because the EU as a whole has offered massive financial support to an African-led peace operation, while three different EU security missions work in parallel support the Somali defence forces and to fight piracy off the coasts of Somalia. It will be hard for the UK to keep driving policy on Somalia at the UN if it is no longer able to base its strategy on European funding.
It will be just as hard for the UK to defend and promote its interests when the EU adopts sanctions, defines priorities for development and humanitarian assistance, negotiates free trade agreements or goes to international fora to curb arms sales or greenhouse gas emissions. The UK was a major player in setting ambitious goals for the EU in the run-up to last year’s Paris climate conference, for example. In future it may only be able to exhort its neighbours to take the environment seriously.
As the Brexit repercussions ripple on, Britain’s ability to influence international events will be further undermined:
Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
One other unforeseen effect of Brexit is that the subsequent reduction in Britain’s importance will lend weight to the reform of the UN in general, and of the Security Council in particular :
Britain’s departure from the EU is also virtually certain to give new momentum to efforts to change the makeup of the U.N. Security Council, whose five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain — still reflect the balance of global power at the end of World War II. For two decades, rising powers like Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan have pushed to receive permanent seats of their own…..
“It is difficult to see Brexit doing anything other than making Britain weaker,” said Natalie Samarasinghe, the executive director of the U.K. branch of the United Nations Association. If Scotland and Northern Ireland leave and “we’re left with a rump U.K.,” she said, questions about London’s right to have a Security Council seat “will grow louder.” And while Britain is unlikely to lose its seat, “the pressure will be intense and might inhibit the U.K.’s ability to play what is otherwise a very positive role,” Samarasinghe added.
For now though, British diplomats are still trying to whistle a happy tune, and are insisting that business as usual will endure for the immediately foreseeable. Logic says otherwise :
London is the lead policymaker — or penholder — on the council on about a dozen international crises, from Darfur to Libya to Yemen. In recent months, it has returned for the first time in 20 years to U.N. peacekeeping missions, pledging to send more than 250 blue helmets to South Sudan and an additional 70 or so to Somalia. U.N. supporters said they hoped this was the first step in a broader re-engagement in U.N. peacekeeping. But Samarasinghe said Brexit might stall any expansion of a British peacekeeping role….
Tragic, really, as Saramsinghe’s UK/UN organisation has pointed out elsewhere.
Those who voted in good faith to “take back control of our borders” are likely to be disappointed in the coming months, as freedom of movement will probably be necessary to secure a good UK-EU deal.
In addition, she offers a pretty good diagnosis of the real problems that have dtiven the Brexit process:
We believe that too little has been done to address the downsides of globalisation. It has boosted opportunities for trade and travel, but also our vulnerability to shocks, from bank defaults to disease outbreaks. It has increased knowledge and cultural exchange, and facilitated the spread of universal values. But it has left too many people behind…..Immigration has long been used by politicians of all stripes as the go-to excuse for their failure to address economic insecurity and inequality. Institutions, too, have become easy punching bags, as public trust in leadership has ebbed away. Many of us have narrowed our horizons, becoming more fiercely local and, at the extreme end, violent. Across the world, governments have been reluctant to engage with this frustration, seeking to pacify it with ever-narrower national agendas…..
Unfortunately, the Brexit vote has been a symptom of the malign trends she is talking about. It isn’t a cure for them.
Alvin Toffler, author of the one-time best seller Future Shock, died this week. Toffler’s book was a breathless, dystopian response to the 1960s wrapped up in techno jargon, and it played white middle class anxieties like a violin. Why, if you thought Vietnam, LSD and the sexual revolution felt disturbing, Toffler declaimed, wait ‘til you see what the pace of technological change is going to do to the workplace, leisure and intimacy. He, and we, didn’t know the half of it.
Because it seemed kind of prophetic… and since it played on the whole “Something’s happening/but you don’t know what it is” vibe of the time – Future Shock became a pop music meme, too. Here are a few of those tracks, including one produced by 1970s wunderkind Todd Rundgren. It featured Hello People, who were a hellish combination of rock music and mime (!). On this track the Hello People came up with a chirpy melody and endearingly clunky early 1970s lyrics (e.g. “Our children are still sleeping / in the future…tense !”) Into the void, void.
And here’s Curtis Mayfield with his “Future Shock” song.
Finally, even Orson Welles got himself involved in Future Shock mania, by narrating this panicky, kitsch classic documentary. As Orson says with his usual gravitas : “We are victims of our own technological strength. We are victims of…shock ! Future shock !” Buckle up.