Rishi Sunak charts post-Brexit role with ‘Global Britain’ kingpin
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has shelved the plans of his predecessors big and small, from Liz Truss’ tax cuts to Boris Johnson’s revamped royal yacht. But one of Mr Sunak’s most symbolic changes since taking over as Prime Minister five months ago has received less attention: the removal of the ‘Global Britain’ slogan.
The phrase, a swaggering relic of Britain’s debate over its post-Brexit role, no longer features in speeches by Cabinet ministers or the government’s updated military and foreign policy plan it released last Monday.
In his place, Mr Sunak struck business deals on trade and immigration with Britain’s closest neighbors – France and the rest of the European Union. In the process, analysts and diplomats said, he began, for the first time since Britain left the European Union, to chart a realistic role on the world stage.
Global Britain, as proposed by Mr Johnson, was meant to evoke a Britain, free from Brussels, that could be nimble and opportunistic, a lightly regulated free-trade power. In practice, it has become the symbol of a country with outlandish ambitions and, under Mr Johnson, accustomed to bickering with its neighbours.
Mr. Sunak has changed all that, with a no-nonsense approach that, to some extent, mirrors his buttoned-up technocratic style. (In domestic politics, he also eschewed the ideological experimentation of Ms 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 matters, and on the world stage, Mr. Sunak’s no-nonsense approach is paying eye-catching dividends.
In recent weeks he has struck a deal with Brussels on trade in Northern Ireland, eased years of Brexit-related tensions with France, ushered in the next phase of an undersea alliance with Australia and the United States and announced an 11 billion pound (about $13.3 billion) increase in military spending over the next five years, cementing Britain’s role as the world’s largest arms supplier. Ukraine.
“It’s too early to say whether Sunak has found a role for post-Brexit Britain,” said Peter Westmacott, who has served as Britain’s ambassador to France and the United States. “But he has banished the much-derided Johnsonian ‘Global Britain’ slogan, preferring to under-promise and over-deliver. He also moved quickly to resolve some of the obstacles to better relationships with our partners.
There are continuing obstacles to a new British role, including the right flank of Mr Sunak’s Conservative Party, which remains wary of the European Union and could yet derail its trade deal on Northern Ireland. Human rights experts have also condemned the government’s new plan to stop asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel, saying it would breach international law.
Yet Mr Westmacott said: “Let us not underestimate the value of restoring trust and mutual respect at the level of government leaders at a time when like-minded liberal democracies have more reason than ever to work together.
Mr. Sunak embarked on a major fence repair tour. Unlike Mr Johnson, who has previously argued with French President Emmanuel Macron over sausages, Mr Sunak called Mr Macron ‘my friend’ after they met in Paris this month and agreed to work together in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants.
When Mr Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the agreement on new trade rules for Northern Ireland, known as the Windsor Framework, she called it “dear Rishi”. It was a stark contrast to the stilted encounters she had had with Mr Johnson.
President Biden has also warmed to Mr Sunak, but not always in a way that helps the Prime Minister at home. During Mr. Sunak’s visit to San Diego to inaugurate the submarine alliance, Mr. Biden noted that Mr. Sunak graduated from Stanford University and owned a house on the coast. “That’s why I’m very nice to you,” Mr. Biden said, “Maybe you can invite me to your place in California.”
Mr Sunak’s Santa Monica residence is a reminder that he is wealthy and held a US green card while Chancellor of the Exchequer, issues that dogged him when he ran without success as leader of the Conservative Party in 2022. (He claimed the job a few months later after Ms Truss’ economic missteps forced her to resign.)
The White House, in its statement, did not single out Mr Sunak’s role in brokering the deal between Northern Ireland and Brussels. The Prime Minister told Mr Biden in November, when they first met in person as leaders, that he hoped to settle the matter in time for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April.
“I suspect the United States is being 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 because checking Mr Sunak’s name could have caused him headaches in the delicate political landscape of Northern Ireland, where the Mr. Biden’s endorsement is a mixed blessing. Many identify the president, a proud Irish American, as sympathetic to those in the region who want unification with the Republic of Ireland.
Either way, the deal opened the door for Mr Biden to travel to Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast next month to commemorate a quarter century since the Good Friday Agreement, which 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 NATO’s most important military power after the United States. US officials say they are encouraged that Mr Sunak has not softened the unwavering British support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which began under Mr Johnson and was boosted as recently as Thursday, when Messrs. Sunak and Zelensky talked about the relentless Russian attacks. on the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut.
In addition, the government’s budget, announced by Mr Sunak’s Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday, pledges to raise UK military spending to 2.5% of economic output, although no date has been given. to reach this goal. The extra money will be used to build new nuclear submarines and warplanes, and to replenish pipeline-depleted stocks of weapons sent to Ukraine.
“Last week tells us something very important about how Rishi Sunak sees the world and how he wants the world to see the UK,” said Sophia Gaston, head of foreign policy at Policy Exchange. , a London-based company. thinking group. “We are connected, open, ambitious, but pragmatic about delivering on our promises.”
Ms Gaston argued there was more continuity in British foreign policy than the change in language would suggest. For one thing, the updated military and foreign policy review was authored by John Bew, the same foreign policy adviser who authored the 2021 review under the title “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”.
And although the new document uses less provocative language, it still emphasizes Britain’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. It could soon pick up steam if, as expected, Britain joins the 11-nation regional trading bloc known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Yet it also says more about Britain’s work with its European neighbours, which was unfashionable three years ago.
“It is rooted in the reality of the UK as an important middle power – but not a superpower – which needs to work with others,” said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy chief executive of the Royal United Services Institute, a research organization in London.