Thursday, April 06, 2017

Theresa May's global charm offensive

There is a very wide-ranging piece by Matthew d'Ancona in the Evening Standard yesterday which, despite a title which might upset some people:

"This charm offensive is vital to convince the world we're not mad,"

made some very good points.

I particularly like the way this article expresses better than anything else I've seen one of the difficulties for those trying to give the people of Britain the things they voted for in the EU referendum: the fact the main "Leave" campaigns represented two different, indeed seriously contradictory strands of thinking. This is why the  two largest "Leave" campaigns fought each other as much as they fought the Remain side and why there has been such vicious infighting within the UK Independence party.

As d'Ancona writes,

"Cast your mind back to the hectic months of the referendum and its immediate aftermath. The vote was won by two essentially contradictory arguments.

"The first, advanced by the official Vote Leave campaign, was that the European Union was irredeemably old-fashioned, burdensome and a restraint upon Britain’s aspirations as a determinedly modern, truly global nation. It was time, therefore, to liberate ourselves from the clammy grip of Brussels and become a nimble, agile world power, free to forge our own trading relations, fit for the hectic demands of the 21st century.

"The second, quite distinct argument was more often insinuated than overtly expressed — but was still powerful in its appeal to atavistic instincts. For Nigel Farage, the Leave.EU group and most of Ukip, the EU was a proxy for foreign influence, multiculturalism and the alleged evil of “mass immigration”.

"The vile “Breaking Point” poster under which Farage posed was an appeal to British nativism, and the impulse to pull up the drawbridge and restore Britain to a prelapsarian condition of blue passports, imperial measurements, and — doubtless — mandatory morris dancing.

"The more honest Brexiteers will concede that both arguments played their part in Leave’s victory, a twin-track approach that simultaneously advanced internationalism and insularity. Such doublethink is just about tenable in a referendum campaign. But it is not sustainable as a governing principle."

He goes on to explain that Number Ten is running a global charm offensive, which is why this week the Prime Minister is visiting Jordan and Saudi Arabia (true to her values, not wearing a headscarf), and so many of her ministers have been on trips abroad.

"Now that Britain has formally notified Brussels of its intention to leave the EU and the white paper for the Great Repeal Bill has been published, No 10 is determined to scotch the notion that Britain is retreating behind a wall of nostalgia, xenophobia and diminished ambitions.

"The PM’s allies are especially hostile to anything that smacks of “culture wars”, of a country mired in introspection and division. More than ever, they believe, Britain must not only be, but be perceived as, open, energetic and confident, rather than as a fractious, fading nation checking itself into the nursing home of former imperial powers.

"Action is more important than rhetoric.

"This is why the PM is in the Gulf pursuing the UK’s commercial and security interests, why the Chancellor is in India championing our financial services and technology, and why Fox has been in South-East Asia pressing home the message that post-Brexit Britain will be a powerhouse of international trade. Later this year the PM is expected to visit Japan. Her team continues to work on the outline of a new trade deal with America.

"The touring, bartering and glad-handing will be relentless, and not all of it will bear fruit. But, in a radically interdependent world, some version of this strategy is the responsibility of every government. For a nation about to decouple itself from the EU, it is an absolute necessity."

You can read the full article here.

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