British Foreign Policy In The Post-Brexit World
Since the Brexit referendum results were announced and the subsequent months of continuous bitter negotiating, various political analysts, journalists and academics alike have sought to theorise on what the possible actions and patterns for British foreign policy might be. Some have highlighted the dangers, whilst others have noted the opportunities. Nevertheless, a picture is gradually emerging of what kind of policies the current government is likely to pursue in a post-Brexit world.
Arguably the most worrying but unsurprising theme that is emerging is Britain’s policy of not only maintaining but further developing closer ties with authoritarian regimes, including expanding arms sales and using its military power to secure its financial and economic interests. In a recent speech to business leaders in London, Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, laid out the government of the day’s aspirations in a post-Brexit world. He pledged to transform Britain into a “21st-century exporting superpower” by attempting to persuade thousands of new companies to start trading as it leaves the EU.
The strategy is expected to highlight opportunities across Asia and the Middle East, including big projects in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Thus Brexit’s economic cost, as well as Britain’s reduced global influence outside the EU, have augmented the perceived importance of relations with the Gulf States. Relations with these countries of which the United Kingdom maintains deep-rooted military and economic ties provides a useful and bleak illustration of what lies ahead.
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain - two countries in particular with who the British government continues to not only strongly support but overlook their authoritarian and disruptive actions across the region. Bahrain, governed by a Sunni monarchy family rules over a Shi’ite-majority population. With the help of the Al-Saud family, the Al-Khalifa ruling family have continued to brutally crack down on protests more so since Arab Spring protests began in 2011. the Foreign Office has pumped more than £5 million since 2012 into Bahrain’s security and justice system.
According to the human rights group Reprieve, the death row has grown three times as long as they believe the UK may even have trained Bahraini torturers.Similarly, Britain continues to adopt a double standard approach to Saudi Arabia’s s indiscriminate bombing of Yemen. Britain recently expressed "deep concern" over an airstrike that hit a bus carrying children in Yemen whilst continues to support through aid thereby countering its own efforts. Britain continues to sell weapons and forger deeper ties with Al-Saud most recently lavishly hosting MBS with.
Yemen continues to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world with over 22 million people - 75% of the population - in need of humanitarian assistance. Seven million people are facing imminent famine, and a cholera outbreak has killed more than 1,700 people since April — a crisis described by the United Nations humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, as a “man-made catastrophe” resulting from the conflict. International organisations — including a U.N. panel of experts, the European Parliament, and an array of humanitarian and human rights groups — have repeatedly condemned the ongoing airstrikes against Yemen as unlawful.
However, Britain has twice blocked attempts proposed through the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a non-Saudi-led inquiry into alleged violations of international law.On the one hand, the Foreign Office is quick to point out the UK’s role in being one of the largest providers of aid to Yemen but makes no mention of Britain’s role in supplying some £4.5 billion ($5.9bn) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Playing a dual role of providing aid yet selling arms that is part of the problem is not only double standards but counterproductive. The country is coming towards a crossroads and a post Brexit environment should provide Britain with a chance to reflect and re-evaluate its foreign relationships.
Closer ties to these authoritarian regimes while may have short-term economic benefits, will undoubtedly have long-term catastrophic results. As the government of the day continues to prove- the geopolitical instability and human rights violations perpetrated by Gulf monarchies will do little to dissuade British policymakers from further strengthening relations with allies in the Persian Gulf.