Brexit Takes Toll on Kingdom’s Global Influence

The United Kingdom can no longer count on the unequivocal support of its allies.

Tower Bridge in London, England, January 2, 2012
Tower Bridge in London, England, January 2, 2012 (Michael Garnett)

Politico reports that Britain’s exit from the European Union is already taking a toll on its international clout:

  • EU allies, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, abstained in June from a United Nations vote on the Chagos Islands, a British territory in the Indian Ocean that houses the Diego Garcia military base and is also claimed by Mauritius. The question of sovereignty has been referred to the International Court of Justice.
  • In November, Britain was forced to withdraw its candidate to fill a vacancy on the same court when it became clear it would lose a UN vote.
  • British diplomats are increasingly ignored in international forums.

There have been other worrying signs:

  • EU nations allowing Spain a veto over the application of a post-Brexit deal to Gibraltar.
  • David Hannay, a former British diplomat to the EU and the UN, warning that European support for British control of the Falklands is at risk.
  • John Sawers, the former head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), warning that Britain can no longer count on the unequivocal support of its allies.

This didn’t come out of nowhere

In fairness, Britain’s influence started to wane before the country voted to leave the EU in 2016.

Successive governments since the 1990s have cut defense spending. The economic cost of Brexit will make investments hard to justify. If anything, further reductions in diplomacy and the military are likely at the very time Britain will need to restore its own capabilities.

The demise of the “special relationship” also owes not just to Britain’s irrelevance but Donald Trump’s disinterest in the Atlantic alliance.

Brexit is the straw that broke the camel’s back

As America’s closest ally in Europe and one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Britain was for years able to exercise a disproportionate influence on both sides of the Atlantic.

That time has passed.