Kate Thick: If having a say in the world counts, a fractured UK would be culturally and commercially weaker

Journal columnist Kate Thick on how foreign policy has largely gone missing from the election campaign

PA Wire German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, speaks with British Prime Minister David Cameron
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, speaks with British Prime Minister David Cameron

Beware the inflaming of nationalism. The tendency of nationalism is to divide humanity, to erect barriers, not build partnerships and social democracy.

Along with the prospect of further austerity and inequality, my greatest concern is that we are sleepwalking into a referendum which could see Britain expel itself from its own continent. I am all for devolution but we may end up with Scotland in a constitutional wrangle with England and, even more worrying, an England at odds with Europe. Counterproductive to say the least.

Planned budgetary cuts call the UK’s role in the world into question, yet foreign policy has not featured highly in election manifestos. Rightly, the Middle East has left us wary of foreign intervention and the efficacy of military force but dangerous and messy developments in the world are best faced in unison.

If having a say in the world counts, a fractured UK would be culturally and commercially weaker. America is anxious about British relevance given reductions in our military.

US officials say they still value close intelligence and military ties with the UK, but are perplexed by the current British government’s reluctance to play a bigger role in the world. The US now looks to Angela Merkel as the undisputed leader of Europe.

There are a number of other important international challenges besides security; for example, a climate summit in Paris in December. The UK has long been a leader in tackling climate change, and its ideas on how to prevent the growth in global use of coal will be especially important in Paris.

We could also talk about trade and Russia but these pale into insignificance if the Conservatives form the next government and call an in-out referendum on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU in 2017. A Labour government would have the daunting task of convincing an often eurosceptic British public of the merits of staying in. The Journal reported last week the North East is open for business and is ready to punch its weight; that could flounder under continental drift.

The EU guarantees the UK its largest market, a market without borders and Britain is the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment of all EU member states.

But more than that, in an unstable world it gives us much greater security than we would have on our own. We had better pull our socks up as few in Brussels or Berlin care much now what Cameron thinks or does.

A tide of desperate humanity cannot be dealt with by a policy of detention and deportation. They are the victims of conflict, hunger and hopelessness. Europe has to find lasting answers, to react intelligently to underlying causes.

The lone international success story for the Coalition is ringfencing the foreign aid budget but on human rights abuses – in China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – Cameron has put business before ethics.

Our foreign dealings seem to focus on selling weapons, our service companies and assets. Peddling armaments and selling off Britain are not signs of success.

Something should be done about inequality which has risen over the last two or three decades in the large majority of developed countries. The US and UK have experienced exceptionally large rises in inequality since 1980. Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan, and Germany have experienced far smaller rises. Equality of opportunity matters; unequal societies do not function well.

A national pay policy, including a statutory minimum wage set as a living wage, could be strengthened at an EU level. A situation in which the world’s wealthiest are among the least taxed is indefensible; again, regulation across the continent would be far more effective.

One bright spot is that a recent poll finds a majority of parliamentary candidates support UK recognition of the State of Palestine, so the UK could get something right in the Middle East.

Britain has a strong diplomatic tradition it must not squander and should be pushing for fair trade, human rights and international law as well as helping formulate agendas to counter climate change, inequality and terrorism.

Standing on the sidelines is not a viable option. Britain is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G7 and other global institutions; may we use such influence and use it wisely.

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