Much Ado About ‘Global Britain’

The idea, a brainchild of Boris Johnson, is roundly sneered at as the Financial Times hosts Lord Heseltine.

Stefan Rousseau/pool via AP
Prime Minister Sunak disembarks his plane at San Diego, March 12, 2023. Stefan Rousseau/pool via AP

The new prime minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak, is earning laurels from the New York Times for refusing to describe the country of which he is ostensibly the leader as “Global Britain.” That slogan is the brainchild of Boris Johnson, an after-a-fashion partisan of the right-of-center idea that Britain has a major role to play on the world stage. In this post-Brexit contretemps, our sentiments are with Mr. Johnson.

It might seem odd that a paper as anti-colonialist — and as republican — as The New York Sun is enthusing on the idea of “Global Britain.” Yet our conception of Britain’s greatest asset is its ideas and principles of economic liberty, along with a monarchy whose constitutional framework, albeit unwritten, centers on parliamentary democracy and the rule of law under a mandate from heaven. And, per Brexit, its sovereign independence.

“As propounded by Mr. Johnson,” the Times sniffs, a “Global Britain” should be an “agile and opportunistic” independent nation, with minimal regulations after being “unshackled from Brussels,” and an emerging “free-trading powerhouse.” Yet “in practice,” the Times says, Mr. Johnson’s slogan was a “swashbuckling relic” of Britain’s “far-fetched ambitions” marred by “a habit of squabbling with its neighbors.”

The idea that it has been Britain doing the squabbling is presumably what the Times conceives of as a joke. Mr. Sunak, the Times reports, “has changed all of that.” His “pragmatic approach” and his “button-down, technocratic style” — and his eschewing of Mr. Johnson’s “bombastic politics” — is “paying eye-catching dividends,” the Times contends. Yet what exactly are Mr. Sunak’s accomplishments? 

The Times notes a proposed “deal with Brussels on trade in Northern Ireland,” concocted in part, it appears, over a constitutionally dubious tea ’twixt two unelected leaders, Britain’s Charles III and the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen. Mr. Sunak, too, has “eased years of Brexit-related tensions with France,” the Times says, noting that Mr. Sunak called President Macron “mon ami.” Mr. Johnson sparred with him “over sausages.”

Though the Times hails Mr. Sunak for his preference “to under-promise and over-deliver,” it all strikes us as small beer. Worse, it reflects a failure to embrace the opportunity presented by British independence. What of Mr. Johnson’s aims for a trade deal with America? His vision of “a truly global foreign policy”? By accepting a minor role for Britain in the world, Mr. Sunak paves the way for a slide back to rejoining the European Union.

That’s the goal of Lord Michael Heseltine, whose lunch interview with the Financial Times carries the headline “The adults are back in charge.” Set aside the fact that calling Lord Heseltine an adult is the single greatest canard ever set in type by the FT. The conversation — over leek and potato soup, sole goujons, and Chablis — signals that the erstwhile “toppler of Thatcher,” now 90, shows less sign of mellowing than a camembert.

“The whole thing was a lie,” Lord Heseltine says of Brexit. Having crowed that “if Boris goes, Brexit goes,” he’s on a tour of universities, where, the FT reports, “his pro-EU speeches receive rapturous applause.” He says Britain could rejoin Europe “in his lifetime,” the FT writes, calling it “intolerable” that Britain is “still waiting to see any benefits” from Brexit. Yet unless Britain steps up its global aspirations, how will it benefit from independence?

At the end of the meal, a bowl of candies is set before Lord Heseltine. “‘My Lord,’ says the waiter portentously,” the FT reports, and “Heseltine’s fingers hover over the sweets before sweeping in like a raptor.” A telling gesture for a figure whose political reach typically exceeded his grasp. A reminder, too, for Mr. Sunak, that trivial achievements, no matter how sweet, are no substitute for global ambitions.

The New York Sun

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