David Miliband: UK has suffered from ‘ill-informed delusions'
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David Miliband said the UK’s soft power abroad has considerably shrunk in the post-Brexit years as a result of decisions based on ‘ilusions’ such as the promise of economic prosperity. The former Labour Foreign Secretary, who has hinted at a potential return to politics, said Britain’s stance on the international stage has been bruised by subsequent Conservative policies like the Northern Ireland Protocol bill, which threatens to break international law. The country needs to reaffirm its place in international circles in the globalsed 21st century, Mr Miliband said.
Speaking at Chatham House, David Milliband said: “Our influence abroad based on pragmatism, legality, procedure, stability, responsibility, commitment, has in my view been badly tarnished by our own choices.
“And this is partly Brexit related.
“I’m thinking of the blithe assertions that we ‘held all the cards’, the inability to define what Brexit means, which continues to this day, the threats to break international law over the still unfinished business of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the continued threats to legalise domestically to override treaty commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Despite these commitments being baked into other international agreements.”
Reflecting on the nationalist path the country has taken since the Brexit vote, David Miliband praised governments for their work to protect democracy in Ukraine. But he said Britain has fallen far short in other foreign areas.
“We have in my view – and I say we as a Brit – suffered from a time of comforting but ill-informed delusions in the last decade. Delusions about our relative power, influence and position. Delusions that have cost us dear, both strategically and tactically.”
Referring to the former BBC political editor, he said: “Andrew Marr in his new independent role, where he can say what he really thinks says that we lack a national story and that we need a new national story.
“I don’t think that national story should be mired in talk about decline but nor can it be founded on delusion. Recent governments – plural – have responded well to the Ukraine crisis, and they would argue they also anticipated some aspects of the Ukraine crisis.”
“Our intelligence was right. Our armed forces have added value,” Mr Miliband said.
Britain gained international recognition for its defence of Ukraine with military and financial support against Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and premeditated war.
“But it’s hard to think of other areas where we’ve earned real credit,” the former Foreign Secretary said, citing last year’s Glasgow Climate Conference of Parties.
While it would be “wrong” to call it a “disaster”, Mr Miliband said it was “far from the success of Paris six years earlier”, adding the country should not be “pretending otherwise”.
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“In other areas of historic strength, like humanitarian aid and diplomacy, frankly, Britain has gone AWOL.”
Britain led the international response to mass migration crises around the world by making a series of new commitments, including increasing its humanitarian financing by more than £660 million in 2016/17 to over £1.5 billion, an additional £2.5 million seed funding for a new global fund to resettle refugees and the creation of 100,000 new jobs for Ethiopians and refugees.
The former Foreign Secretary praised Britain for playing a key role in convening as well as funding in staving off famine in East Africa.
“Today, we’re absent and people notice that”, he said after visiting Ethiopia in his role as CEO of the International Rescue Committee.
The former Foreign Secretary has fuelled speculation in the last few days that he might be preparing a political comeback in Britain after he said nothing has yet been decided on his return.
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