Patriotism includes standing up for our values. But as Brexit cuts our influence around the world, the UK will find it harder to speak truth to power. Instead, we could find ourselves sucking up more and more to unsavoury leaders like Donald Trump and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The first sign of this fawning behaviour occurred towards China soon after Theresa May entered Downing Street. Her initial instinct was to cancel Beijing’s investment in our nuclear power industry. But, after the Chinese leadership made clear that it was not amused, the prime minister made a rapid U-turn. She presumably felt that she wouldn’t be well placed to cut a trade deal with the Middle Kingdom if she made it lose face.

Now we have the kowtowing to Trump: softening our line on the Middle East peace process  to curry favour with the new president; May’s desperate trip to Washington to pay her respects to the new emperor of the West in the hope of clinching a trade deal with America; the offer of red carpet state visit to Britain. All this despite the American president’s abhorrent views on women, torture and much else besides.

Our prime minister must have been delighted to cement the special relationship by holding hands with Trump and to quit the White House without any gaffes. But no sooner had she left than the president signed an executive order banning citizens of seven mostly-Muslim countries from coming to America. Quite apart from being inhumane and probably flouting international law on refugees, this is a dangerous policy which could inflame extremist Muslim sentiment across the world.

And what was May’s initial reaction? To say that “the United States is responsible for the United States’s policy on refugees.” It was only after a global outcry and after it became apparent that UK citizens who had passports from the seven countries could also be affected by the ban that Downing Street said she didn’t agree with it.

The result is that Trump is not welcome to make a state visit to the UK as far as many of Brits are concerned. A quarter of a million had already signed this parliamentary petition by early afternoon calling for the state visit to be stopped.

Arms for Erdogan

Hot on the heels of her US trip, May went straight to Ankara to pay her respects to Erdogan, an authoritarian ruler who has arrested 40,000 people since last year’s coup attempt and cowed the media amidst claims that opponents of his regime have been tortured. Why was she so keen? Because she is desperate to cut a trade deal to make up for lost EU commerce.

On her trip to Turkey, the premier agreed a £100 million deal to supply the government with fighter jets. To be fair, she did mention human rights, but the rebuke was about as mild as can be imagined: “It is important that Turkey sustains … democracy by maintaining the rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations as the government has undertaken to do.”

Some will try to justify all this on the basis of realpolitik. But what about our values such as human rights, tolerance and rule of law? And will sucking up even advance our narrow self interest? After all, strongmen like Trump and Erdogan have a keen nose for weakness and exploit it ruthlessly. 

Of course, Britain was fawning to dictators and doing arms deals with unsavoury regimes long before the Brexit vote. But quitting the EU means losing privileged access to the biggest market in the world and less clout to stand up to strongmen in the rest of the world. So, sadly, we can expect more sucking up in the years ahead. Such are the fruits of Brexit.

by Hugo Dixon | 29.01.2017

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