Britain is back. That is what many international diplomats and commentators have been saying since the UK left the EU. With the appointment of a heavy hitter as Foreign Secretary, they have finally started to return to the international scene that they abdicated when the UK retreated into the EU.
Since leaving the EU, the UK has made some important international decisions. It has joined AUKUS, CPTPP, the Hiroshima Accord, given security assurances for Sweden and Finland and become an ASEAN dialogue partner. On top of this, the UK unquestionably led the world in vital support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s barbaric and unprovoked invasion.
The UK’s domestic position is far weaker than it could be, and its turnover of Prime Ministers should be a concern to those who have welcomed the UK’s strengthened position on the world stage. Fortunately, these domestic changes have not overly affected the more international approach that has been developed over the past four years.
However, this world leading presence in international affairs is under threat. Why is that? Next year, the UK will be heading to the polls for a general election. As it stands, no sensible observer believes that the ruling Conservatives will hold onto power with a majority. Indeed, most people see the most likely outcome of next year’s election as a Labour Party majority government.
This view has only been strengthened by Labour’s overwhelming by-election results.
Now, this did not initially represent a problem – there was every chance that Labour would continue the strong global policies of the Conservative government.
However, before the attack on Israel, the little that we had heard from Labour indicated a willingness to slink into the shadows and hide within the collective voice of the EU once again.
Then Starmer and his Labour frontbench focused their minds in the Middle East. Keir Starmer made it crystal clear that the Labour Party made a significant shift in their approach to foreign policy since the Corbyn era by condemning the attack.
Labour backbenchers and local councillors are applying huge pressure on the Labour leadership to refrain from supporting Israel’s efforts to root out terrorists and instead support what would be an unconditional unilateral ceasefire.
This is not a credible position. The Labour leadership must hold firm and prove to the world that they are a serious government in waiting that has a considered and sensible approach to foreign policy. There are many serious international problems that the UK needs to consider now and in the future and it is vital that the Labour Party demonstrates it will not retreat from the world and the UK’s responsibilities as a major world power on the international stage.
Questions still remain over other issues – will the Labour Party continue to lead the world in supporting Ukraine’s fight against Putin’s unprovoked attack? Are they still committed to the nuclear deterrent? What about their position on Taiwan. If Starmer ends up being overpowered by councillors and backbenchers in one case, there is every chance it can happen again.
There are many more of such questions in Europe. Will they continue to recognise Kosovo as an independent nation?
If the answer is yes, then there is another frozen conflict in Europe that they should be considering. A conflict that has many similarities to both Kosovo and the Palestinian question. Next year, the conflict in Cyprus will reach its 50th year with no sign of a true international solution.
In the Middle East, we have seen the repercussions of what happens when the UN and Western superpowers are inactive in conflict areas. They have been inactive over the Cyprus issue too.
A solvable problem such as a two-state settlement in Cyprus will create sustainable peace in the region and reinforce the UK’s Sovereign Base Areas.
The UK is a neutral guarantor power of Cyprus and should treat both sides of the island fairly. Instead, it has pursued a foreign policy of isolating one group of people because of their ethnicity and religion.
This is a chance for Keir Starmer to retain control of his party’s agenda. The Labour party could lead the world by joining Turkey in recognising the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and advocating for a two-state solution. Citizens in the TRNC have democratically expressed their will through a referendum for independence. There is no reason why the world continues to reject their democratic wishes. This would be a genuine statement of intent for the Labour party, one that would truly demonstrate a willingness to engage with the world.
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