The Inherent Contradictions of May’s Mansion House Speeches
Thinking that I was reading the speech on Brexit strategies that Theresa May delivered last Friday at the Mansion House in London, I found to my surprise that I had mistakenly opened the text of her oration on Britain’s foreign policy, delivered at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, also in the Mansion House, in November 2017.
What is extraordinary about the November speech is that the policies that the Prime Minister then breezily advocated are in complete contradiction with her own actions in support of Brexit before and since then. Let me share with you what she said so that you can draw your own conclusions:
“….we meet here at a moment when the international order as we know it – the rules based system that the United Kingdom helped to pioneer in the aftermath of the Second World War – is in danger of being eroded.
A moment when some states are actively destabilising the world order to their own ends, claiming that the rules and standards we have built, and the values on which they rest, no longer apply.
So as we reach out into the world and write this new chapter in our national history, the task of a global Britain is clear.
To defend the rules based international order against irresponsible states that seek to erode it.
Our starting point must be to strengthen the commitment, purpose and unity of those allies and partners with whom we have built this order.”
Interestingly, May used the same speech to vaunt Britain’s exceptional capacity to offer global leadership at this time of change, claiming: “And perhaps above all we have that defining British spirit – and the fundamental values of fairness, justice and human rights – to use our influence in the world for good.”
The most telling word here is “perhaps” as it casts doubt on the validity of the claim she is advancing. Could it be that the vicar’s daughter deliberately said “perhaps”, because she saw that she herself, through promoting the policy of creating a “hostile environment” for immigrants and condoning the indefinite detention of asylum seekers in Immigration Removal Centres, was not the most credible advocate for these British values?
As Theresa may implies, Britain has a potentially great future but this will only be attainable if, as she says, it deepens rather than erodes its relationships with its allies, and if its leaders show, through their individual actions, respect for “fairness, justice and human rights”, and, I would add, “tolerance”.
Cooperating with other countries in the pursuit of shared values and in nurturing peace and prosperity is entirely compatible with patriotism and with taking due pride in one’s own nation. The “rule-based systems” which May sees as so positive are in constant evolution: new challenges, often of a transnational nature and driven by the processes of globalisation, are continually emerging and, more often than not, can only be successfully addressed by well-orchestrated actions between affected countries. If, as implied in her second speech, Britain were to unilaterally abdicate its responsibility to contribute to joint decision-making in matters of common concern to it and its nearest allies, such as those handled by many of the EU’s 40 decentralised agencies, it would not only lose its influence in shaping their actions but also, in many cases, find itself having to implement decisions to which it was not a party.
Once again, we are seeing that the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit is an exercise in national self-harm that fails to fit with the principles to which she claims to subscribe.