London has neither the economic or military means to become a global superpower
Written by Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The British Parliament formally approved the Boris Johnson government’s proposal to cut aid to foreign countries. The financing of foreign aid had already been reduced at the beginning of the year, but without changes to legislation. However, the government’s move was vehemently criticized, including by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, as it did not give MPs the opportunity to ratify the new spending quota.
This led to a vote in the UK House of Commons on July 13 and the bill was officially passed by 333 MPs; 298 voted against the measure. Thus, the UK must reduce the volume of aid to foreign countries from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, something that appears to be a contradiction to the so-called new “Global Britain.”
Under the initiative, developing countries will receive £4 billion less. Aid policies to developing countries have always played an important role in London’s foreign affairs, especially as part of its international prestige. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world, being a member of the G7 group – the seven most industrialized countries on the planet.
In addition, Great Britain was the main hegemonic power of the world in the 19th century and colonized every continent. But now the UK no longer has the same influence it once had in the past, despite a very evident refusal to acknowledge this reality by many in the British elite. As a result, to have international influence the British state applied a so-called soft power policy, especially with its former colonies.
To date, the UK maintains a system of association with its former colonies in various formats, such as the Commonwealth which includes almost all countries that were part of the British Empire. Many believe that the cut in development aid gives the impression that London is reducing relations with countries in the group, however those who are at risk of losing British aid are likely countries outside the Commonwealth, especially as one of Brexit’s promises was greater engagement with member states.
There is a feeling that international engagement through economic development policies is waning globally as the focus on the national rather than the international is partially motivated by the internalization in many countries: the U.S. under Trump, Brazil with Bolsonaro and the UK after Brexit.
Former British Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader from 2016 to 2019, Theresa May, voted against her party for the first time. She said the UK had broken its commitment to the world’s poor. The government’s proposal was actually criticized by all former British ministers.
Another reason for the aid reduction could be the global economic crisis spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic which forced many countries to make budget cuts. In fact, the budget cut actually reduces London’s international role when it is supposedly attempting to achieve a Global Britain. This was to be expected though when an English-dominated election ensured Brexit despite what the Scots and Northern Irish wanted.
The UK is becoming a little England rather than a Great Britain. This has been a trajectory that began since World War I, and the role of the British in the international arena has been dwindling more since the rise of the U.S. and the decolonization process. The UK is undoubtedly still an economic and military power, given its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which only five countries have, and its participation in the G7. However, this new government initiative is one more factor which has been reducing the British role in international affairs, making it increasingly distant from the glory of the British Empire, although many still have this nostalgia.
To appease the anger of parliamentarians opposed to the measure, British Treasury Minister Rishi Sunak guaranteed that the reduction will be temporary. But in this case, resuming British international aid to its previous level may be more difficult since the measure led to a legislative change. A new change will need another parliamentary approval for things to go back to the way they were.
Although Johnson advocates for a Global Britain following Brexit, it has proven to be much more difficult than he could have imagined. Belonging to the small privileged class of Britain, Johnson still views the world in the 21st century as if it is still the 19th century. Only recently Britain came to this realization that its prestige and influence had been reduced when it failed to showcase its power in the Black Sea in their attempt to intimidate Russia.
The World has moved on from British imperial domination and colonialism, but London still believes it holds the same power it did two centuries earlier. When viewed from this prism, a Global Britain is nothing more then an attempt to forge out new global alliances to spread its own influence. However, as London is beginning to realize, it has neither the military or economic means to be an independent global power outside of Washington’s orbit. And cutting aid is a demonstration of the economic weakness the UK has in their ambition to become a Global Britain once again.
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