With Brexit entering a critical phase, the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron in Britain should give British Prime Minister Theresa May a golden opportunity to begin work on building the new set of alliances that Britain will need for life beyond the European Union (EU).
Immigration issues are certain to dominate the agenda, as Macron seeks to resolve the disruption caused by hundreds of illegal migrants who have once again gathered in the Pas-de-Calais. The French president has caused a degree of consternation in some circles with his suggestion that Britain should do more to resolve the seemingly perennial Calais issue by agreeing to take more migrants, as well as contributing more to the costs of cross-border security enshrined in the Le Touquet accords. Such demands may appear presumptuous to committed Brexiteers, who take umbrage at the prospect of any foreign power telling the British government how to do its job. Yet, from a different perspective, there is much I commend in Macron’s uncompromising approach.
Unlike his predecessor, Francois Hollande, who seemed to revel in the disruption and aggravation the migrants caused to British hauliers and holidaymakers, Macron is more pragmatic. He wants strict controls to stem the flow of people into France and better cross-border cooperation between London and Paris. This seems eminently sensible.
Macron has drawn bitter criticism from opponents in France, but his policy is more akin to Britain’s own reservations about uncontrolled migration, which proved so decisive in the Brexit vote. So, rather than getting involved in a petty squabble about who pays for what in terms of managing the border, May should adopt a statesmanlike approach to the issue, one that builds on the close defence and security arrangements that already exist between the two countries, thereby establishing the framework for a new era of Anglo-French cooperation post-Brexit. Such an approach would certainly make sense in the current global climate, where we are witnessing a radical and complex re-alignment of national interests.
In Europe, the primary concern is how the continent will look once Brexit has been completed. But further afield, the uncertainty that the administration of US President Donald Trump has generated about the existing world order, as well as the emergence of major new powers such as China, has prompted a fundamental restructuring of global alliances. A case in point is the summit held recently in New Delhi between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi, his Indian counterpart, where the two leaders agreed to closer cooperation on issues such as agriculture, science and defence. Israel and India have enjoyed cordial ties for some years, but this deepening relationship must be seen in the context of the threat posed by extremism. India’s emergence, moreover, as a sophisticated military power — the country launched 31 micro-satellites into orbit last week to improve border surveillance — has had a galvanising effect on Pakistan. It has responded by seeking closer economic ties with China, which would seriously jeopardise Islamabad’s long-standing ties with Washington. On one level, Pakistan’s dalliance with Beijing can be explained by its unhappiness with Trump’s recent decision to suspend US aid over concerns that Pakistan is not doing enough to counter extremism. On another, it perhaps demonstrates the opportunism that lies at the heart of China’s foreign policy, which has seen Beijing extend its influence into areas, such as Africa, hitherto unknown to generations of Chinese diplomats. Russia is another country that has been quick to take advantage of the new global realignment, with its military intervention in Syria providing a graphic example of the Kremlin’s desire to expand its influence. For decades, the Middle East was a barren landscape for Moscow. But the vacuum created by former US president Barack Obama’s failure to provide effective leadership has enabled Russia to build a new network of alliances, with countries such as Libya now the unlikely recipients of a Russian charm offensive. These are just a few examples of the changing geopolitical landscape, which Britain, as it contemplates its post-Brexit role, ignores at its peril. Sure, politicians of all persuasions look forward to a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with the EU. But they should also understand that the Trump era is redefining how America deals with the rest of the world. This is the dawn of new world order, one where old certainties are being replaced. If Britain wants to make a success of Brexit it needs to start building and strengthening a new network of its own.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2017
Con Coughlin is the Daily Telegraph’s defence editor and chief foreign affairs columnist.