Extraordinary! The British government has started making bold and good moves. No fewer than two such sets of developments have been spotted in as many days.
On Sunday, at the Paris conference called to get the Middle East peace process back on track and stick the knife into Israel good and proper before Obama leaves the White House, Theresa May’s government refused to sign its closing statement. “There are risks,” said the UK Foreign Office, “that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace. We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them – indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis.”
You don’t say.
Not content with that, according to Ha’aretz the UK the next day used its veto to prevent the EU Foreign Affairs Council from passing a French resolution adopting the Paris conference conclusions.
Can this really be the same British government that just three weeks earlier not only voted for the infamous Israel-bashing UN Security Council resolution 2334 but helped draft it and push it through? No wonder Ha’aretz called the move “highly irregular”.
It would be thoroughly uncharitable to suggest that Britain’s stance at Paris, like Mrs. May’s onslaught on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech attacking Israel a few days after resolution 2334, happened because she suddenly became aware that it might not be the most brilliant strategy to thoroughly cheese off the incoming, pro-Israel US President. So I won’t.
It would be even more uncharitable to suggest that because President-elect Donald Trump stated in his interview with The Times of London that “the UK may have another chance to veto if what I’m hearing is true, because you know you have a meeting as you know, this weekend”, Mrs May promptly fell into line. So I won’t suggest that either.
I will merely observe that the Foreign Office statement did specifically add that the Paris conference was taking place “just days before the transition to a new American President when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement.”
And I will also observe that Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has exulted that Britain is negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump, who has been saying in turn what a brilliant move Brexit was. It is hard to overstate the importance for the UK of such a trade deal with America which would enormously strengthen Britain’s hand in negotiating its departure from the EU.
This relates to the second positive development. After months of failing to respond robustly to EU threats to damage Britain as much as possible over Brexit; after allowing the impression to be created that Britain was a powerless supplicant at the EU table; and after doing nothing to quell the wailing from British “Remainers” opposed to Brexit that the UK was in danger of falling out of the EU through a “hard Brexit” of punishing tariffs that would undoubtedly bring about the economic apocalypse Remainers had been predicting since the referendum campaign, suddenly the May government has started stating the obvious: that although Britain wants a mutually beneficial Brexit deal, if push comes to shove the UK can hurt the EU far more that the EU can hurt the UK.
At the weekend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, was suddenly transformed from a mouse into a man-eating tiger. He threw off his previous temporizing attitude and threatened that, if the EU tried to punish Britain for leaving, the UK government would turn London into a corporate tax haven and undermine the EU’s own economy.
This followed the apparently Damascene conversion of Mark Carney, the Bank of England Governor who had curdled the blood during the referendum campaign with his forecasts of imminent economic doom after a Brexit vote. Last week, however, he admitted that Britain’s economy would grow at a faster rate than he had expected and that if Britain was forced into a “hard Brexit”, the EU would have more to lose than the UK.
“I am not saying there are not financial stability risks in the UK, and there are economic risks to the UK, but there are greater short term risks on the continent in the transition than there are in the UK,” he said.
You don’t say.
The International Monetary Fund has followed suit. It has revised upwards its previous downbeat assessment for Britain’s prospects, now predicting the UK would grow by 1.5 percent this year – the biggest upgrade of economies it has forecast for 2017.
Meanwhile the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, whose fabled ferocity had been used to make the Brits’ flesh creep, told members of the European Parliament at a private meeting that he wanted a “special” deal to guarantee EU firms and countries access to the City of London’s financial markets.
You bet he does.
Of course, since the Treasury, the Bank of England and the IMF were all so wrong in forecasting immediate disaster for the British economy in the event of a Brexit vote, one has to say that a word of caution might be appropriate about accepting their judgment now.
Moreover, even the most ardent Brexiteer has always accepted there will almost certainly be some downside for the UK from a break of the dimensions of departing from the EU.
And maybe the British government will soon revert to its normal cynical, unprincipled and defeatist attitude towards the rest of the world.
Nevertheless this new, optimistic and robust embrace of reality, not to mention the government’s “highly irregular” if not unprecedented stand against the bad guys and in defense of their Israeli victims, is truly wondrous to behold.
Readers of a nervous disposition should look away now. For could this already be the Trump effect in action?
Of course, since President Trump’s election spells the end of civilization as we know it, that cannot possibly be the case. So I won’t suggest it.
Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. This appeared on Melaniephillips.com on January 16.