THERESA MAY: Britain threatened to break the law. We abandoned our global moral leadership… we did not raise our credibility in the eyes of the world
This week America inaugurates a new president, and the free world gains a new leader.
In Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I believe Britain has partners for positive action to make our world a safer place.
The US and the UK share enduring values: respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom of speech and thought, representative democracy, equality and the rule of law.
These values have shaped our societies. In the past, we have had common cause to defend them.
Today, those values are under threat once again – and once again, the UK has a responsibility to play its part in defending them.
The threat does not just come from countries which reject our democratic values – nations like China, which continues to persecute the Uighur people and infringe the rights of people in Hong Kong, or Russia, where opposition leader Alexei Navalny recently survived poisoning only to face imprisonment.
On January 6, those values came under attack in that bastion of democracy the United States Capitol.
Donald Trump holds hands with then British Prime Minister Teresa May in 2017 as they walk the colonade of the White House in Washington
One day before being inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States, President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center
The sight of mob violence in the marbled halls of the US Congress, with elected members barricaded in offices and a police officer murdered, are images we thought we would never see.
Americans I have spoken to in the aftermath of that event remain profoundly shocked by it.
Sadly, we have known attacks on our own democratic institutions in recent years.
I will never forget the terrible day a terrorist struck the House of Commons and killed the brave PC Keith Palmer.
What happened in Washington was not the act of a lone extremist or a secretive cell, but an assault by a partisan mob whipped up by an elected president.
I know from experience that leaving power is not easy – especially when you feel that there is more you want to do.
But anyone who has the honour of serving in such a position must always remember that the office is bigger than the individual.
The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of any democracy; it is what makes us special.
When George Washington, the first American president, willingly stood down from office after two terms and retired to his home at Mount Vernon, it was a genuinely radical act.
Already the images of violence from the city that bears his name are being used as propaganda by autocrats who claim that democracy does not work.
The scenes at the Capitol show us how fragile support for democracy can be in a world where lies are spread on social media.
It also reminds us of the responsibility which free nations bear to live up to our high ideals.
A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump fight with members of law enforcement at a door they broke open as they stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington earlier this month
I set ‘Global Britain’ as our foreign policy goal because I wanted to ensure that the UK did not turn in on itself or become isolated after Brexit.
Instead, I believe a constructive role awaits a self-confident UK – outside the EU but emphatically within the mainstream of western democracies.
With Brexit now achieved but the pandemic still raging and the long-term economic and social impact of Covid to be addressed, it is now even more important that we work together with our allies.
Last year, the UK led a collective effort to fund global work on vaccines. Now, as countries close their borders in response to Covid, we must work collectively to find a way of living with the virus.
This challenge makes the concept of Global Britain even more salient. 2021 can be a year when Britain leads on the world stage.
Hosting the G7 and the COP26 climate summit will put Global Britain at the forefront of joint endeavour between nations.
For this potential to be realised, there needs to be a change in world politics.
For too long we have been sliding toward absolutism in international affairs: if you are not 100 per cent for me then you must be 100 per cent against me.
In this world there is no room for mature compromise. Indeed, compromise is seen as a dirty word. In fact, the opposite is true.
Strong leadership knows when to compromise to achieve a greater good. If the world is to work together to ‘build back better’ then we must all be willing to compromise.
We must reject a scene in which a few strongmen face off against each other and instead bring people together in a common cause.
The UK is well placed to play a decisive role in shaping this more co-operative world.
We have an excellent diplomatic network, a strong military, and enviable soft power. Outside the EU, we are a player again in the World Trade Organisation – as well as a leading member of Nato, the Commonwealth and the UN Security Council.
But to lead we must live up to our values. Threatening to break international law by going back on a treaty we had just signed and abandoning our position of global moral leadership as the only major economy to meet both the 2 per cent defence spending target and the 0.7 per cent international aid target were not actions which, in my view, raised our credibility in the eyes of the world.
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson attended the NATO summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford in December 2019
Other countries listen to what we say not simply because of who we are, but because of what we do.
The world does not owe us a prominent place on its stage. Whatever the rhetoric we deploy, it is our actions which count. So, we should do nothing which signals a retreat from our global commitments.
The arrival of President Biden provides Britain with a golden opportunity. He is an experienced hand, having served eight years as a diplomatically engaged vice president.
With Donald Trump, I never knew what to expect – from being offered, sometimes literally, the hand of friendship to hearing him question core tenets of the transatlantic alliance.
When a British prime minister walks out for a joint press conference with the world’s media unsure if the United States president standing next to her will agree that Nato is a bulwark of our collective defence, you know you are living in extraordinary times.
Mr Biden will have his own agenda in pursuit of the US national interest, but he will be a more predictable and reliable partner for Global Britain.
Together, a USA recommitted to international leadership and a United Kingdom guided by our common values can be a powerful partnership.
We can lead the world in action to tackle climate change at COP26 in Glasgow. We can galvanise the other great democracies which share our belief in freedom under the rule of law.
Together, we can make the 2020s a decade in which democracy and decency lead the world into a brighter future.
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