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  • Tim Oliver

BFP10: 24.10~30.10 It's the economy, stupid.

Another week, another new prime minister. Rishi Sunak's climb to the top of British politics and government has been rapid. He only entered parliament in 2015 and the cabinet in 2019. His time in government has been spent largely around HM Treasury, giving him little direct foreign policy experience. There is, of course, much overlap, but as PM he inherits a domestic economic mess of such a scale that foreign policy cannot be his priority. You all know the line: it’s the economy, stupid.

Here then are my British Foreign Policy 10 from the week when Rishi Sunak took over as prime minister and Liz Truss left office as the shortest and most disastrous prime minister in British history: 10 of the best reports, podcasts, twitter threads speeches etc. that I’ve added to my Zotero database this past week.

  1. There was the usual flood of pieces looking at the challenges facing the new PM. The FT offered one of the best noting the steep learning curve the PM faces. What might help him is his preference for technocratic politics rather than the publicity seeking that defined his two predecessors. That will also keep him focused on domestic affairs, which means the economy. That’s also his comfort zone. As Lord Ricketts says in the piece: “I don’t think you can ever take the chancellor out of a former chancellor.”

  2. It’s been a good year for writers of pieces about the state of the UK. Johnson’s antics and resignation, a new PM, the Queen’s death, a new King, and now another PM have meant a steady supply of such pieces. Let’s start with Derek Thompson in The Atlantic: ‘How the U.K. Became One of the Poorest Countries in Western Europe.’ He paints a picture of a poor, deindustrialised UK that is a warning to the USA and the rest of the West.

  3. In The Sunday Morning Herald, Nick Bryant writes about how the latest PM is the start of the newest season of the ‘pass-the-popcorn’ show everyone around the world has been watching: Britflix. Where does the current plot-line stem from? ‘Not unsurprisingly and not unreasonably, Britain’s national mindset continues to be shaped by the glories of World War II rather than the ignominy of Suez. Unfortunately, however, this nostalgic nationalism, and the inflated sense of self-importance and self-sufficiency that goes with it, has accelerated Britain’s post-imperial decline. It is precisely this kind of wishful thinking, premised on a rose-tinted view of history, that led to Brexit – the root of the present turmoil.’ The Westminster sitcom has a new male lead. Pass the popcorn

  4. John bolton gives a more upbeat assessment of the UK in a piece for Politico. He takes swipes at the EU for making life unnecessarily difficult for the UK in order to deter further withdrawals, Remain voters for holding the UK back, and points to how Britain’s problems must be compared with those in other countries around the world, especially elsewhere in Europe. 'No wonder the Brits voted Leave.'

  5. In a piece for the FT, Sylvie Kauffmann writes about how the EU has not, as Bolton argues, made life difficult for the UK. From the rest of the EU’s perspective, “Brexit was based on an act of immense stupidity,” says one EU leader quoted anonymously in the piece. That the UK still refuses to recognise this frustrates many in the EU, but there is no schadenfreude because the UK’s self-inflicted wound weakens Europe and the West.

  6. Guy Hands, financier and Tory party donor, attacked Brexit and the Tory party for dooming Britain to be the ‘sick man of Europe’. His comments, first on Radio 4 were later set out in detail in a piece for the New Statesman: ‘Tories must admit the lies of Brexit to save the economy – and themselves

  7. On BBC News, Ross Atkins - as succinct as ever - looks at what effect Brexit has had on the UK economy.

  8. Jonathan Portes looks at how accurate were the predictions of what Brexit would do to the UK’s economy and migration. His conclusion is worth quoting in full: ‘Overall, then, the picture is mixed. On trade, the basic intuition that erecting new trade barriers with the UK’s largest trading partner would reduce trade remains very much intact; but the causal mechanisms look to be more complex than those in our standard models. On immigration, while correctly identifying the likely impacts – a shift from EU to non-EU, and from lower skilled to higher skilled migration – we underestimated the extent to which liberalisation would increase migration flows in the short term. And Brexit, while now ‘done’, remains a moving target for economic analysis. Future political developments – whether a trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, or a political backlash against immigration – could require us to revisit both our models and our assumptions.’ His piece for the UK in a Changing Europe is here and his full evidence to the House of Lords European Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the future UK-EU relationship can be found here.

  9. Who will represent the UK at Cop27? Sunak has decided not to attend, which provoked disquiet amongst even some Tory MPs. Alok Sharma MP and President of Cop26 claims he can represent the UK, despite no longer sitting in the cabinet following Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle. The Guardian reports Boris Johnson believes he can represent the UK, much to the alarm of Downing Street. Meanwhile, the King, who many feel would be the ideal representative, will merely host a reception at Buckingham Palace.

  10. And finally… backlash. Trevor Noah’s segment on a recent recording of The Daily Show in which he talked about the backlash to Rishi Sunak’s appointment as PM triggered a backlash of its own. Amongst the many responses to and pieces reflecting on Noah's comments, I think the best person to turn to is Sangita Myska whose conversation with 'Jerry from Lowestoft' was played by Noah on his show: ‘The moment my conversation with Jerry from Lowestoft morphed into a socio-political phenomena.’

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