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  • Writer's pictureTim Oliver

British Foreign Policy Must-Reads 14-20 August: Afghanistan, Decline, Brexit Mindset, Environment

This week's two year anniversary of the withdrawal from Afghanistan prompted some limited reflections - but little change in policy - on the UK's commitments to the people of that war-ravaged country. Other coverage this week touched on: British decline (again); The Guardian asked a behavioural psychologist if it's possible to change the Brexit mindset; David Smith in The Times offered a hardheaded take on whether the UK could rejoin the EU; while the MoD is, according to MPs, failing on procurement (shock!) and could be doing more to tackle climate change; but as pieces in the New European and Prospect argue, UK action on climate change is threatened by Eurosceptics who have become ecosceptics and who now stand as the new appeasers in the face of the biggest threat to the UK; the EU meanwhile is doing fine (perhaps better) without the UK, although as Hans Kundnani argues in The Guardian, the EU has yet to face the myths that underpin its identity.


  1. Afghanistan—BBC: Afghanistan refugees being let down by UK, says think tank. Many Afghan refugees have been "let down" by the UK, with some living in hotels for up to two years and now facing eviction, a think tank has said.

  2. British decline—New Statesman: John Le Carré and the spectre of British decline. The 1970s London of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was a place of decay. What defines it now?

  3. Productivity—FT: The UK is doing a shoddy job of keeping up with the neighbours. In a more productive country, citizens could enjoy longer retirements, more consumption and a better class of rollercoaster.

  4. Northern Ireland—FT: British neglect risks Northern Ireland’s future. Too many London-based politicians neither notice nor care very much when a crisis looms.

  5. Brexit mindset—Observer: Can you change a Brexit state of mind? If departing the EU has failed to deliver, why is the UK still so divided? Seven years on, we ask behavioural psychologists if cognitive dissonance can be overcome.

  6. Exports and Brexit—The Times: UK exporters think Brexit has done more harm than good. British companies are losing faith in the potential benefits of new free trade deals, government research shows, as exporters say Brexit has done more harm than good to their overseas sales.

  7. Defence procurement—FT: British army’s £3.2bn battlefield radio ‘next procurement disaster’, MPs warn. Defence ministry says it is reviewing progress on contract but remains committed to system having already spent £690mn.

  8. Defence and climate change—House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: Defence and Climate Change. In January 2023 the World Economic Forum listed climate change as the cause of the top six most severe risks to the planet over the coming decade. This directly matters to defence. John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, told us during the inquiry leading to this Report that if the world does not respond adequately we will see “the undermining of the common principles around which we have organised our defence and security communities”. The Ministry of Defence is contributing to the achievement of the Government’s legal commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. However, we find in this Report that Defence can do much more to measure and reduce its carbon emissions — without eroding military capability. The Armed Forces, defence acquisition and the defence estate — both at home and abroad — will also need to adapt to respond to the impacts of climate change over the coming decades, with consequences for geostrategy, defence readiness, resilience and the effective delivery of military effect.

  9. Environment—New European: The Eurosceptics are now ecosceptics… this time, they will wreck the planet. Brexit is more than enough for any political generation. But, the worst is yet to come.

  10. Environment—Prospect: The climate appeasers are leading us towards catastrophe. In 1940, George Orwell famously lambasted those who refused to prepare for the Second World War. Today we face a different war—on the climate crisis—and we are as much “in the soup” now as we were then…

  11. European integration—The Guardian: ‘The Eurocentric fallacy’: the myths that underpin European identity. The EU likes to celebrate itself as a place where borders are soft and ‘regionalism’ creates diversity and openness. But just as much as any powerful nation, Europe defines itself against the rest of the world by Hans Kundnani

  12. Post-Brexit EU—FT: The EU is doing more — lots more. Contrary to some expectations, the forces of change in Europe have been centripetal rather than centrifugal.

  13. Brazil and India—Politico: Labour would ramp up UK diplomacy in Brazil and India, says Lammy. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy outlines ‘economic foreign policy’ pitch on trip to Brazil.

  14. China—Bloomberg: London Teaches Beijing a Lesson in Democracy. The aborted plan for a “super embassy” in the UK illustrates the gap in political culture between China and Britain.

  15. AI—Politico: Western powers argue over how to control AI. Officials say ‘egos in the room’ are obstructing efforts to agree common AI rules.

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