In a world of superpower rivalry, the UK must urgently rebuild the strategic alliances that were sabotaged by its departure from the EU
Boris Johnson has a range of political skills, but international diplomacy is not among them. His greatest asset is a campaigning charisma with limited cultural range. The dishevelled look and irreverent bombast are an act aimed at a domestic audience. It translates poorly abroad. In the global arena, reluctance to look serious forfeits respect sooner than it wins affection.
That is one reason why Mr Johnson did not acquit himself well as foreign secretary in Theresa May’s government. Another was that he hates serving anyone but himself. As prime minister, he has not sharpened up his act, but he is at least free to pursue his own agenda. What does that mean in foreign policy terms? There is Brexit, of course. But that has been a parochial matter in UK politics – perversely so, given that the country’s orientation in the world is at stake. The domestic debate has consistently lacked global perspective. The remain side failed to communicate the cost of surrendering a seat at European summits. The view that EU membership amplified British power was drowned out by the rhetoric of regaining mythic sovereignty.