The UK´s successful attempt to persuade the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute blame for chemical weapons attacks has aroused much discussion. It has been correctly interpreted as a means of giving the UK an excuse to launch more attacks on Syria. But it is not as simple as that.
This action is not specifically aimed at Syria. It is a means of establishing a new international identity for a UK which has been forced to do this by Brexit. With no signposts, as no one has left the EU before, it has to go back to first principles. But it is discovering it has none, as Brexit goes against everything the UK believed it stood for: tolerance, progress, continuity and the fundamental English trait of muddling everything together in a vaguely acceptable manner and not taking any idea or project to its logical conclusion.
The UK has to show it is still internationally credible. As Brexiteers are fond of pointing out, its traditional role was as a leader, which had a large empire and spread its culture, main language and values everywhere. But it has now had to face the fact that if it turns its back on the values and institutions of others, they will do the same. You can´t lead if nobody follows, and those who saw the point of following the UK before, willingly or not, don´t do so now
So the UK has to carve out a new position which reflects today’s realities. It has to ask the question the former BBC religious correspondent, and Orthodox Christian, Peter France once asked the leaders of other UK churches – “what is the irreducible minimum of doctrine which makes you what you are?” This still has to be something in which the UK is a leader, in line with its traditions. But it can´t be something more characteristic of other EU countries, as the UK wants to be something different, whatever that is.
Consequently the UK has discovered a new default position in international affairs. It has never adopted this position before, despite many temptations to do so. But now it has left itself with no alternative but to face the bleak reality of what it is left with if it no longer wants to be in Europe – and however much some may rejoice in it,