At a time of war in Europe, and mounting fear and uncertainty on the world stage, British geostrategic leadership is particularly vital. So it was encouraging to hear Foreign Secretary Liz Truss outline such a powerful vision in her Mansion House Easter Banquet address.
This was one of the most important speeches delivered by a British Foreign Secretary in recent decades. Truss understands the big picture well. She grasps the significance of the historic moment we face as the courageous people of Ukraine battle a brutal invasion by Russian forces, hell bent on imposing a barbaric occupation on a free sovereign nation that is literally fighting for its survival.
The Foreign Secretary’s words were the voice of a self-confident nation that can and must lead in Europe and across the globe. Truss’s speech was both a robust roadmap for British foreign policy in the Brexit era as well as an emphatic rebuttal of the hideously false narrative peddled by Eurofederalists that Brexit represents a British retreat, a narrow isolationism, or some kind of ludicrous “Little Englander” mentality.
She projected strength, resolve, and an outward-looking Britain with a renewed sense of mission and purpose when the enemies of the free world seek to overturn the very idea of Western leadership and the values of liberal democracy and individual liberty that underpin it.
There was much in the Foreign Secretary’s speech that my former boss, Lady Thatcher, would have strongly agreed with. The three pillars of British foreign policy outlined by Truss—military strength, economic security, and deeper global alliances—worked together in close alignment during the Thatcher/Reagan era, and were crucial in the defeat of the Soviet Union and its evil empire through a “Peace Through Strength” approach.
There is a significantly deeper clarity of thinking today in the Foreign Office that has been sorely lacking since Thatcher’s departure as Prime Minister in 1990. Sovereignty, self-determination, and economic freedom, are all now front and center in British strategic thought. So is an awareness that UK defense spending has to rise to match global ambitions, as well as a concerted willingness to confront the rising threat posed by Communist China.
Margaret Thatcher would have applauded the Foreign Secretary’s call for a “Network of Liberty,” with Britain harnessing the power and energy of NATO, the G7 and the Commonwealth to stand up to Russia, China, and other totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. As Truss remarked, the new AUKUS partnership with the United States and Australia, as well as the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, and the key role the UK plays in the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, are all examples of the bold leadership stance the British are taking right now in global security.
Great Britain is a standard bearer for liberty and freedom. It is the antithesis of Putin’s Russia with its desire to crush dissent and opposition, and kill freedom of speech, thought and conscience. Britain also leads the world in support of free trade, actively signing and negotiating agreements with like-minded nations worldwide, from India to Australia, spreading the message that open markets, free trade and economic liberty have been the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever seen.
From the vantage point of Washington, the view of Brexit Britain—what it stands for, what it believes in, and what it is willing to fight for—is both encouraging and inspiring. Even in the Biden White House, where ideological opposition to Brexit and pro-EU sentiment runs deep, there is a growing acknowledgment that Britain’s role in supporting Ukraine and standing up to Russia has been outstanding, and has greatly eclipsed that of the EU’s big continental powers.
British leadership on Ukraine, from Boris Johnson’s Churchillian-style walkabout in Kiev together with President Zelensky, to Defense Secretary Ben Wallace’s strong military support for Ukraine’s armed forces, has undoubtedly prompted the Biden administration to take more forward-leaning action, including this week’s dispatch to Ukraine of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Biden officials may pay lip service to the idea of France as America’s “oldest ally,” or frequently underscore the importance of the U.S.-German partnership, but they acutely understand that it is the British who have really been rolling up their sleeves, putting action into words, and standing shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainians.
There is a great deal of unhappiness behind the scenes on this side of the Atlantic with the extremely weak and negative approach taken by Berlin in particular. Strikingly, I have heard growing and extensive praise for Britain’s role over Ukraine, and especially the example set by the PM and Foreign Secretary, from some of the most die-hard anti-Brexit voices in Washington. This is a dramatic turnaround for a presidency that ideologically differs from the Conservative British government on many issues.
The U.S. cannot lead alone. As the great Iron Lady used to say, America needs friends and partners in the often lonely task of global leadership. And the U.S. has no more powerful and robust ally than Great Britain in its new role outside of the European Union. The Foreign Secretary’s Mansion House speech will be well received in the United States, but also by Britain’s allies across the world, from New Delhi to Canberra to Warsaw, and the capitals of the Baltic States on the frontline of the NATO alliance.
The United Kingdom has a Foreign Secretary today who is serious about British leadership on the international stage, and is actually willing to implement a powerful strategy to advance it. This is good news for the British people, and for the many nations that see British leadership as a great positive force at an increasingly dangerous and challenging time.
This piece originally appeared in The Telegraph