Wednesday 23 August 2017

Britain and America will no longer invade foreign countries 'to make the world in their own image', Theresa May says

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledges applause before speaking during the 2017
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledges applause before speaking during the 2017 "Congress of Tomorrow" Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 26, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Mark Makela
Prime Minister Theresa May arriving in Philadelphia ahead of her meeting with Donald Trump on Friday Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Peter Dominiczak

Britain and America will never again invade foreign countries “in an attempt to make the world in their own image”, Theresa May has said in the biggest shift in UK foreign policy for more than 20 years.

Addressing US Republican politicians in Philadelphia, the British Prime Minister pledged not to repeat the “failed policies of the past” in a clear reference to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan by Tony Blair and George W Bush.

Her comments are a repudiation of the doctrine of “liberal intervention” set out by Mr Blair in a speech in Chicago in 1999.

Mrs May’s speech came as she prepared to become the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump in the White House and begin talks on a major new free trade deal to be announced after Britain leaves the European Union.

She made clear that Britain and America will now forge a new Special Relationship which will ensure that the rise of Asian economies like China and India does not lead to an “eclipse of the West”.

And she vowed to address the aggression of Russia and the “malign” influence of Iran in the Middle East.

Travelling to America on Thursday, Mrs May insisted that she will bond with Mr Trump in spite of their personality differences, saying that "opposites attract".

However, there were signs of policy differences between the two leaders.

Mrs May said that she "condemned" torture and suggested that Britain could limit its intelligence sharing with the USA because of Mr Trump's support for waterboarding.

In her speech Mrs May, who was given a standing ovation by the audience, said that Brexit and Mr Trump's election are an opportunity to "renew" the Special Relationship, which she described as "one of the greatest forces for good the world has ever known".

And she hailed Mr Trump's election as "dawn breaking on a new era of American renewal".

She told Republicans: “I speak to you not just as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but as a fellow Conservative who believes in the same principles that underpin the agenda of your Party.

“The value of liberty. The dignity of work. The principles of nationhood, family, economic prudence, patriotism – and putting power in the hands of the people.

“Principles instilled in me from a young age. Principles that my parents taught me in the vicarage in Southern England in which I was raised.

“I know that it is these principles that you have put at the heart of your plan for government. “

In her first significant foreign policy intervention since becoming British Prime Minister, Mrs May said: "It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe.

"This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over. But nor can we afford to stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene. We must be strong, smart and hard-headed. And we must demonstrate the resolve necessary to stand up for our interests."

Her comments suggest that Britain intends to continue targeting jihadists using drone strikes but that "boots on the ground" invasions are now a thing of the past.

They echo those of Mr Trump, who said during his inauguration ceremony last week that “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example.”

Mrs May made clear that a stronger alliance between Britain and America can ensure that the two countries are able to compete with Asian economies like China and India.

She said that the rise of these economies  at the same time as the financial crisis and a series of terror attacks “have led many to fear that, in this century, we will experience the eclipse of the West.”

"But there is nothing inevitable about that. Other countries may grow stronger. Big, populous countries may grow richer. And as they do so, they may start to embrace more fully our values of democracy and liberty,” Mrs May continued.

Despite the positive relationship between Mr Trump and Vladimir Putin, Mrs May used her speech to criticise Russia.

And she sounded a warning over the negative influence of Iran in the Middle East.

She said: "There is nothing inevitable about conflict between Russia and the West. And nothing unavoidable about retreating to the days of the Cold War. But we should engage with Russia from a position of strength.

"And we should build the relationships, systems and processes that make cooperation more likely than conflict – and that, particularly after the illegal annexation of Crimea, give assurance to Russia’s neighbouring states that their security is not in question.

"We should not jeopardise the freedoms that President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher brought to Eastern Europe by accepting president Putin’s claim that it is now in his sphere of influence.

"And progress on this issue would also help to secure another of this nation’s priorities – to reduce Iran’s malign influence in the Middle East."

Mr Blair has faced years of criticism for his policy of "liberal intervention", most notably over the Iraq war, which resulted in the Chilcot Inquiry.

In notes sent to president Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war, Mr Blair said that it would be part of a bigger push to "spread our values of freedom, democracy, tolerance and the rule of law" across the world.

He added: "That’s why, though Iraq’s WMD is the immediate justification for action, ridding Iraq of Saddam is the real prize."

Independent News Service

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