Brexit could send UK’s global influence into ‘free fall’

22 Feb 19

The UK’s influence within the United Nations could hit “free fall territory” when it leaves the European Union next month, a report has warned.

Currently, the UK has a strong role in drafting resolutions and agenda-setting at the UN, and is seen as a “skilled negotiator”, a report by the UK branch of the UN Association said.

But if the government does not show the value it adds to the global organisation when it has left the EU, it “will have impact on the UK’s standing at the United Nations”, the Global Britain and the United Nations report said.

It added that if the UK did not keep up its commitment of giving 0.7% of national income in aid – which is a “major source of soft power and influence” – its reputation “would be in sort of free fall territory”. The international 0.7% commitment is enshrined in UK law.

Lead author of the report, Jess Gifkins, from the University of Manchester, said the impact of Brexit will “go beyond the UK and the EU to the UN, where the UK’s reputation is tarnished and its capacity for influence is weakened”.

According to former UK ambassador to the UN Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who was cited in the report, “most people – almost without exception – think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot”.

The UK’s powers within the UN will depend on how other people think about the government and leadership, according to the report, published on Monday, for which researchers interviewed UN diplomats, UK officials and individuals from NGOs.

“British diplomats will perform strongly but they will lose political capital because they are less able to align their campaigns in the Security Council and the General Assembly with the influence of their colleagues in Brussels,” it said.

The UK currently has “very little” influence on the General Assembly, the report added, but did suggest the impact of Brexit could be “offset” and the country’s broader influence maintained if the UK keeps close relationships with other countries around the world – and “provides clear, principled, values-driven leadership”.

The report was written by three academics from the University of Manchester, the University of Southampton, and the University of Leeds on behalf of the United Nations Association – UK.

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