Post-Brexit Britain: Hopes and threats for 2021 as UK goes global
Brexit: David Davis outlines 'concerning' elements of deal
Our first post-Brexit year may well see challenges as European neighbours test the waters over fishing quotas, while Moscow could attempt to embarrass us with increased cyber attacks Russia, Iran, North Korea and China may also test the limits of US president Joe Biden’s new administration which will, in turn, affect Britain through its continuing association with Nato, the UN Security Council and the Five Eyes intelligence club.
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And the Covid-19 crisis will further fuel dissent at home and diplomatic divisions abroad while hampering President Biden’s wish for a return to internationalism.
The pandemic’s legacy goes far beyond loss of life. Broken supply chains and crippled economies are already causing many nations to adopt “self first” policies and economic protectionism, exacerbating pre-existing diplomatic rivalries.
Vaccine envy will also play a role, with China and Russia expected to supply their own vaccines at bargain rates for political influence. On Friday tensions erupted in Italy over claims Germany had appropriated 30 million doses above its allocation.
In Britain, any failure of promised vaccines to deliver quick results could drive a wedge of mistrust with institutions and cause civil unrest by Covid-deniers, civil rights activists and anti-vax conspiracy groups. Another blip on Britain’s radar is the Falkland Islands.
Argentina’s Peronist government, under immense economic pressure, has recently enacted legislation which reasserts Buenos Aires’ claim over the islands and their natural resources.
In the short term this may mean further pressure on British oil companies, including asset seizures, which will command a response from the Government.
The very real economic challenge posed by China will see relations between Beijing and the West remain fraught through 2021.
Its new five-year-plan has placed science and technological advancement at the heart of policy, and we should expect a heightening of cyber attacks and theft of intellectual property from the West – China’s preferred method of leapfrogging technological advances.
Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong, alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang and its investment though the Belt and Road Initiative will continue to seek to drive a wedge between allies, while Beijing’s assertive and uncompromising stance on issues related to sovereignty means that South China Sea disputes, the status of Taiwan and the China-India border will remain key drivers of security tensions.
The China threat has already seen the beginning of an “Indo-Pacific” pivot in British foreign policy, with London seeking to place itself firmly at the heart of the so-called D10 club of democratic nations. This year the UK will deploy the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean and South East Asia in a multinational show of strength.
Under Putin’s leadership Russia remains diplomatically isolated from the West. It already has a weak economy due to mismanagement and sanctions, further pummelled by a fall in oil prices. So expect to see continuing militarisation and opportunities for expansionism, particularly in the run up to September’s parliamentary elections in a year where sweeping tax reforms to shore up the budget deficit will see Putin face mounting discontent.
To this end Russia may also present Britain with its first real post-Brexit challenge through cyber attacks designed to embarrass the UK and make it look weak.
“While China is pragmatic Russia has already shown, with the Salisbury poisoning, that it is willing to do things that are not in their best interests just to embarrass us,” said Justin Crump, boss of Sibylline strategic risk consultancy.
“We should not be surprised if it attempts to make us look unprepared for our post-Brexit world this year.”
Islamic State may have lost its caliphate, but it, Al Qaeda and Al Shabab continue to flourish in Iraq and Africa. Britain continues to lend vital assistance to France in its mission in Mali, which is now so beleaguered that British troops sent to help the UN part of the mission have been relegated to training and symbolic patrols, rather than the long-range reconnaissance missions promised two years ago.
While Islamic insurgencies continue in Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya, new threats are emerging in Mozambique and Tanzania.
This threat is not relegated to foreign climes, however. France’s experiences in 2020 showed that the danger of so-called “lone wolf” or influenced attacks remain very real, and until economic conditions and employment improve, they could raise their ugly head in Britain too.
Nor is the terror threat limited to jihadist groups. Right-wing extremism and international terrorism remains a prominent threat, not only here but in France, Germany, and Austria, as mounting unemployment is exploited by groups seeking to divide society along ethnic or even class grounds.
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