Ministers directing UK foreign policy after the Brexit vote of 2016 will undoubtedly have their hands full for many years to come. Britain’s decision to leave the EU came at a time when relationships with many powerful nations around the globe were already in a state of considerable flux.
The taut relationship between the UK and Russia became even more strained over recent years. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent conflict in Ukraine led to economic sanctions by Western states that were fully supported, if not demanded, by the UK. Apparently unperturbed by this souring atmosphere, UK and Russia did little to brook agreement when they found themselves at odds in 2016 over the civil war in Syria, with Russia backing Syrian Government forces against the diplomatic efforts of the British.
Britain, with good reason, might have expected political support from the U.S. against its former Cold War adversary. However the unexpected election of US presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to weaken the UK’s position. Before even taking up residence in the White House, Mr Trump made it clear that he was minded to ease tensions with Russia, leaving Britain scrabbling to maintain its supposedly special relationship with the US never mind gaining political advantage against Russia.
If the UK appeared to be bristling against Russia, it adopted a conciliatory stance towards China despite the latter’s questionable record on human rights. This acknowledges the fact that, economically at least, China is a new global leviathan. The UK Government is paving ways for Chinese investment to finance deals worth billions of pounds across major industrial and construction sectors including nuclear power.
Diplomatic relations between Tehran and London were tentatively restored in 2014. Despite the West’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme, the two countries have been re-establishing political ties, opening up the possibility of a long-term UK objective that Iran could be a regional partner for the West.