MENA relations should be a priority for the future PM

“Very brave, Minister” says Sir Humphrey, the senior civil servant in the classic 1980s sitcom, Yes Minister. “Brave?” cries the minister in horror.

Sir Humphrey might give the same compliment to Conservative Leadership candidates. Standing to be Prime Minister of Great Britain today is indeed brave. Domestic challenges are a staple for the leader of a nation but making Brexit work at the same time as rebuilding a post-Covid society and economy would be exceptional challenges even in a tranquil season of global politics.

But we are not in a tranquil season of global politics. The pressures of shifting geopolitical tectonic plates have been intensifying. Senior analysts and policy makers struggle to recall a period of such global instability in their lifetimes and fear the triggering of a geopolitical earthquake of global conflict.

One issue for the West appears to have been a lack of self-awareness – a blind-spot to the impact of our foreign policy decisions on how the rest of the world sees us, and how this encourages states hostile to us.

Like most periods of crisis, this has not happened overnight. If our next Prime Minister is to embody ‘Global Britain’, he or she must have a fundamental grasp of how this situation has developed, and what Britain and the West must do to mitigate it. Global Britain must mean not only Britain sallying out into the world but having a deep understanding of the world.

There are changes that can be made to our apparatus of state: ensuring the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is outward looking and prioritises continuity; specialised expertise and experience of its civil servants is vital. The managerially driven, dizzying merry-go-round of different appointments for desk-officers and diplomats should slow.

And since the focus of The Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) is on the MENA region, I would naturally suggest that having a Minister – with existing expertise and knowledge of the region – exclusively for the MENA, might also be a good start.

The new Prime Minister could put more resources to the Ministry of Defence, our armed forces, and our diplomatic service. It is perennially simple-to-say but difficult-to-do, but it would send an important signal to the world, and better prepare us for its challenges.

But if the next Prime Minister is to really meet the challenges and aspiration of ‘Global Britain’ in a dangerous world, a more fundamental re-think is needed.

Perhaps nothing drew attention to the urgent need of this rethink – not only from Britain, but from the West as a whole - than Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Originally published on July 21, 2022 by The New Arab