Does “Brexit mean Brexit”, or does “Brexit means Britain should cosy up even more to murderous human rights abusers?” Our government is already a serial cheerleader of gruesome regimes: now a grubby arms dealer at their service, too. But as Theresa May prostrates Britain before her head-chopping friends in Saudi Arabia, her strategy is clear. Abandoning the vast single market across the Channel doesn’t just mean reducing Britain to the status of lapdog to the woman-groping Muslim-bashing demagogue across the Atlantic. It means an ever-closer relationship to regimes which inflict suffering on people inside and outside their own borders.
At the beginning of last year, Saudi Arabia slaughtered dozens of people on the grounds they were “terrorists”, an Orwellian use of the term which extended to the state murder of dissident Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Demonstrating just how prepared our government already is to challenge Saudi atrocities, the former British ambassador claimed that some of these executions were understandable. Here is a regime which – just like the extremists it helped to spawn – slices off the heads of dissidents and gays. It treats women as the inferior possessions of men: a suffocating oppression that will not be swept away by May’s patronising claims to arrive as a female role model. It is pounding neighbouring Yemen with British bombs: thousands of civilians have been murdered in the offensive, and millions have been driven from their homes in what has become one of the world’s gravest humanitarian crises. It invaded Bahrain in 2011 to defend the ruling autocratic family from protests for democracy. It exports an extremist ideology which threatens the security of people in this country. And yet May’s strategy is to use Brexit to forge an even great bond with these fanatical gangsters.
Another beneficiary of May’s Brexit strategy is Turkey. This is somewhat ironic given Turkey was a demonic presence in last year’s referendum: the leave campaign poisonously and dishonestly claimed the country would imminently join the EU and gain freedom of movement across the European continent. Turkey is a country fast degenerating into dictatorship: since a failed coup last July, tens of thousands have been arrested or purged from their jobs, media outlets have been closed down, and senior opposition figures thrown in jail. This doesn’t bother our esteemed prime minister though: she pledged a “new and deeper trading relationship with Turkey” in January, consummated with a £100m fighter jet deal.
Then there’s Israel, its hard-right government emboldened by Donald Trump’s ascendancy. Despite the UN security council describing all settlements as illegal, Israel has committed itself to expanding them. The first settlement in two decades has just been approved: an unapologetic form of colonisation which will render any peace deal impossible. Government ministers openly question the loyalty of Arab Israeli citizens. The occupation itself is enforced by brutality, racism – and also western complicity. But – as a recent state visit from Benjamin Netanyahu underlined – May is using Brexit to deepen Britain’s embrace of his human rights-abusing government, rather than push for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
So there we have it. A Tory Brexit is not “taking back control”, it is surrendering it to the Donald Trumps, the Saudi dictators, the Turkish autocrats, the Israeli hardliners. Meanwhile, the rest of the world mocks us as we debate the colour of our passports and talk about war with Spain. Yes, for too long British foreign policy has been subordinate to the United States, guilty of involvement in disastrous wars, and loyally supportive of murderous foreign governments. May’s Brexit strategy could make all of these things so much worse. Just look at our prime minister, genuflecting to tyrants who believe in chopping off people’s heads. Taking back control indeed.