Theresa May and Brexit Britain’s Axis of Authoritarianism

Brexit is turning out to be a national, and international, humiliation for the UK. As Bonnie Greer writes, it has caused the country to “turn its back, pull up the drawbridge, put up the wall [and] curl in.”

This is exemplified in former Tory leader Michael Howard’s bewildering suggestion that Britain would go to war with Spain over the status of the eight-mile-long outpost of Gibraltar. Empowering a reactionary politics that is manna from heaven for the Tory right, Brexit has quite possibly managed to surpass the worst fears of the Remain camp.

This trend is reflected in the foreign policy agenda of Theresa May’s government, as it seeks to strengthen ties with nations that vastly deviate from the norms of liberal democratic Europe.


To justify his airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, President Trump described the regime’s chemical gassing of civilians as an “affront to humanity”.

The same “beautiful little babies” killed in this affront would be barred from seeking refuge in the United States by the discriminatory travel bans twice struck down by the courts as unconstitutional - the policy that has defined the first weeks of Trump’s presidency.

Protests and petitions forced May’s hand to recognise that Trump’s scapegoating of refugees is “divisive and wrong”. Yet she insists he will be treated to a state visit in the UK.

Defence secretary Michael Fallon praised Trump’s Syria attack while the smoke was still settling. The government was unreserved in its decision to cheerlead for Trump and has now disengaged from diplomacy with Russia, al-Assad’s key ally.

The attack risks escalating conflict with Russia and other Syrian allies like Iran, strengthening al-Assad’s hand. The bombing itself, within an extremely multifaceted conflict, may have inadvertently assisted ISIS. Tony Blair was once accused of being America’s poodle. Now it appears a Tory government is the tail being wagged.


An Islamist and denier of the Armenian Genocide who has cultivated a sinister personality cult, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the attempted coup in July 2016 as a basis to clamp down on social media, the free press and anti-government protests. On 16th April Turkey holds a constitutional referendum, through which Erdogan seeks to strengthen his grip on power as he pivots Turkey away from the EU it was once positioned to join.

Erdogan has called for a full-on military campaign to topple al-Assad. He suggests that regime change could pave the way to Syrian democracy - a grossly hypocritical statement given his record of ruthlessly repressing civil freedoms in Turkey.

Meeting with Erdogan, May briefly touched on human rights, but at the top of her agenda was securing a £100 million sale of fighter jets to the Turkish military - which under Erdogan has attacked Kurdish militias whose people are being targeted for ethnic cleansing by ISIS.


Tory and Labour governments alike are guilty of turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy with a medieval view of women’s rights, that punishes religious and political dissidence with torture and execution.

May tells us that our continued allegiance to Saudi Arabia is justified on the basis of national security - despite the Saudis’ political normalisation of the fundamentalist ideology adhered to by Islamic extremists.

We’re told that arms contracts are too economically lucrative to abandon despite these factors. But the Saudi siege on Yemen since 2015, which has led to the starvation of over 7 million civilians, has been cause for a breakthrough of outrage.

Just as horrific as the scenes from Syria are the images of Yemenis whose emaciated, skeletal bodies can only be compared to those of Holocaust victims.

It could arguably constitute genocide by the Saudis. Yet the UK government not only continues the flow of arms to Saudi Arabia, but has conducted joint operations with the Saudis in their Yemeni bombing campaign.


Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte, nicknamed “The Punisher”, should be a pariah figure to Western governments.

Under Duterte, an estimated 7,000 people have been (so far) killed in extrajudicial executions encouraged by the president. Duterte has been personally connected to a vigilante gang responsible for hundreds of murders and disappearances, and he has admitted (or at least claimed) to have killed alleged drug dealers himself.

UK international trade secretary Liam Fox visited the Philippines for a photo-op and a friendly chat with Duterte. Fox tells us that Britain has “shared values” with the Philippines - currently represented by a man who compares himself to Adolf Hitler and called for the genocide of 3 million drug addicts.


The prime minister claims that though we are leaving the EU, we remain Europeans in our commitment to the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

But by pursuing a hard Brexit without EU single market membership (and risking leaving without even a bespoke trade deal) the Brexiteers set us up for a future more dependent on dealings with authoritarian strongmen and bloodthirsty, probably criminal dictatorships.

Fox invokes the glories of Empire in his vision for a “Global Britain”. Appropriately enough, as the government stands by a neo-colonial mind-set which cites economic dividends to coldly excuse being party to a catalogue of brutalities and injustices.

The EU is an imperfect institution, but at least it binds itself to basic ethical ideals. Call me a Remoaner if you wish, but I struggle to feel patriotic.

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

Follow Jacob on Twitter.

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