On the 27 January, the UK Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, gave a talk on ‘Foreign Policy in Trump’s World’. Hosted by the Scottish Fabians in Edinburgh’s The Melting Pot, the talk began with a moment’s silence in respect of Holocaust Memorial Day.
In her talk on Saturday, she made her contempt for US President Donald Trump very clear. She set out to explain “why the government’s strategy towards Donald Trump is so misguided,” stressing that the UK needs “an independent foreign policy.”
Thornberry pointed out that it has been one year since Theresa May and President Trump first met. Since then the US President has not yet taken up the Prime Minister’s offer of a state visit but a lot else has happened: Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ in January 2017, the US’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, sabre-rattling between the US and North Korea and the Trump administration’s inflammatory decision to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
And yet, as Thornberry pointed out, Theresa May continues to insist at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the “special relationship” between the UK and the US is as strong as ever. Ms Thornberry expressed her dismay at the lack of even “a peep of protest” from Theresa May at Donald Trump’s description of African countries as “shitholes.”
She said that the election of Donald Trump as US President resulted not only in the “removal of old certainties” but also the “creation of huge new certainties,” such as Mr Trump’s threat of military action in Venezuela in August 2017.
Despite the “rolling chaos” of the Trump White House, the UK still “slavishly” follows the US. Instead, Thornberry argued, the UK “should forge a different path” without Trump, seeing in the government’s hand wringing a “wasted opportunity” for the UK to fill the void left by the US. A Labour government would “stand up to Donald Trump,” rather than “bumbling on” like the current government.
In the next part of her speech, Thornberry brought attention to the influence of Scotland on foreign policy, stating that there is “something distinctive about Scottish thinking and Scottish values.”
She said she sees in the Scottish people “a passion for solidarity,” arguing that the moral, ethical and philosophical dimensions of the Scottish Enlightenment are crucial for good foreign policy. She went on to praise two former students of the University of Edinburgh: Robin Cooke (Labour Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 2001) and Gordon Brown (former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister until 2010).
Though the blood of these Scottish men may not run in her veins, “their values do,” Ms Thornberry proudly stated.
After her talk, the Shadow Foreign Secretary answered questions from the audience. Ms Thornberry defended the UK Labour Party’s Brexit stance, arguing that although she personally is opposed to leaving the EU, the result of the referendum must be respected. “We have to be pragmatic,” she said.
Image: Steve Bowbrick via flickr