If we succeed in leaving the EU, we will have a great opportunity to regain control of our foreign policy, which has been increasingly subsumed into a common EU approach that leaves us unable to be an independent actor on the world stage.
The current Venezuelan crisis provides a good example. The USA has taken a robust stand against the corruption and criminality of the Maduro regime for some years and has recently toughened its approach further. Sanctions against corrupt individuals, originally introduced by President Obama, now affect some 80 regime members and affiliates – a steadily growing number. By contrast, the EU sanctioned only 18 corrupt Chavista regime members in 2017 and has since added no more to that total. And while the US has withdrawn visas from 250 Venezuelan nationals and forced them to return to their socialist paradise, the UK has not withdrawn any at all.
When I pressed the foreign secretary to take tougher measures against the Venezuelan regime, the minister of state, Alan Duncan, stated: “The UK is discussing with EU partners the possibility of increasing the number of individuals subject to sanctions.” Of course, nothing has since been done, and why would it be? Recalcitrant Chavista-sympathising governments like Greece consistently block further action. And the British government is powerless to do more if it insists on coordinating action with other EU countries.
Yet this reticence is largely self-imposed – a sort of diplomatic version of the Stockholm syndrome. We’ve actually had our own toughened sanctions legislation in place since last year, though the government refuses to put it into action. There is nothing stopping us from implementing our own sanctions policy when it comes to Venezuela, as well as our own measures on visa denial and confiscation of funds from corrupt individuals.
Insisting on going at the pace of the slowest and most resistant EU member state achieves little, especially when the EU measures that have been implemented are so weak that they’re largely meaningless.
Another example is the EU’s policy on Cuba, to which the UK subscribes. The EU’s approach is one of rapprochement with the communist state – it is even providing financial support to the Cuban government. While EU leaders sound off against foreign military intervention in Venezuela, they forget to mention that Cuba has some 20,000 military officers and intelligence staff there, instrumental in propping up the Maduro dictatorship. And what do we expect to gain from pandering to Cuba? There is little opportunity for a trading partnership with a state whose centrally planned economy is in ruins.
Maybe the EU’s policy of supporting Cuba is more about striking a pose to demonstrate a different approach from that of the US? It is clearly foolish for Britain to indulge this. One does not need to agree with everything President Trump says or does to recognise that on a number of issues, the US position is more worthy of support than the EU’s.
For example, the US is pressing for EU countries to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence – a NATO goal set in 2014. Most do not, yet they pontificate about creating a European army. Germany, for example, spends only 1.2 per cent of its GDP on defence. The US position, despite the irritation and inconvenience it causes EU member states, is entirely reasonable.
Germany also has plans for a second natural gas pipeline in the Baltic sea to transport gas from Russia to Germany. The US has pointed out that this would be a dangerous project, resulting in increased German dependence on the Kremlin, and involving the payment of billions to Russia. The US position is once again one that the UK should back wholeheartedly and publicly.
It’s time for the United Kingdom to set aside the comfort blanket of the common European approach. We need to regain control of our foreign policy and pursue the right course with integrity, not just the one that other European countries will not find fault with. The promise of a global Britain awaits.