There hasn’t been much discussion of foreign policy during the referendum campaign. This is odd because a lot of foreigners are taking an interest in what might be about to happen. And most of them think we have taken leave of our senses. The American newspapers are aghast. Insane, a colossal blunder and a fantasy are some of the more polite comments. “There’s only so much nastiness a country can endure before it curdles into violence,” warns the Atlantic.
We can pretty much take it as read that Britain’s influence in the world would diminish if this country were to leave the EU. The Brexit advocates strongly deny this, of course, but their huffing protests remind me of those feedback conversations you have with people at work.
An aggressive and boorish manager will almost always deny that he is aggressive and boorish. Anyone who says he is aggressive and boorish will be condemned as a liar. But whether or not a person is aggressive and boorish is a subjective judgement and it depends on how people on the receiving end of that behaviour perceive it. You find yourself having to explain to the manager that it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. If the rest of the team see him as aggressive and boorish then that is his problem not theirs.
So it is with influence. Again it is one of those subjective judgments that depends entirely on the impact you have on others. You only know whether you have influence over people by the way that they respond. If all the people you are trying to influence tell you that you are losing influence, then you are losing influence.
And that is exactly what they are saying. The current US President, the future US President and the leaders of Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Japan, China and India are all telling us we would have less influence if we left the EU. As the Australian’s editor remarked, most world leaders believe that leaving the EU would be an act of “strategic recklessness”.
The opinion of most respected world leaders, financial markets and the bulk of British business overwhelmingly favours the Remain cause. It is advanced with a strange mix of clarity and desperation by Prime Minister David Cameron. The sense from these quarters is unmistakeable: that Brexit is a dangerous step for Britain and the world.
Why is opinion so strong? It is because of respect for Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, and regard for its voice and influence. The EU without Britain will have a huge hole. Britain is usually a source for good, constructive and sometimes courageous policy. These leaders, like Cameron, fear Brexit will leave Britain weaker, not stronger.
You can argue about the economic models and how far they can reasonably predict the impact of Brexit. Nobody can really be sure. On the question of international influence, though we can be very sure. There are no graphs and charts in this post because the only way you can measure influence is by the impact it has on others. The leaders and opinion formers in most of the world’s major economies are telling us that Britain will have less influence if it leaves the EU. That is the only measure that matters. If the people we most need to influence tell us that we will lose influence, then we will. It’s as simple as that.