In Depth

Are post-Brexit Britain’s morals for sale?

The UK is strengthening ties with Poland and other authoritarian regimes

During a visit to Warsaw, Theresa May has “refused to condemn Poland’s slide into authoritarianism”, says The Independent, prompting accusations that post-Brexit Britain is willing to sacrifice its global moral standing in order to win friends abroad.

The Prime Minister spoke up for respecting the rule of law, but said recent changes to the country’s constitution, the state takeover of television news and attempts by the ruling Law and Justice Party to stuff courts with political appointees, including tribunals that will decide the validity of election results, were its own business.

“These constitutional issues are normally, and should be primarily a matter for the individual country concerned,” she said, standing next to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “Across Europe we have collective belief in the rule of law.”

She went on to hail the special relationship between the UK and Poland, which she said was “based on a shared history and a shared tradition”.

Her response was in stark contrast to that of the EU, which has started a legal process that could suspend Poland’s voting rights on the Council of Ministers and withold funding to the country.

The threat to make Poland a pariah in the EU family “comes at a highly embarrassing moment for May”, who could face an acid test of her loyalties if the UK is forced to vote on censuring Poland in the European Council, says The Daily Telegraph.

While it is a keen advocate of independent judicial systems, “the British government also wants to build alliances as it attempts to win support for May’s pursuit of a ‘deep and special’ trade deal with the EU”, says The Guardian.

The Prime Minister’s willingness to court rather than condemn the increasingly authoritarian regime is part of a broader change in British foreign policy in the wake of Brexit.

Since taking office last year, May and senior members of her government have been on a global charm offensive, trying to prepare the ground for new trade deals.

During a recent trip to the Middle East, the Prime Minister refused to condemn publicly Saudi Arabia’s human rights record - although she has since criticised its blockade of Yemen. International Development Secretary Liam Fox has spent much of the last year cosying up to some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes, including Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain and the Philippines.

In a bid to fulfil the Brexiteer dream of a “truly global Britain”, says Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle in The Guardian, the Government has prioritised arms sales for Britain’s post-Brexit industrial policy, “believing that by exporting arms, Britain can somehow project power”.

Fox’s department - which licences Britain’s exports of guns, planes and bombs - has overseen a sharp spike in sales to repressive regimes, many of which it has identified as “priority markets”. The biggest of these is Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition which, according to the UN, has killed more than 5,000 civilians in Yemen.

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