In Depth

Instant Opinion: UK ‘quietly retreating from the world stage’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 17 February

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Edward Lucas in The Times

on Britain’s absence at the Munich Security Conference

We’re quietly retreating from the world stage“Britain used to be centre stage. Boris Johnson memorably incensed the conference by calling Brexit Britain’s ‘liberation’. People from countries where real liberation from foreign occupation is recent memory found that in bad taste, and harrumphed mightily. This year, even a whipping boy from Britain would have been welcome. Represented undetectably by a sole, new, junior minister, our government had effectively vanished from the world’s most important security shindig.”

2. Laura Spinney in The Guardian

on giving away DNA data

Your DNA is a valuable asset, so why give it to ancestry websites for free?“Companies such as 23andMe have proliferated over the past decade, feeding people’s hunger to know who and where they come from, and what diseases their genes might predispose them to. Over that time, it has gradually become clear that the main source of revenue for at least some of these companies comes from selling the data on to third parties... The trouble is, a health tech company is not a doctor. It doesn’t take the Hippocratic oath, and the patient – or customer – is not the person whose wellbeing it is most concerned about.”

3. Robert Peston in The Spectator

on the new chancellor

No wonder Rishi Sunak is thriving under Boris Johnson“I misspent much of the past 20 years trying to understand and report on the excesses of the City of London that led to the banking crisis and everything that followed. There were two hedge fund managers who made a bundle out of the rise and fall: Chris Hohn and Patrick Degorce. I mention them because the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, worked with and for both of them. The reason this matters is that Hohn and Degorce were so focused, relentless and masters of detail that they make Dominic Cummings seem like a soft dilettante. It is little wonder therefore that Sunak is thriving in what feels to me like the hedge-fund culture that has taken hold at the centre of government since Boris Johnson and Cummings took over.”

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4. Stephen Bush in the New Statesman

on the future of the Beeb

Is Downing Street preparing for all-out war with the BBC?“As far as the BBC is concerned, the government is at its most dangerous when the political argument around the BBC is about what the BBC does – rather than how it is funded. And that’s Johnson’s biggest problem as far as the BBC goes: he wants to use the argument over the licence fee to change the BBC. But not everyone who agrees with him on the licence fee, even on the Conservative benches, will sign up to a broad programme of reform to its output. Changing the BBC might yet prove more difficult than changing the country.”

5. Nick Timothy in The Telegraph

on Huawei

How can the governing classes be so naive about the threats we face?“It can sometimes feel baffling that Britain can be so wide-eyed when it deals with companies like Huawei. We are, after all, talking about a company under the control of a hostile state that routinely attacks British interests, conducts industrial espionage, and uses big data and artificial intelligence to spy on foreign nationals as well as its own citizens. Why is it that we are so quick to treat firms like Huawei as though they were benign companies from conventional market economies? Why do we treat China like it is a normal country, with a normal government that respects the rules of international trade and diplomacy?”

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