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Why Boris's Slap-down Reveals A New British Feebleness

14/12/2016 14:24

The real problem with Boris Johnson's controversial comments last week about Saudi puppeteering, was that of revelation. Not of the truth - most would agree that proxy wars are indeed being fought. Not even of the widening gap between himself and the Prime Minister. But of what Brexit really looks like for Britain as a moral force on the global stage.

The government doesn't want to ruffle Saudi Arabian feathers. Understandably. After we dump our agreements with Europe, we'll need their trade. And there is something to be said in more general terms about practical politics. It is unfeasible to cut all ties with every country whose military activities we disagree with. Or whose stance on homosexuality we find repugnant. Or whose treatment of women is worrying. Or who attacks their own citizens with chemical weapons. And it doesn't serve us well to bring up these trifling indiscretions when there are real matters of money to protect. Right?

In some cases, actually, it is right. Sometimes, particularly in regard to security, we have to work with those with whom we disagree.

But what we see here is the start of a new feebleness. Having wilfully cast aside Europe, that group of nations with whom we have shared so much of our cultural history, and with whom, for the most part, we share core values, we are looking to foster relationships with those further removed from us. In many ways this is exciting and enlivening. It is outward looking. It means diversity and an exchange of ideas, as well as products and money. But it also means that the clash of cultures, of values, will be felt more directly, because we will have to rely more on those less like us.

This is where things grow worrying. As a single entity, without that like-minded group to fall back on, we are more vulnerable, more inclined to turn a blind eye to the things we wish we didn't see.

But we, the public, do see them. And in seeing, how long can we watch our leaders smile at, and shake hands with, and sell weapons to leaders of countries we know will use them on innocents? How long can we pose for the cameras in places where women's basic human rights are trampled upon, where political dissidents are captured, where corporal punishment sees citizens lashed and amputated, where religious and press freedom is non-existent? Perhaps Boris wonders this too. But the government response to his truth-telling suggests that the answer is, indefinitely.

Yet almost in the same breath, we have this year seen Theresa May stepping into the world of football to insist that England's players be able to wear a poppy. An inoffensive symbol of remembrance for some, but a political statement for others. Sport is not the place for this. Time and again we have seen athletes being called upon to boycott a sporting event, or make some kind of political statement. We ask them to sacrifice their careers so that we can feel we are making a stand. This is the world backwards. Culture and sport are two of the best mediums we have in which we can build relationships, share ideas, and encourage empathy between individuals, as people, without the need to represent a government or explain policy. It is for this reason, amongst others, that sport should remain neutral, pure.

But our politicians shouldn't. They are our representatives. They should call question to injustices. They are our moral voice in the world. Sadly, what the response to Boris's comments reveal, is that our voice will continue to be hushed when it is deemed unhelpful. Our politicians will continue to close their eyes. And all of this will happen more and more, as the weight of our morality on the global stage, is lessened by the misguided divorce between ourselves and those who would support us.

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