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World Owes BRITAIN a DEPT for the ACHIEVEMENTS of EMPIRE Says Daniel Hannan

It shouldn't be controversial, Britain, after all, created modernity, but Lord Hannan has upset the WOKERATI by daring to say the unthinkable.

Hannan writes:

The woke war on the Foreign Office forgets Britain is still a force for good. If anything, the world owes US a debt for the achievements of Empire.

Tourist on Whitehall: ‘Which side is the Foreign Office on?’

Policeman: ‘That’s a very good question, Sir.’

It’s an old joke, but a telling one. Our diplomats are not always on the same side as the rest of us when it comes to the national interest. Some senior retired mandarins, including the former Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, have just produced a report, ‘The World in 2040’, which is aimed more or less explicitly at an incoming Labour government.

It sets out their vision of how Britain should conduct itself as a ‘medium-sized off-shore nation’. In essence, they think we should be humbler, readier to pool our sovereignty and less hung up on our past. They want Britain to be more engaged on climate change, and ‘to share rights in multinational institutions with emerging powers’. Perhaps most strikingly, they propose renaming the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office and abandoning its headquarters, the handsome Victorian palace on King Charles Street designed by George Gilbert Scott.

David Cameron shows Ukraine First Lady Olena Zelenska the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office on King Charles Street, designed by George Gilbert Scott

‘Modernising premises – perhaps with fewer colonial-era pictures on the walls – might help create a more open working culture and send a clear signal about Britain’s future?’

It is not clear whether that ungrammatical question mark is an attempt to ape the rising intonation of young people or whether the authors know, on some level, that what they are asking for is risible.

For one of this country’s greatest assets, embodied in that building’s grand staircases and marbled meeting halls, is its story. Few nations have done more, down the years, to promote human rights and the rule of law.

When we talk of countries becoming more developed, we mean (though we are too polite to put it this way) that they are becoming more like us. In other words, that they are acquiring free parliaments, independent courts, uncensored media and secure property rights.

The report’s authors write that ‘former colonies are making increasingly vocal demands about the need for reparations from colonialism’.

The interior of Durbar Court at the Foreign and Commonwealth building in London

Well, perhaps so. But where do you suppose they got that idea? In no small measure, from British universities and British cultural representatives. Our self-flagellating wokery has been picked up overseas, with the striking result that there is far more resentment about British colonialism now than there was at the time, or during its immediate aftermath.

Although you would not think so today, most of Britain’s colonies were brought to independence without a shot being fired in anger – something no other empire has managed. Yes, there were tragic exceptions, notably Cyprus, Kenya and India.

But, even in India, when the colonial flag was lowered for the last time in 1947, assembled representatives of the new government sang Auld Lang Syne with tears in their eyes.

In recent years, a cartoonish version of history has been promulgated in this country, and exported around the world, in which Britain is cast as the villainous Alan Rickman of the global drama. As a result, many people in former colonies fulminate against an imagined version of British colonialism in a way that their grandparents, experiencing the real-life version, never did.

I don’t enjoy having to write these things. I have always been sceptical of the British Empire on liberal grounds. But the idea that Britain owes a debt to the places it modernised would have astonished Victorian officials, who saw colonies as an administrative headache, but who felt under pressure from missionaries, abolitionists and assorted humanitarians to assume responsibility for new tracts of land.

If the British Empire was an attempt at financial exploitation, it was a spectacularly inefficient one, for taxes in Britain were always higher than in her colonies. If anything, Britain is owed a debt. Our species benefited hugely from the industrial revolution, the abolition of the slave trade and the defeat of Nazism.

We talk of ‘universal’ human rights but, in truth, they became universal because Britain and allied English-speaking democracies were prepared to defend them with arms.

Imagine that World War II or the Cold War had ended differently. There’d be nothing universal about human rights then.

Even now, there is a huge gap between how our Foreign Office officials think of Britain and how their counterparts abroad do. Daniel Hannan says: In recent years, a cartoonish version of history has been promulgated in this country, and exported around the world, in which Britain is cast as the villainous Alan Rickman of the global drama.

In foreign capitals, people still cherish the idea of British representatives as wise, experienced and on the side of the ‘goodies’, in that they want a freer, more democratic and more prosperous world. They want well-informed diplomats in well-cut suits. They want ambassadors who know the world, its languages and cultures, and who can interpret British interests in local conditions.

They want to be able to have meaningful conversations about, say, the war in Ukraine or the horrors in Israel and Gaza, secure in the knowledge that our ultimate interest is in a just and peaceful world order. They want, in short, to deal with Britain as a mature democracy, one of the grown-ups in the room.

What they don’t want is a purple-haired ambassador with a nose-stud lecturing them about climate change and LGBQWERTY. If it were only this one report, we could dismiss it. But it represents a well-established trend in our foreign policy establishment.

We have for years been abandoning beautiful buildings, including the finest house in Kuala Lumpur, gifted to us at independence by a grateful Malaysian government. Most recently, we sold a chunk of our legation in Tokyo. At the same time, and more seriously, the Foreign Office seems to have moved away from meritocracy in its pursuit of identity politics, recruiting and promoting on grounds other than pure ability.

The sense that Britain used to be an unusually patriarchal and racist society, and that that legacy defines its relations with other states, is pure fantasy. Where on the planet, down the centuries, would you rather have been poor, or female, or from a religious minority? Seriously, where? Russia? Persia? The Benin Empire?

The truth is that the world order we currently enjoy, based on sovereign nations, representative government and a rejection of altering borders by force is a largely British, or at least Anglo-American, creation.

People in other countries who like these things want to hear us defending them full-throatedly. They know that those colonial portraits, which seem to make the authors of this report uncomfortable, depict men who saved the liberal order from Bonaparte, Hitler and Stalin.

They might even be aware, though we ourselves seem determined to forget it, that some of the portraits represent those who gave their lives to extirpating the slave trade – a policy on which Britain spent 1.8 per cent of GDP annually between 1808 and 1867, making it the most expensive moral foreign policy in human history.

If our past teaches us anything, it is that, when the chips are down, few other countries are so prepared to step up and do the right thing for humanity as a whole. That is the heritage that should inspire us today.

As Tennyson put it in a different context, ‘though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.’We might not have the influence we had a century ago. But we are still among the world’s five top military powers, a permanent seat-holder in the UN security Council and a nuclear state. We remain a force for good. Our friends on other continents have not forgotten. Neither should we.

Lord Hannan is International Secretary of the Conservative Party and serves on the Board of Trade.

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1 Comment

Great article apart from one sentence; " free parliaments, independent courts, uncensored media and secure property rights. ".

' Free Parliaments ', ask Andrew Bridgen. ' Independent courts ', the jury's out on that one.'Uncensored media ', where was he during the scamdemic? It's still being censored to hell and back, especially if you include the likes of Facefuck and Google! 'Secure propety rights ', tell that to the people who've lost their homes so that illegal immigrants can be housed in them. An elderly couple had their farm taken away for the same reasons. As I said, it's a great article/report by  Lord Hannan, but on those four subjects he's so far wrong as he could be!

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