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UK’s ‘self-lacerating classes’ should be more confident: Australian diplomat

Australian High Commissioner George Brandis (right), speaking to Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Mr Brandis is approaching the end of his tenure as High Commissioner. (Department of Health and Social Care via PA)
Australian High Commissioner George Brandis (right), speaking to Health Secretary Sajid Javid. Mr Brandis is approaching the end of his tenure as High Commissioner. (Department of Health and Social Care via PA)

Britain should be more confident and stop “self-lacerating”, the outgoing Australian High Commissioner has said.

George Brandis, who has been Australia’s representative in London since 2018, said the UK was much more highly respected around the world than many in Britain realised.

He told an event hosted by the British Foreign Policy Group think tank on Tuesday: “Britain has a lot of moral authority in far away places.

“One thing that rather bothers me is that there are some in the commentariat, possibly some even in the Foreign Office, who are almost guilty about Britain’s imperial past and therefore think notions like the Commonwealth should be uttered sotto voce.

“Could I tell you that among the small island states of the south-west Pacific, Britain is loved, the Queen is loved, all of the majesty of the British state is admired in those small nations which are now a very critical part of the world because they’re an object of Chinese ambition.

“Britain should not underestimate its soft power in a lot of the small Commonwealth nations as the nation whose head of state is the head of the Commonwealth, and nowhere is that more so than in the south-west Pacific.”

He added: “I just wish that the self-lacerating classes in Britain would realise that the world respects their own country a lot more than a lot of them do.”

Boris Johnson meets Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the garden of 10 Downing Street (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Brandis’ term as High Commissioner has covered the negotiation of a free trade agreement with Australia and the announcement of the AUKUS pact on military cooperation.

But he claimed a UK cabinet member had told him the most important thing Australia had done for Britain during that time was “to alert us to the real nature of China”.

Mr Brandis urged the UK to be less worried about trade in its dealings with China, pointing out that it remained Australia’s largest trading partner despite Canberra’s tougher stance towards Beijing.

He said: “There is a large element of the Whitehall establishment that is still hesitant about being too front-footed in relation to China because of concerns about trade.

“I understand that, but I remind those people that even though Australia has been more forward than the United Kingdom has been in defending liberal democratic values and in doing so attracted a lot of criticism from China, China remains our largest trading partner by far.

“I don’t think that’s fully appreciated by important elements of your foreign policy establishment and foreign policy makers that it’s possible to stand up for yourself as a liberal democracy and stand up for other liberal democracies, stand up for the rule of international law in places like the South China Sea and still have a lucrative trading relationship with China.”

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