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Britain’s show of naval and air power is a relic from the shameful days of Empire… and a pitiful excuse to beg for trade deals

Chris Sweeney
Chris Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

Britain’s show of naval and air power is a relic from the shameful days of Empire… and a pitiful excuse to beg for trade deals
The British government’s plan to send a Royal Navy flotilla on a six-month world tour is a desperate idea from a country that is constantly referencing the past rather than planning for the future, and in real need of investment.

A nation that refuses to move with the times ends up living in a bygone era trading on past ‘glories’ and becomes an international embarrassment. That, right now, is Great Britain.

The government has announced the “UK Carrier Strike Group’s globe-spanning maiden deployment” – a flotilla led by the £3 billion aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth that will spend over six months at sea, covering 26,000 nautical miles and visiting 40 countries.

The First Sea Lord – a position you may be surprised to learn actually exists in 2021 – confirmed the route would take in the Indian Ocean before carrying onto the Indo-Pacific.

Included in the travelling party are a Royal Navy Astute-class submarine, Type 45 destroyers, Type 23 anti-submarine frigates and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring.

On HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deck will be F-35B Lightning II jets, plus three types of helicopters: Wildcat maritime attack, Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine and Merlin Mk4 commando.

And crewing all of this will be thousands of sailors, aviators and mariners in what has been billed “the biggest-ever concentration of air and naval power to leave the UK”. 

This big question is why. Initially, it might seem unclear, although the aforementioned First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin provided a clue. He described it as “the embodiment of Global Britain supporting the nation’s prosperity agenda and using the aircraft carriers as convening power for trade and for our friends and allies.”

There’s your answer. Trade. This amazing new ship, the most powerful surface vessel operated by Britain, is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s golden begging bowl. The plan is to sail around, hoping our Union Jack-flying flotilla will make foreign nations go weak at the knees. That leaders and business people alike will be giddy at the sight of Mighty Britannia commanding the high seas, and commit to lucrative trade deals.

It would be amusing, if it weren’t reality. BoJo’s government really does believe it can impress the world by arriving with a collection of warships in any port that will have them.

It’s a shameless attempt to win business, and underlines the disregard his administration has for other nations. It seems to have been fuelled by the old concept of bringing enlightenment to ‘the natives’ and wowing them with fancy machinery, akin to Kurtz navigating the Congo River in the classic novella Heart of Darkness

Not only is it incredibly patronising, but the era of a commanding empire is over, and that’s a good thing. The idea of the British as a superpower is long gone. Very few regard the UK as a dominant global voice any longer, and even fewer regard Boris Johnson as a credible international statesman. The UK is a country with many admirable traits, but the days of Britannia “ruling the waves” are over. And that’s not a negative either, as the world is thankfully no longer dominated by white Europeans.

However, Britain’s government still thinks otherwise, with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace claiming the UK Carrier Strike Group “will demonstrate to the world that the UK is not stepping back, but sailing forth to play an active role in shaping the international system of the 21st century.

What exactly are we shaping by sailing around the world for no practical reason? Is China going to spin on its political axis because HMS Queen Elizabeth floats by? Will India stop discriminating against Muslims or engage differently with the world when it sees British war vessels? Does Japan care if the strike group arrives? Yes, we can maybe expect one or two countries in the Middle East to sign a trade deal when the circus rolls into their ports – but that’ll be to ensure no one pushes them too much on their rampant human rights abuses.

A related aside is the furore whenever Russian ships are spotted near British waters. This is almost always reported sensationally, as if there were an imminent danger of invasion. 

But the irony is that no member of the public bats an eyelid, as they know it’s media hype and government hyperbole. And that is what is awaiting Britain’s Carrier Strike Group in the 40 states it arrives in. Apart from the mandatory attendance of designated officials, no one will care.

The part that really stings is that a record 2.5 million food parcels have been distributed in Britain over the past year. Quite simply, people are hungry and don’t have enough money.

So, while our naval officers are polishing their brass buttons to dazzle in the sunshine as they tour the world, back home, more people than ever are struggling to afford a square meal. How is that appropriate or acceptable?

Also worth considering are the emissions and environmental damage caused by such a long voyage, particularly when Johnson is hosting the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November, which is supposed to thrash out a plan to save the planet.

The truth is Britain is all fur coat and no knickers. There is an obsession with projecting a sovereign, dominant image that is false and exists only in a bygone era.

This odyssey is about trying to make money, because the Great British coffers are bare. But why aren’t we leading with our best foot forward in an effort to entice the world to engage? Why aren’t we sending a delegation of progressive, diverse and intelligent people to ‘sell’ the country, show off our technology and explain why Britain can thrive as a modern state? Doing it with a brash, jingoistic naval brigade is crass and will only end in embarrassment. The problem is that Boris and his pals are so wedded to the past, they simply can’t see this.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.