Arrival of David Cameron to Britain’s foreign policy forefront

Friday, 24 November 2023 00:00 –      – 50

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The appointment of former British Prime Minister David Cameron as the UK’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs was an interesting development that took place last week. Cameron resigned from his parliamentary seat subsequent to the Brexit referendum in 2016, and no one would have expected him to make a comeback.

Last month, the former UK Premier was lobbying foreign investors to the Port City of Colombo (PCC) at roadshows held in the UAE. During the events, he expressed the belief that the PCC would become a major economic hub in the region similar to Dubai International Financial Centre. Cameron’s enthusiastic support of the China-funded Port City has already ruffled feathers of political circles in Westminster. The Guardian – a prominent British newspaper – had reported the new UK Foreign Secretary’s promotion of China-backed development in Sri Lanka had raised concerns that he could be a pawn for Beijing.

During Cameron’s premiership, Westminster maintained warm and cordial relations with Beijing. He is considered as the architect of the golden era of relations between the UK and China. Erstwhile British Finance Minister George Osborne in 2015 claimed Britain could be China’s best partner in the West. However, since Cameron left office, his successors have adopted a more cynical approach towards China. Signalling a departure from Cameron’s pro-China foreign policy stance, UK Prime Minister Sunak last year remarked the so-called golden era of relations with China was over while warning Beijing’s move towards even greater authoritarianism posed a systemic challenge to Britain’s values and interests. How would Cameron lead Britain’s foreign policy as Westminster’s chief diplomat in such a backdrop given his close ties with Beijing?

Cameron has a rather riveting association with the South Asian Island. Exactly, a decade ago, his muddled presence at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo, which was organised with pomp and pageantry by the Rajapaksa administration, caused a storm of controversy. He attended the summit amidst calls to boycott by human rights advocates worldwide and other prominent leaders like the then Indian Premier Dr. Manmohan Singh skipping the grand event due to pressure from Tamil Nadu.

At a press conference during the summit, Cameron stated that he was going to push for an international inquiry into the allegations of war crimes during the final stages of the Island’s armed conflict if Sri Lanka did not undertake its own investigation. This drew an angry response from the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Cameron was accused of playing politics to lure the votes of British Tamils by Rajapaksa sympathisers.

Although Cameron was regarded as a clever and skilful politician, his legacy was dented by the reckless decision to conduct a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. He campaigned for Britain to remain but as people voted in favour of Brexit, Cameron resigned from premiership. Since Brexit, Westminster has experienced a period of constant political upheaval, resulting in four prime ministers abruptly ending their tenures. Even now, Britain is finding it difficult to cope with the consequences of leaving the EU, and the outcome has resulted in increased costs on UK businesses apart from affecting trade, investments as well as economic growth.

Both Cameron and President Wickremesinghe know each other closely for more than a decade. The new UK Foreign Minister is also a close friend of the President’s long-time advisor Nirj Deva Aditya, and the pair played a prominent role last month to scout investors for Colombo Port City. Cameron was full of praise for Wickremesinghe last month when he was campaigning for Port City and was quoted to have told that Port City had the potential to emulate Dubai with the right reforms taking place under the leadership of Wickremesinghe. How would relations between Britain and its former colony evolve in the light of these developments? Only time will tell.