By William James
Prime Minister David Cameron has squandered Britain’s global influence by forging an inward-looking approach to international affairs that has left the world’s fifth-largest economy isolated, opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said on Friday.
Less than two weeks before a May 7 election, Miliband dragged Cameron’s foreign policy record to the heart of a campaign which has so far seen almost no debate of international affairs beyond references to immigration.
Citing Cameron’s absence from Franco-German talks on Ukraine with Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, the chaos in Libya and the Conservative promise of a vote on European Union membership, Miliband said the prime minister has torpedoed British clout.
“My case is that David Cameron has presided over the biggest loss of influence for our country in a generation,” Miliband told an audience in London.
“It is time to reject the small-minded isolationism that I believe has characterised this government, because I believe it is an approach that has shrunk our influenced and weakened Britain.”
In what opinion polls indicate is the closest British election in a generation, Miliband and Cameron are the only likely candidates to lead Britain’s next government.
Miliband used the biggest foreign policy speech of his campaign to accuse Cameron of putting short-term party politics ahead of the national interest, especially over Europe.
Cameron, he said, promised a referendum on European Union membership by the end of 2017 to appease Eurosceptics in his party and to counter the rise of the UK Independence Party, which has poached Conservative voters.
“This government’s approach to Europe means that even when Britain’s interests are shared by other member states, EU leaders are reluctant to support us in part because they think we already have one foot out the door,” he said.
“An incoming Labour government will be serious about leading once again in Europe and serious also about reforming Europe.”
SHADOW OF IRAQ
Miliband’s critique of Cameron included reference to the deaths in the Mediterranean of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa as the direct result of a failure of Cameron’s post-conflict planning for Libya.
Those remarks angered Cameron who, speaking at a separate event, said they were “ill-judged”.
Casting Cameron as an isolationalist failure on the world stage, Miliband pledged “a hard-headed multilateralism” and says he has learned the lessons of the U.S.-led 2003 war in Iraq which was supported by Tony Blair, then Labour prime minister.
Miliband’s biggest foray into foreign policy to date was in 2013 when he angered British ministers and some US politicians by opposing military intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In a humiliating defeat for Cameron that strained the “special relationship” with the United States, Miliband scuppered British parliamentary support for military action, a factor in Barack Obama’s decision to drop his military plans.
Miliband’s speech made only two passing references to the United States, Britain’s closest military ally for more than a century and a country where Miliband once went to school while his father was lecturing at a US university.
Speaking afterwards, one of Miliband’s aides said that relations with United States would remain one of the pillars of British foreign policy.
Miliband, the Oxford-educated son of a Belgian Marxist intellectual of Polish origin, gave little sense of how Britain should respond to a haze of failed states and civil wars stretching from Afghanistan and the Middle East to the Sahel.
However, he said that, if elected, he would reconsider the role of military interventions in British foreign policy.
“Any intervention must be carried out with a clearly defined strategy, and this must include a comprehensive transition and post conflict strategy,” he said. “These are the vital lessons of our recent past and I will not forget them.”
Miliband, who describes himself as a Jewish Atheist, also called for major world powers to bolster the role of the United Nations in resolving conflicts in the Middle East, including between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“I’m a believer in a two-state solution, I believe time is running out for a two-state solution because of geography, because of settlements and frankly because of frustrations on both sides,” Miliband said, adding that Britain needed to show it was engaged and committed to restarting peace talks.
Miliband angered some Jewish voters in 2014 when he instructed his party to support a symbolic motion in the British parliament in favour of recognising Palestine as a state. He reiterated that on Friday, adding that Britain needed to reject any attempt to de-legitimise Israel or impose trade boycotts.