Brexit passes first major test in Ukraine war, observers say

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s historic visit to war-torn Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday showed a growing foreign policy confidence on the world stage by one of the United States’ closest allies. Observers note that this new swagger comes in a post-Brexit Britain where its leadership in rallying the world behind Ukraine has stood out.

Brexit was the name given to a movement that inspired the electorate to vote to leave the European Union (EU) in a 2016 referendum. Voters were fed up with the endless bureaucratic demands placed on the country and felt that its rules had been chipping away at British sovereignty. And while the U.K. has always had control over its foreign policy, observers note there is a difference since leaving the EU.

Nile Gardiner, the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, told Fox News Digital that British foreign policy has been more focused in the post-Brexit era. “The fact that Great Britain is no longer shackled to the European Union means that the British government is able to operate far more effectively than it would have done as part of the supranational European Union.”

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Gardiner says an example of this new confidence could be witnessed in its role leading the world in supporting Ukraine. “The U.K., more than any country in the world, has been at the forefront of supporting the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian barbarism, and Boris Johnson deserves great credit for his leadership.” 

He said leadership “has been significantly stronger, more robust and visible, than that of Joe Biden, who is supposed to be the leader of the free world.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk during their walk in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk during their walk in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, April 9, 2022.
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Alan Mendoza, the executive director of the London-based Henry Jackson Society, told Fox News Digital that while Britain has always controlled its own foreign policy, Brexit has “encouraged a view that Britain needs to be much more of a leader when it comes to making global positions and of course, upholding the international order. We have always said we are in favor of doing, and from that perspective, this idea of global Britain (is) very much alive in the post-Brexit reality and that is significant.”

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For Gardiner, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, Brexit also has been forcing the EU bloc of countries to play catchup and do more to help Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion. “I think Brexit Britain is leading on the world stage, but also in Europe, and first of all, Britain’s EU competitors are now taking action following in the footsteps of Britain’s tremendous example. The reality is that the U.K., is way ahead of most of its European allies in supporting Ukraine and especially the big powers of Europe: France, Germany, Italy and Spain – (who) are way behind where Britain is in terms of support – and they’re trying to catch up.”  

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Last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited London to discuss efforts to help Ukraine. Following their meeting Johnson called on allies to go even further in providing more help to the eastern European country and announced Britain was sending another $130 million in defensive military equipment to Ukraine’s armed forces. British military aid to Ukraine has topped half a billion dollars which, if combined with humanitarian and economic aid, would equal a little over $1 billion.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament in Berlin on Dec. 15, 2021.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament in Berlin on Dec. 15, 2021.
(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Perhaps a good illustration of the growing influence on the world stage was on display at last week’s U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine. The British, who are holding this month’s rotating presidency of the council, invited Zelenskyy to speak at the meeting, where he questioned the U.N.’s role in maintaining international peace. This was his first appearance at the world body since his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last year.

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Yet with Britain taking a leading role in helping Ukraine both in military and humanitarian aid, observers of the Biden administration, like Heritage’s Nile Gardiner, said while the administration has not been particularly kind to the idea of Brexit, things are changing exactly because of the new free hand Brexit Britain has so far enjoyed on the world stage.

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He said that’s especially true when it came to the Biden White House, which he said had a “distinctly unhelpful anti-Brexit mindset.”

Gardiner noted the administration has had to eat its own words on Brexit: “It’s witnessing tremendous British leadership over Ukraine and even the most ardent anti-Brexiteers in the Biden White House are now starting to understand the benefits that Brexit is delivering for British leadership, and also for strengthening U.S. and U.K. leadership.”

President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk ahead of the G-7 summit on June 10, 2021, in Carbis Bay, England.

President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk ahead of the G-7 summit on June 10, 2021, in Carbis Bay, England.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

During last weekend’s walkabout with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Johnson was stopped by a Ukrainian man who thanked him on behalf of his children, and future generations of his family for Britain’s help, saying that it would never be forgotten. 

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Alan Mendoza noted that the trip was yet another example of the close relationship the two leaders enjoy, calling Johnson’s trip an important message of solidarity with Ukraine, and perhaps more importantly a signal to Vladimir Putin. “It sends an important message … that Britain is not for turning, to use that phrase, and that we intend to prosecute this as far as we can add in defense of Ukraine.” He concluded that “all in all, a very successful visit; an important visit and indeed an inspiring visit.”

Fox News reported Monday that there are still no plans in place for President Biden to visit Ukraine.

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