Once everyone was past the shock of David Cameron’s surprise return to No10, questions quickly began arising about what a foreign secretariat could look like under the former prime minister. What could his foreign policy approach be? And will the ghosts of Brexit past follow him everywhere he goes?
Despite being the man behind the referendum that led to one of the most monumental trade decisions in modern history, Cameron was always a vocal Remainer. His appointment might pan out favourably for European nations that are keen to rebuild the relationships they had with Britain and minimise trade disruption as much as possible.
It is certainly an approach that Keir Starmer has promised to take with his pledge to reach a deal with Brussels to reduce border checks, and one which raises the question of whether or not Cameron could vouch for less strict requirements on both sides of the Channel.
The reality is that it is unlikely he will interfere much with Brexit legislation at this point. Firstly, because it might turn out too radioactive an issue for him to come close to. Secondly, because the crux of the Brexit matter has largely been addressed – border checks on EU goods will roll out in January and the knotty Northern Ireland protocol issue has been resolved with the implementation of the Windsor Framework last month.
Cameron’s foreign policy track record
Also, most of Britain’s current trade efforts are the remit of Kemi Badenoch’s recently revamped Business and Trade department. She will continue to lead conversations with trans-Pacific countries as part of the CPTTP free trade agreement, and will likely want to land the much-anticipated India trade deal that could significantly benefit British food and drink producers, according to FDF predictions.
It is also worth noting that whilst Cameron was a staunch Remainer back in 2016, he now joins a government dominated by Leave backers – as Badenoch made sure to remind everyone a couple of days ago when asked about the new foreign secretary appointment: “We’re all Brexiteers now.”
“The UK has left the European Union. I think the return of David Cameron is something you should be looking at in the context of just wider foreign policy,” she told Reuters.
Indeed, his foreign policy track record is now under intense scrutiny. As many will remember Cameron pushed for a ‘golden era’ of closer dynamics between the UK and China, a strategy which has not been pursued. In fact, China and Western countries have been amid what trade experts call a ‘conscious uncoupling’ process in recent years. Whether he will want to salvage that relationship for the sake of better trade relationships and greater access to global supply chains, or whether he will keep distance between London and Beijing, is to be seen.
Government’s trade deals dubbed ‘terrible’
His past calls towards conflicts in Libya and Syria have also been blamed for an escalation of violence and poverty in northern Africa and the Middle East, so his return to cabinet amid one of the most volatile periods in the region will also be interesting to follow. The general public, businesses and other global leaders will hope Cameron’s efforts will focus on keeping a lid on any violence spillage so as to keep global energy markets in check.
On the other hand, his baggage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cameron carries weight in the international space and has rapport with many world leaders, and on practical terms that means closer access to other nations’ higher ranks. We might see certain countries roll out the red carpet for him in ways they didn’t for Cleverly or Truss.
Whether that means he will be able to leverage his political power to Britain’s benefit remains to be seen. The government has already caught a lot of backlash for landing what many have dubbed terrible trade deals – including Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Just on Wednesday, Labour shadow secretary Jonathan Reynolds slammed the Tory party for striking too many weak trade deals at once to “prove a point” after the UK left the EU. He pledged for closer trade relationships with the EU and a greater focus on fewer, but better, trade agreements, as he unveiled the party’s new trade policy.
But next year will also be somewhat dormant in trade terms as there are several elections taking place around the world, including in the US and India, so Cameron might not be able to make a huge impression on that front.
The only thing we know for sure is that, whatever Cameron’s past curriculum, the key goal now will be for him and Badenoch to put on a united front to make sure Britain’s role on the international stage remains strong and steady ahead of the UK’s own general election, if they are to stand a chance.