Foreign policy received little play in the run-up to the Brexit vote. The final televised pre-referendum debate between three leading representatives from the Remain and Leave campaigns was supposed to discuss “Britain’s place in the world” as one of three main topics. Yet this was barely touched upon. There was no substantive discussion on the EU as a potential force for influence and power projection, whether in the face of the challenge from Russia, the tragedy of Syria, the arrival of China as a key strategic actor, or even the importance of pan-European cooperation on issues of cybersecurity and counter-terrorism. When foreign policy did manage to creep into the debate, it was mostly to discuss the fantastical – the establishment of a European Army or a forthcoming Turkish accession to the EU.
But given that the issues surrounding the constitutional, political, and economic makeup of the United Kingdom will likely take several years to play out, the one area where Britain will be able to “keep calm and carry on” in the short- to medium-term will be on issues of foreign and security policy.
While some Leave campaign supporters might see the world otherwise, the intellectual architects of Brexit who are likely to dominate in the next government, are open, outward-looking, liberal free-traders, who will seek a common cause with their European and transatlantic partners in the protection of a stable, liberal, international world order. Indeed, in his first article published following the Brexit decision, Boris Johnson, the leading face of the Leave campaign who then withdrew his bid to become the next prime minister, reminded readers, “I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe and always will be.”