Theresa May accuses Boris Johnson of 'abandoning global moral leadership'

20 January 2021, 08:35 | Updated: 20 January 2021, 09:10

Theresa May said the UK was well placed to play a decisive role in shaping a more cooperative world
Theresa May said the UK was well placed to play a decisive role in shaping a more cooperative world. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Theresa May has accused Boris Johnson of abandoning Britain's position of "global moral leadership" in a fresh onslaught on the Prime Minister.

Mrs May warned Mr Johnson's threat to override legally-binding obligations in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement risked signalling a "retreat" from the UK's global commitments.

She also strongly criticised his decision to drop the commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on international aid.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson 'looking forward' to working closely with Joe Biden

The former prime minister said "to lead we must live up to our values", but added that such behaviour had damaged the UK’s credibility.

In an article in the Daily Mail marking Joe Biden’s inauguration, she said his arrival in the White House represented a "golden opportunity" for Britain, with the return of a more normal style of presidency.

EXPLAINED: How to watch Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day in the UK from start time to TV schedule

However, for the full potential of "Global Britain" to be realised in this new era there needed to be a change in international affairs and an end to the "absolutism" which says "if you are not 100% for me then you must be 100% against me".

"In this world there is no room for mature compromise. Indeed, compromise is seen as a dirty word. In fact, the opposite is true," she said.

"Strong leadership knows when to compromise to achieve a greater good. If the world is to work together to 'build back better' then we must all be willing to compromise.

"We must reject a scene in which a few strongmen face off against each other and instead bring people together in a common cause."

Mrs May suggested that while the UK was well placed to play a decisive role in shaping a more cooperative world, this has not been helped by Mr Johnson's actions.

She said: "Threatening to break international law by going back on a treaty we had just signed and abandoning our position of global moral leadership as the only major economy to meet both the 2% defence spending target and the 0.7% international aid target were not actions which, in my view, raised our credibility in the eyes of the world.

"Other countries listen to what we say not simply because of who we are, but because of what we do. The world does not owe us a prominent place on its stage.

"Whatever the rhetoric we deploy, it is our actions which count. So, we should do nothing which signals a retreat from our global commitments."

She also hit out at the way Donald Trump had "whipped up" his supporters to storm the Capitol after refusing to accept the election result.

Mrs May drew comparisons with the murder of Pc Keith Palmer in a terrorist attack outside the Houses of Parliament.

"What happened in Washington was not the act of a lone extremist or a secretive cell, but an assault by a partisan mob whipped up by an elected president," she said.

"I know from experience that leaving power is not easy - especially when you feel that there is more you want to do.

"But anyone who has the honour of serving in such a position must always remember that the office is bigger than the individual.

"The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of any democracy; it is what makes us special."