Has Britain become a completely useless country these days?
Yonden Lhatoo argues that it was wrong of Hong Kong to deny entry this week to a British activist in light of Britain’s diminishing relevance and influence in the international arena
During a heated BBC panel discussion this week on Brexit, an American commentator caused a stir by postulating that Britain was “weak and divided, and relying on old ideas of British greatness”.
A Belgian journalist on the panel ramped up the rhetoric by declaring that Britain was a “completely useless country”.
While that left some stiff upper lips quivering with anger, anyone who watched the cringeworthy fiasco that was Prime Minister Theresa May’s rallying call to her Conservative Party last week could be forgiven for jumping to such conclusions.
Worst. Speech. Ever: British PM Theresa May endures prankster and coughing fits before slogan literally falls apart
Critics had a field day ridiculing May, who came across as a leader long past her sell-by date, struggling to finish a stuttering, insipid speech that was interrupted by heckling, coughing fits and even letters of the slogan behind her falling off in a sad display of decrepitude.
We all know that the sun set on the British Empire a long time ago, but how relevant still, really, is Britain on the global stage?
Former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd once famously declared that his country’s military strength allowed it to punch above its weight. That was back in 1993 when Britain was far more relevant to the rest of the world than it is today. Now you have Boris Johnson, nuff said.
Just last year, General Richard Barrons, a former top British military commander, painted a sorry picture for his compatriots, warning that Britain would not be able to protect itself from a full-scale attack by the likes of Russia.
The fact is, Britain still tries to punch above its weight and project itself as a world leader when in reality it no longer has the military or economic clout to back up the assertion.
Britain is a legend in its own mind, and, to a great extent, the world lets it carry on dancing to its delusional beat of grandeur. Like allowing the country to keep its permanent seat in the UN Security Council, a privilege that is obviously based more on legacy than merit.
There used to be a time when Britain’s opinion mattered as much as that of the United States or Europe. The US, for all the jaw-dropping buffoonery with Donald Trump as president, remains the dominant superpower, and the European Union is still a combined force to be reckoned with. But Britain?
It’s worth keeping this in mind to understand why it was a mistake for Hong Kong – whether on its overzealous own or at Beijing’s behest – to deny entry to British activist Benedict Rogers.
Hardly anyone in this city had even heard of him until now. If he had been allowed in without a fuss, Rogers would have met the usual suspects among our colonially hung-up cohorts of self-styled “dissidents”, made the obligatory bleating sounds about not giving up the fight for democracy, and left with barely a ripple in his wake.
Instead, we’ve made a totally unnecessary mini-martyr of him now, and everyone’s asking if it will be former governor Chris Patten’s turn to be sent back when he visits Hong Kong next.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor did not rule it out, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen because it would be a counterproductive overreaction.
Patten likes to come here regularly to scoff egg tarts, bask in the swooning adulation of pan-democrats and nostalgic fans of colonial rule, and harrumph at the “decline” of democracy.
He’s a friendly, harmless chap, and certainly in no position to destabilise Hong Kong or bring about the downfall of the Chinese Communist Party.
My fellow columnist Alex Lo nailed it when he painted Patten as “the prom queen who keeps going back to every high school reunion because that time in her past was far more exciting than anything she has done since”.
I’d extend that metaphor to put Britain into perspective.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post