Valérie André, Aix Marseille Université, LERMA, OREMA, Aix-en-Provence, France
The results of the 2020 US presidential election sent the British media into a frenzy of anticipation over the state of the special relationship. The news that Boris Johnson was among the first world leaders to have received a phone call from the President-elect was received with a sigh of relief, even if it didn’t entirely assuage all fears. The level of anxiety had been running especially high as the British Prime Minister was deemed to have enjoyed an exceptionally close personal relationship with Donald Trump. Memories of Boris Johnson’s hobnobbing with the President at international conferences, of Donald Trump’s public support for Johnson’s bid for the leadership of the Conservative party in the summer of 2019 and for a tougher stance in the Brexit negotiations, as well as of all the swagger and bluster on either side of the Atlantic, were seen as millstones round the Prime Minister’s neck which would drag him – and the United Kingdom – down to the bottom of the queue. The similarities between the leaders’ personal and political lives, two insiders running as outsiders, mavericks who had risen to the top of their own parties through pandering to the tastes of the rank and file and of an unusual electoral base, the echoing political slogans “America First” and “Take Back Control”, the readiness to resort to ‘alternative facts’, all could conspire to wrongfoot the British Prime Minister. If the tide had turned with Joe Biden’s victory it was feared that Boris Johnson would be left on the wrong side of history, in the company of those ‘strong leaders’ Donald Trump had taken a liking to.
Jessica Stark, Aix-Marseille Université, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France
The cable is one of the most common, routine forms of internal communication for diplomats, and yet its classified status has made academic study of the genre difficult. In this blog post, I provide a brief overview of the cable’s linguistic characteristics and comment on how it contributes to foreign policy-making by comparing two sets of leaked diplomatic cables. The first set was selected from the whistleblowing platform Wikileaks, which has published to date over 250,000 U.S. State Department cables written between 2003 and 2010[i]. I also rely on a more recent set of 23 diplomatic cables produced by the European Union’s diplomatic service – the European External Action Service (EEAS) – between October 2015 and July 2018[ii]. In a December 2018 press article, journalists David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger claimed that thousands of EU cables are believed to have been hacked over the years by Chinese intelligence agencies. Area 1, a firm founded by three former officials of the U.S. National Security Agency who discovered the breach, made more than 1,100 of the hacked cables available to the New York Times[iii].
The cable is an integral part of the institutional, organisational routines of diplomacy and timely, impactful reporting is particularly prized within the diplomatic community. Diplomats aim to be as exhaustive as possible in relaying information from the field back to their home foreign ministries, and regularly draft cables after meetings and events, or to comment on important foreign policy developments or trends in their host country. Additionally, cables are an embassy’s shopfront in terms of analytical policy input: they provide recommendations and advice for policy-makers back home. The cable therefore appears to combine both an informative and an analytical function, as a “mix of intelligence collection, analysis, and policy advocacy” (Palmer 2016: 217-18).
Thank you for the opportunity to come to this beautiful part of the world to talk about a less beautiful subject, Brexit. The UK is deep in its own peculiar political agony just now, unable to go forwards, unable to go backwards. The political class has given up on trying to resolve this themselves and have called on the electorate to help them out. The UK faces another general election, perhaps the most important in the post-war era and one of the most uncertain. With politics across the UK fractured, calling the result in our first past the post constituency system is difficult. Voter sentiment is volatile. The pattern of politics in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is now distinctive and different from England. In England, many constituencies up and down the country are now more open contests than they have been for decades. Relatively modest swings in voter sentiment could have a very big impact on the eventual outcome. I’ll come back at the end to what paths might open up after the votes in this election have been counted. But I want to use this lecture to look a bit deeper and longer term, to ask what Brexit says about identity in the United Kingdom and what Brexit portends for the future of the UK as a Union state. These are big issues, erupting from time to time in the political discourse, but rarely the subject of structured political debate. We risk in the UK re-making our country without really understanding what we are doing or why. I’ll start by reviewing briefly the UK’s relationship with the EU, to seek to discern the factors that led to the rise of Euroscepticism and the eventual promise of an in-out referendum by David Cameron. I’ll look at the referendum campaign and explore how the argument for leave resonated with wider discontents to ask what this says about deeper divisions within the UK. I’ll look at the different outcomes of the referendum in the different parts of the UK and seek to understand how those outcomes relate to underlying questions of identity in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. I’ll assess what this means for the cohesion of the Union of the United Kingdom before concluding with a brief survey of the forthcoming election and what different outcomes might mean. First, the UK and the EU.
Alice Byrne, Aix Marseille Université, LERMA, OREMA, Aix-en-Provence, France
In recent weeks, universities across Europe have been welcoming students coming to study for a year or just a semester as part of the Erasmus programme. Given the continued uncertainty over Brexit, it is possible that these students will be the last ones to benefit from the UK’s membership of the programme. The UK was one of the eleven founding members when the scheme launched in 1987 and remains in the top five in terms of overall student numbers (incoming and outgoing).[i] Yet the UK’s participation is characterised by the fact that it receives twice as many students as it sends. In 2016-2017, only 9,615 UK students travelled to a partner university through Erasmus compared to 29,851 French students. Although the overall number of outgoing UK students has increased since 2009 this is largely due the growing number of trainees benefitting from the programme; the number of students going to study in an EU university has remained relatively constant. The problem is not new: a 2006 study confirmed that UK students’ mobility to Europe was decreasing while mobility to other English-speaking regions of the world was on the increase.[ii] Unsurprisingly, lack of foreign language skills was a major factor and the continued decline of modern language studies in the UK can be expected to have exacerbated this trend. Yet if we look back to the interwar period and the origins of British involvement in student exchange programmes, it becomes apparent that this imbalance is not a new phenomenon. Focusing on this period also illustrates how and why the British government first began to concern itself with this issue.