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Towards ‘Global Britain’ ? Theresa May and the UK’s Role in the World after Brexit

Thibaud Harrois
p. 51-73


This paper seeks to examine Theresa May’s government foreign and defence policy choices in the light of decisions made by previous governments, especially the Conservative-led coalition, and assesses the impact of the June 2016 Brexit referendum. By adopting a role theory perspective on these events, the paper identifies the various institutional actors and the constraints on their action. It shows that the ‘Global Britain’ narrative is meant to meet the British public’s great power expectations. However, this narrative is far from supported by evidence and post-Brexit foreign and defence policy confirms and intensifies Britain’s already-growing isolation on the international stage.

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Ce document sera publié en ligne en texte intégral en novembre 2018.


The UK on the international stage : losing influence
Is the UK still ready for military interventions ?
A new international role ?

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On 17 January 2017, Theresa May delivered a speech in which she was expected to provide details about the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. In that speech, the Prime Minister said :

A little over 6 months ago, the British people voted for change. They voted to shape a brighter future for our country. They voted to leave the European Union and embrace the world. […] That means more than negotiating our new relationship with the EU. It means taking the opportunity of this great moment of national change to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.

Following the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, Theresa May and prominent members of her government have claimed they wanted Britain to be a truly ‘Global Britain.’ Yet the phrase, which had been widely used by pro-Brexit campaigners and later by some of May’s ministers, like Boris Johnson, Liam Fox or David Davis, is specious and might only hide the...

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Thibaud Harrois, « Towards ‘Global Britain’ ? Theresa May and the UK’s Role in the World after Brexit », Observatoire de la société britannique, 21 | -1, 51-73.

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Thibaud Harrois, « Towards ‘Global Britain’ ? Theresa May and the UK’s Role in the World after Brexit », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 21 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2018, consulté le 21 septembre 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/osb.2119

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Thibaud Harrois

Maître de Conférences en Civilisation britannique à l'Université de Paris III

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