UK diplomat warns of Brexit's lasting harm

The outgoing British High Commissioner to Singapore, Mr Scott Wightman, has warned of the "lasting damage" to Britain's reputation caused by the political disarray surrounding its exit from the European Union, which he said had left Singapore's leaders mystified.

His comments on Britain's handling of Brexit were made in a leaked diplomatic cable seen by the news website Politico, which published them on Tuesday.

Mr Wightman, who has helmed the High Commission in Singapore since 2015, said Britain's diplomatic missions were faced with the task of advancing the United Kingdom's interests in spite of the political mess that followed the 2016 referendum which saw Britons voting to leave the EU.

"Like posts across the network and departments in the UK, we're performing minor miracles for UK interests faced with the utter political shambles of Brexit," Politico quoted him as saying. Singaporean ministers, he said, were "mystified as to how our political leaders allowed things to get to this pass".

Mr Wightman also said that the Singapore-UK Partnership for the Future, an initiative launched to improve ties by Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt during his January visit, was being used in the "classic manner of the illusionist".

While both countries would continue working together constructively no matter the Brexit outcome, he said, Britain could not deny "the lasting damage that has been done to the UK in the eyes of Singaporeans and doubtless many others around the world".

He also compared the impact of Brexit on Britain's reputation to the battle known as the Fall of Singapore in 1942, which he said showed the "complacency and arrogance of colonial leadership".

 
 

"The last three years have done the same for Singaporeans' view of contemporary Britain. The nation they admired for stability, common sense, tolerance and realism grounded in fact, they see beset by division, obsessed with ideology, careless of the truth, its leaders apparently determined to keep on digging," he was quoted saying.

He said he feared this view of Britain would be shared by many around the world. Major investors, he noted, were looking to direct more of their investments in Europe towards Germany and France.

Mr Wightman was previously the UK ambassador in South Korea; he had also worked in the British embassies in Beijing, Paris and Rome. Ms Kara Owen will replace him when he leaves his Singapore post next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2019, with the headline 'UK diplomat warns of Brexit's lasting harm'. Print Edition | Subscribe