Goodbye Britannia: The UK Challenged by Brexit

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Ambassador Sylvie Bermann, RUSI Trustee and former French Ambassador to the UK, will discuss her latest book, ‘Goodbye Britannia’, with Sir John Scarlett KCMG OBE, RUSI Vice-Chair and former Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

The outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum sparked astonishment around the world and in the UK, widely regarded as the epitome of globalisation. Even though Britain is an island nation, very different from the mainland member states of the European Union, and intuitively Eurosceptic, this poll marked the start of a populist era where expertise and facts were cast aside in favour of negative passions. The dominant themes have included a hatred of elites, rejection of immigration and a deep identity reflex based on nostalgia for a fantasised golden age.

This was indicative of a shift in world opinion, which found its response a few months later in the United States with the election of President Donald Trump. It continued in Italy with the rise of the Five Star Movement and the League party, in Germany with the arrival of 89 far-right AfD deputies in the Bundestag and in France with the yellow vest movement.

Meanwhile, China continued its policy of geo-economic power, and the United States initiated a new all-out Cold War. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted and accentuated this phenomenon and the world is now defined in relation to the rivalry between these two giants, which is likely to be the determining factor for the coming decades. In this context, the United Kingdom, despite the proclamation of a ‘global Britain’, has chosen a lonely path, caught between Beijing and Washington, which will limit its choices instead of increasing them.

In this wide-ranging discussion, Ambassador Bermann and Sir John Scarlett will discuss the implications of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, the rise of populism and the future of the bilateral relationship between the UK and France post-Brexit.

Ambassador Sylvie Bermann is a former French Ambassador, most recently holding posts in Russia (2017-2019) and the United Kingdom (2014-2017). She was Ambassador to China (2011-2014) and the first woman to hold the post of French Ambassador to a country which is a permanent member of the Security Council. Since joining the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1979, other key positions have included Ambassador to the Western European Union and to the European Union’s Political and Security Committee in Brussels, and Head of the French Foreign Ministry’s directorate for the UN and international organisations, human rights and Francophony. Ambassador Bermann is also an officer of the National Order of Merit and an officer of the National Order of the Légion d'Honneur. She was elevated to the dignity of Ambassadrice de France in 2019. She is currently Chair of the board of trustees of IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale), Paris, since January 2020. Her latest book, ‘Goodbye Britannia: Le Royaume-Uni au défi du Brexit’ is due to be published on 20 January 2021.

Sir John Scarlett KCMG OBE served as Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) from 2004 to 2009. Sir John joined SIS in 1971 and over the next 20 years served in Nairobi, Paris and twice in Moscow as well as several assignments in London. He was appointed Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in September 2001. On 1 August 2004, Sir John rejoined SIS as its Chief. Sir John’s current roles include Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley; Member of Swiss Re Strategic Council; Chairman, SC Strategy Ltd; Director, Times Newspaper Holdings; Vice-Chair, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Co-Chair of the Global Advisory Council, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC. Sir John is a member of the State Honours Committee; Vice President of the UK Association de la Legion d’Honneur and a Trustee of the Friends of the French Institute in the United Kingdom. 

This event is open to all RUSI members.


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