The Great Brexit Irony Within British Foreign Policy

Alicia Blount

It is the 23rd of June 2016. The nation holds its breath; then, one half lets out a hearty cheer, waving pickets with strong proclamations: “Take Back Control” and “We want OUR country back!”; the other half lets out a sigh; or a cry mixed with disbelief, shock, anger, fear, anxiety. An amalgam of emotions grips the United Kingdom on this day, as 52% of voters have sealed the fate of Britain’s future with the European Union by voting for Brexit, a firm stance against globalisation and a collectivised Europe.

For years, Nigel Farage, UKIP, and its far-right political voices lambasted the EU’s allegedly ‘excessive control’ over British [foreign] policy and affairs, citing the reclaiming of Great British sovereignty as a necessity that would only be facilitated through voting to Leave. In particular, a great focus was lent to scrutinising rates of immigration into the UK and a perceived lack of control over the borders, with 1/3rd of Leave voters citing this as their primary voting motivation in Lord Ashcroft’s 2020 poll.

Five Conservative Prime Ministers and four failed Brexit withdrawal agreements later, how has Britain fared in reclaiming its once ‘lost’ sovereignty and control over its borders?

To answer, we need only turn to the migration statistics since the effectuation of Brexit in 2020. In 2021, approximately 28,526 small boats crossed the channel, with this figure skyrocketing in 2022, peaking at approximately 46,000 people crossing the English Channel in boats. As of 15 November 2023, migration levels have fallen by 1/3rd in comparison to 2022, but still much greater than seen in previous years pre-COVID. The vast majority of those crossing the channel are asylum seekers whose applications have not yet been processed or whom the government wishes to redirect to another nation for processing.

Arguably, these levels could have risen as a consequence of Brexit given that, previously, with its membership status in the EU, the United Kingdom benefitted from the Dublin Regulation’s redirection of asylum seekers to newly democratised states, therefore indirectly placing pressure off key EU member states. Given that this system increasingly pushes boundaries of what is a ‘safe’ country in which to seek asylum, core member states can redirect the pressure of major refugee and asylum seeker levels onto new members in the East and South. Britain largely benefited from this systemic rejection of immigrants and outsourcing when removing itself from the EU, given that it then removed itself from this indirect protective barrier from large levels of asylum seekers. Without this extra level of redirection, Britain directly receives a greater number of migrants and asylum seekers in general, as there is no legal alternative pathway.

Therefore, facing pressure to respond to these levels and replace the effect of the EU’s filtration system – especially given the rising disapproval levels towards the government and Brexit voters’ remorse – the Tory party under Boris Johnson signed a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan government to bring to life the Rwanda Asylum Plan. Proposed in 2022 by then incumbent home secretary Priti Patel, this policy would see illegal immigrants or asylum seekers aiming to enter the UK relocated to Rwanda; a land-locked country in east-central Africa, 6,500km away from the UK; for processing and resettlement, with those successfully claiming asylum in Rwanda no longer being permitted to return to the UK.

Has this proposal been well-received or projected to be a successful endeavour? Not quite.

Certainly, however, one thing has been made remarkably clear: the Conservative government is desperately intent upon continuing to shirk blame for the failings of British foreign policy goals onto the European Union and European institutions, citing the European Court of Human Rights as contrarian to so-called ‘British Values’; despite the ECHR’s rejection of the policy being echoed in a recent judgement call by The Right Honourable Lord Reed of the UK Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation, who equally confirmed that the MoU was unlawful given that Rwanda was found not to be a safe third country to send asylum seekers.

This decision was met with much dissent from the Tory government, which has pushed consistently for constitutional reform post-Brexit to free the executive from accountability or oversight by the judicial, with Dominic Raab notably pushing to weaken the court’s powers through the Judicial Review and Courts Bill in 2022, which would seek to allow the government to ignore rulings that it disagrees with; abolishing the jurisdiction of the High Court to review decisions of (particularly, immigration) tribunals, and altering orders that judges can make against the state.

Hence, all these factors introduce the Great Brexit Irony, in which promises are made, not met, and consequently, goalposts continually get pushed to avert blame and public attention elsewhere. When once the British Government lacked true sovereignty or control over borders because of a despotic European Union, it then lacked true control because of the grips of the ECHR; then, when this narrative failed, it was because of the overzealousness of our domestic judiciary.  

In a post-Brexit Britain, the government, and even more broadly, the right wing, continues to cannibalise itself, making promises upon which it cannot follow through while blaming institutions that we are no longer a part of – institutions which once provided the UK with the protection that the Rwanda asylum plan aims to replicate but lack the institutional support to sustain.

Yet, while the British public has overwhelmingly changed their mind on this notorious, fateful referendum, the executive continues to obstinately dig in its heels: and will likely continue to do so, until they are voted out of power.


Ashcroft, Lord. 2016. “How the United Kingdom Voted on Thursday… And Why.” June 24, 2016.

BBC News. 2022. “Why Are Asylum Seekers Being Sent to Rwanda and How Many Could Go?” BBC News, June 15, 2022, sec. Explainers.

“Channel-Tracker | Migration Watch UK.” n.d.

“Dominic Raab’s Judicial Review Plans Are Another Power Grab.” n.d. Accessed December 3, 2023.

Goddard, James. 2023. Review of UK-Rwanda Asylum Agreement: Why Is It a Memorandum of Understanding and Not a Treaty? House of Lords Library. UK Parliament. January 26, 2023.

“UK Supreme Court Flexes Judicial Muscles with Rwanda Ruling.” n.d. Accessed December 3, 2023.

‌ Yeo, Colin. 2021. “It Is Time to Think about Rejoining the EU’s Dublin Asylum System.” Free Movement. November 29, 2021.

Geopolitics of the Mekong River — China’s “Hydro-Hegemony” 

Eleanor Pang

The Mekong River basin plays a critical role in the livelihood of millions who live along its fringes and depend on it as a source of food, mode of transport, and place of community.  

As the largest transboundary river in Asia, spanning six countries, the Mekong River basin has become a hotbed for conflict over its many uses. In recent years, the construction of multiple hydroelectric dams by Mekong-adjacent countries along the river has been a great source of international disputes, as the dams reduce river water levels, cause massive amounts of soil erosion, and decimate local fish populations. 

Most notably, the construction of China’s Xiaowan and Nuozhadu dams in the upper Mekong River, or as China terms it, the “Lancang” River, has been a key source of tension between China and its Southeast Asian neighbours. This is because many citizens of these countries have been adversely affected by the lowered water levels downstream. These dams are far from the only ones, with many more currently under construction as China seeks to find renewable energy alternatives to reduce its reliance on coal and bolster its rapid industrialisation efforts. This vast network of over 100 dams, draining water from the tributaries and main river in the upper Mekong region, is by no means an innocent instrument to procure a crucial resource. Rather, these dams, and many more to come, are insidiously linked to China’s larger “Go West” strategy predicated on the use of the development of hydropower to integrate neighbouring countries into its political and economic sphere of influence. 

China’s “Go West” strategy, otherwise known as their “Great Western Development Strategy”, conceives the Yunnan provinces as a “gateway” to trade with its Southeast and South Asian neighbours since the upper Mekong flows within its borders downstream towards Myanmar. This strategic location allows China to use the Mekong as a convenient source of hydroelectric power for the other provinces. Further, the location effectively converts it into a “highway” for international trade. Doing so simultaneously bolsters globalisation and industrialisation efforts in southwest China while strengthening its economic influence over Southeast and South Asia, in line with its Belt and Road initiative. 

That said, a discussion about the geopolitics of the Mekong River would be amiss without bringing in the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which may be traced back to the Cold War when it was first established as the Mekong Committee by the United States and the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the commission became perceived as an engine for driving the region’s economic development in hopes that it would not succumb to communism, preserving its geopolitical stability in favour of the Allies. The deliberate omission of Burma and China is further evidence of the Cold War thinking that dominated this era. The Mekong thus became yet another arena in which Cold War geopolitics played out.  

However, this “omission” has favored Chinese regional interests, as China’s construction of dams without prior consultation of the MRC could take place conveniently since it is not a member and hence not under the MRC’s jurisdiction. 

China’s control over the upper Mekong through its dams increases the vulnerability of its Southeast Asian neighbours, as evident from the ecological damage caused by low water levels in the middle and lower Mekong. This power imbalance over Southeast Asia is exacerbated by China’s strategic institutional competition, particularly the establishment of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) forum in 2015, which has become yet another channel for Chinese development aid to flow to developing ASEAN member states, namely Laos and Cambodia. The LMC not only diminishes the authority of the MRC as a penultimate governing body over Mekong-related issues but also poses a direct challenge to the adjacent Lower Mekong Initiative (now expanded to become the U.S. Mekong Partnership) started by the United States in 2009. It appears that the Mekong River has become yet another “U.S. versus China” playing field. 

While arguments can be made for how the region as a whole stands to benefit from competing aid and investment regimes, the dangers of this new “institutional plurality” lie in how it disrupts the existing regional cohesion and reduces the legitimacy of Southeast Asian countries’ jurisdiction over the Mekong. Superpower-led multilateralism is not unique to the Mekong, but rather is a reality in international politics, where the individual agencies of smaller countries become entangled in the larger “U.S.-China” conflict. 

Ultimately, any response to China’s Mekong “hydro-hegemony” has to be coordinated and cohesive. In light of China’s numerous transgressions into the Exclusive Economic Zones of Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea, it is incumbent upon these countries to reaffirm their commitment to achieving consensus and taking collective action against larger states seeking to undermine their agency. Amidst the power struggle between two superpowers, the survival of millions depending on the Mekong hangs in the balance.  


Climate Diplomacy. 1995. “Dam projects and disputes in the Mekong River Basin.” [online] Available from: (Accessed 26 October 2023). 

K. L. F. 2022. “Hydro-Hegemony and Great Power competition on the Mekong River — THE INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS REVIEW.” [online] Available from:,in%20the%20Lower%20Mekong%20Basin (Accessed 26 October 2023). 

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Phanishsarn, A. 2006. “Economic Implications of China´ s “ Go‑ West” Policy: A View from Thailand. ASEAN Economic Bulletin.” [Online] 23 (2), 253–265. [online] Available from: 

Simmala, B. & Lee, C. 2023. “China’s Mekong River dams expected to worsen southeast Asian economies during drought. Voice of America. 4 August.” [online] Available from: 

Soutullo, J. 2019. “The Mekong River: Geopolitics Over Development, Hydropower and the Environment : Study.” 

Strangio. 2021. “Indonesia seeking Southeast Asian coordination on South China Sea disputes.” [online] Available from: (Accessed 26 October 2023). 

Teo et al. 2022. “Interests, Initiatives, and Influence: Geopolitics in the Mekong Subregion.” [online] Available from: (Accessed 26 October 2023). 

“Back to drawing borders”: Are Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia ready for Schengen?

Antonio Macedo

The 8th and 9th of December are decisive for Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia: This is when the interior ministers of EU member states are scheduled to decide on their accession to the Schengen area. A unanimous vote is required. Schengen is a source of pride for Europeans, comprising the largest free-travel zone in the world where more than 400 million citizens freely roam across 26 states (22 EU and four non-EU states). Despite this, the accession process has been slow: Romania and Bulgaria, which completed the necessary checks for accession back in 2011, have now waited over a decade for the green light. Similarly, although to a lesser extent, Croatia completed the evaluation process in 2020, yet is still waiting to reap the benefits of joining.

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A Nuclear Korean Peninsula: The Dreaded Domino Effect in East Asia?

Mariola García-Cañada Candela

The nuclear dilemma in South Korea has become an everyday topic for its population. The intense provocations of Kim Jong Un have led 71% of the South Koreans to strive for the nuclearization of the Peninsula. This support is unlikely to decrease but rather grow as the threats from the North Korean leader continue intensifying through 2023 as they seek an exponential increase of their nuclear arsenal, which will be used as a defensive and offensive tool. This is no surprise when talking about the North Korean leader because, as Edward A. Olsen explains, Kim Jong Un’s best defence is a good offence. The actual concern lies in the South Korean and North American response to such threats, which, if they are nuclear, would undoubtedly escalate tensions in the Peninsula, increasing the possibility of the dreaded nuclear domino effect in East Asia.

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Big Brother Reality: Could Artificial Intelligence Lead to the End of Democracy?

Tanya Lim

Public administrations increasingly use AI to determine the allocation of social benefits: Judges uses risk assessment algorithms to determine a person’s innate ability for bail or parole, social media platforms use AI to optimize content moderation, and political actors use these platforms to engage in micro-targeting to more accurately spread disinformation and enhance the state’s surveillance on citizens. However, given its relative “black box” nature, how is AI threatening our capacity to exercise scrutiny over the decisions of public democratic institutions?

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Regulating Human Germline Editing

Veronica Orbecchi

Any organism’s characteristics are determined by their genes. Our genes contain information about features like height, the colour of our eyes, or our susceptibility to diseases. Owing to formidable scientific advances, gene editing tools now make it possible to make precise alterations to an organism’s genes in vivo. Among the promising applications of gene editing, these tools may help prevent or treat various diseases, increase the efficiency of agriculture and food production or significantly improve research methods. Since the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 one decade ago, gene editing has become much faster, cheaper and more reliable than previous strategies that were being developed since the 1980s (Baylis et al, 2020). While the remarkable potential of gene editing to bring about positive change increases with its ever growing effectiveness, this potential is undeniably accompanied by a number of un-negligible risks and a certain degree of moral unease. This elicits the need for appropriate regulations for these techniques.

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Fortress Europe: The Poland-Belarus Border Crisis

Anna Padiasek

Armed soldiers, police hounds, stranded children, and exhausted men and women – these are the images people in Eastern Poland have become accustomed to since August 2021. Because of Lukashenko’s trafficking scheme, thousands of refugees from Yemen, Syria, and Iraq have been brought to Eastern European forests. Most of these migrants, fleeing in the hope of a better life, are met with inhumane treatment on the Polish-Belarusian border. Stuck in limbo on the EU’s external flank, refugees have been re-transported to Belarus by the Polish border control, in many cases without even being given the option of claiming asylum. The human rights abuses on the border are extensive – from physical violence to invigilation of people’s identities and movements. The EU has turned a blind eye to this subject repeatedly, at most declaring their “solidarity with Poland” during this crisis. The lack of reaction from the organisation seems to be a part of the EU’s new refugee policy which seeks to directly target individuals trying to enter Europe through both technology and physical force. This is a drastic change from the EU’s 2015 response which focused on coordinating asylum procedures and migrant redistribution between member states. By tightening border control and stricter monitoring of movements on its grounds and waters, the EU has shifted towards a pre-emptive approach.

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Arctic Diplomacy on Ice

Sophie Williams-Dunning

On the 9th of January 2023, the Swedish Defence minister announced the launch of bilateral talks with the US to negotiate a Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA). By courting an enhanced US military presence in its territory, Sweden is following the lead of Norway and Denmark, which opened bilateral negotiations for an American DCA in 2022. The US and its Nordic partners are determined to shore up alliances in the High North outside of the NATO membership path, which has proven potholed with delays. This development is not surprising when one considers that Russia’s Northern Fleet headquarters and Arctic Strategic Command are located in Severomorsk, just over 100 miles from the Norwegian border.

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Universities’ increasing reliance on postgraduate taught fees as a source of income and its potential drawbacks

Zeki Dolen

The introduction of the postgraduate master’s loan for the 2016/17 academic year has led to a dramatic transformation in the landscape of postgraduate taught (PGT) education in the UK.  The number of first‑year PGT students in the UK has increased by 58% between 2015/16 and 2020/21, compared with a 11% increase in the number of undergraduate students over the same period. While undergraduate fees have been capped at £9,250 since 2017, average PGT fees increased by 60%, from £9,465 to £15,150 between 2015/16 and 2021/22. This considerably faster than the increase in the value of the postgraduate loan, which increased only by 18% from £10,000 in 2016/17 to £11,836 in 2021/22.

Source: Hesa, 2022

These trends mean universities have become increasingly reliant on PGT fees as a source of income.  For example, the contribution of PGT fees to King’s College London’s income has increased from 11% in 2016/17 to 19% in 2020/21, and it is no exception. PGT fees as a proportion of total income for higher education institutions (HEIs) in general have steadily grown from 8% in 2016/17 to 12% in 2020/21. 

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