This will be the first time that Britain will not have a judge on the UN’s most powerful court since it was founded in 1946. In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Tory MP Robert Jenrick described it as a “major failure for British diplomacy”.
“I do think it’s a very significant loss and setback for the UK,” agreed Dr Leslie Vinjamuri, associate fellow at Chatham House, a think-tank in London. “It was clear the UK was not going to get through the next round at the general assembly, where there is a groundswell of support to distribute more power to the global south, so India was in their eyes a more appealing candidate.
“Britain has taken a hit in terms of its global influence and losing it right now when the country is in turmoil looks like a real setback. To the outside world it looks like Britain is retreating and being punished for not making an obvious commitment to the EU,” Vinjamuri concluded.
Others disagreed. Robert Guest, foreign editor of The Economist, said: “I don’t think it’s a huge deal for the UK. This possibly means more to India than it does to Britain.
“It’s quite likely that Britain was prepared to make a concession because the government is extremely anxious to maintain good relations with India because it wants to strike a trade deal with India after Brexit. That is a bigger deal for the UK than having an ICJ seat. India and the UK have a similar legal system. It would not be the same as if China took the seat.”
Guest added: “India is in a position where the recognition it gets on international bodies is rather less than its weight in the real world, so you can see why Indians want more recognition. India is rapidly becoming a great power and it seems entirely fair and appropriate that it does have a seat.”
Marco Giannangeli, defence & diplomatic editor, Sunday Express, said: “What I hear is that it was done to bank a favour from India because our future post-Brexit relationship is more important than having a judge at the ICJ. I think there is a hunger for more representation and change at the UN, especially by India which sees itself as a superpower in the making. I think because the other contender was India there was less concern within Britain because India has the same legal foundations as the UK.”
Indian-origin Tory MP Shailesh Vara said: “This is disappointing for the UK but there is some comfort in that the position has gone to India, a country that is very close to the UK and with whom we have the strongest relations.”
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