I can’t believe, I literally can’t believe, the comments he has made in the UK. In addition to the comments yesterday, where he called the new carbon-offset airport departure tax “protectionism” and said it will lead to a “contagion effect”, he is now reported to have told British Prime Minister (and former Chancellor) Gordon Brown that his new tax policy is “not necessarily rational”.
Think about how this looks to the UK. Key has not actually done the job of Prime Minister for one day and yet here he is in the UK, a guest of the British government, criticising the policies of a government that has been in power eleven years, insulting them in the crudest terms. ‘Who does this guy think he is?’ British leaders will be asking themselves, ‘some puffed up newbie presuming to tell us how to run our country’.
This is not how you do diplomacy, and it’s not how you do diplomacy because it doesn’t work. The UK doesn’t have to listen to us, least of all when we want them to change their policy on something as core to sovereignty as tax policy. If we want them to listen, we have to use constructive language (eg. ‘clearly, New Zealand is very concerned about climate change. We are also economically dependent on tourism and every year hundreds of thousands of people from the UK come to experience our beautiful country. We will be working with our British friends closely to see if it is possible to reduce emissions without making tourism from the UK to New Zealand unaffordable). Key’s comments have not been constructive or even nuanced, they have been plain insulting. Leaders are people too, be rude to them, attack their work, especially when you have just met them and have no experience of your own, and they will not look on your cause fondly.
No, Key won’t a public dressing down from Brown over this, but that’s not how diplomacy works. The consequences will be far more subtle and far more insidious. Key will have helped to deafen the ears of UK leaders to our voice. National should keep him in New Zealand where he can’t do any more harm (to our international relations at least) and get the competent diplomats like Tim Groser out there to repair the damage so far as it can be.