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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Britain losing a seat on the ICJ ‘signals end of Brexiteers vision of Empire 2.0’

The seat on the UN's top judicial organ went to India's Dalveer Bhandari

The building of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, the Netherlands. AFP
The building of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, the Netherlands. AFP

Britain lost a seat on the International Court of Justice on Monday for the first time since the tribunal started work in 1946, a setback seen by some diplomats and commentators as the result of waning international influence following its vote to leave the European Union.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, a Scottish National Party politician suggested the move signalled the end of Leave voters’ vision of post-Brexit world in which Britain enjoys international dominance akin to its colonial days.

"It appears the sun is setting on the Brexiteers dream of Empire 2.0 before it has even risen," Patrick Grady MP told Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, himself a Leave voter.

However, Mr Johnson dismissed the notion instead congratulating India's Dalveer Bhandari, who won the seat on the ICJ.

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“I don’t think I can quite agree with the construction my friend places on events but I will repeat my congratulations to the Indian judge and, as the House will know, it has been a long-standing objective of UK foreign policy to support India in the UN,” the foreign secretary said.

Based at The Hague, Netherlands, the 15-member ICJ is the UN's top judicial organ and its job is to settle disputes between countries.

Five judges are elected every three years and serve for nine years.

After four rounds of voting, Ronny Abraham of France, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, Antonio Augusto Cancado Trindade of Brazil and Nawaf Salam of Lebanon were elected on Thursday by required majorities in both the General Assembly and Security Council.

Britain's Christopher Greenwood and India's Dalveer Bhandari, both running for re-election to the court, were forced into a runoff for the fifth seat because Greenwood had the required majority in the 15-member Security Council while Bhandari topped the vote in the 193-member General Assembly.

But Mr Bhandari's support was gaining while Mr Greenwood's was diminishing, apparently leading the British judge to drop out.

Mr Bhandari was then easily elected on Monday by both the assembly and the council.

"We are naturally disappointed," Britain's UN ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said, "but it was a competitive field with six strong candidates."

"If the UK could not win in this run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead. We will continue to cooperate closely with India, here in the UN and globally," he added.

Mr Rycroft said the United Kingdom will continue to support the court's work "in line with our commitment to the importance of the rule of law."