Will change of UK leadership   impact Zim relations? Sir Keir Starmer (left) faces incumbent Mr Rishi Sunak in next month’s elections

Richard Muponde
Zimpapers Politics Hub

British Prime Minister, Mr Rishi Sunak, surprised all and sundry when he declared an early election at a time his party is faring low in approval surveys.

Announcing the election dates outside his official residence at 10 Downing Street, Mr Sunak said he will fight for the fifth term in office for the Conservative Party, despite the country’s opinion polls indicating a deep in popularity.

His arch rival, Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party has been dominating the national opinion polls and is likely to win the next election.

The British Parliament was prorogued recently before formally closing its doors last week to allow campaigns for a period of five weeks.

Although the odds appear not to favour Mr Sunak, some pundits have said the timing of the election could be a strategy to get another term, while the party still had some semblance of popularity buoyed by the fall of inflation which has hit its lowest rate in almost three years.

The British election outcome holds so much importance in the domestic affairs of Zimbabwe given the warming up of relations that was beginning to take hold between Harare and London.

Relations between Harare and the Conservative-led government appeared to be on the mend with positive overtures coming from the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe who of late has been talking about the need to mend broken bridges through trade.

Following the revocation of the Executive Order 13288 by the United States in March and the subsequent removal of some sanctions from the Federal Code of Regulations last month, the British House of Lords was triggered to exhibit warm feelings on Zimbabwe.

During a debate in the House, some Lords proposed a Mineral Conference in Zimbabwe to counter what they termed the growing influence of China and Russia.

While this sounded like condescending comments coming from an overbearing former colonial power, it clearly showed that the British are coming of age in realising the futility of their antagonistic foreign policy towards Zimbabwe.

To put history into context, many will remember that it was the Labour Party government under Prime Minister Tony Blair that relations between Harare and London took a downtown after Zimbabwe had embarked on the compulsory acquisition of land.

While the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher had agreed to fund the land reform, Labour refused to honour that agreement.

Labour under Mr Blair pursued a hostile stance against Zimbabwe after the late former President Robert Mugabe decided to go it alone and compulsorily acquired the land without compensation.

The Labour party mobilised its Western and European allies to impose sanctions against Harare, which culminated in the United States’ Zidera and a cartel of other punitive measures from the European Union.

The coming in of the Conservative Party which is now running for its fifth term saw relations thawing, with Zimbabwe almost certain of rejoining the Commonwealth.

However, with the polls predicting a loss for the Conservatives, it remains uncertain as to how relations between London and Harare will turn out to be. Will there be a repeat of history?

International relations expert, Dr Knox Zengeni is doubtful of any change of relations given the historical links between the two countries.

“With Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, you know, the situation is a bit different, in fact we can say that soon after he declared the elections, we have seen that it has now turned into a blowback, it has backfired.

“If you check the British media, you will notice that many are saying it was the least bad option.”

Dr Zengeni said the political dynamics that existed then and now are different.

“UK is no longer part of the European Union. It desperately needs partners outside Europe. Zimbabwe is not a bad choice. In fact, the British seem to be realising that they have wasted time haggling on Zimbabwe when they could have positively engaged.

“With the coming in of the New Dispensation, I see very few impediments in fully normalising relations between the countries. There is more to benefit from engagement than disengagement,” said Dr Zengeni.

“I think generally we are observing that there is what we call in foreign policy a warming of relations between Zimbabwe and Britain. There are many factors. Some of the factors are clear that the Zimbabwean Government and the Zanu PF are very strong, very strong, and they look very invincible,” he said.

Businessman and Chegutu West legislator, Shakemore Wellington Timburwa said while there is credence in some people being sceptical and uncertain of future relations between Harare and London if Labour loses, the current political dynamics favour a continuation of warm relations.

“Specific initiatives or agreements already in motion would likely see continued support,” Timburwa  said.

He said if Mr Sunak is retained, Zimbabwe’s re-admission into the Commonwealth was almost guaranteed.

“The proposed mineral conference indicates a strategic interest by the UK to counter Chinese and Russian influence in Zimbabwe. This could be seen as an effort to reassert British influence and create mutually beneficial economic ties,” he said.

There is so much anticipation of the British elections outcome. Whichever way it turns out, it appears Zimbabwe will continue be guided by its foreign policy thrust of engagement and re-engagement and being a friends to all and an enemy to none.

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