India achieved a minor but nevertheless noteworthy post-colonial victory this week, by managing to get its nominee to the International Court of Justice elected to the seat in the place of the British candidate. Justice Dalveer Bhandari took the last open spot on United Nations’ principal judicial wing on Monday, after the United Kingdom’s Christopher Greenwood withdraw his candidature. The move may not mean anything major in global politics, yet the media in both countries as well as analysts at large are seeing it as sign of the UK’s reduced stature in the world.

“The decision to bow to mounting opposition within the UN general assembly is a humiliating blow to British international prestige and an acceptance of a diminished status in international affairs,” the Guardian said.

The Guardian

The International Court of Justice is staffed by 15 judges from all over the world, based on elections from among the countries at the United Nations, both in the General Assembly and on the Security Council. This year there were five spots open. After five rounds of voting, four judges from Brazil, Lebanon, France and Somalia won majorities and secured nine-year terms. That left two candidates: India’s Bhandari, who had been first elected to the court in 2012, and the UK’s Christopher Greenwood, who had been at the ICJ since 2008.

Surprisingly, Greenwood did not win a majority in the United Nations General Assembly, while Bhandari did. However, in the 15-member Security Council, Greenwood had the upper hand, leading to a deadlock. This continued for another six rounds, during which India stepped up its diplomatic efforts to earn a victory for Bhandari, pushing the line that he had won the popular majority but was being kept out by the elite club represented by the Security Council.

Ultimately, the United Kingdom withdrew, saying “the current deadlock is unlikely to be broken by further rounds of voting”. Britain could actually have demanded a joint conference, another process to break the deadlock that would have given it another shot at winning, but chose not to, especially after the Indian media, fed by unnamed diplomatic sources, described this as “dirty tactics”.

The Times of London said that Britain has lost out under the “new world order” at the United Nations, blaming a “rebellion” by “an alliance of developing nations”. The result meant that there will be no British judge at the ICJ for the first its 71-year history, essentially cracking open a club that for decades now has taken it for granted that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will always have a seat at the ICJ.

“Is Britain losing its prestige as well as its ICJ seat?” asked The Week, pointing to analysts who said the result represented the new world order. Many British news organisations also made the connection to Brexit, the UK’s process of exiting the European Union, which critics say will diminish Britain’s stature even further.

Wrote James Landale, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent: However hard the government tries, this defeat at the UN will be seen as a significant diplomatic set back, a symbol of Britain’s reduced status on the world stage. Britain tried to win an election – but the community of nations backed the other side, no longer fearing any retribution from the traditional powers, no longer listening to what Britain had to say.”

Some, however, connect it to what it might mean for Britain’s relationship with India post-Brexit. With the UK likely to lose out on some trade with the EU following this process, many expect its economic ties with India to become even more crucial for the country moving forward.

Indeed, London’s relationship with New Delhi was underscored as part of every statement the UK has made on the issue. The letter announcing Greenwood’s withdrawal, for example, mentioned the UK and India’s “close ties”. And when a member of Parliament from the ruling Conservatives asked Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson what lessons the Foreign Office had learnt so this “major failure for British diplomacy” would not be repeated, he too brought up India ties.

“I cannot quite agree with the construction my hon. Friend places on events, but I repeat my congratulations to the Indian judge,” Johnson said in the House of Commons. “As the House will know, a long-standing objective of UK foreign policy has been to support India in the United Nations.”