The UK will not have a judge on the bench of the international court of justice for the first time in its 71-year history after the British candidate withdrew following an acrimonious competition.
Minutes after an 11th round of voting was scheduled to begin in New York on Monday, a letter was released by the UK mission to the UN announcing that Sir Christopher Greenwood would accept defeat and allow the rival Indian candidate, Dalveer Bhandari, to fill the final vacancy on the ICJ.
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.
That the runoff for the last place on what is known as the world court was between Britain and India, a nation likely to feature as a more significant trading partner post-Brexit, may have been a contributory element in the final calculations.
There have been calls in Indian media for the country to leave the Commonwealth if the UK exploited its position as one of the five permanent members of the security council to defend its weakened position.
The ICJ is composed of 15 judges elected to nine-year terms by the UN general assembly and the UN security council.
Four other judges, from Brazil, France, Lebanon and Somalia, had already been elected to the ICJ in the earlier rounds.
In the last round of voting at the UN a week ago, Greenwood secured only 68 votes in the general assembly against Bhandari’s 121 votes. The British candidate, however, had nine votes in the UN security council against the Indian’s five. A majority in both the general assembly and security council was required to win a place on the ICJ bench.
The race for the last place involved weeks of diplomatic lobbying and, in the end, the UK was partially the victim of residual international resentment in the UN general assembly of the dominance and privileges of the permanent five members of the security council – the US, Britain, France, China and Russia.
Other factors also torpedoed UK efforts. Greenwood, a highly experienced and capable lawyer, was tainted in some eyes because of his advice to the Blair government in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003.
He was instructed by the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, to examine the arguments over the legality of using force against Saddam Hussein and concluded that use of force was justified.
This is the second time the UK has been humiliated at the UN in recent months, amid signs that some EU nations no longer feel the need to automatically support an isolationist former partner.