Politics & Policy

Brexit Has Nothing to Do with Donald Trump

(Scott Audette/Reuters)
Brexit was a huge event in the history of the United Kingdom — but it had nothing to do with the New York real-estate mogul.

This may come as some surprise, but not everything that happens in the world is about Donald Trump. Not everything is even about America.

Sure, the hot takes are easy to write: Trump wants to limit immigration; Brexit supporters were concerned about immigration. The elites didn’t like Brexit; the elites don’t like Trump. Brexit was about patriotism and asserting national sovereignty over undemocratic multinational institutions; Trump extols national sovereignty and speaks of putting “America first.”

But these comparisons are so superficial that they’d apply to virtually any GOP nominee of the last 40 years. There is absolutely nothing new about Trump’s (current) restrictionist immigration stance or his (current) suspicion of international governance. Brexit had as much to do with Donald Trump as it had to do with Ted Cruz or — for that matter — Mitt Romney. There are certain very broad views that are widely-held on both sides of the Atlantic, but that’s where the comparison ends.

Simply put, America doesn’t face a threat to its independence that’s remotely comparable to what the British faced with the European Union. For all the talk and concern about the UN, at its height it exercised only the tiniest fraction of the control over Washington that Brussels exercised over London. Not even the wildest Democratic globalist presidential nominee has offered up a plan to put America in a position comparable to Great Britain’s in the EU.

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Indeed, in our international alliances, we not only don’t surrender sovereignty, we occupy the dominant position of power. There has not been a single large-scale international alliance since the Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact that has proven itself to be viable or capable of projecting force without American leadership. When America acts, our alliances act. When we fail to act, our alliances atrophy.

Moreover, the commentary ignores the centuries of British unease over its relationship with the European continent. The notion that Britain would be so fully and entirely committed to the European project that it would not simply contribute to its common defense but also participate in its common government is one of the more fought-over aspects of first English, then British history.

#share#There has always been an immense tug-of-war over British involvement in Europe, and the fact that Britain kept the pound rather than surrendering to the euro was just one of many examples that the British people — and successive British governments of both major parties — were not exactly “all-in” on a united Europe.

Yes, immigration was certainly relevant to the Brexit vote, but again the differences between the U.K. and the U.S. are so vast that comparisons are useless. While both countries have seen enormous increases in the size and percentage of their foreign-born populations, only the U.K. lacked the sovereignty to truly define its own immigration policies. In other words, before the people of Britain could even begin to decide for themselves the proper size of their immigrant population, it had to leave the EU. Post-Brexit, Britain can choose to admit a greater or lesser number of immigrants, but the choice will be up to the British.

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Exit polls showed that Conservative and Labour voters who supported Brexit primarily supported it because “decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK.” The American political debate, by contrast, isn’t about whether Washington makes decisions for America but rather about which decisions Washington makes. As I’ve argued before, our elite has established a self-serving system that mirrors the EU’s commitment to globalism and technocratic governance, but it is still a system that is ultimately directed by and governed by American voters.

This is more than just a critical distinction. It is the critical distinction. This is why it’s credible to argue that the Brexit vote represents somewhat of a “declaration of independence” for Britain. By contrast, any notion that a vote for Trump is a “declaration of independence” for America is laugh-out-loud hilarious. America will be no more or less sovereign if he’s elected. It will just be more stupidly governed.

#related#Comparing support for Brexit to support for Trump is just a way for elites to try to discredit Brexit. The case for British independence rests on centuries of British power and influence. An independent Britain has been indispensable to the growth of individual liberty and critical to the increase in global prosperity. The case against British independence rests on a short-term experiment in supranational governance — an experiment mainly conducted under the protection of American arms and thus of unknown durability in the absence of direct American support.

Trump’s casual support for British sovereignty is irrelevant to the merits of the Brexit vote. The British people made their decision based on a history and political reality that is unique to Britain. Trump or no Trump, Britain would have faced the same question and made the same choice. Last week, Americans were mere spectators to another nation’s election, and not even our own powerful globalist president could change our British allies’ mind. With all due apologies to Carly Simon, we can’t be so vain as to believe Brexit is about us.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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