Politics & Policy

Why ‘Leave’ Won — and What Must Happen Next

David Cameron and Barack Obama in London in April. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)
President Obama needs to protect the special relationship as Britain prepares to sever ties with the E.U.

Last night, Britons chose to leave the European Union. In doing so, they prioritized concerns about sovereignty and immigration over the economic stability of EU membership, repudiating President Obama, who, in April, warned Britons that they would lose influence and wealth if they voted “Leave.”

Obama’s warning may yet come true, but what’s done is done: Britain will leave the EU, and the U.S. must accept this reality. Our president does not have the luxury of a petulant response to Brexit. For better or worse, the next few months will go a long way toward determining Britain’s future in the world, and the benefits or costs that America accrues from that future.

First, we should remind ourselves why America’s relationship with Britain is special. It isn’t because of economics. It’s because of a tradition of shared values put into action. Whether opposing tyrannical regimes, working together at the United Nations, sharing technology, building lucrative trading relationships bound to law, or confronting terrorists in far-away cities, the U.S. and the U.K. remind bound in an alliance built on the exceptionalism of mutual benefit. But our counter-terrorism partnership deserves special attention here. After all, at present, U.S. and British Special Operations forces are working side by side to destroy ISIS. Simultaneously, officers from Britain’s MI5, MI6, and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) intelligence services are working hand in hand with their FBI, CIA, and NSA counterparts. And in their joint efforts, these professionals are saving lives and keeping both nations safe. Yet their successes here are not simply the result of human skill — they are born of a symbiotic trust accumulated through decades of experience. Allies such as France, Germany, and Israel are important to our security, but they lack Britain’s reliability.

President Obama must prioritize preserving the ‘special relationship’ in Brexit’s wake.

It stands to reason, then, that President Obama must prioritize preserving the “special relationship” in Brexit’s wake. First and foremost, he should back away from his April threat that Britain must go to “the back of the queue” on trade. Such a punishment would be disastrous, given the mutual economic benefits of U.S.–U.K. trade and the critical role it can play in keeping the U.K. away from isolationist impulses going forward. As the U.K. decouples from the EU in the coming months, it will face increasing temptation to turn away from U.S. policies toward China and Russia. Sensing opportunity, China will offer new deals to Britain via its Asia Investment and Infrastructure Bank, and the Russian oligarchs will likely — under direction from Putin — offer new investments in London. These moves will be transparent attempts by our adversaries to exploit Brexit as a chance to fragment our most critical alliance. We cannot let them succeed.

Next, President Obama should make clear to President Hollande of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany that the U.S. seeks a smooth Brexit from the EU. In the coming days, Merkel, Hollande, and their lesser European partners will be tempted to punish British voters. Such a course would only further divide Europe and give Putin a larger opening. While there is almost no chance of another war between Western European powers, Continental tension will help no one except Putin. The KGB Colonel is always watching.

#related#Finally, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump should all travel individually to London. Once there, they should affirm their support for the U.K. and their respect for the decision that Britons have made. Such signals will be critical in ensuring that Britons do not (as they often do) feel neglected as the junior partner in the “special relationship.” By showing respect and support, the U.S. can consolidate its popularity with Britons. And when the next crisis arises for America, our support today will redound to our benefit.

Ultimately, America’s response to Brexit should not be complicated. Sober support for the voters’ decision serves our interests, Britain’s interests, and the interests of democracy around the world. Confronting the challenges of the present and pursuing the opportunities of the future, President Obama must double down on the “special relationship.”

Tom Rogan is a senior contributor at Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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