‘The previous administration took the view that if the United Kingdom made this decision they’d be at the back of the line,” said Mike Pompeo, on a recent trip to London. “We intend to put the United Kingdom at the front of the line.” The secretary of state was referring to Obama’s remarks in 2016, when, threatening to make a post-Brexit trade deal difficult, he attempted to dissuade Brits from voting to leave the European Union. Pompeo said that he expects a U.K.–U.S. trade deal to commence by November. Which is quite the contrast with the feet-dragging Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, who said it would be “impossible” for Britain to get a trade deal by the end of 2020.
President Obama saw Britain’s continued membership in the European Union as a worthy enterprise: one that secured peace, freedom of movement, and a common market. But despite the best efforts of liberal globalists in the House of Commons, on Friday the process of Brexit officially began.
At the dawn of a decade, as Great Britain heaves its ancient head from east to west, we enter a new chapter of the Anglo–American alliance.
In one sense, it’s odd that this didn’t happen sooner. By the end of the First World War, New York had overtaken London as the financial capital of the world. Britain was still buoyed, however, by the embers of its empire. After the Second World War, its optimism seemed less credible. Britain’s strength, combined with the Soviet Union and the United States, was critical in stopping Europe from becoming a vast Nazi-German empire. And when Winston Churchill, prime minister, coined the term “the special relationship,” it was clear to him that America’s military support during the war, and its monetary bailouts after, were not merely “special” but essential for Britain’s survival. A fact the Suez crisis later proved.
At first, Britain did not look to Europe for economic betterment. The U.K. did not sign the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which established the creation of the European Economic Community (later known as the European Union). And it was not until 1973 that Edward Heath, the leader of the Conservative Party, brought the U.K. into the EEC. In the years that followed, opposition was slow, steady, and from both sides of the political aisle. “Continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected Parliament as the U.K.’s supreme lawmaking body,” said Tony Benn, a Labour politician and socialist, before the 1975 referendum. This sentiment was shared by many, including Margaret Thatcher, as John O’Sullivan recounts in his gripping insider’s account.
As John notes, Thatcher’s Euroscepticism made her ahead of her time. And the foreign policy of transatlantic conservatism during the Reagan–Thatcher golden years was dominated by the Soviet Union. But decades later, things had only gotten worse: After the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 had transformed the EEC into the European Union and eroded the sovereignty of its member states; after the Single European Act of 1987 had blown free movement wide open; after the Schengen Convention of 1995 established a common visa policy and effectively created open borders; after the single currency and 2008 financial crash spurred Greece and Spain into crises, and after floods of migrants in boats began to drown crossing the Channel — this question needed revisiting. It was answered by an electoral majority in a referendum in 2016. And has been enacted by a parliamentary majority, voted for in 2019. John, who saw the evolution of Brexit in full, testifies, “I am inclined to think of Brexit as Mrs. Thatcher’s last victory and the fulfillment of Thatcherism.” He wonders whether to look now to America. And he’s not the only one.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he cannot wait to “get going with our friends” in the U.S., adding, “And I say to all the naïve and juvenile anti-Americans in this country if there are any — there seem to be some. I say grow up and get a grip.” Of course, from Huawei to protectionism, Johnson will face many challenges. But perhaps the biggest one is in turning 40 years of British self-identification as a virtual European state into a sovereign nation, whose key ally lies not east but west.