The Corner

National Security & Defense

Talking Down Brexit

With the UK moving towards a referendum in 2017 (some think it’ll be in 2016, but I doubt it) on whether to quit the EU (“Brexit”), there will doubtless be considerable pressure from the “international community” on Brits to stick with Brussels.

So this recent intervention from a senior Washington official came as no great surprise.

The Guardian (a Europhile newspaper) had the details:

The United States is not keen on pursuing a separate free trade deal with Britain if it leaves the European Union, the US trade representative, Michael Froman, said. . . . Voters are due to decide by the end of 2017 whether the UK should remain in the EU, and opinion polls show rising support for leaving the bloc.

Froman’s comments on Wednesday undermine a key economic argument deployed by proponents of exit, who say Britain would prosper on its own and be able to secure bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with trading partners. The US is Britain’s biggest export market after the EU, buying more than $54bn (£35bn) in goods from the UK in 2014.

“I think it’s absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity,” Froman told Reuters, adding that EU membership gives Britain more leverage in negotiations.

This, by the way is nonsense. As a good number of euroskeptics (including, notably, EU Referendum’s Richard North) have repeatedly pointed out, membership of the EU often takes Britain away from that table, giving it 1/28 of a seat instead (the EU has 28 member-states). The fifth largest economy in the world ought to expect better.

Back to the Guardian:

“We’re not particularly in the market for FTAs with individual countries. We’re building platforms . . . that other countries can join over time.”

If Britain left the EU, Froman said, it would face the same tariffs and trade barriers as other countries outside the US free trade network.

Well, maybe, but the US does have FTAs in force with 20 countries, including Morocco, Singapore, Nicaragua, and Oman.

Writing for CapX, Niles Gardiner:

The idea that the United States would not sign a free trade agreement with its closest friend and ally, the world’s fifth largest economy, is ludicrous. As the Congressional Research Service has noted, “the US-UK bilateral investment relationship is the largest in the world,” with over $5 trillion of US corporate assets based in the UK — that’s around a quarter of total US overseas assets. British companies employ nearly a million Americans in the US, with 1.3 million Britons employed by American companies operating in the UK.

Breitbart London has also reported this:

LONDON, United Kingdom – UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage MEP has revealed that U.S. trade representative Michael Froman, who intervened in Britain’s Brexit debate last week, worked for the European Commission in the organisation’s “Forward Studies Unit”, failing to declare an interest in his statements claiming that Britain should remain in the European Union (EU).

That’s a stretch: The “interest” Froman “failed to disclose” (it was no secret) appears to have been a (paid) internship with the EU Commission over two decades ago. Nevertheless his stint with the Commission may (opinions can, of course, change after so many years) be at least mildly suggestive of a certain sympathy for the Brussels project.

A couple of years back I wrote a piece in response to an earlier effort by the Obama administration to encourage the UK to stay in the EU. I argued then that this was not what the US should want, but I also recognized that, however unconvincing, there was a case to be made to the contrary. Whether for or against, these arguments rested on a traditional understanding of what was meant by this country’s national interest, but I went on to ask this:

Does Obama look across the Atlantic to Brussels and rather like what he sees, an entity developing in a supranational, “progressive,” environmentally correct, corporatist, and technocratic direction that is not so far removed from his own agenda for this country? If he does — and it’s not so far-fetched an idea — he won’t have much sympathy for a bunch of what he doubtless sees as “bitter” Brits clinging to what’s left of their independence.

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