Americans have heard and read much about the British political crisis
called “Brexit,” but not much has been written about what the British
exit from the European Union (EU) might mean to the United States.
The idea of a union of European nations has a history initially going
back to the 19th century, but gained notable impetus after the 1918
armistice of World War I’s catastrophes of wasteful soldier casualties,
its demographic displacements and the suffering of civilian populations,
as well as its eruptions of religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts ---
which are still very much felt today. The first institution of its kind was
more global, a League of Nations, but that failed to halt the violence
between European states.. Only in the wake of World War II, were
most of the European nations able to agree to an economic union. The
intention of its founders, but not all of it member states, was to evolve
from an economic union with a common currency and no borders to a
political union that would ultimately eliminate the individual
sovereignty of its member nations.
Behind this thinking was an idealistic desire to avoid militarism,
violence and the chronic disruption of the continent’s peace,
commerce and well-being which had raged for centuries --- and
which, at various intervals, had been primarily initiated by Germany,
France, Spain and Great Britain against each other both on the
European continent and throughout the world as these and other
European states attempted to claim colonies and reap global
An economic union, called the Common Market, made much political
and economic sense, but too rapid adoptions of a common currency
and political union were not shared, particularly by Great Britain which
declined to use the euro common currency that did appear, and
increasingly resisted EU attempts to diminish its sovereignty.
It needs to be remembered that the various European nations began
to organize in their modern forma more than a thousand years ago from
competing and warring barbarian tribes to the north of the Roman and
Greek civilization centers and capitals which had emerged more than a
thousand years before that. The Roman empire soon had moved north
in conquest, subduing the barbarian tribes, bringing the Latin language
and Christianity with them.
But midway in the first millennium, A.D. , the tables were turned on
the Romans, and their empire was ended. The barbarian tribes which
they had subjugated by invading their territories became feudal states
of kingdoms, duchies and fiefdoms with their own languages, cultures
and character. When Catholicism (still led by the pope in Rome) was
challenged in England and northern Europe during the Reformation,
religious conflicts further complicated the imperial ambitions of the
local royal leaders, and centuries of aggression, betrayals and
territorial resentments followed --- leading to Napoleon in the 19th
century, and, as mercantile, industrial and mass societies arose, to
world wars, Nazi fascism and Soviet communism in the 20th century.
I have simplified and condensed much in the above, but it illustrates
why trying to impose a political union of Europe in only a few years,
while historically understandable and idealistic, is so problematic ---
especially in nations and societies which have becomes inherently
The desire to impose an order determined by self-appointed and elite
arbiters is, in spite of its idealistic rationales, ultimately a totalitarian
The British empire was created not only by imposing itself militarily
and economically through maritime dominance of places far from its
small island nation, but by the presumption that it had the right and
destiny to do so. The 20th century and its brutal conflicts cured the
British of these illusions, but did not diminish its enduring
contribution to certain global systems of democratic politics, the
rule of law and national sovereignty.
Once Europe overstepped its ambitions of denying British
sovereignty, the experiment was off. The United Kingdom was
scheduled to leave the EU in April. An agreement between the
parties delineating the separation was preferred, but not necessary.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit terms, which she awkwardly
negotiated, were not acceptable to a significant number in her own
Conservative (Tory) Party in Parliament. These euroskeptics, long
opposed to the EU, and others in the Parliament, ended Mrs.
May's feckless premiership. She has now been replaced by the
controversial former mayor of London, and later foreign minister
As Sir Bill Cash, the godfather of euroskepticism and the senior
figure of the backbencher euroskeptics, has repeatedly pointed out,
Britain will continue to trade with Europe, albeit on some different
terms. Great Britain and continental Europe are inextricably linked
by proximity and trade, and no serious Brexiteer is suggesting
For the United States, Brexit presents the two leading
English-speaking nations with new opportunities for economic
trade and cooperation. Britain still leads its voluntary global
Commonwealth which includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and several smaller African,
Asian and South American nations --- a quarter of the world’s
population, but it could increase its trade with the U.S. via new
arrangements outside the former constraints imposed by the E.U.
Perhaps equally consequential for the U.S. side of the Atlantic
would be the British successful resistance to the loss of its
sovereignty, a threat the U.S. also faces in certain international
courts and global environmental institutions which seek to
by-pass U.S. legal procedures, standards and customs --- and
U.S. public opinion.
On October 31, 2019, Great Britain is scheduled to leave he EU
--- with or without a separation deal. The new prime minister
has pledged to try one more time to negotiate a deal with EU
leaders, but he has also asserted that if those negotiations fail,
Britain will leave the EU on that date anyway.
With Brexit concluded. the U.K. becomes potentially even
more important to the U.S. with possible major new trade and
other economic relationships. The ingredients and the incentives
are already in place, but it will take initiatives from both
President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson to make them
happen and succeed.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.