The exit of Britain from the European Union has been variously referred to as a “culture war,” “shameless stupidity,” and outright “xenophobia and racism.” All of these sentiments are wrongheaded. Indeed, with the proper free-trade and defense agreements between the United Kingdom and the United States, the world could be a richer, safer, and more democratic place.
The key to making that better future a reality is crafting meaningful economic and military policy agreements between the United Kingdom and the United States that capitalize on the need of each nation to maintain strong, but stable currencies post-Brexit, and to maintain global order as the two leaders of the Western military world.
Relations between the United States and the United Kingdom have been a tricky thing historically, and the “special relationship” shared by the two since the late nineteenth century has frequently been at odds. Nevertheless, the two nations share more in common than almost any other two nations in the West regarding their language, culture, religion, and social history. Further, the political strife each has suffered internally in recent years has helped to bolster some understanding between the two governments regarding the plights of the other.
With the appropriate economic and defense policies to maximize the combined military might of the two nations while mitigating the losses accrued by tariffs on European trade, Brexit may not be the doomsday scenario it has been touted as. It may, in fact, be the crux needed for the Anglo-American alliance to usurp the EU’s role as arbiter of the Western will within the halls of the United Nations.
A new economic alliance?
During the 2016 referendum, the primary reason Britons gave for voting to remain in the European Union was fear, and specifically the fear that the United Kingdom would suffer in terms of jobs availability and average prices of goods should it leave the European Union. It seems more likely now, however, that the European Union will suffer far more than the United Kingdom post-Brexit, as free-trade deals between the United Kingdom and United States would ultimately undermine EU controls over quality, price, and taxation.
In 2018, the GDP of the EU single market was just over $18.7 billion, Conversely, the GDP of the United States alone was $20.5 billion, according to the World Bank. As such, were the United Kingdom to negotiate adequate free trade agreements with the non-European West, potentially including new agreements with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, it could not only stand to maintain a healthy economy without the single market, but could actually thrive.
In case this sounds too far-fetched, it is worth noting that the United States is already Britain’s foremost trade partner behind the European Union (as well as the European Union’s foremost trade partner). British and American diplomats have already been working to explicitly lay the groundwork for a post-Brexit free trade agreement between the two nations since 2017. And both the president and PM have long been eager to cement such a deal, which would have a worldwide impact on the global economy.
Should an optimal free trade agreement succeed, it would fly in the face of much of the fearful accusations surrounding Brexit, which have overly relied on the misinformed belief that the United Kingdom is more dependent on the European Union than the other way around. A paper by Thomas Sampson illustrates this point well, as it has been widely cited as demonstrating the economic disaster that must follow Brexit, despite the fact that it fails utterly to take rational choice into account and operates under the pitiable assumption that the United Kingdom will not adapt its trade policies following Brexit to favor non-European trade partners.
Economist Patrick Minford has consistently railed against this idea of the inevitability of economic loss in the wake of Brexit, arguing that a number of factors, including free trade agreements, could see the United Kingdom reap as much as a seven percent increase in GDP from Brexit. After all, what is bad for the pound and the euro is good for the dollar. But too much value in the dollar means fewer foreign investments in the US market, and in the long-term higher valuation could raise prices for Britons purchasing American goods. As such, a free-trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom is necessary to strengthen and stabilize both the dollar and the pound without overly raising the threshold for investment or the costs of consumers in either nation.
International defense policy after Brexit
The United Kingdom spends more on defense than any other member nation of the European Union, and it is the organization’s foremost in terms of both hard and soft power. Its military and network of diplomatic contacts are key to understanding why some experts have argued that the British withdrawal could “significantly weaken the European Union’s global role.” For these reasons, the re-forging of the Anglo-American alliance to meet the demands of the 21st century is vital to the proliferation of freer trade and increased security for the United States, United Kingdom, and the world at large.
Key to continuing effective military operations post-Brexit is the combined role that the United States and United Kingdom will play in managing the developing situations in the Strait of Hormuz and the Arctic Sea. This week, the Royal Navy ordered warships sent to the Strait of Hormuz to escort and protect British vessels traversing the vital shipping lanes which connect the strategic ports of the region with the rest of the world. The US Navy, meanwhile, announced that its Second Fleet was fully operational and prepared to contend with Russian and Chinese efforts to wrest control of new sea routes in the arctic, which have opened due to the melting of the polar ice cap.
Post-EU, it will be necessary for the United Kingdom and United States to increase military cohesion, particularly in terms of naval codependency, to guarantee that global shipping remains relatively unmolested and that great powers such as Russia and China are not able to overly capitalize on the decreased military reach of the European Union. Thankfully, this alliance is likely to strengthen post-Brexit, as the United Kingdom will be more reliant on ensuring better trade practices with the United States than it has been in the past.
The US drone strike earlier this week, which killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, seems to have kickstarted the necessary pushing together of US and UK military interests. Prime Minister Johnson assured the world that the United Kingdom would not lament the death of a terrorist such as Soleimani, thus helping to align the two nations’ messaging on the extrajudicial use of force. Further, Britain’s departure from the European Union will help to buffer it against increasing encroachments into the battlespace by European courts. Such efforts were decried last year by General David Petraeus (US Army, Ret’d) as needlessly interfering with US-UK joint operations. Further, the United States and United Kingdom have combined their resources together to form a coalition designed to mitigate the spread of Russian and Chinese military efforts to weaponize space.
The increased economic and military reciprocation between the United States and the United Kingdom that Brexit will bring about could prove invaluable to creating a new, better alliance to lead the nations of the world in terms of trade and security.
A non-European West?
Brexit is, to be sure, a daunting and at times unsettling prospect. For half a century the world has looked to the European Union as being a unifying voice among the global congregation of nations. In recent years, however, that voice has been unable or unwilling to speak to the needs of the individual nations within its framework. A clearer voice needs to be heard.
With the proper guidance from diplomats and experts, a renewed Anglo-American alliance could redefine the cultural and political meaning of “The West,” away from Europe and to the isle and across the pond. The need for stability, prosperity, and security, demands that the United Kingdom and United States make the most of Brexit, to forge ahead to a better future in promotion of Western democratic principles and economics.
Brexit is the greatest opportunity the Unites States and United Kingdom have had in 75 years to secure the legitimacy of liberal democracy. Such an opportunity must not be squandered.