By Ben Kelly, blogger and editor of The Sceptic Isle.
The recent plea from Nile Gardiner of the influential US think-tank The Heritage Foundation was a pleasing reminder that there are still some voices in the US who see the merits of an independent United Kingdom. It is unfortunate that official US policy is to compel Britain to remain within the union as part of its desire to see a united Europe modelled on its own image.
Such homogeneity is easier to interact with diplomatically and also easier to manipulate and handle in matters of foreign affairs, such has been the case in US support for a politically loaded association agreement between the EU and Ukraine.
The US administration has little time for the concerns of British EU-sceptics, such as conserving the independence of our legal system and our foreign, economic and security policy, and restoring the sovereignty of parliament. This is a shame because a Britain integrated into the EU and unable to act independently will be a limited ally and a far weaker friend to the United States.
American conservatives especially should see the merits in an independent UK. They have in the past called for greater economic ties, they should also champion the conservation of our culture of liberty, law, government and economic freedom; the sturdy foundations their own great country is built upon. These are our common traits and they are being eroded and threatened by EU integration.
In 1952, then-U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that “Britain has lost an empire but has failed to find a role.” Its role should have been one befitting the mother of the Anglo-sphere. A role as a global champion of the liberty, democracy and rule of law nurtured on this island and spread across the globe.
The end of imperial Britain needn’t have led us to be ruled from the continent. Post-imperial Britain could still have been a proud nation protective of its sovereignty and managing its transition from global empire to a medium sized power with dignity. For even with diminished influence and power after empire Britain still has a global cultural and political reach with a strong foundation of exceptional principles envied and sought after around the world.
Sadly, a demoralised, confused and defeatist Britain took the decision in the 1970’s to renounce its cultural, legal and philosophical bond with the Anglosphere. Much to the dismay of our Commonwealth allies we decided our new role would be within the fledgling European project. Despite its close proximity (oft cited, now discredited by modern globalisation, as a reason to favour links with the continent) Europe consists of a range of cultures, legal systems and political philosophies very different from liberal Britain.
Though the continent could be harmonised under different but similar ideals, Britain could only be integrated by betraying and abandoning its own. This was a bad choice which has led us down the wrong path; we are approaching a time when we will have an opportunity to rectify this. The EU is at a crossroads and is highly likely to take a path which should be unpalatable to Britain.
The most influential voices in Europe want to press forward with deeper integration: full economic union, a harmonised legal system and a common defence and foreign policy. This is essentially a transition away from nation-state democracy and the creation of a federal European state.
The unintended negative consequences of this ideological grand project have been many: Mass unemployment, the rise of nationalism and extremist populist parties, the economic recession of southern Europe and the stagnation of the eurozone to name but a few. The EU response to these crises will be the completion of the union, leaving Britain (for now) in an outer sphere of the EU.
The European Economic Community (EEC) for which the British people signed up for in a 1975 referendum- which was sold as a community of trade and cooperation, not supranational bureaucracy- is gone. In-fact, it never was. The British establishment was not wholly ignorant of the true purpose of the project, but they relied on the ignorance of the public to win a mandate for EEC membership.
Soon, even the EU as it is today will no longer be on offer. The Cameron led re-negotiation does not seek significant change nor will it guarantee a safeguard against moves to integrate the UK in the future. Britain will face the choice between integration into a powerful, centralised European state or secession. Britain today needs to think very seriously about an alternative relationship with the EU and how to build an alternative future. Without coherent alternatives we will either end up voting “in”, and heading for ever closer union, or “out”, where we will head into uncharted waters without a paddle.
Britain does have other choices. It can have a relationship of cooperation and mutually beneficial economic ties with the European Union rather than being subject to it. Beyond the EU and independent Britain can look outwards to the world. To find our new role we should open up our economy to the world, proudly take our seat at the World Trade Organisation and then look to our cultural cousins and allies.
Unlike other EEC members, Britain severely narrowed many of its major trade networks when it joined. It also surrendered every Britons’ right to free movement between the UK and Commonwealth nations. So much trust and good will was lost between Britain and the Commonwealth because we turned away from them, but these strong personal, cultural and economic ties still remain. They have been strengthened by the new age of internet driven globalisation as the English speaking peoples form new bonds. They can be strengthened further and our national ties revived.
Britain’s financial sector and technical capabilities already play significant a role in Canada’s economy, this can be built upon. The US and the UK have long been financial partners, as well as being strong military and intelligence allies. If Britain no longer had to adhere to EU rules measures could be taken to substantially deepen the relationship.
Our economies are already closely linked in many areas and share many interests. They invest in each other heavily; in 2011 British firms invested £15.5 billion in the US (more than any other nation) while U.S. firms invested £15 billion in the UK. US foreign direct investment in the U.K. is valued at £204 billion, while U.K. investment in the U.S. is worth £210 billion. As the homes of the world’s greatest financial centres, and as major investors and recipients of foreign investment, the US and the UK have a lot to gain from promoting economic freedom.
During the nineties and early noughties there was much discussion of Britain becoming a member of the North American Free Trade Organisation. Support in the United States is strong on the right. Condoleeza Rice, President Bush’s foreign policy adviser, said back in 1999 “Were the British to come and say with a unified voice, ‘We’d like to join NAFTA,’ I don’t think there would be any objection.” Senator Phil Gramm, part of a Republican group calling for closer ties with the UK, is also keen advocate of British membership of NAFTA.
NAFTA is not perfect, but it has the advantage of being already set up, ready to join, with a 21 year track record of success. Britain could enjoy free trade with the EU after being accepted into NAFTA, but it cannot do the reverse. NAFTA does not seek to integrate members into a political union, nor does it impose a utopian vision of a unified social policy. NAFTA has had no effect on Canadian social policy, which is very similar to our own, but it has brought extra revenue to Canada to pay for its policies.
The Euro crisis is set to be prolonged and is cause long term stagnation. The US has pursued a policy of propping up the euro, and encouraging closer union while discouraging British independence from Brussels. This is short-sighted and unimaginative.
Instead, preparations should be made for the possibility of the long term stagnation, or even collapse of the euro zone. Alternatives for Britain in the event of secession must be formulated now. Even if the NAFTA option proved problematic, a free trade partnership between Britain and the US would be significant. Rejoining the North Atlantic economic community would be beneficial for all. Combining this with an open economy and stronger trade links with the Australia, India, the rest of the Commonwealth and, indeed, the world will ensure Britain makes a success of independence.
Strengthened economic and political ties between Britain, the US, Canada and Australia would give a new lease of life to the Anglosphere and its shared virtues and a renewed sense of purpose for all the beacons of the free world. Together we can be global champions of economic freedom, trade, liberty and democracy and help grow our own economies while spreading prosperity across the world.
Originally published on The Sceptic Isle.