June 2, 2016

June 2, 2016 | Factsheet on European Union

Brexit and the Future of the Special Relationship

The Anglo-American Relationship Is Broad and Deep

  • When we talk about the Special Relationship, we usually mean defense and security cooperation between the U.S. and Britain. That cooperation takes place through NATO, though the Five Eyes community in intelligence, and bilaterally. But it’s important to remember that each nation is among the best—if not the best—customer of and investor in the other. Then there are our educational and cultural links. None of this rests in any serious way on the EU.

The U.S. Does Not Understand the EU

  • Many Americans believe the EU is a bit like NAFTA—a free trade area. That is untrue. The EU is not even a free trade area: it is a customs union. More important, the EU is a political project and always has been. Imagine if the U.S. was part of a federal union with every other nation in the Western Hemisphere, with a supranational bureaucracy in Costa Rica that had the power to make rules for us, and a court in Mexico City that could overrule our Supreme Court. That is the EU. If you believe in democratic national sovereignty, the EU isn’t for you.

The EU Is Intensely Controversial in Britain and Will Remain So

  • Britain has been a member of the EU (and its predecessors) since 1973. The issue has been actively discussed in Britain since the late 1950s. The EU has never been a good fit for Britain because it was designed by nations on the Continent with different histories, different economics, and different political traditions. That is not going to change, no matter the outcome of the referendum on Britain’s EU membership on June 23.

Would We Want Them Telling Us How to Vote?

  • In Britain, some Labour Party members support EU membership and some oppose it. The same is true of the Conservative Party. In other words, the EU isn’t a partisan issue—it’s more important than that. It has made and broken political careers, and party leaders, for decades. Intervening in the Brexit referendum is guaranteed to annoy a lot of British politicians—as it has done—because it’s akin to telling them both who should lead their party and who should make Britain’s laws. And, of course, it’s not popular with the people of Britain either.

The Obama Administration’s Interventions Were Unwise

  • We are going to keep on working with Britain no matter how they vote. Telling them that if they leave the EU they have to go to “the back of the queue” is more than just bad policy. Do we really want to send the message, in a world where democracy is challenged by an autocratic resurgence, that the U.S. will punish a well-established democracy that holds a vote to decide its own destiny? The message we should be sending is a simple one: We value our relationship, and we’ll be here, no matter how you exercise your rights —which are ours too.

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