First came Brexit; followed by Donald Trump four months later.
Both showed that voters wanted significant change. Both are considered populist. Two years later, Britain and America, once the most stable nations in the world, are now in turmoil. Their friends and allies are in confusion.
Mrs. May’s Conservative government could fall at any time. She survived this week and things are likely to quiet down with the summer recess, but with only a few months until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, there’s going to be more turmoil ahead.
There is little reporting on Brexit in the United States. Americans don’t realize how important it is. The best analogy is this: California has voted to leave the United States, effective March 29th 2019. The vote was over two years ago, but there’s still no agreement on trade between California and the other 49 states and time is running out. What about passports? Residence rights – can Californians remain in the other states after 3/29? Can people from Michigan remain in California if they own a home and work there?
It’s almost unthinkable. So is Brexit, except that it’s less than fifty years since the UK was a fully independent country outside of the EU (then the EEC, the European Economic Community).
It gets more complicated.
The referendum of June 2016 was a free vote. Many Conservative MPs (Members of Parliament) voted to “Leave,” but many voted to “Remain.” Members of the other political parties mostly voted to “Remain” in the EU.
73% of all MP’s support continued membership of the EU, including 56% of Conservatives. But they are bound by the referendum result when 51.9% of the electorate voted to Leave, 48.1% Remain. Voter turnout was 72.21%, meaning that just over one third of British voters wanted to stay in the EU. Parliament is clearly not in step with the people. British democracy is at risk here.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister who presided over the vote, resigned. He voted to “Remain;” as did Theresa May, his successor, who is now trying to deliver Brexit. Although she is committed to honoring the will of the people and intends for Britain to leave Europe, she is clearly “hugging the coast” and wants as close a relationship as possible. She made things more difficult for herself last year when she called for a General Election, resulting in a minority government, which is propped up by a party from Northern Ireland.
On Friday, 6th July, the Cabinet met at the Prime Minister’s country home of Chequers to discuss the way forward. They drew up plans for further negotiations with the EU. Since then, a number of party leaders have resigned, including the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and the chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis. Both men accused Mrs. May of wanting a compromise. Mrs May has had twelve frontbenchers resign since the election last year.
Visiting US President Donald Trump was in the UK a week later and got involved by stating that if the UK does not break away from Europe completely, the US may not be able to give the country a trade deal. If Britain were bound in some way to EU trade regulations, it would complicate a trade deal with America. Mr. Trump also said that he thought that Mr. Johnson, a close personal friend, would make a great prime minister.
Boris Johnson gave a Churchillian speech in parliament on Wednesday on why he resigned, criticizing Mrs. May and claiming that Brexit can be saved. Mr. Johnson has made a point of saying that the British have lost the confidence needed to go it alone. He claims that May’s proposals would lead to Britain becoming a “colony” of the German led EU. A poll yesterday by “Westmonster” showed that, given a choice between Johnson or May, 93% of voters would support Mr. Johnson. (“Westmonster” is similar to Breitbart.)
It’s reminiscent of the late 1930’s, with a weak, compromising Prime Minister (Chamberlain / May) and one voice defying Europe (Winston Churchill/ Boris Johnson). Churchill is Mr. Johnson’s hero – he wrote a book on him a few years ago: “The Churchill Factor: How one man made history.” He may yet succeed May and lead Britain to a full Brexit.
US PRESIDENT TURNING THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN
Mr. Trump was criticized for getting involved in British domestic affairs. In an interview after his visit to the UK, he was asked who is America’s biggest “foe.” He replied that the EU is the biggest foe of the US at this time.
This followed his attendance in Brussels at the NATO conference, at which he threatened to pull America out of NATO if European countries do not contribute more to the military organization.
Not all EU countries are members of NATO. The EU is a major trading organization, whereas NATO is a military alliance. Within the space of a few days, Mr. Trump criticized the two organizations that have been pillars of the Western Alliance for many decades. An immediate consequence was the EU signing a trade agreement with Japan. The EU is already China’s largest trading partner, and China is the EU’s second largest trade partner after the US. The EU, China and Japan are busy building closer ties as the US turns away.
Mr. Trump ended his European trip with a visit to Helsinki to meet with Russia’s President Putin. This was the most shocking meeting of all with the US president seeming to support Mr. Putin against his own intelligence services, Putin denying that Russia interfered in the US election. Mr. Trump has backtracked on his claim, now supporting his intelligence services; but has followed all this by inviting Putin to Washington in the autumn.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the President of the United States, in just a few days, turned the world upside down.
The late Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, wrote a memoir of his years in the diplomatic service after World War II when America built the present world order. He gave the book the title: “Present at the Creation”, published in 1969. It would be appropriate now for somebody involved in current events, to write a sequel: “Present at the Destruction.”
The seventy-year global world order put together mostly by America and Britain is ending. It may take a year or two to see clearly what will replace it.