Britain is to rely increasingly on its special relationship with America because of Brexit; yet, because of Brexit that relationship won’t be so special anymore.
Its “special relationship” with the United States of America. That’s pretty much all brexiting Britain has left. The irony is that this is precisely why its relationship with the hyperpower might not be so special anymore.
Yes, yes, I know: a 3-trillion-dollar economy, the City of London (a mixed blessing at best), decent demographic indicators for an industrialized nation (thanks to the unwanted immigrants), exciting weather, the ability to speak a funny sounding kind of English, the memory of the Empire, the Commonwealth of states speaking their own funny sounding kinds of English, an ancient but still energetic Queen… The Brits (or the English) still boast lots of advantages!
It will be fine on its own, that “perfidious Albion”! (Just poking a little well-intentioned fun at their British sense of humor here.)
But will it? Once it “brexits”? When that happens, and, against all sense, apparently happen it will, Britain will begin to carry much less weight with everybody, America included.
And that’s assuming the optimistic scenario in which the UK won’t be reduced to just the “United Kingdom of England by Itself” or maybe “the United Kingdom of England and Wales”.
(For some reason, the latter reminds me of a short-lived post-Yugoslavian republic called “Serbia and Montenegro”. We know how that ended.)
Brexited Britain against the World
Post-Brexit Britain – or “brexited Britain” (hey, perhaps the past participle “brexited”, could become the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2017! more on this idea later) – is going to carry much less weight not just with Japanese investors shooting for the EU market, but also with Trumpism.
Of course, the Donald has made it clear he doesn’t care for the EU but Trumpism as a philosophy or style of governing is still likely to be looking for partners that carry the most weight.
The US of A is likely going to remain a global super-power-house (i.e. superpower + powerhouse) even if it ends up sharing this status, say, with China and what may have been a different type of an EU.
(OK, this might not be 100% certain, and partly depends on how mischievous a President the Donald turns out to be. Did you ever see that social media meme after the Brexit referendum in Britain, saying, “America and Britain are having a competition on who can **** themselves up the most. Britain is in the lead but has a Trump card.” Perhaps this meme shows another aspect of the “special relationship?”)
In the world beyond 2017-2019, however, a non-EU UK will be just an average-sized country, and the Scots and the Northern Irish might decide to make even “more average” by quitting it.
Unless Britain re-assembles the Empire, or at least the Dominions, and merges with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, it is never going to be even a shadow of its former powerful self, and it is never going to carry as much weight as it did as one of the top 3 EU member states.
This will still be the case even if the EU falls apart and the continent descends into chaos: when would you have greater influence – as one of the very top players in a mighty confederation, or as a bystander to a mess, faced will all kinds of chaos-bred security risks?
That’s not even getting into the practical side of the EU in terms of trade, travel, expat life in Spain, Southern France, or rural Bulgaria. Just in terms of great power status and high politics the future brexited Britain will have lost way so much that there might not be much “great” left in Great Britain anymore.
To a great extent, the UK has been such a prized “special relationship” partner for the US precisely because of its status as one of the top three member states of the European Union!
(On a more cheerful note, the US has also enjoyed other fringe benefits from this “special relationship” with the UK such as Hollywood hiring underemployed British actors to star in historical or fantasy films because of their accents (e.g. Game of Thrones), or Hollywood buying out British TV shows, Americanizing them, and then rebranding them as “[Insert Show Name Here] US” (e.g. “Shameless US”).)
The British Man’s EU Burden
The fact of the matter is that for all kinds of historical reasons, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has enjoyed, and has been allowed to by the other EU member states, both privileges and influence in European affairs that far exceeded its relative weight and financial contribution to the Union.
Nonetheless, the British press, politicians, and other vocal social actors have been complaining for decades (more like whining, really) how unfairly the UK has been treated by the EU, and how much it has sacrificed for Europe’s common good. It’s been like a contemporary politically correct reading of “The White Man’s Burden”, except it’s been “The British Man’s Burden”, and directed at fellow Europeans.
Thanks to Britain’s privileged position inside the EU, Washington has always been able to have London attempt, often with success, to steer certain EU decisions or policies in a direction that would be favorable to the interests of the United States (or the lobby groups plaguing the otherwise democratic government in D.C.).
Britain has not just had a seat at the EU table, it has had one of the top 3 or 2 seats (top 1 has always been reserved for Germany so it’s been vying for No. 2 with France).
The UK was even allowed to claim a say in Eurozone affairs regardless of never committing to adopt the euro even in the distant future when aliens will have arrived from space (maybe only when pigs fly).
The Brits have always gotten opt-outs, rebates, and other concessions from the rest of the EU whenever they’ve felt like one. Yet, they’ve never been satisfied.
They’ve kept blocking a “toothier” common EU foreign, security, and defense policy which would have been of utmost importance for the success of the bloc.
They’ve kept pushing for Turkey’s accession to the Union long after it stopped making any sense, even potentially, which was some time in the middle of Erdogan’s second term as Prime Minister.
They could push at will for an EU Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) strongly benefiting US multinational corporations at the expense of European nation-states and their citizens (which they did).
The Brits have been regularly awarded their top portfolio choices in the European Commission, the EU executive, in hope that the vociferous British tabloids might ever let up on blaming everything, including the immigration from the Indian Subcontinent and the afternoon rain. on Brussels (they never did).
And, of course, just like any other member state, the Brits could always veto single-handedly any EU motion not requiring a qualified majority, or work to build a vetoing minority if the motion did require one.
Not to mention that if you interact with the EU institutions in Brussels, you get the impression that a disproportionately high number of their spokespersons are British, as though their mother tongue gives them an edge.
Many of these opportunities have been valued highly by the United States with the deepening and widening integration of Europe, originally an American project which has generally remained in America’s best interest to this day, and will remain so even in the unlikely event that the EU ever rises to become a US peer competitor for hyperpower status. (Two democratic peer competitors can never fight an actual war, regardless of whether they are hyperpowers or middle school student councils.)
Not Much Left to Offer
With its special, though inflated, position inside the EU, Britain has had a lot to offer to the American Republic.
However, after Brexit, the US of A will still be able to store the dismantled British nukes in Georgia, but the UK will be unable to offer any of those EU-related favors in return to the Yanks.
This is going to be the case regardless of how many Tony Blair-style “poodle” stints the whoever-is-British-Prime-Minister pulls for Trump or his successors, or how many US “Coalitions of the Willing” for toppling brutal but secular and overall stabilizing Third World dictators the Royal armed forces might join.
Even Britain’s role as one of the Five Eyes in the UKUSA intelligence alliance is likely going to suffer as its not being an EU member any might affect its intelligence gathering.
To put it bluntly, no amount of Theresa May sexually spanking Donald Trump, as portrayed in this “Special Relationship” work of art by London artist Pegasus, will do the trick once Britain loses its status as America’s MVP inside the EU.
What else is there that Britain can offer America in a post-Brexit “special relationship”? Britain / England becoming a stationary aircraft carrier in case the Americans need to bomb the heck out of some aspiring power trying to control the continent.
Which is that power going to be? The Nazis? The Soviets? The Brussels Eurocrats?
What is Britain going to offer America that it doesn’t already have? If subverting the EU was ever on the US list of British favor, the Brits (would) have been doing this job better inside the Union, not outside of it.
Finally Eclipsed by Germany?
Once the UK is no longer in Europe (or no longer “united”, or no longer a “kingdom”), it might make sense for the United States, regardless of whether its guided by Trumpism or another way of seeing the world, to find a new special relationship partner in the EU.
The most likely candidate for that is Germany. Even with a worse demographic situation, and even if the UK doesn’t breakup, Germany will still carry more weight than Britain in the foreseeable future.
Sure, America and Germany won’t both be “separated by a common language”, in the words of Churchill, the father of the then disintegrating British Empire’s special relationship with America.
But America and Germany have just as much common cultural heritage, especially now that Germany is an exemplary democracy, not to mention that there probably are more Americans of German ancestry than of British ancestry.
Come to think of it, historywise, America has always been something of a hybrid between Britain and Germany combing the strengths of both (e.g. being both a naval and continental power, both centralized and decentralized, etc.), and few of their weaknesses.
And since basically all Germans speak “German English”, which is not unlike “British English”, and the young Germans speak “Denglisch” (Deutsch + Englisch), even the common language requirement for a new “special relationship” is there.
Germany does make a very likely candidate for an extra special partnership with America, so as further collateral damage from Brexit, for the first time since the German-British rivalry started in the late 19th century, Britain might find itself truly eclipsed by the Germans.
It is ironic that the UK’s accidental Prime Minister Theresa May decided to rekindle Britain’s special relationship with America, in January 2017, as its new President Donald Trump was taking over, at a time when the Brits are going to have much less to offer to the American hyperpower.
With Brexit, the British (or English) people made a sovereign, albeit likely uninformed decision to degrade their country’s global power status so perhaps it would be best for the UK to go about its downshifting in peace and quiet, rather than with a bang, since its “special relationship” with the United States isn’t likely be so special anymore.
Any contribution is appreciated!
Also check out:
Special Relationship’s Specialness: Why Britain (England) *Could* Do Fine after Brexit