Should Britain Listen to America's Brexit Lectures?

June 16, 2016 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Skeptics Tags: Lindsey GrahamJeanne SheehanBrexitUk PoliticsNATO

Should Britain Listen to America's Brexit Lectures?

Two U.S. senators presume to know more about British security than its own residents.


We are told that God is concerned when even a sparrow falls to earth—and apparently, so is Washington. It seems that there is no event around the globe with which America is not concerned, including the possibility of a British withdrawal from the European Union. The United States is not a member of the EU (which is surprising, given Washington’s propensity to join most every international organization created). Americans are not subject to the EU’s dictates (which is also surprising, given the enthusiasm in Washington for intrusive, needless regulation). The United States does not typically ask other nations to opine on its own affairs (imagine the reaction in Washington if the British prime minister endorsed a North American Union).

So how is the decision of the people of the United Kingdom to leave the EU an issue for the United States?


On his recent trip to the UK, President Barack Obama offered his opinion, lecturing his hosts on why they should vote to stay. And if they didn’t, he made it clear he wouldn’t help Britain develop new economic relationships. The Brits would be at the back of the bus for any free trade agreement, Obama threatened.

Last week, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Lindsey Graham came along to tell the British why they should stay in a Washington Post editorial. The only saving grace is that for once, Senator Graham did not propose military action. A threat of airstrikes on London if the Brits vote for “Brexit” would have been more in keeping with his militarist predilections.

The authors of the op-ed failed to address any of the arguments for opting out of the EU. Of course, Shaheen and Graham are members of the U.S. Senate, which rarely allows evidence to get in the way of finely honed political positions. Nevertheless, the proposal for Brexit is not merely an “isolationist” spasm, as they suggest. The UK has sacrificed sovereignty to and endured regulation by a democratically challenged quasigovernment based in Brussels.

One can argue whether the EU was and remains a good deal. I think the organization (and its predecessors) did a great job creating a continental market and did good work by encouraging former Eastern bloc states to adopt democratic reforms. But Brussels appears to have become almost as abusive and paternalistic as Washington, without the nominal accountability provided by an elected president. And in the view of many UK residents, the loss of border controls has created a national security issue.

But what I think really shouldn’t matter to the Brits. Still, if I was so brash as to write an article telling them what to do, I might mention the actual issues, rather than toss my favorite epithet at opponents. Indeed, Shaheen’s and Graham’s broadside tells us far more about them than the issue of Brexit. They view any American who is not in favor of the intervention du jour as an “isolationist.” I’ve always thought it a curious form of internationalism that envisions bombing, invading and occupying as many nations as possible.

The two U.S. senators lecture the British on their own security, as if two American legislators know the interests of the UK better than its own residents. My favorite line from their article is that “We cannot think of a group or nation that presents a threat to France, Germany and the United States that doesn’t also present a threat to Britain.” This is utter nonsense. After all, Senator Graham, at least, has never found a country which he did not believe presented a threat to America. Since losing its empire, Britain has not defined its interests nearly so widely. To its credit, it did not choose to send troops to Vietnam, Panama, Somalia, Haiti and Lebanon, all “threats” to America which apparently required U.S. military action.

The senators probably view China as a danger to the United States. Prime Minister David Cameron likely disagrees, having done his best to be President Xi Jinping’s poodle. Even some British have been embarrassed by their government’s shameless pursuit of Chinese yuan. The senators also consider North Korea to be a dire threat. As far as I’m aware, however, North Korea’s Cute Leader has yet to threaten to turn London into a sea of fire, or whatever his latest preferred threat is. Since Britain has no troops in or around the peninsula, the North has no interest the UK (or Brexit).

Shaheen and Graham also repeatedly—and dishonestly—link the EU and NATO, even though no one expects Britain to leave the transatlantic military alliance. (the United States should be the one to leave, or at least turn over defense duties to a collection of European states with a larger economy and population than America). Turkey has been a member of NATO for decades without being part of the EU club.

The authors decry the loss of British participation in European decisions that would follow Brexit, even though London’s influence long has fallen short of its interests. The two senators also worry that “secession could be contagious.” It is as though the British should be blamed if other European peoples believe their nations also would be better off separate from the ambitions of those determined to create a European superstate, irrespective of the European peoples’ desires.

Finally, Shaheen and Graham trot out the hoary specter of “the 1930s, as the wolves devoured Europe.” That was eight decades ago. The two senators also wave the threats of terrorism and Russia, but no one, or at least no serious analyst, believes Moscow is about to launch a war of conquest across the continent. And ISIS’s legions don’t quite measure up to the Wehrmacht, which did launch a war of conquest over much of the continent. The authors don’t bother to explain exactly how London’s EU membership will help stop the ISIS threat.

The British should vote as they see fit. They should judge their own interests. They should weigh issues of economics, security, liberty and sovereignty. They should back whichever option seems best for their people and nation. But, unlike some denizens of Washington, I don’t claim to know what that is.

Doug Bandow is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr