In just two weeks, Britain will officially be out of the European Union although during the 11-month transition period the country remains obliged to comply with EU rules and regulations. For roughly half the population January 1, 2021 will be a day to celebrate freedom from EU diktats and to welcome an era of unlimited possibilities.
For others who believe expert predictions of economic woes, job losses and a reduction of Britain’s influence on the global stage, it will either stand as one of the darkest days in their nation’s history or the majority will merely shrug their shoulders on the grounds that we Brits will always muddle through.
There will be no bubbly for me. I loved feeling European and benefited greatly from the free passage of people whereby I was able to live and work in Paris, Nicosia, Marbella and Athens without hassle. It saddens me that the door is about to close preventing the country’s youth from expanding their horizons.
The cripplingly painful UK-EU divorce may be done and dusted but how much independence and economic growth Britain will enjoy in coming years is an open question. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is gleefully optimistic on all fronts.
Born in New York he held dual UK/US citizenship until 2017 when he renounced his American citizenship over a tax dispute. Nevertheless, Johnson sees the American camp as the way forward. While there is a shared history, language and culture between London and Washington resulting in the much-touted ‘special relationship,’ there is no denying that the relationship has suffered strains during the tenure of President Donald Trump.
The likelihood is that Trump, who pushed for a no-deal Brexit, will deliver on his pledge to place the UK at the front of the trade deal queue but at what cost? This America First president is not big on free lunches. When it comes to business, he has no friends and chances are that he will take advantage of his country’s junior partner shorn of its clout derived from EU membership.
A man who famously changes his mind several times daily, Trump’s assurances that the National Health Service is not up for grabs could have been a placatory tactic. It is more than probable that the UK will be obliged to open up to chlorinated chickens, genetically engineered crops and expensive US-manufactured drugs. Moreover, any trade deal secured with the EU will oblige the UK to abide by European food standards which do not coincide with those of the US tending to be liberal by comparison.
Trump is not popular in the UK where his approval rating stands at around 21 percent and if Johnson is coerced into becoming a US leader’s lapdog a la Tony Blair, the populist wave propelling the prime minister to greater heights will swiftly dry up. He knows not to get overly cosy with Trump in public. In the run-up to the recent election, he studiously kept his distance from the visiting Leader of the Free World.
So far, the signs pointing the way to the UK’s liberation from outside influences look less than positive. This week the US sent in heavyweights from its National Security Agency and National Economic Council to lean on the UK government to outlaw Huawei from assisting with the development of its planned 5G mobile network.
Dragged into US wars
Britain is also vulnerable to being dragged into US wars. During the recent tensions between the US and Iran that narrowly escaped erupting into all-out conflict, unlike the governments of France and Germany that were unequivocally opposed to war, the UK sent out mixed messages fudging on which side of the fence it stood.
Boris Johnson did join with the French president and the German chancellor in calling for de-escalation while simultaneously deploying a Royal Navy nuclear-powered submarine to the region. According to newspaper reports the Department of Defence was planning to engage with the United States in the event of war.
The fact is that Britain’s defensive capabilities have been downgraded over the decades in light of its reliance on good old Uncle Sam and NATO for protection. But at a time when the White House rides roughshod over America’s traditional allies preferring to fawn over several of its nuclear-armed adversaries and cracks are beginning to form within the alliance, the UK’s Department of Defence is experiencing an awakening.
“We are very dependent on American Air Cover and American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets,” said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in an interview with the Sunday Times, while admitting that America’s increasingly isolationist policies keep him awake at night—and rightly so in my view.
Lastly, here is an important point that’s been pushed under the radar. Americans head to the polls in November. What if the president does not get a second term, will his successor bestow the UK with a fast-track trade deal given that his predecessor Barack Obama warned the UK that quitting the EU would send it to the back of the queue?
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.