Despite the seemingly daily drama in Westminster upending the previous day’s plan on Brexit, the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union on October 31. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently attempting to renegotiate an exit deal with the E.U., it remains uncertain whether that will be successful.
If no deal is reached by October 31st, the U.K. will crash out of the European Union, throwing trade between the two unions back to World Trade Organization (WTO) standards. This would increase tariffs on trade with its European partners, as well as risk the current status of the open border between the Republic of Ireland—which will remain in the E.U.—and Northern Ireland, which will leave alongside the rest of the U.K. The history of the Irish border is complicated, but suffice it to say that it is in no party’s interest to change this status quo.
Maintaining free trade with European states must be a top priority for the U.K. Last year, the E.U. accounted for 46% of all U.K. exports, 54% of all imports, and seven of the U.K.’s ten largest export markets and sources of imports were from the other E.U. nations. This should not prohibit the U.K. from using a no-deal Brexit as leverage to get a better exit deal, but we should be under no illusion that a no-deal Brexit would be preferable to exiting with a renegotiated one. Johnson has been consistent on this. “We want to do a deal,” he told the BBC earlier.
Regardless of whether the U.K. is able to renegotiate the exit deal, Britain is set to regain the ability to negotiate its own trade deals on November 1st. Having joined the European Economic Community (the European Union’s predecessor) in January 1973, it has been unable to do so since—instead negotiating deals as one part of the larger European community.
The freedom it will reclaim on November 1st is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the United Kingdom as well as her allies, and is one that we should enthusiastically embrace. While its European partners will remain close allies and trading partners, the world has changed dramatically since the European Economic Community was first founded. Brussels isn’t the only game in town, as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab put it. Only leaving the E.U. can pave the way for “a truly global Britain.”
This is where the United States comes in.
President Trump, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton have all announced their strong support for negotiating a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement after Brexit. Additionally, 45 Republican Senators have signed a letter to the United Kingdom reaffirming their commitment to this goal.
The so-called “special relationship” between our two countries, which dates back to World War II, has made the United Kingdom our closest ally. This relationship extends to matters of trade. We are their largest trading partner, having exchanged $261.9 billion in goods and services last year. While a free trade agreement wouldn’t eliminate all short-term fallout effects of a no-deal Brexit, there is quite a bit of reform that would be mutually beneficial to both countries. Compounded with the current trade war with China, such a deal with our closest ally could move to soften the fallout.
Free trade agreements are never easy to negotiate and often get bogged down in minutiae when politicians face pressure from various domestic forces to include protectionist policies on specific sectors. However, several think tanks from both sides of the Atlantic have put out a report outlining an ideal free trade agreement between the U.S. and U.K.—including CATO, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Adam Smith Institute.
Unfortunately, Democrats appear considerably less supportive of such an idea.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced in August that she would oppose such an agreement if Brexit violated the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which de-militarized the conflict between Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland. Clearly referring to a no-deal Brexit, Speaker Pelosi revealed her hand that she was unaware that the current deal proposed by the EU also violates GFA. If the E.U. is unwilling to renegotiate the exit deal—which it has been so far—then the U.K. is powerless to meet Speaker Pelosi’s conditions.
By setting an impossible standard, she is apparently willing to block the benefits of a trade deal for American consumers, as well as risk the already strained special relationship with our closest ally.
All for something that the U.K. cannot itself fix.
The opportunity that a newly independent Britain presents to the world is not something that will repeat itself for quite some time. I sincerely hope that the Democrats will come around on this issue, but the GOP must be the party to champion this opportunity. Only a united front emphasizing the clear benefits of such a deal would entail for Americans will have enough pressure to potentially get the Democrats on-board.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.