Is it conceivable that Brexit passions are spent in Westminster? Have political exertions of the last four years — of devising stratagems and repelling Remainers — exhausted the fervor for independence? For while some MPs may be world-weary, rank-and-file Brexiteers are only beginning to feel their oats.
Brexiteers are not content merely to take back power from Brussels. They want to take back power from Westminster, too. They want what is rightfully theirs: self-government, in their politics and in their persons. “Oppressions and dissatisfactions being permitted to accumulate — if ever the governed throw off the load,” John Dickinson wrote of popular disaffection, “they will do more.” To wit: “A people does not reform with moderation.”
If Brexiteers are gung-ho, why is their prime minister gummed up? Last week’s Cabinet shuffle suggested Boris Johnson, satisfied with taking Britain out of the European Union, is less eager to follow British independence to its logical conclusion: downsizing Whitehall. Instead, as Breitbart London’s James Delingpole reports, the Government’s focus is becoming, “Are you with us or against us?”
The Brexit baffle now threatens to impact Britain’s global agenda. The prime minister postponed a planned February meeting (itself pushed back from January) with President Donald Trump, rescheduled to the G7 summit meeting in June at Camp David.
Downing Street responds that a pressing domestic agenda, plus the need to marshal resources for global trade deals — let alone finessing the EU for December’s trade deadline — requires the prime minister to prioritize. One official used a Lord of the Rings analogy to explain the prime minister’s reasoning to the London Sun. “When the Eye of Sauron is off the Whitehall machine,” the Sun was told, “things stop working.”
More ominously, Britain’s decision to award Huawei a major role in structuring the UK telecom industry has dismayed the Trump administration. Breitbart London reports Trump “slamming the phone down” with Johnson, angered by Britain’s failure to heed warnings from the United States (and other allied countries) about the security threats posed by the Chinese company. Johnson is anxious not to antagonize the president, but ignoring him is not the route to realizing imperative U.S.–UK cooperation.
Confronting such condemnatory consensus, Johnson would be wise to reappraise his Huawei decision. But neither American nor British conservatives must be diverted from their larger objectives. The leader of the rightist European Reform Group in Parliament, Steven Baker, is adamant. “We need to be negotiating with the U.S. now,” Baker asserts. “Time is running out with our best ally as we head to a presidential election.”
Securing a free trade deal with America is clearly a priority. Leaked elements on Brussels’ trade scenario with Britain — in comprehensive fields of finance, fisheries, tax, and regulatory policy, to name but a few — leave no doubt the EU plans to humiliate the UK. A U.S.–UK deal is ever more vital, both as a means of forcing an EU “rethink” and in the likely event no compromise from the Continent is forthcoming.
“Reinforcing” the radical Anglo-American agenda to upend the statist status quo is another reason why comity between Trump and Johnson is so vital. In For a New Liberty, Murray Rothbard emphasized the importance of “psychologically necessary knowledge that there are other people of like mind to talk to, argue with, and generally communicate and interact with.”
Do Brexiteers feel betrayed by the Conservative government’s casual approach to implementing an “independence agenda,” root and branch? Or are Americans, fatigued by impeachment and the administration’s abysmal failure to address the deficit–debt question (despite progress on ancillary issues of taxes and regulation), questioning their faith in President Trump, while Democrats burn with misplaced self-righteousness?
The emphatic answer to both questions is yes. Conservatives in both countries are not immune from dissatisfaction. To counter this slump in the independence insurgency, Rothbard counseled that “a sense of community and esprit de corps is the best antidote for giving up liberty as a hopeless or ‘impractical’ cause.”
So why limit the push for independence to the home front? À la Rothbard, success will come by appealing beyond borders — first, by forming an Anglo-American alliance for liberty, then by taking the message to other countries attentive to the pursuit of personal liberty. The remaining EU-27 is far from a united phalanx in favor of a superstate. Surely other countries need little encouragement to follow the UK out the door.
Such as the Commonwealth: Australia and New Zealand are eager to ink free trade deals with Britain. But why stop with the free movement of goods and services? Why not formulate a freedom agenda, too, founded on the imperial heritage of shared political institutions and practices?
Canada is overripe for such a message within the “North Atlantic Triangle.” Failing to dethrone the leftist Liberal government from power last October, the Conservative party will choose a new leader from among a pack of “progressive” wannabes. Lacking a strong conservative core, Canadian Tories need inspiration from their Anglo-American allies.
This is the time for Anglo-American action in the pursuit of a radical populist program of individual empowerment. No less than a young Thomas Jefferson held out hope for a trans-Atlantic alliance for liberty, even writing George III for “the preservation of that harmony which alone can continue both in Great Britain and America the reciprocal advantages of their connection.”
Jefferson’s missive to his monarch misfired, and the 1776 revolution for independence separated America from Great Britain. Can the revolution for personal freedom in 2020 unite them again?
Stephen MacLean, a freelancer based in Nova Scotia, writes the Brexit Diary for the New York Sun.