Pass the smelling salts. The beautiful Europa is having a fainting fit. Not the first time this has happened.
One day many, many years ago, Zeus, the greatest of the gods, saw her innocently picking flowers in a field. Consumed with lust, he transformed himself into a white bull and swept her off her feet. Or, rather, he appeared so gentle and beautiful that she patted him on the flanks and climbed up on his back. Then off he charged — plunging into the sea and swimming all the way from a place in Asia to Crete, on the edge of European continent. In paintings of Europa on the back of the bull, she wears a look of surprise and exultation. She had three children in Crete fathered by Zeus.
Now she is confronted with another bull — John Bull, returning to form with all of his old assertiveness — who, like Zeus, threatens to destroy any hope she might have of living a life of quiet domesticity. However, this is a wholly different kind of disturbance.
In voting to exit the European Union, Britain has come not to woo or to ravish Europa, but to dump the poor old thing on her head.
Reacting with understandable testiness, she has told John Bull to pack his bags and get out — the quicker the better. In no uncertain terms, she has also told him that she never cared much for his love-making anyway. As she said (or, speaking for her, as Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said on German television):
I do not understand why the British government needs until October to decide whether to send the divorce papers… It is not an amicable divorce, but it was also not an intimate love affair.
Actually, there are several good reasons for postponing formal notification of plans to leave the EU until October. First, Britain and all of Europe pretty much shut down in July and August. That leaves only a few weeks for the Conservative Party to select a new leader and prime minister to replace David Cameron, who was shot down in flames in supporting the Remain cause, with someone else more in tune with the wishes of the solid majority of Britons who voted to leave. It will also give the new leader a chance to explain his approach on Europe and other matters to the party and the nation prior to entering into formal discussion of the terms of Britain’s parting from the EU.
Will Britain be faced with a daunting task in negotiating new trade deals with the EU and other countries or regions around the world? In the taunting words of Barack Obama when he visited Britain in April, will it be forced to “go to the back of the queue” in negotiating access to the U.S. market, despite being the biggest foreign investor in the U.S.?
Patrick Minford, one of the leading UK economists supporting Brexit and a close adviser to the late Margaret Thatcher during her eleven years as British prime minister, dismisses such concerns as entirely baseless. “You don’t need a trade deal to trade,” he points out. Right now, the U.S., China, and Japan all trade with the EU under ordinary World Trade Organization rules. Britain can do the same.
Or it can do whatever the new leadership and the British people want to do. Having repositioned itself as a sovereign nation — free from an obligation to follow the rules set by the EU for member states — Britain can go its own way. For instance, if it follows Minford’s advice, it will abolish all tariffs on agricultural goods and greatly reduce them on manufactured goods as well. In the EU, the average tariff on agricultural goods is a whopping 20 percent.
To give U.S. farmers and other producers tariff-free access to Britain, the world’s fifth largest economy, would immediately have the stimulative effect of lowering the price of food and other consumer goods — leaving more money in people’s pockets to make other purchases.
Many U.S. pundits have likened the Brexit campaign to Donald Trump’s presidential run — with both being fueled by populism, the desire to exert greater control over immigration, and the sudden release of a long, slow build-up of anger at the existing political and intellectual establishment.
Fraser Nelson, the editor of The Spectator, England’s oldest continuously published magazine, rejects this view. Writing in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, he asserted:
Britain isn’t having a Trump moment, turning in on itself in a fit of protectionist and nativist pique. Rather, the vote for Brexit was about liberty and free trade — and trying to manage globalization better than the EU has been doing from Brussels.
The biggest fear in Europe is that Britain may succeed all too well on its own — encouraging others to leave and exposing the hollowness of the whole concept of a “United States of Europe” — with distant bureaucrats in Brussels presuming to dictate everything from monetary and economic policies to telling member nations the welfare benefits that they must extend to newly arrived immigrants.
Britain hasn’t and won’t abandon Europe. London has more people from other European countries living and working in it than any other European capital… and all of the Brits I know love to travel in France, Spain, Germany, and other European countries.
Now it’s the EU’s turn to do a radical makeover — if it wishes to stop other nations from fleeing in horror from its clammy embrace.
Andrew B. Wilson, a senior writer at the Show-Me Institute, a free-market think tank in St. Louis, was Business Week’s London bureau chief during Margaret Thatcher’s first two terms in office.