by Conrad Black
The greatest significance in last week’s decisive and seminal British election is the victory it contains for the solidarity of the English-speaking peoples and the strength, coherence, and legitimacy of what Europeans frequently refer to as the Anglo-Saxons.
Of course, broadly, the English-speaking advanced democracies have much in common with Western Europe, and to a slightly reduced degree with Eastern Europe and westernized nations in other regions, most conspicuously Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, South Africa, the Emirates, and parts of Latin America.
But the substantial detachment of the United Kingdom from an integrated Europe so it may retain the primacy of the political institutions and the legal system it has developed over many centuries, and align itself, implicitly, more closely to its senior Commonwealth associates, Canada and Australia, as well as to its sometime senior partner in the modern world’s greatest crises, the United States, is a geostrategic development of the first importance.
In the evolution of the balance of power between nations and alliances, it ranks with the unification of the German Empire by Bismarck in 1871 upon Prussia’s defeat of France, which immediately made Germany the most powerful country in Europe and produced the close alliance of Great Britain, France, and Russia—countries which had more often been hostile to each other.
No such dramatic shift in the world’s political equilibrium portends now, but as President Trump entered office nearly three years ago, China was widely presumed to be over-taking the United States as a military and economic power and in its political influence, at least in the Far Pacific. Though the European Union had obvious problems, it was generally assumed that it would continue to add countries, become more centralized in pursuit of its declared goal of “an ever closer union,” and—as had often been declared to be its objective—resume Europe’s position of a century before, as one of, if not the principal, source of political, economic, and cultural influence in the world.
Americans generally favored the progressive federalization of Europe towards a single continental state, at first to strengthen it against the temptations and occasional outright threats of Soviet Communism, and eventually, when that threat had dissolved, as a strong ally in the advance of the general Western interest in the whole world. These were reasonable conceptions, but few American officials—and essentially only the senior echelons of the Nixon, Reagan, and Trump administrations—recognized the extent to which a united Europe was in some measure an anti-American enterprise.
Europe can scarcely deny that it desperately needed the intervention of the United States to defeat the Nazis and fascists, and very few would dispute the utility of the American alliance in deterring Soviet aggression against Western Europe during the Cold War. But once these benign missions of rescue and protection had been accomplished, the Euro-integrationists—who sometimes, in their more lyrically deluded moments, assimilated the American liberation and protection of western Europe to the repayment of parents for the gift of life even though North America was peopled by masses fleeing Europe—and Europe’s leaders mused about the phoenix-like reemergence of Europe as the light of the world. There was always some condescension to the United States in the European idea, and after the Cold War ended, a good deal of resentful rivalry as well.
Alas, there was also a full measure of hypocrisy and political cowardice. German Chancellor Angela Merkel could have been the first German leader to govern Germany responsibly as Europe’s strongest nation since Bismarck. Wilhelm II and Hitler pushed the world into terrible wars, (and the Third Reich committed unimaginable genocidal atrocities), and the distinguished statesmen of divided Germany, especially Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, were leading a truncated state with approximately 1 million members of the armed forces of its former enemies encamped in East and West Germany. Instead of seizing that opportunity, Chancellor Merkel has admitted over 1 million desperate fugitives from unassimilable and backward cultures, shut down Germany’s nuclear program and made her country an energy vassal of Putin’s Russian paper tiger, has reduced her country’s military to a token, and squandered her Christian Democrats’ ability to assure stable government.
Germany is a mute effigy of the third or fourth power in the world that it should be, and is overtly somewhat hostile to the United States, from whose hand it was fed for half a century. President Truman protected West Berlin just three years after the death of Hitler a block from the Brandenburg Gate; President Eisenhower brought West Germany into the Western Alliance over the objections of France and the misgivings of Britain. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush were instrumental in Germany’s reunification.
France has the opposite problem to Germany’s: it is too active and intrusive for the power it possesses.
France has seen the movement to a federal European Union as a method for the enhancement of French influence in Europe. It twice vetoed British entry, schemed to encourage French Canada to secede from Canada, opposed almost every foreign policy the United States has undertaken in 60 years, particularly direct negotiations with the USSR, and today is trying to set itself at the head of a neutralist officially French-speaking, post-British Europe. This is the point of the British election: the Europeans are stagnant and unreliable, arm-flapping moralists waffling and posturing and without political will. Britain’s exit is the loss of their second economy, most distinguished nationality, and it is emancipating itself from the dead hand of Eurosocialism as it rejected the Neanderthal Corbyn version of it at home. It is, moreover, setting a parallel course with its natural and historic allies.
The United States, the UK, Canada, and Australia together have a GDP twice as great as China’s and 150 percent of the ramshackle post-British Europe. They are no longer losing economic ground to China. None of the Anglo-Saxon countries has to unwind absurd socialist overindulgence amidst endless strikes and minor mob violence as France is trying to do. As a bloc, it has good economic growth rates and thanks to the Americans, (but the British are pulling their weight), it is armed to the teeth.
In a word, the hackneyed nonsense of recent decades about the post-Reagan-Thatcher decline of the Anglo-Saxons—beloved of the Chinese, French, Russians, Arabs, and Iranians—is shown, yet again in modern history to be bunk. Three of the G-7 are now floating together and the EU has suffered a loss as great as the loss of all the Pacific Coast states would be to America.
In domestic political terms, the parallel between Trump and Boris Johnson can be overstressed. The issue of relations with Europe was so important it cut through and divided the British parties. The chief argument against was the undemocratic nature of the Brussels commissioners, who aren’t answerable to anyone. Uncontrollable immigration was a distant second.
Johnson has, like Trump, fashioned an alliance of traditional conservatives with angry lower-middle class and blue-collar workers who resented the elites. His flamboyant personality can be pitched to such a wide following but he will have to make Brexit work economically.
Like the dire threats of economic calamity with a Trump victory, Project Fear, a farrago of blood-curdling Jeremiads from treasury and central bank officials about post-Brexit gloom, will prove to be just hot air. As in Elizabethan times (16th-17th centuries), under Walpole and Pitt (18th century) and under Palmerston and Disraeli (19th century), Britain has again chosen immersion in blue water rather than Europe. They are right again and the United States will benefit from it.
On his first meeting with a British leader, Theresa May, President Trump said, “a strong and independent Britain is a treasure to the world.” The times and personalities are vastly different but the geopolitical realities are not so much changed: Trump and Johnson should get on as well and benignly as did Roosevelt and Churchill and Reagan and Thatcher.
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Conrad Black has been one of Canada’s most prominent financiers for 40 years, and was one of the leading newspaper publishers in the world as owner of the British telegraph newspapers, the Fairfax newspapers in Australia, the Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times and scores of smaller newspapers in the U.S., and most of the daily newspapers in Canada. He is the author of authoritative biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, one-volume histories of the United States and Canada, and most recently of Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other. He is a member of the British House of Lords as Lord Black of Crossharbour.