Leadership and Brexit

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Leadership and Brexit

-By Morgan Deanne

Brexit is making the news this week but the kind of chaos that we’ve seen has been building day by day over several years. 

Why did they vote for Brexit?

The causes of Brexit are relatively familiar for American conservatives, and many pundits and analysts compared the vote for Brexit to the same fervor that elected Trump. The first major reason was economics. Many members of the EU, particularly countries in the Central and Western Europe subsidize what are seen as lax retirement policies, generous benefits, and stagnant economies of Southern Europe. So when Trump warned that he didn’t want America to become like Greece, the people in the UK didn’t want to pay for the messes in Greece, Italy, and Spain. 

The next major issue for Britain’s was that of sovereignty. Much like the rural Americans or out of work industrial workers in the Midwest who feel that Washington elites don’t recognize and respond to their concerns, British voters feel like the administrators of the EU in Brussels don’t recognize their complaints. Some EU members like Angela Merkel of Germany saw the refugee crisis as a collective problem and stressed the need to do more. But many member nations, such as those that voted for Brexit, as well as Poland and Hungary, viewed immigration as a national issue over which they should have much more control. Obviously, Trump ran on securing the border, so again, this is something that American conservatives can relate to and it’s a major reason why this was compared to the populism that Trump tapped into. 

Trade deals are another major issue. Brexit voters felt like Britain should have the ability to negotiate its own trade deals instead of having to follow EU deals over which they have much less control. In short, while the British were in the European Union they felt as though they gave up a good deal of control for very little in return. And that the elites of their country as well as elites across Europe weren’t acting in their best interests or even listening to them. 

Since then

After they voted to leave the British Prime Minister invoked the necessary clause and Britain then had over two years two come to an agreement with the European Union. But there were a variety of factors that made this relatively difficult. First, Prime Minister Teresa May called for another election. It was thought that since she just won Brexit that this would increase the number of politicians that supported that position. It turned into a fiasco and she actually lost seats, which made any agreement she presented to Parliament even tougher to pass. 

The Brexit politicians were split between those that wanted more freedom and control over Britain’s future, and those that wanted as little disruption as possible. But the causes for Brexit in the first place hinged upon the amount of control Britain had over their future so May had to contend with politicians at home that couldn’t agree on what a post Brexit Britain looked like. On top of that, May had to negotiate with the EU and deal with what they thought a post Brexit Britain looked like. Prime Minister May was stuck between two sides that were very far apart, and there were significant disagreements within her own party.

Day after day, month after month, and what turned out to be year after year they fought over what kind of customs agreement they would have, how British and European Union members would now move across international boundaries (particularly the UK’s only land boundary with Europe in Northern Ireland), how trade goods would be imported and exported, what trade deals Britain will have, and how much money Britain would owe their EU counterparts in a divorce deal. 


The details of these negotiations were never released but day after day the news stories were the same. The talks were ongoing and British leaders were very optimistic, hopeful, and hopefully optimistic year after year.  

Undermining this hope was that every time May reached even a tentative deal, members of her cabinet would resign. This list has grown quite long as the pro-Brexit politicians find that they could not in good conscience agree with the deals that were set. Their main concerns with these deals were that Britain was not quite free enough, and in some cases, such as a backstop of customs and immigration agreements they are giving the EU a veto over their exit. Another said that the deal does not honor the result of the referendum. One claimed that the deal leaves the UK in a halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation. Another prophetically said that the deal leads Britain barreling towards an incoherent exit.

Yet somehow the last few weeks have seen even more chaos. May came back from the EU with a deal in place, and yet more politicians resigned from her cabinet. She delayed a vote in Parliament as she worked to convince key parties to vote for it and it failed miserably anyway. May scurried back to Brussels to rework the deal, and they didn’t budge. The deal was again defeated in Parliament, but they also rejected a delay and a hard Brexit with no deal. May has officially requested a delay, but assuming the EU allows that delay, it strains credulity to believe that the two sides will reach a deal in the next six weeks when they haven’t reached one in the last two years.

This leaves May in a position where Britain will likely leave  without a deal in place, without the support of Parliament or the EU. Without prior agreements the borders, ports, and airports will be absolutely choked with chaos. To give you some examples, when I visited London there was a three hour wait for Americans but a speedy lane that measured in minutes for EU members. That will vanish under Brexit. 

Many students who are studying in England, tourists traveling, and ex pats working for European companies based in London and British citizens working for companies abroad would be stuck at airports, unsure if they could return to their country of origins or return to country in which they work. For comparison it would be like the chaos surrounding Trump’s first travel ban. Car companies that lower costs by relying on a steady supply of cheap foreign goods will face massive supply disruptions as the parts they need are stuck in ports. Farmers that rely on inexpensive and no hassle transport of fresh goods will be hit especially hard. For example, British poultry farmers increase the profits of their chickens by selling white meat locally, and exporting the dark meat to Eastern European countries that have a taste for it. Now there is a good chance the meat will rot in ports before it can be shipped to markets.

What would Trump Do?

Through all of this chaos I couldn’t help but imagine what Trump would do. The media likes to portray every Trump tweet like it’s the end of the world, and that he has ruined everything he touches including every alliance, but he has built a track record of decisive action that contrasts with the palavering British exit.   

He complained on the campaign trail that America’s allies were not doing enough and in some cases even taking advantage of America. NATO members, often consisting of the same countries May is negotiating with, are now spending more on their defense spending in answer to Trump complaints. Some countries like Poland are even promising to build a base and name it after Trump.  South Korea recently agreed to pay more for housing US soldiers stationed there and our East Asian allies are performing more Freedom of Navigation patrols (to counter China’s increasing aggression). 

Britain was upset that they didn’t have more freedom over their trade deals, but Trump has renegotiated NAFTA with our nearest trading partners. He has also pressured China to end their unfair trading practices using tariffs which seem to be working thus far. 

He unilaterally moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, and many countries are following suit. He announced the withdraw of troops from Syria, and has taken executive action on the border wall after the longest shutdown in American history. So what would Trump do in Brexit?

He would have negotiated a hard line in trade deals, forced concessions, and if he didn’t get them he would have gone to the brink, such as a government shutdown, or taken as much executive action as he could, (and perhaps some that he shouldn’t.) The end result would have been a much better position for Britain, and if he didn’t have a deal in place, he would have done as much as he could and have America as ready as possible for an exit.


Great Britain is a key ally and facing a crossroads for their future. But their negotiating strategy has been a contrast in leadership. It shows the limits of tactful dialogue and should remind Trump critics that action and results are often more important than that dialogue. 

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