U.S. should stay out of Brexit debate

John O'Neill

Anxiety is acute on both sides of the Atlantic over Great Britain’s referendum scheduled for June 23 on whether to remain or leave the European Union.

The Obama administration has even resorted to unseemly threats should Great Britain vote to leave the EU. President Barack Obama has warned that Great Britain will have to go to “the back of the queue” on trade negotiations should it vote to leave the EU. And U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has warned the British electorate that “We’re not particularly in the market for free trade agreements with individual countries.”

Truth be told, the United States has several free trade agreements with individual countries. These countries include Israel, South Korea, Morocco and Chile. Froman might find this information useful in his role as trade representative.

But worse than Froman’s weak grasp of the facts is the Obama administration’s policy of intimidation. This is an issue that can only be settled by Great Britain, and the United States is out of line taking a side in the debate, even if the Obama administration was solicited by British Prime Minister David Cameron to enter the fray.

Moreover, though the administration may be anxious over the prospect of Great Britain leaving the EU, it should come as no surprise. Great Britain has a history of reluctance over union with Europe.

When Winston Churchill called for the establishment of “the United States of Europe” in his speech at the University of Zurich in 1946, he did not envision Great Britain as part of this proposed entity. The great wartime leader was still harboring the dream of Great Britain as a superpower independent of blocs.

Nor did Great Britain join the coalition of Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and West Germany in the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which established the European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU. And France under Charles de Gaulle vetoed Great Britain’s admission into the EEC in 1963, a measure the British did not appreciate.

Great Britain was eventually admitted into the EEC in 1973 and voted to remain in the economic union in 1975. But the British have always conditioned their membership in the EEC/EU on maintaining their own independence.

Indeed, when the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 established the Euro as the eventual common currency of the EU, Great Britain abstained from the monetary union and retained the pound as its national currency.

As for the United States, the Obama administration should not be making idle threats which undermine the democratic process. Great Britain will remain an important trading partner whether or not the British remain part of the EU. And Cameron should persuade his country to remain in Europe without encouraging Obama to invoke extortion in the democratic process.

John O’Neill is a writer based in Allen Park.