A Hopeful Sign that the Special Relationship and American Exceptionalism Will Endure
It is fitting that the first visiting head of state that President Donald Trump hosted was Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May—a meeting that provided a glimmer of hope in what was otherwise a devastating week for the United States on the world stage. The Special Relationship is the term used to describe the deep economic, strategic and cultural ties between Great Britain and the United States. It traces its roots to the nineteenth century and was first referenced by Winston Churchill in 1944. Reaching its zenith with the close rapport between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s, this special and historic relationship has fostered economic prosperity and security on both sides of the Atlantic and has resulted in a close trading partnership between the two democracies.
Underscoring trade between both nations is especially critical now because on June 23, 2016 Britons voted in favor of a referendum to leave the European Union (EU) in an act commonly referred to as “Brexit.” Many, including the new U.S. President, have drawn parallels between Brexit and other populist and nationalist movements sweeping the world. Indeed this is likely the impetus that swept Donald Trump into power. Leaving the EU has its benefits. For a more in-depth exploration of the similarities between American federalism and the appeal of the Brexit referendum in the UK, see Why No American Would Ever Vote to Stay in the European Union. However, Prime Minister May has a long road ahead. The UK is currently scheduled to notify the EU officially of its intention to leave in March 2017. This will set in motion a series of procedures detailed in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Final exit negotiations must conclude within two years of notification or by March 2019.
Prime Minister May is also tasked with negotiating bilateral trade frameworks with important trading partners that the UK currently enjoys as a member of the EU. The United States is among those countries and failure to implement a bilateral FTA could complicate the current seamless trading partnership. Absent a newly-negotiated and implemented bilateral trade framework between the UK and U.S., British severance of its economic links to the EU would result in trade relations reverting back to the basic level of World Trade Organization (WTO) law.
Brexit’s implications for US-UK relations was a high priority during the closed door discussions between both heads of state and during the news conference that followed, and the two heads of state did discuss the negotiation of a U.S.-UK free trade agreement. The American president recognizes the significance of the Special Relationship and understands the merits of bilateral trade agreements. The members of the ALEC Task Force on International Relations adopted model policy encouraging the U.S. president to launch negotiations on a new comprehensive bilateral trade agreement in order to foster the continuation of existing commercial agreements between the United States and European Union. Given the fact that trade agreements generally take years to finalize and ratify, talks should begin now.
Before Prime Minister May’s visit, pundits observed that she had the most to win or lose with the visit. I believe the American president has the most to gain or lose. If this visit between the heads of state of the leaders of the Anglosphere results in the president internalizing the vital role that the United States has played internationally since the end of World War II – a role that has led to unparalleled peace and prosperity, including in the United States – then President Trump and America have gained something of inestimable value. If Prime Minister May convinced the new president to be “100 percent behind NATO”, Western ideals have won. And perhaps with the negotiation of this bilateral agreement with the UK, President Trump will see the value of multilateral agreements, like the recently jettisoned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for which ALEC also has model policy. If negotiating and finalizing a U.S.-UK FTA leads the president to conclude that multilateral frameworks prod not just one country, but entire regions to adhere to the trade rules that the United States established and from which this nation and the world benefit, then the West will have scored a huge victory that will truly enhance American greatness and put this nation first.