Brexit: UK becomes king of the jungle for America’s conservatives

June 27th, 2016  |  Source:

Clinton represents the status quo and business as usual, just as the Remainers did in Britain

Listen. Can you hear the British lion roar? People on Europe’s side of the Atlantic may strain to do so through the din of Thursday’s shock result. But in parts of America it came through loud and clear. Among conservatives in particular the UK has become an instant king of the jungle. To Donald Trump’s supporters and critics alike, Brexit is that rare event that evoked the same instinct. What happens to Brussels need not stay in Brussels. It can happen to Washington too.

So much for Britain’s demonstration effect. What of America’s reality? The parallels between America’s coming election and the UK referendum are real, particularly if you are on the side that is expected to lose. Much like Britain’s Leave campaign, Republicans are beset by divisions, nervous of hijack by racist fringe groups, heavily discounted by the betting industry, and facing a well-oiled establishment opponent.

Mr Trump’s fate — and those of many hapless down ballot Republicans — appears to be sealed. Only fools would gamble the presidency on such a person. Why risk so much for a brief emotional release?

The answer is not quite so confident after Brexit. It was natural Mr Trump would interrupt his golf marketing stopover in Scotland on Friday to congratulate the British for taking “their country back”. That, after all, is what he is promising America. It was slightly odder that he observed Scotland “going wild over the vote” after almost two-thirds of Scots opposed Brexit. But Mr Trump has a knack of seeing things others cannot. Witness his imaginary fan base of Hispanic and African-American voters.

Yet he was not alone. The projection of American conservative dreams on to the UK referendum result went deep.

John Bolton, a senior official in George W Bush’s administration, said that Britain’s “peasants had voted to leave the feudal manor”. Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker and vice-presidential hopeful, tweeted that “Churchill and Thatcher would be proud”. Ted Cruz, Mr Trump’s former rival for the Republican nomination, heralded the vote as a “wake-up call to internationalist bureaucrats from Brussels to Washington”.

It would be easy to poke holes in such misreadings. It was Churchill who conceived of the “United States of Europe” — albeit without British participation. It was Margaret Thatcher who proposed, and negotiated, the radical (and successful) idea of a European single market from which Britain now looks likely to be shut out. Likewise, some voters for Brexit may have been misled into doing so by promises it would free up money for the National Health Service — the stuff of US conservative nightmares.

Nor, contrary to Mr Cruz, was Brexit a dramatic blow for freedom. Britain already possessed full sovereignty. All that was needed to quit the EU was more than half of voters to say so. In many countries, any momentous change would require a two-thirds majority. In the US, no state, including Mr Cruz’s native Texas, could secede without provoking war. The alternative would be to persuade three-quarters of US states, and two-thirds of each chamber of Congress, to amend the constitution. It could never happen, in other words. In legal terms Britain was little closer to being a sovereign EU’s 28th state than it is to being America’s 51st.

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