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US to UK: Embrace ‘spirit’ of Declaration of Independence for Brexit

On this Fourth of July, the U.S. ambassador to the UK has written an op-ed encouraging the government to embrace the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Robert Wood Johnson’s op-ed points to the special relationship that grew up following our Revolution to strengthen Theresa May’s flagging resolve as Brexit talks lumber forward.

“Change calls for courage, conviction and confidence,” writes Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson in the Daily Mail. “And there is no finer example of that spirit in action than the Declaration of Independence which we celebrate today.”

Ambassador Wood draws clear parallels between U.S. independence and the reluctance of some Brits to cut ties with the European Union. Despite British encroachments on colonial liberties, including taxation without representation, “thousands and thousands of colonists wanted to remain. They strongly opposed breaking the union — not only did they feel British, even more importantly, it was Britain who bought their goods.”

But fueled with “a unity of purpose and a clarity of vision that drove them forward,” they began a process that would result in the creation of the world’s leading superpower – one that would help Great Britain save itself from totalitarianism in the twentieth century.

He then makes a seemingly counterintuitive claim:

The Revolutionary War was also the best thing that could have happened for the relationship between America and Britain.

 

Ultimately it paved the way for our great alliance as independent nations.

Likewise, even after Brexit, the UK will remain “bound to the EU not by institution but [by] shared values.”

The UK has much to offer the world, he writes, including “the most exciting entrepreneurs.” But it must strike out boldly to make the most of the opportunities that their forthcoming independence could offer:

This isn't a time for the UK to panic. It isn't a time to fall into defeatism or to talk yourselves down. … You have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go in a different direction and define who you want to be and what you want to accomplish. That is an exciting opportunity. So hold your nerve Britain. This could be the start of something great.

 

I wish you all a happy Independence Day.

This administration’s tone could hardly contrast more with that of its predecessor. “When President Trump visits the UK in just over a week, he will be visiting a country which is as important to America's future as it was to our past,” Johnson writes. “Our prosperity and security are intertwined with yours.” That contradicts the future promised by President Barack Obama during his April 2016 visit, when he said a post-Brexit UK would find itself “at the back of the queue” in U.S. trade and, it was implied, foreign policy. Ben Rhodes, a former Obama staffer, has revealed that Obama made that statement at the request of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, whose administration supplied the precise wording.

The ambassador’s article comes, not only on the 242nd anniversary of U.S. independence from Great Britain, but as Theresa May’s government continues to “halt between two opinions” (I King 18:21) over Brexit. May has apparently abandoned hope of reaching a bespoke trade deal with the EU, but what she hopes for the future now seems unclear, even as Cabinet ministers will gather to thrash out the subject on Friday.

A government official told the Times that “Downing Street is moving towards the Norwegian model.” Norway has access to the Single Market but must accept most EU regulations, accept free movement of immigrants, and contribute to the EU budget but has no vote on the formation of those laws. 

Meanwhile, May faces a brewing intraparty rebellion from Tories such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson who envision an energetic and independent future for the UK post-Brexit. Some of these Brexiteers warned on Wednesday morning that, if May does not deliver on Brexit, the Conservative Party will be “toast.”

One might see that as a twenty-first-century way of saying the party must hang together, or they will all hang separately.

And one may also see it further proof of the Divine precept, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

You can read Ambassador Johnson’s full article here.

Happy Independence Day!


Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.