Vote on Europe Looms <br>As Opportunity for U.S. <br>As Well as Great Britain

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The next big drama in Britain is going to be over whether it should leave the European Union. The clearest promise Prime Minister Cameron made in his winning re-election campaign was that he would hold an in-or-out referendum on Europe by 2017.

“A new existential crisis” is the way the prospect is being described by a headline writer in the London Guardian. It says the victory of the Conservative Party has brought the Brexit — as the British exit from Europe is known — a step closer.

“Nightmare” is the word headline writers in three countries put over the new possibility of the Brexit. Said the director of the Open Europe think tank, which wants Britain to stay in a reformed European Union, “It’s now getting real for people.”


It’s about time. A British exit from Europe could be the start of something better — an opportunity for stronger relationship between Britain and America, or even a new alliance of liberty-loving nations, like Canada, Australia, India and Israel.

Incredibly, though, President Obama has been against an independent Britain. Obama’s view is that it’s bad enough America is independent from Europe. A top Obama state department aide, Philip Gordon, visited London two years ago to warn Britain not to quit Europe.

A few days later, Obama himself chimed in with a statement saying the United States wants a “strong UK in a strong European Union.” Then again, Obama favors European style socialism not just for Britain, but for America, too.


Too bad Margaret Thatcher isn’t around to read him the riot act. She made her most famous statement on Europe at Bruges, Belgium, in 1988. She acknowledged Britain’s cultural debt to Europe, and stopped short of calling for a complete exit.

What she wanted, she said, was “Britain as Britain,” and she warned that it would be “folly” to try to fit Britain and other countries “into some sort of identikit European personality.” She railed against the Soviet Union’s centralized power.

Then came her famous warning: “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”


What Britain is going to be debating now is whether Europe, with its burgeoning bureaucracy and left wing human rights court, has plunged past the red lines Thatcher feared. And whether, if Britain fails to act now, it will be able to stay “Britain as Britain.”

Results in the election Thursday show the need for a clear referendum. The party that pressed the issue the hardest, the United Kingdom Independence Party, got schmeised. It looks like UKIP will end up with only a single seat in Parliament.

Its bumptious leader, Nigel Farage, who likes his pint and cigarettes, failed to win a seat for himself. It’s likely that the party he created will spend the next two years fighting to hold Cameron to his promise of a referendum that gives a true “in-or-out” choice.

Where are America’s Republicans? None of them has engaged on this issue. Not Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker. None of them has suggested a shred of strategic thinking on where lie America’s interests in Britain.

That strikes me as a dangerous default, particularly at a time when the Democrats were all over the British election. Obama’s guru, David Axelrod, was advising the big loser, Edward “Red Ed” Miliband of the Labor Party.

Jim Messina, another Obama aide, was advising David Cameron. Where is the GOP? Why isn’t it devising incentives for Britain’s Conservative Party to throw in its lot with a pro-growth free-enterprise America rather than a socialistic Europe?

What’s likely to happen in the next to years is a high stakes version of the three shell game. It will be a long negotiation between Britain and Europe to see whether the European Union is prepared to make enough reforms so that it’s palatable for Britons.

Don’t bet on it. Particularly in light of what happened in Scotland. Less than a year ago, voters in Scotland went to a referendum and voted not to secede from a united Britain, which has existed since 1707. The pundits thought that issue was dead.

Thursday, though, Scottish voters nearly wiped out the Labor Party in favor of the Scottish National Party, the very faction fighting for Scottish independence. Push come to shove, the SNP would rather be part of Europe than the UK.

So it’s not just the Europe that will be roiling British politics in the next two years. Scotland, too, could be back in play. This is a moment in which America doesn’t want to be left without an offer of encouragement to Britons who want the kinds of freedoms we have.

This column first appeared in the New York Post.

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