Bitter Remainers love to paint Brexit Britain as isolated and parochial, as though leaving the EU was a supreme act of hara-kiri on the international stage. America’s liberal elites have similarly sneered at Brexit, with The New York Times and The Washington Post publishing ludicrously apocalyptic pieces alleging a downward spiral of British decline after separating from Brussels.
But some Brexit opponents in the United States are now changing their tune in the wake of the UK’s tough stance over Ukraine: the crisis has been a wake-up call for those in the United States who believed that the European Union would emerge as a powerful global power working closely with its American allies.
Far from mocking the new Brexit era, once-sceptical Washington policy experts are finally starting to realise that America’s partnership with the United Kingdom will likely be strengthened, not weakened, by the historic 2016 decision taken by the British people to exit the European Project.
Anthony Gardner, the former US Ambassador to the European Union under President Obama, commented on Sunday: “As bad as Brexit has been, I fully admit that a significant upside is that the UK can act swiftly in foreign Affairs including Ukraine rather than being dragged into endless EU waffle. No doubt this has been noticed in Washington.”
Gardner is not alone in expressing this sentiment. Ryan Evans, founder of the influential War on The Rocks national security site, tweeted: “I was against Brexit but it’s interesting that some of the same people who predicted Brexit would lead to a Britain less relevant in global affairs are today deriding the Johnson govt for playing a muscular a role in the Ukraine crisis.”
The EU’s response to Ukraine has been a massive disappointment on the Stateside of the Atlantic. Its two biggest powers, Berlin and Paris, have both shamelessly kowtowed to Putin, as Russian forces have massed on the border with Ukraine. While the new German government has bent over backwards to appease Moscow, and refuses to support tougher sanctions and the shipment of defensive weapons to Ukraine, the French are now talking about the EU forming a security pact with the Russians, threatening to split the Nato alliance down the middle.
In contrast, Boris Johnson’s administration has been at the forefront of arming Ukraine, calling the Russians out on their plans to install a puppet government in Kiev, and urging the free world to unite in the face of Russian aggression. This is real leadership at a time when much of Europe is either paralysed over Ukraine, or actively appeasing the Russian bear.
And there is hope in Congress and in Washington’s influential think tanks that the British approach may help stiffen the spine as well of the Biden administration. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been tougher and more vocal in warning the Kremlin of the consequences of invading Ukraine than her US counterpart Anthony Blinken. And Downing Street’s unequivocal messaging on the Russian threat has been significantly more robust than President Biden’s bizarre talk last week of a possible “minor incursion” by the Russians in Ukraine, which was loudly attacked by the Ukrainian government.
Freed of the shackles of Brussels, Brexit Britain is a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. With a renewed sense of confidence, and a determination to strengthen Nato and the transatlantic alliance, the British are leading again. At a time when American leadership is in retreat following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and European leaders are projecting weakness and division, Great Britain is standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine as they face the prospect of invasion and occupation by a brutal aggressor.
My former boss Margaret Thatcher would have applauded the stance her nation is taking today, as a pillar of freedom in Europe, supporting the sovereignty and self-determination of a fellow ally.
Nile Gardiner is the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.