Friday is the official Brexit day: the happy point at which Great Britain formally leaves the European Union.
But while Brexit is terrific news for both Brits and Americans, the move doesn’t change the reality that Britain is a mediocre ally of declining importance, and one that doesn’t currently deserve a trade deal.
There is an instinct in Washington to help London out post-Brexit, if only to prove the globalist naysayers wrong. This is commendable, but misguided.
First of all, Britain is extremely soft on China, our biggest foreign challenge. The British government just decided to ignore U.S. pleas not to use Huawei products in its 5G telecom system. Huawei is the Chinese telecom company that has repeatedly been implicated in Beijing’s cyber espionage, and perhaps one day, cyber sabotage.
Huawei products are often cheaper than its competitors because it is subsidized by a Chinese government intent on stealing data. London says it will limit Huawei products to “non-core” parts of its network. This distinction is disingenuous given the interconnectedness of national telecom networks and the critical importance of all digital communications to everyday life.
Britain is also putting U.S. government intelligence at risk with its decision. Both countries are part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group of English-speaking democracies. Fellow members Australia and New Zealand agreed with Washington to ban Huawei to protect their networks and our intelligence. But China is now urging those two countries and Canada, which has yet to make a decision, to follow Britain’s “example.” London’s decision means it expects us to handle China mostly by ourselves, while it reaps the benefits of security we create and cheap if corrupted Chinese telecom equipment.
Britain is also weak on Iran. London hasn’t merely been unhelpful in putting pressure on the Islamist, terror-exporting regime for its illicit nuclear program, it has actively worked against the United States. When the Trump administration first put tougher sanctions on Iran, the British government urged its companies to ignore them. Thankfully that failed, since British companies benefit more from doing business with America than with Iran.
But then Britain colluded with France and Germany to create the “INSTEX” scheme to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran by theoretically avoiding transactions that involve the U.S. dollar or financial institutions. The mechanism could be a prototype to subvert the role of the greenback as the world’s reserve currency—a longtime goal of our enemies around the world. Whether it works is yet to be seen. Imagine if our ally had instead put this much effort into making life harder for the mullahs in Tehran.
In contrast to this dovishness, London seldom misses an opportunity to hype the moderate threat posed to Europe by Russia into a critical risk facing civilization. This tendency included a former member of Britain’s spy agency fabricating a dossier on Donald Trump alleging he was compromised by Russian prostitutes—a fiction that was exposed only after rogue U.S. intelligence officials used it to get legal authority to spy on the Trump campaign and launch the Russia collusion hoax once Trump became president.
Hyping the Russia threat to America saves Britain money to spend on its welfare state. London gets praise for meeting NATO’s minimum of spending two percent of GDP on defense, but this is akin to saying it is hefty for an anorexic. The U.K.’s defense budget is about the same as those of France and Germany, and less than Saudi Arabia and India. Its military spending is just seven percent of America’s. The U.K. is a middling power at best, and expects us to defend it against Russia even though its economy is 66 percent larger than Russia’s.
Ultimately, some officials in post-modern Britain cannot help themselves from being anti-American. Any American who works with their diplomats has seen this trait. Their power peaked one century ago, and they resent their diminished importance, especially when contrasted by American power that is durable and growing despite predictions to the contrary.
Hopefully, Brexit will revive Britain’s greatness and replace post-modernity with healthy nationalism. That would be quite a change. In recent weeks, the travails of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have pointed in the opposite direction. They rejected the light public duties expected of lesser royals and decided instead to be rich Hollywood poo-bahs, after an interim stop in Canada until the American president Markle loathes is out of office.
As for the United States, we have to be unemotional about who our allies are and whether they are relevant to today’s world. In deterring Iran, our key allies are Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In facing China, they are Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. The North Pacific will also be the most economically significant region of the 21st century.
Given that our trade negotiators have limited attention span, we should not ask them to waste time on an economically dubious pact with a mediocre ally that looks down on us.
Christian Whiton was a senior advisor in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow for strategy and public diplomacy at the Center for the National Interest and the author of “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.”