To be fully transparent from the beginning, I don’t like Donald Trump. I don’t like the idea of him, and I certainly don’t like many of his actions. It is all too easy to label the President in a way that provides us with easy stereotypes to explain his actions, and that may be just how he and his advisors like it. So, I am, by default, suspicious of his motives. And this is why I keep asking why the United States has seen fit to intervene in the ongoing negotiations between the UK and the EU.
America’s interventions in the Brexit process have seemed to border on the downright rude, and they are certainly partisan in contrast to most other countries who have pretty stayed out of the fray - as they should.
The real question is not why does Donald Trump want to help Britain, but why does he want to undermine the EU? To what degree is he prepared to make use of Brexit and the United Kingdom to achieve that objective? Current thinking seems to focus on a perceived wish in some parts of the American political establishment to see the EU broken up, thus, from their perspective, elevating the US still further to a position of primacy in the world. As the slogan goes: ‘Make America Great Again’ - but at whose expense, I wonder?
For example, writing in The Guardian, Natalie Nougayrède says that there are those in Washington and wider America who see Brexit as being pivotal to their desire to destabilise the EU and reduce its political, and perhaps more critically, its economic potency. Writing in the Financial Times, Edward Luce suggests that there has been a possible transatlantic conspiracy to ensure that Britain’s ties with the EU are broken completely.
Donald Trump and his allies would much rather deal with individual countries than with a single more powerful Europe. John Bruton, a past EU ambassador to the United States and former Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland told Irish Times correspondent Barry Roche that Trump and many in the Republican Party would like to see the eventual breakup of the EU. Over recent months there has been an unseemly number of statements issuing from America that are dangling a so-called ‘deal’ in front of the British people in what Bruton refers to as an attempt to influence British public opinion. Perhaps Russia is not the only country interfering where they shouldn’t.
The latest in these rounds of interventions came from US national security advisor John Bolton and was reported by the BBC saying that the UK is first in line for a trade deal. There is a real irony when Mr Bolton, alluding to fears of a second Brexit referendum, accuses the EU of treating its citizens as "peasants". Perhaps he was referring to Ireland and Denmark who ran second referenda on the Lisbon Treaty and the Maastricht Treaty.
Writing in 2008 in The Guardian, Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked magazine, argued that asking the Irish people to vote a second time on the Lisbon Treaty referendum was a gross insult to the people and to democracy. To be fair, he might have a point. It is legitimate to consider that, having been asked a question in a referendum, the answer, whatever it is, must then be accepted. That is the view of many in the UK regarding a second Brexit referendum.
However, the people of Ireland were indeed asked to vote twice in the Lisbon treaty referendum, as they had previously been in the Nice treaty referendum. It was clear even immediately prior to voting day that there was a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings regarding the treaty, and faced with uncertainty, Ireland voted not to ratify the treaty. What happened next was not, as Mr Bolton would have us believe, the Irish peasants being told to do it again, and this time get it right. Analysis showed that the treaty was rejected because of certain concerns in Ireland, and, so, quite reasonably and properly, the EU worked with Ireland to provide the needed assurances. A second referendum was held on October 2nd 2009, and was passed.
This was no coercion of the peasantry, but a proper response to questions raised. To me, the parallels between what happened in Ireland and what is happening now in the UK are glaring. British people had and continue to have questions about Britain’s membership of the EU and about the overall direction of the EU itself. But anyone who says that those questions got a fair and transparent airing during the Brexit referendum is seriously out of touch.
The Irish experience seems to me to be to be a fine example of a responsive and active democracy. Wouldn’t any of us, entering a life changing contract seek assurances? And, on receiving those assurances, might we not agree to sign that contract? Isn’t this exactly how businesses operate?
O’Neill, writing in the Spectator magazine, argues that some people only like democracy when they get the result they want. He should have had a picture of Homer Simpson going “Well…. Duh! Few of us like it when we don’t get what we want. But, most of us can respect the result if we believe it was obtained honestly and transparently and with knowledge and foresight. I wonder if history will conclude that Brexit was voted for with transparency, knowledge and foresight. I think not!