“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune;… On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures...” Shakespeare could have been writing about the last week in international affairs, Trump and May, Gove and Farage substituting for Julius Caesar, Marcus Antonius, Brutus and Cassius. The people have spoken and like it or lump it we have Trump and Brexit, and now we must ‘take the current when it serves.’
I very much welcome the PM’s powerful speech on Tuesday, laying out in the clearest possible terms both the procedure for Brexit (quick Article 50 Act now, full debate and vote after the negotiation is completed, some degree of ‘transition’ to avoid a cliff edge) and its content (no internal market, partial customs union, end of ECJ, yet continuing good relations with the Continent of Europe.)
I also take much less exception to President Trump than many. Of course he is vulgar and sexist, unpredictable and rude, and those are sins we should not forget. But his clarion call ‘America first’ is exactly what the people want. ‘Britain first’ seems to me a perfectly laudable aim, and at the heart of Brexit. And his excesses will be curbed by the Washington machine, just as surely as were Obama’s.
What’s more there may well be an unexpected conjunction between Trump and Brexit. His (relatively mild) protectionism opens the door to an immediate trade deal (and cultural and other ties) with an independent free UK of the kind which the PM described. We can do so, simply because we will no longer be hampered by the competing interests of 27 other nations spread across a huge continent. We can argue for terms which are of benefit to us here in Britain, to our businesses and people; and we need pay little heed to Romania, Lithuania nor Luxembourg as we do so.
NATO becomes an ever-more important element of the defence of our Realm, and we must pay attention to Trump’s reluctance to continue subsidising the defence of Europe. We must all now step up to the mark and pay for our own defence if we are to keep the USA, without which NATO and any pretence at self-defence is finished. I am glad that we in Britain, together with France and Estonia, have achieved the NATO 2% of GDP target; but that should be an absolute minimum, not a target at all. At the height of the Cold War, only 30 or so years ago, we were spending 5 or 6% of GDP on defence. So again we must turn Trump’s perfectly legitimate self-interest to our own good by persuading other NATO members to fulfill their obligations.
There is a huge tide behind us this week. We must seize the opportunity, surf the wave, be bold. That will indeed ‘lead on to fortune.’