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Does the monarchy still matter?

Will Self, Eric Hobsbawm, Stephen Bayley, Peter Tatchell and others discuss whether we should call t

Richard Eyre, theatre director
It’s hard to deny our resemblance to devout worshippers of a cult: we crook the neck, we bend the spine, we bob and curtsey, we metaphorically cross ourselves towards the altar of monarchy. And just as religious faith defies the light of reason, so we are reluctant to examine the monarchy with anything more than an irritated shrug. No government will seriously tamper with the “constitution” (whatever that is), so we end up with the monarchy in the position of the monkeys on Gibraltar: a superstitious charm against the decline of our territorial integrity. But we won’t grow up as a democracy until we resist the consolation of the English religion.

AS Byatt, novelist
The monarchy itself is faintly absurd. When I express republican sentiments my husband points out what a huge expenditure of money, parliamentary time and national energy would have to be diverted, from other urgent causes and concerns, to abolishing the monarchy. The other thing I have observed is that the European democracies I find most sympathetic are in fact monarchies – Holland, Norway, Sweden, modern Spain, even Belgium, for all the tensions. So I don’t think about it much, most of the time. There are more important things to get excited about.

Peregrine Worsthorne, journalist
If a majority of the nation wanted to put an end to monarchy, then, of course, it ought to go. But most emphatically a majority does not want that. While a majority would want to kick out the present lot of self-serving politicians, bankers, mandarins and BBC executives, for the Queen they still have great affection and respect. Which is not surprising since of all our great institutions, the monarchy is the only one which actually works. Unlike aristocracy, which divided the nation, monarchy holds it together. In other words, today’s haters of the monarchy are little more than bigots.

Peter Tatchell, human rights activist
Monarchy is incompatible with democracy. According to the elitist values of the monarchical system, the most stupid, immoral royal is more fit to be head of state than the wisest, most ethical commoner. Monarchs get the job for life, no matter how appallingly they behave. The alternative is not a US-style executive president. We could have an elected president, but a low-cost, purely ceremonial one, like the Irish. This would ensure that the people are sovereign, not the royals. And we get an important safeguard: if we don’t like our head of state, we can elect a new one.

Susie Orbach, psychotherapist
A monarch serves a symbolic purpose, as the overarching figure on to which we project the capacity to care for us and go before us as a representative. But that is an idealisation. The monarchy is the representative of a society still riven with class inequalities and the need to position oneself, always. The monarchy creates insecurities in all, of whatever background.

Eric Hobsbawm, historian
Can we disentangle the effect of the monarchy in general from the effect of having lived for almost 60 years under one Queen? In fact, most of the arguments about it take for granted that she is an element of continuity in Britain and a way for most people to identify with the country that is more effective than a national football team, because she is reliably on top all the time. The arguments about monarchy are therefore mostly about the future. Like Queen Victoria, she has seen off republicanism as a serious political force, maybe even in Scotland. There is no reason to believe that constitutional monarchy will be less viable in the 21st century than in the 20th, when it proved to be the most reliable framework of liberal democratic states (Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Japan and, since 1976, Spain).

Stephen Bayley, critic
I’ve no gripe with constitutional monarchy, but I’m not so very keen on the House of Windsor: I’d love the chance to redesign the whole glum family. Their public face is sullen and anti-intellectual; their values seem more suburban than royal. I suppose there’s something deadly accurate in that observation: you don’t find much wit, optimism or style in the suburbs. Nor, as it happens, in Buckingham Palace.

Amanda Craig, novelist
Monarchy keeps nostalgia high on our cultural agenda: historical fiction dominates our literature, drama and the kind of architecture Prince Charles admires. We turned to modernity too savagely in the 1950s, ripping out much that was good, and to some extent the retro values ascribed to monarchy did help to preserve an essential Britishness that I love. That said, the monarchy invests nostalgia with an authenticity I resent, artistically. As a taxpayer, I think any further financial support and police protection for the Queen’s other children and many grandchildren, plus her request for a new private jet or a pay rise, should be funded by the sale of a palace or two.

Michael Rosen, poet
The monarchy makes fools of us. It demands and receives deference for reasons of birth. This skews our ability to devise ceremonies and honours for ourselves and blights the running of the state with silly bowing and scraping. More seriously, the politics of monarchy creates a false unity of nation even as our real rulers play roulette with billions while millions of “subjects” worry about their homes and bills.

A L Kennedy, novelist
When I was invited to meet the Queen at a garden party, I felt that I couldn’t go, because the monarchy represents so many awful things – not that I think the Queen is an awful woman. She does the best job that you probably could do.

Darcus Howe, journalist
For former colonial citizens, the monarchy has irretrievably declined in status, ever since the international struggle for independence. In Trinidad and Tobago, where I was born, the anti-colonials’ slogan was “massa day done”, meaning the role of the master is over. We came ashore in the mass immigration of the Sixties with a strong republican sentiment, which resides in our heads and hearts until this day. Bring on the republic.

Roy Hattersley, politician
The monarchy has three detrimental effects on society: it epitomises and encourages the idea of a social hierarchy; it is based on the belief that blood and birth, rather than personal merit, are enough to justify respect or even admiration; it encourages nostalgia for the past, in which it is firmly rooted, rather than hope for the future. It is also very expensive. But that is a trivial detriment compared with the other damaging effects.

Catherine Fieschi, think tank director
I’m no natural monarchist, but the monarchy has made two huge contributions to British culture and identity. The first is via parliamentary politics, by maintaining a monopoly on pomp and circumstance, which encourages a relatively open political sphere. The second, perhaps paradoxically, is to the UK’s capacity to remain outward-looking and confident. The risks associated with a fast-moving and globalised 21st century seem to be offset by a clever little patch of adaptive timelessness and the reminder of a culture that is eminently resilient.

D B C Pierre, novelist
Monarchy remains the only metronome in the land not fibrillating at a thousand beats per second. It’s our keeper of continuity, anchoring us to a historical identity impervious to the next Windows upgrade; and that in an age when much that was culturally familiar has gone, been disconnected, or usurped for profit. While for now monarchy may seem more a pathway into the past than the future, there’s a sense that it’s a contingent blessing yet to find new definition, in a similar limbo to the culture itself, between empire and whatever comes next. This century is one of bold rolling of the dice, and for now the monarchy sits tight. But history is despotic – and the Crown still has its dice to play.

Will Self, novelist
Despite people’s general willingness to accept the monarchy uncritically – as a species of constitutional wallpaper, the alleged undercoat of our tolerant settlement – the fact remains that it lies at the very apex of a pyramid of hierarchy, one that is mostly comprised of people who have unearned wealth, undemocratic power, undeserved prestige – or all three. Anyone who accepts an honour from the British government, or an invitation to tea at Buck House; anyone who shows deference to the monarchy, or even subscribes to an institution with royal patrons, partakes of this mass delusion: that the only way a modern democracy can be governed is by profoundly anti-democratic means; that the only way to treat citizens is as subjects. In my view, the British people will only come of political age with the abolition of the monarchy.

Melissa Benn, writer
The monarchy reflects and reinforces a paralysis at the heart of our political culture. The charm or idiocy of individual royals is merely a distraction from this, although royal antics feed very conveniently into an increasingly trashy culture. We rant against the dodgy expenses claims of MPs but say nothing about millions shelled out by taxpayers to this unaccountable institution. Just ask Richard Rogers if the monarchy wields only token power.

Joan Bakewell, broadcaster
The royal family has very little impact now. They contribute a sense of background continuity simply by being there, and that reassures many people. But what is really dynamic and important in today’s world passes them by.

Marina Lewycka, novelist
I think the monarchy has become a sort of beloved national soap opera, along the lines of an ermine-trimmed Corrie, but a bit more expensive to run. I must confess to finding it highly entertaining, despite my aspirations to high-mindedness. It presses all the right (very British) buttons: social class, inheritance, wealth, family intrigue and bad behaviour, among others. But it gets a bit repetitive and it can’t be very nice for the actors, who are stuck in roles they can’t escape from. Maybe it’s time to draw the series to a close.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, Founder and Director, Kids Company
Blooming marvellous, and why not.

Roger Scruton, philosopher
The monarchy has been effective in providing a focus of loyalty above politics. It has made it possible for people who disagree radically about how the nation should be governed nevertheless to share an object of affection by which the nation as a whole is symbolised. In a world of mass media and screen addiction, however, in which visible celebrities attract more attention than invisible royals, monarchy finds it hard to compete. In a crisis, things might change, and it is certain that there will be plenty of crises in the years to come during which symbols of national loyalty will be needed. In such crises Americans turn to the constitution; we turn to the monarchy, which is our constitution-substitute. It seems to me to be a better solution, since it has the vagueness, and open-ness to interpretation, of history itself.

Agnes Poirier, journalist
It may have learned to live in harmony with a solid parliamentary regime, but the monarchy in has had many pernicious effects on British culture: most of all it has infantilised its subjects who think very little about citizenship in general and what it is to be a citizen in particular. The fact that the head of State, the monarch, is also the head of the Church has entailed a culture where religion pervades every aspect of society: it is nowhere and everywhere at the same time. It is high time the British grew up and abolished once and for all the Ancien Régime under which they live.

Billy Bragg, musician
The most pernicious effect of the monarchy on our society is to be seen in the concept of the Crown in Parliament. It allows the Prime Minister to declare war, sign treaties and appoint cronies to the legislature, among other things, without first consulting MPs. A new constitutional settlement is needed to remove the monarchy from the legislative process and make the people sovereign in their own parliament. Would this necessitate the abolition of the monarchy? I don’t think so. Living in a multicultural society means that you have to show respect for beliefs and practices that you yourself may not adhere to. That includes the monarchy, morris dancing and the Church of England.

Maggie Gee, novelist
If the monarchy didn’t exist, you might not invent it, but in these islands it has evolved its rituals and its constraints through a long history of popular struggle. I definitely prefer what we have – a wise and rather witty female head of state who is part of our global identity, recognised in Africa, Asia, the Americas – to the boredom of, say, a President Kinnock or President Clarke. Elizabeth II has tried to be the Queen of all the people, and Charles is serious about the big things: education, global warming, conservation. Would we be better off with a series of heads of state tied to the barren two-party system?

David Cannadine
In The English Constitution, Walter Bagehot famously distinguished between the ‘dignified’ parts, which were largely ceremonial, and the ‘efficient parts’, where governing was actually carried on. In the former category came the monarchy and the House of Lords, in the latter the Cabinet and the House of Commons. It’s a perceptive formulation, which describes many aspects of British institutional life, but scarcely our constitution in these febrile times. The ‘efficient’ part no longer seems efficient (and is certainly not dignified), while the ‘dignified’ part still seems dignified (and is also quite efficient). Whatever would Bagehot have made of that?

Alain de Botton, philosopher
The monarchy is an embodiment of history. In this sense, it runs entirely counter to the pace of the media and of technology; which scours relentlessly around for symbols of modernity and advance. It is also a somewhat irrational institution, something for which it seems loved and hated by different sections of society. It asks us to entertain the idea that people could rule over us not because we voted for them, but just because they and their descendants put their stake in the ground before we appeared on earth.

Johann Hari, journalist
Having a hereditary head of state has a warping effect that runs through British politics and culture. Huge powers remain invested in the Crown - and we now have an heir to the throne who says he intends to be a "political King", using the "responsibility" and "wisdom" of his position to promote his own agenda. Of course, passing through Elizabeth Windsor's womb gives Charles no more "responsibility" or “wisdom” than the next mad person you see screaming at the bus stop - but he doesn't seem to know it. The powers he will have to promote his ignorant anti-scientific, anti-Enlightenment agenda are enormous. To name just one: if we have a tie-break election - a Bush vs Gore - the monarch picks the Prime Minister. It’s hardly minor, is it?

The cultural effects are just as toxic. Having an unchosen aristocratic head of state – surrounded by braying toffs – sends ripples of snobbery throughout the culture. It strengthens the most backward, disempowering parts of Britain against the rest of us.

Chuka Umunna, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Streatham ­
The monarchy endures and is still relevant for many but I do wonder about its longevity. There is a strange paradox: the ‘Firm’ clearly sees its salvation lying with the next generation - Wills, Harry and co - bicycling towards the Scandinavian model of royalty, whilst showcasing a sense of duty through their service in the armed forces. The Court around them has also allowed their charges to appear in the tabloid media, spilling out of clubs, bleary eyed like so many other young people.

However, deference has long sustained our monarchy too. People still curtsy and bow to the Queen – up to now it has been instilled in us - but I cannot see my generation doing the same to a King William: “why should we, he’s no different to me”, many might claim, and that’s before attention is turned to the cost of the ancient institution.

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A world unbalanced

Under Trump, the United States could turn away from Europe, leaving the continent exposed and vulnerable. So is it the destiny of the UK alone to stand for collective defence, free trade and fair play in a turbulent age?

Listening to the reading – from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – on Remembrance Sunday, the first Sunday after the earthquake of the US election, it seemed that someone, somewhere had a sense of ironic timing. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump [sic!],” the passage ran: “for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Whatever the text really means, it brought home the fact that the election of Donald Trump has transformed, and transformed utterly, the world in which we live. We Europeans no longer know where we stand with the most powerful country on Earth, and whether it will deliver on its alliance obligations. Our world is out of balance. A terrible uncertainty has been born.

Looking out over the uniformed members of the congregation – army, RAF and Royal Navy – one couldn’t help thinking that next year they may be all that lies between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the Baltic states. As our continent boils, the armed forces represent, to borrow the pathos of Dorothy Sayers’s 1940 patriotic verse “The English War”, “the single island, like a tower,/Ringed with an angry host”. If things continue to deteriorate, we may soon see the moment when, as the poem continues, “. . . Europe like a prison door,/Clangs, and the swift enfranchised sea [the Channel]/Runs narrower than a village brook;/And men who love us not yet look/To us for liberty”. It is in times like these, she writes, that “only England stands”.

In recent days, the shock of Trump’s election has started to wear off and the usual reading of tea leaves about the new administration has begun in earnest. Appointments and nominations are being scrutinised for clues to what a Trump presidency might mean for the world. These attempts are understandable, but they are also futile. It is clear that Trump, like all other presidents, is filling positions taking both ideology and party management into account – balancing the appointment as his chief strategist of Stephen Bannon, a leading light of the “alt right”, for instance, with that of Reince Priebus, a stalwart of the Republican establishment. Something similar is visible in the foreign policy sphere, where the two most important choices point in fundamentally different directions on one of the critical challenges facing the administration, namely Russia. General Mike Flynn, Trump’s nominee for national security adviser, is well known for his closeness to Moscow, at least in relation to Syria, while Mike Pompeo, the proposed CIA director, is deeply suspicious of Putin’s ambitions in the Middle East.

To infer from this fudge the future policy of the United States would be unwise. One should not assume that Trump’s lack of detailed knowledge of world affairs, or his rocky relationship with the Republican Party’s national security experts, will increase the influence of professionals in the state department. Nor is it right to expect the new president to fall back on Mike Pence, his vice-president-elect, as an inexperienced George W Bush did with Dick Cheney. Trump knows his own mind, especially on the big strategic challenges, and will not listen to the experts or party grandees. His estimation of Pence became clear when he almost forgot to thank him during his victory speech. Besides, Trump, who has spoken openly of possible candidate appointments as “the finalists”, in the manner of his TV show The Apprentice, can fire as quickly as he hires. There is no guarantee that anybody who is in his cabinet in January 2017 will be there a year or two later.

The speculation is pointless in another respect. We already know what kind of animal Trump is. His world-view is fully formed; his temperament is well known. Behaviourally, Trump is the silverback ­gorilla, the narcissistic peacock, the alpha male, the bull in the china shop. Politically, he is a Bourbon who has learned and forgotten nothing over the past three decades.

Here, it is essential to distinguish between rhetoric recently adopted to wage the election campaign, and long-standing positions that Trump has been espousing for 30 years. The good news for Americans is that most of the divisive language and proposed measures probably fall in the former category. His appalling inflammatory comments – too familiar and numerous to repeat here – were largely instrumental; they do not seem to have featured much in his vocabulary before his candidacy. America is not about to turn fascist. Trump is unlikely seriously to assault the constitution, and if he does so he will be repelled. There may be substantial economic and cultural rebalancing, and some pretty brutal measures against terrorism and illegal immigration, but the United States will probably be fundamentally much the same place in four or even eight years’ time. The bad news for the rest of world is that the beliefs most threatening to us are the ones Trump most genuinely holds, and that he is in the best position to implement. Europe, in particular, will be very different four years from now and it might well be unrecognisable in eight.




The key to understanding Donald Trump is his quest for restoration of national “greatness” for the US, which he sees as having been lost in the retreats and compromises of the Obama years but also the interventionism of George W Bush. Economics is central to this vision, yet it is not the deciding factor. To be sure, re-establishing economic strength is important. It will enable the US to sustain Trump’s prohibitively expensive plans, especially the proposed huge infrastructure programme, his tax cuts, and the vast increase in military spending. The new president believes in not international, but national capitalism, based on construction and manufacturing rather than trade and finance. One may not share Trump’s vision of restoring prosperity and pride to America through civilian work creation, motorways, bridges and armaments, but it is a coherent programme. Unlike free-traders and globalisers, who see all boats rising on the tide of a growing world economy, Trump takes a much darker, mercantilist view. It’s not the economy: it’s the greatness, stupid.

Threatening US greatness, so the Trum­pian critique claims, are not only America’s enemies but America’s friends. Politically, the main threat is radical Islam, which he says the Obama administration refuses to call by its name, and which has been aggravated by a costly, failed “nation-building” project in Iraq. Economically, it is China and Latin America which have, in effect, stolen manufacturing jobs from America after the lowering of tariff barriers. Not much better, however, are America’s allies, such as the Japanese and the Europeans, who are free-riding under the US defence umbrella and taking unfair advantage in trade.

Globally, therefore, Trump’s administration will mark a change in four important respects. First, he will either abandon or ignore the institutions of international governance that the United States has done so much to establish. Trump will pay no heed to the United Nations whatsoever. He will not act against climate change. Here the ­appointment of Myron Ebell to lead the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency is a straw in the wind: Ebell does not believe in global warming. Trump will press ahead with fracking and drilling on all fronts, not necessarily for economic reasons but in order to guarantee energy security for the US. He is unlikely to pull out of the World Trade Organisation but will abrogate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, “re-negotiate” the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and probably drop the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Second, there will be a “pivot” of US foreign policy towards the Middle East and the Mediterranean. In Syria, the new administration will seek co-operation with Russia and the Assad regime against Isis and other Islamist groups, if necessary in return for concessions elsewhere. That will be just the start, however. Trump’s hostility to Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and to the Iranian regime is a matter of record, and Mike Flynn’s writings have been only slightly less anti-Iranian than they have been anti-Isis. There can be no doubt about it: for the Trump White House, Raqqa in Syria may come first but Tehran is next. How exactly it intends to go about this is not obvious, but it is clear that the planned new, 350-ship navy is needed not just to deal with Isis.

Third, Trump will take on China, at least over trade, not least because it will be critical to his domestic jobs programme. Early steps might include whopping tariffs on Chinese goods and designating China a currency manipulator. In this regard, it may be significant that Trump has expressed enthusiasm for Stefan Halper’s 2010 book, The Beijing Consensus, which takes an understandably dim view of China’s restrictive trade practices, authoritarian proclivities and regional belligerence. That said, economics aside, there is little sign that Trump has a broader political, ideological or military agenda with respect to China. His remarks, both recent and long-standing, suggest that he has little interest in maintaining the alliances with South Korea, Japan and other states keen to contain Beijing.

These plans not only risk failure, thereby causing great human hardship, but could also precipitate a major conflict. Trump fails to understand that, in Syria, most of the Syrian government forces and the vast majority of Russian air strikes are directed against the rebels: that is, the non-Isis Islamists and what is left of the Free Syrian Army. Since his election, he has reiterated his contempt for the Syrian rebels and indicated that we should wish for an Assad victory so that he can concentrate all his fire on Isis. One problem with this strategy is that it will increase the outflow of refugees – most of whom are already fleeing the Syrian regime, its Iranian allies and proxies, as well as the Russians, rather than Isis or the Western bombing. The other, and probably terminal difficulty, is the contradiction of wanting to co-operate with Tehran in Syria yet crush it in the Gulf.

In east Asia, the danger is that a trade war may precipitate another world recession, and also a full-scale military confrontation. China took its time responding to Trump’s victory, and did so with extreme truculence. Beijing vowed to retaliate against any tariffs. If backed into a corner, the Chinese might well try “horizontal escalation”– that is to say, using military demonstrations or even armed attacks to retaliate against US trade measures – in Taiwan or the South China Sea.

Unless Trump is entirely clear about how he will react, and this would require him either to reaffirm the existing strategic architecture of the region or to signal his withdrawal from east Asia, the chances of a catastrophic misunderstanding are high.




By far the greatest risk to the international system, however, is not the wars that Trump will start, but the one he might not fight, and will thus fail to deter. His rallies often featured banners accusing Hillary Clinton of wanting to start “World War III”. These referred to her willingness to honour US commitments under the collective defence provisions of Article 5 of Nato’s charter. Trump, by contrast, has repeatedly questioned whether America should defend those allies that are not spending enough on their own protection. He has even referred to Nato as “obsolete”.

More worryingly, there has been a general whiff of pro-Russianism in the Trump camp. The president-elect makes no secret of his admiration for Vladimir Putin, the man who has annexed Crimea, unleashed a proxy war in eastern Ukraine and threatens Nato’s eastern flank, to say nothing of his other crimes. This summer, one of Trump’s leading backers, Newt Gingrich, described Estonia as a mere “suburb” of St Petersburg. The close Russian connections of many others in Trump’s penumbra are too well known to require repetition. The frightening truth is that, with regard to Russia, there is much more going in the Trump camp than the (entirely understandable) irritation with European free-riding.

All this reflects a much broader, and deeply troubling, “de-Europeanisation” of the American strategic mind, if not in national security circles then in politics and among the population at large. Once upon a time, a strong stance against the Soviet Union united Cold War liberals with the working classes, including many from Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states. Gerald Ford’s gaffe in a televised election debate against Jimmy Carter in 1976, in which he denied Russian domination of eastern Europe, may have cost him the White House. Likewise, many of the “Reagan Democrats” of the 1980s were working-class “deer hunters” of eastern European origin who wanted him to stand up to the Kremlin.

That constituency is no more, and it is a sign of the times that Gingrich, who had written support for the integration of former Warsaw Pact countries into Nato into his Contract for America two decades ago, should now hold the alliance so cheap. All the same, it has been surprising to see the flippancy and vehemence with which a sixty-year transatlantic bond has been put in question, not reluctantly, but with a whooping rebel yell.

The president-elect poses another, more insidious, but no less fatal menace to Europe. His victory has blown wind into the sails of the European far right. “Their world is falling apart,” Florian Philippot of the French Front National (FN) exulted after the result. “Ours is being built.” France’s presidential election in April and May will be won by either Marine Le Pen’s FN or – more likely – François Fillon of the conservative Républicains; both candidates are pro-Russian. It is also likely that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will be defeated in Sunday’s referendum on reforming the powers of the Italian parliament. If he resigns, the resulting election may well bring the Eurosceptic right to power. In Germany, Alternative für Deutschland is weaker, but growing.

Given all this, the capacity of the rump European Union to deal with the security, economic and migration challenges ahead will be severely tested. The weakness of mainland Europe is also manifest at a national level. Even its two most important countries, France and Germany, have ceased to exist as separate states in vital areas: neither controls its own currency or borders, and Germany does not even have a nuclear deterrent or (sufficiently credible) conventional capability.

As such, despite the hopes of many, Angela Merkel will be too weak to lead Europe even if she wins Germany’s federal elections next year. To be sure, she has pledged to work together with the new US president only if he respects people regardless of creed, sexual orientation and skin colour. Yet Chancellor Merkel lacks the instrument to protect Europe militarily, because of Germany’s largely pacifist political culture and the EU’s failure to provide itself with anything more than a shadow capability at supranational level. She is also losing ground steadily at home. A Trump-induced fresh wave of Syrian refugees may well finish her off.




In democratic Europe, therefore, only the United Kingdom stands out. Here, the widespread continental European tendency to equate Brexit with Trump misses the point. Despite all the Brexit turmoil, Britain is likely to remain infertile soil for extremism, at least once the separation from the European Union has been completed. Although many of those who voted for Brexit did so for similar reasons to those of the workers who opted for Trump, the political mainstream in Britain, including those who supported leaving the EU, remains strongly in favour of free trade, and strongly committed to Nato. Moreover, the UK is still the world’s fifth-largest economy and a nuclear power, and it retains the principal characteristics of sovereign statehood – her own currency, parliament and control over her borders.

The result of all this will be a fundamental shift in European geopolitics in favour of Britain. The election of Donald Trump has four effects, the first two of which will probably cancel each other out. On the one hand, his protectionist instincts may make him less interested in a trade deal with the UK. On the other hand, he is less likely than a Democratic administration would have been to send Britain to “the back of the queue”. Trump’s impact will be felt elsewhere, however, in the field of geopolitics and global governance. Britain will now be one of the few large economies in favour of free trade. More important still is that, with a large question mark now hanging over Nato, the contribution made by the British armed forces to the defence of Europe as a whole, and to the defence of European values against President Putin, will take on a new significance.

Britain needs to rise to the challenge. Militarily, she may have to hold the line in Europe for at least four years – possibly for eight. Consequently, a full-scale rearmament must begin now, with increased expenditure on ships, aircraft, “heavy metal” for the army, and cyber-defence. The necessary shift is comparable to the one orchestrated by the chief of the imperial general staff Sir Henry Wilson in the early 20th century, when he began to change the military mission from imperial policing and small wars to preparation for war against a major power in Europe.

Politically, Britain urgently needs to clarify its relationship with the rest of the continent. It would have been better if Brexit had never happened, or at least not before the EU had sorted itself out, but now it should be expedited without delay so that we can all concentrate on the bigger challenges. This should be based on a grand bargain in which London retains a free-trading relationship with the EU, reserving the right to restrict immigration in return for our increased commitment to European security through Nato. Britain’s EU budget contribution could be reallocated as increased defence expenditure to help defend the EU in the east. Some continental Europeans, in German business circles as much as in Poland, have already begun to see the connection between the two spheres, and the need for a trade-off.

London thus needs to take two messages, one to the EU and the other to Washington, DC. It is a great pity that the Foreign Secretary did not attend the Trump post-mortem of foreign ministers in Brussels, not to join in the pointless therapy session, but in order to read the Europeans the riot act on Russia. They have already seen that one cannot have a common currency without a common treasury and parliament (in other words, a common state); and that one cannot have a common travel area without a common border – in effect, a common state.

Now they are planning to fill the potential American vacuum with a (much-needed) European army without a European state, something that can only end in more tears. Johnson should have told them that if they wish to survive they need to form a full political union, like that which has linked Scotland and England. If that does not appeal, they must increase their individual national military budgets and, if the Americans withdraw from Nato commitments, they must fall in behind Europe’s principal military power, the United Kingdom.

Rather than supplicating in Washington, Britain should speak to Trump in language that he understands: not of realpolitik, but of real estate. The problem is not so much his belief that diplomacy is “transactional” – all political relationships are – but that he takes a very short-term and narrow view, valuing the quick buck over long-term shareholder value. He should be reminded that the US holds the largest stake in a military consortium that owns the freehold of the property on which the EU is built; the UK is the next largest shareholder, whose interests are materially affected by any change. It is true that many of its tenants are not paying their contribution to the common defence, yet some are. The problem with Trump’s approach is that he has no satisfactory way of punishing the transgressors specifically. If he turns off the heating, everyone will freeze. Besides, some of the worst offenders, in the Mediterranean, live in south-facing apartments, away from the cold Russian wind. They will be the last to feel the drop in temperature.




Donald Trump must be told that the people most affected by his policies, especially those in the Baltic states, are guilty of nothing more than being born in the best property in a terrible part of town. If he withdraws Nato insurance cover, property prices will go down and people will move out. This is because collective security works rather like Bill Bratton’s New York: it depends on zero tolerance, on fixing the windows and apprehending the stone-throwers. The danger is that after four years of Trump, much of eastern Europe will resemble a declining neighbourhood in 1980s America, with broken windows, uncollected rubbish, and demoralised residents huddled around braziers trying not to catch the eye of the criminals stalking their streets.

If that happens, we may soon see a Europe where the Atlantic, once an enfranchised sea connecting America and Europe, has become an unbridgeable ocean culturally and politically; where the United States has left us to our fate; where the channel separating the home island from a turbulent continent once again runs narrower than a village brook; where Italy and France have given way to authoritarian, Russian-leaning populists; where Germany finally buckles under the strain; where the rest of Europe has scattered like minnows; where Putin rules supreme in the east; and only England stands for collective defence, free trade and fair play.

Brendan Simms is an NS contributing writer. His latest book is “Britain’s Europe: a Thousand Years of Conflict and Co-operation” (Allen Lane)

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage