Many Americans will be surprised to hear that Britain is once again going to the polls, for what will be the third time in as many years. But while the June 8 election is unlikely to generate any shocks on the magnitude of the 2016 votes that delivered Brexit on one side of the Atlantic Ocean and President Donald Trump on the other, the result will still be hugely significant in shaping the course of the next few years for Britain, the United States, and the wider world.
It would take a brave man to bet on anything other than Prime Minister Theresa May’s being returned with a large majority in the House of Commons. May’s Conservatives are riding around 20 points higher in the polls than their Labour rivals, and her net favorability rating is a staggering 52 percent higher than Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s. But while the result may be in little doubt, the mandate May is seeking from voters will have a profound effect on the country’s exit negotiations with the European Union. And ensuring a smooth Brexit that prioritizes free trade is important not only for the British economy, but also for the Eurozone, the United States, and indeed the global economy.
By and large, May’s negotiations with Brussels have proceeded smoothly thus far, despite the constant sniping of anti-Brexit politicians and campaigners who are determined to obstruct the process. And if the polls are correct, the general election will put an end to this political guerrilla warfare, further strengthening the government’s hand.
This is not a zero-sum game: The European Union does not want to look across the negotiating table and see a country riven by internal divisions and disputes over its own negotiating position. European leaders have welcomed the British election for the stability and clarity it seems set to inject into the negotiations.
Across the English Channel, the likely election of centrist Emmanuel Macron as the next French president will also bring a welcome dose of stability to continental European politics. European leaders will be more self-confident and prepared to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement with the U.K. once they feel they have successfully ridden the populist wave and the risk of perceived “Brexit contagion” has subsided.
Most importantly, the twin elections will encourage a Brexit that ensures the continued stability of the global economy. May will now have a five-year window up to 2022 in which to complete the negotiations and implement a new agreement with the E.U. The alternative was the constraint of a looming general election in 2020, which could have given the E.U. the opportunity to back Britain into a corner.
A large Tory majority in the House of Commons also opens the door to at least another decade of stable rule by the pro-free-market, pro-free-trade Conservatives if they are able to pull off a successful Brexit and win another national election in five years. This should be welcomed by businesses, even if they previously questioned the merits of the Leave campaign.
Some people outside the U.K. still interpret the Brexit result as a vote for Britain to turn inward and pull up the drawbridge to the world. There was always a danger that Britain would venture down the path of a “closed Brexit,” but it is not the path May has pursued, nor was it the vision put forward by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson during the referendum campaign.
North Carolina, where one of us is based, already has seen the signs of a U.K. continuing to look outward. Last July, little more than one month after the Brexit referendum, the U.K.’s international trade secretary announced plans to open a new trade office in Raleigh, along with others in Minneapolis and San Diego. (British-based firms such as BAE Systems, Compass Group, GSK, and Dunlop Aircraft Tyres already support more than 27,000 jobs in North Carolina.)
The only way for Brexit to succeed is for the U.K. to engage fully with the entire world. It must remain the closest possible friend and partner to countries in the European Union, but also look farther afield, too, not least to the United States.
The general election will greatly increase the chance of this kind of “open Brexit,” with the U.K. stepping forward to take a leading role in global trade and foreign affairs. Brexit can put the U.K.–U.S. axis at the heart of global affairs once again, on the basis of our shared values and ever-deepening economic cooperation.
The two economies are already deeply intertwined: The U.K. is the biggest foreign investor in the U.S. and vice versa. If a British citizen works for a foreign company, it is most likely to be for an American firm. Similarly, an American working for a foreign firm is most likely to be working for a British one. This close economic relationship exists despite the lack of any formal trade partnership between our two countries. President Trump and House speaker Paul Ryan have made clear their commitment to securing a trade agreement with the U.K. as soon as possible after Brexit. Such an agreement has the potential to turbocharge our two economies, and with Trump due to make a state visit to the U.K. in October, now is the time for both governments to lay the groundwork, hammering out its terms so that it’s ready to be signed the minute Brexit is finalized.
As the biggest single trading partner of both the U.K. and the E.U., the United States has another important role to play: By applying the right pressure to Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and, indeed, London, it can ensure that Brexit negotiations proceed as smoothly as possible, in a way that continues to promote trade and prosperity for all our nations by securing a full U.K.–E.U. free-trade agreement with minimal disruption.
Now is a time of great change, but also great opportunity. The British general election will be a major step toward achieving the kind of open Brexit that provides maximum benefits to the U.K., U.S., and the E.U. itself. If Britain and America can set the new standard for international trade after Brexit, the rest of the world will follow.