Expert View

Bolton demonstrates importance of EU ties

by David Hannay | 03.07.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

Should we be surprised that Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton found time to chat with the European Research Group, a collection of Conservative MPs doing their damnedest to bring about a super-hard or “no deal“ Brexit? Not really. Bolton has been viscerally opposed to the EU for decades, speaking to the europhobic Bruges Group in the 1990s when campaigning for what eventually came to be known as Brexit was still a fringe activity.

If we shouldn’t be surprised that Bolton may have wanted to meet the eurosceptics, should we be worried the meeting took place at all? Well, yes and no. It is certainly troubling if both Trump and Bolton regard the EU as an adversary to be disrupted in any way that comes to hand. That prospect was the thrust of the warning given by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, at last week’s meeting in Brussels.

After all, a substantial majority of the members of the EU are also members of NATO. The flows of trade and investment in both directions across the Atlantic are colossal, and work to the mutual benefit of both sides. The prosperity and security of Europe and America are at risk if Trump pursues a policy of disruption. 

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It is troubling too if we view this in the context of a post-Brexit U.K. desperate for a bilateral trade deal with the US, although while Bolton seems to have been ready to promise such an arrangement he did not set out what the price would be for a desperate suitor. What he did not say was that no UK-US deal covering roughly 15% of our trade could possibly compensate for a bad Brexit deal with the EU, which accounts for 49% of it.

On the other hand, any attempt by the US to boost support for Brexit at the time of Trump’s visit to the U.K. in two weeks time is only too likely to have the opposite effect to that intended. Certainly Obama’s intervention ahead of the 2016 referendum did not have the desired result. And – to put it mildly – Barack Obama was a much more popular figure in Britain than Donald Trump is today. In short: “Bring it on”.

What this incident does demonstrate is what troubling times we are living through, and, as recent international experience has shown on climate change, on trade wars, on the Iran nuclear deal, on the need for a negotiated settlement to the status of Jerusalem, that our national interests are closer to those of the principal members of the EU than to any other country or group of countries.

Edited by Sam Ashworth-Hayes