Gove misreads history in dismissing US advice to stay in EU

by David Hannay | 04.06.2016

The leaders of the Leave campaign continue to dismiss the US view that it would be best if Britain were to remain in the EU as if they were of no account and were in some way hypocritical. In his Sky TV interview last night Michael Gove repeated that we should pay no attention to those views on the ground that the US itself would never accept the sort of pooling of sovereignty involved in EU membership. His arguments are based on a false premise and a misreading of history; and they are in any case fundamentally irrelevant.

Why a false premise? Because the US does in fact accept a pooling of sovereignty in the provisions both of the North Atlantic Free Trade Area and of the World Trade Organisation. Both provide for dispute settlement procedures which involve binding arbitration by non-US judges whose rulings can override US trade policy decisions – and in the case of the WTO have in fact done so. Of far greater significance than that is the pooling of sovereignty the US has accepted in the context of the Atlantic Alliance, which is the bedrock on which our own security and that of the rest of Europe depends. Does the Leave campaign seriously dismiss the US nuclear umbrella, whose deterrent effect has helped to keep the peace in Europe for nearly 70 years as an unimportant example of shared responsibility?

Boris Johnson characterised President Obama’s support for Britain’s continued EU membership as one kind of idiosyncratic foible due to his Kenyan ancestry. But that is to ignore the fact that every US administration from Truman’s to the present day has supported European integration and the need for Britain to be part of it. It ignores too that long list of former US Secretaries of State and Secretaries of Defence drawn from right across the political spectrum who have recently expressed the same view. Donald Trump is the only US politician of any note who has taken a contrary view; and, given some of the other foreign policy pronouncements he has been making, that is odd company indeed to court.

But the false premise and the misreading of history are as nothing when they are stood alongside the irrelevance of Vote Leave’s arguments for dismissing US views. US foreign policy, like that of any democracy, is based on the perception of their own national interest by their elected leaders. President Obama has, following the same policy path as his 11 immediate predecessors, told us what that perception is in the present context. We can choose to flout it when we vote on 23 June. The last occasion we did that, over Suez, it did not turn out well for us, as the Eisenhower administration withdrew its support for sterling when our currency came under pressure. No doubt the consequences on this occasion are likely to be less immediate and dramatic. But the belief that there will be no consequences at all for that special relationship to which Vote Leave’s leading lights, such as Liam Fox, attach so much importance would be a triumph of hope over experience.

None of this is to dispute that the decision on 23 June is for the British electorate to take. But to do that without giving serious consideration and due weight to the views of our closest ally would be the height of folly.                       

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Gove misreads history in dismissing US advice to stay in EU”

  • What President Obama said was very similar to what Nicola Sturgeon and the ret of the SNP were told during the Scots referendum last year; ”If Scotland becomes independent from the rest of the UK, it’ll have to get to the back of the queue and re-join the EU as it’ll be a ‘new’ nation with a new relationship with Brussels”.

    This was being used as a stick to beat the SNP with constantly. The leave campaign clearly have very short or should that be very selective memories. I do wonder how many pro-brexit Tories used the EU against the Scots Nats in this way?

  • Rubbish, neither NAFTA nor the WTO have the power to overrule the US Supreme Court. Their rulings are binding only so far as the treaties are binding, which is to say the US like any other signatory to an international treaty can choose to ignore them and take the consequences.

    That is the difference between the EU, a supranational organisation, and every other international organisation.

    Talk of “pooling sovereignty” is a con. You either have sovereignty or you don’t – and if your parliament and supreme court can be overruled then you don’t. International cooperation does not require giving up sovereignty.