Sad to say, but to read Brexit laments from the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland), the country seems to be in almost worse shape than 55 BC when Julius Caesar’s Roman Army faced the wild-eyed, spear-bearing, barefooted tribes wearing only animal skins. Add to it anger over its current defense expenditures ($62.9 billion), run up largely from perpetual alliance with the United States’ unending wars and paranoia for domestic “protection” ($41.1 billion).
One recent and much-reprinted column bemoaned the setting sun of Empire that once ruled over 24% of Earth and 23% of its population. The writer chronicled events, artfully omitting the American Revolution in setting off the unraveling of its other defiant colonies up to the 1997 peaceful hand off of Hong Kong to China. Readers could easily conclude that after Britain leaves the EU in March, it will become a bankrupt, drifting lonely orphan in desperate need, as the writer said, of “a new way to rise ethically, morally, economically, politically and diplomatically.” Without that, the “current trajectory is to be the 51stState of America.”
That British sneer is scarcely new. Back in 1766, when both King George III and Parliament worried that its three million colonists were disobeying the Stamp Act, the famed and pragmatic MP William Pitt rose in Commons to demand we be excluded from that tax, but no others. Played for laughs, the sneer followed:
Our legislative power over the colonies is sovereign and supreme. When it ceases to be sovereign and supreme, I would advise every gentleman to sell his lands, if he can, and embark for that country.
Today, perhaps the laugh is on many unhappy Brits yearning do just that if emigration were not such an ugly issue in this country. Or if it didn’t look like jumping out of the frying pan into a far hotter fire.
Despite yesteryear’s contemptuous jest, today’s perilous times for both countries do suggest that the UK’s departure from the EU consider some kind of official union rather than continue our historic loose-knit alliance. After all, the EU is determined to become a major financial and trading rival of both the U.S. and U.K. Shades of 1939! The economic organization conceived for post-WWII peace now plans to establish its own army. Naturally, the Germans are in the forefront to field 200,000 troops by 2024. A navy and air force will follow.
Statehood, of course, is an unlikely route for the UK. It took Hawaii 60 years to become our 50th. It was one of the U.S. major territories: Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Northern Marianas, Swains Island and 11 other South Pacific islands and atolls. Puerto Rico has held five referendums since 1967 for statehood. It was finally successful last June only to be blocked by Hurricane Maria and president Trump’s imperious remark: “Puerto Rico should not be thinking about statehood right now.” That’s blatant avoidance of Hurricane Maria’s recovery bills and fears that voters among its 3.5 million residents might favor the Democratic party.
But what if UK voters, fresh from that Brexit decision and cast upon unknown and unfriendly waters, chose to weigh becoming a U.S. territory?
Initially, it would be a shock abroad and hard on pride and prestige at home—until recognizing greater advantages even as an unincorporated entity. Loss of EU trading privileges would be replaced by inclusion in U.S. bilateral pacts and escape from its ruinous import tariffs. Its formidable stock exchange probably would retain, even gain, investors because of the U.S. connection. And it would be easy to emigrate to the States.
Like other self-governing U.S. territories—and Commonwealth nations—it would retain Parliament, the monarchy, its currency, the budgetary allocations and taxing systems, social programs, and sporting events. Moreover, leaving the EU will save billions in membership dues: last year they were $11.6 billion against earnings of only $5.4 billion.
Distance wouldn’t be a problem. Guam, for instance, is 5,986 miles from California, a far piece from the 3,462 miles between London and New York. That distance even in 1606 didn’t deter the little clutch of London speculators in the “Virginia Company” from sending 105 freebooters and disposable lordlings to hunt gold and silver along the James River. Or, at the least, to set up a trading post (“Jamestown”) for busy European colonizers exploiting our East coast and Caribbean islands.
Nor did King George III blench at shipping 22,000 troops to squelch troublemakers and tax-evaders launching the American Revolution. He could even spare 62,000 redcoats from the Napoleonic wars for the War of 1812-15 to finally stamp out those scrappy ingrates daring to become a trading rival and seizing resource-rich crown lands west of the colonies.
U.S. peace negotiators were also farsighted enough to ensure that a “territory” was specified in the Ghent Treaty that ended the war in a draw, to seize UK properties west of the Alleghenies. Their patient British counterparts recognized that the U.S. would be especially dependent economically on the parent country for years. So they laid down terms designed to restore perfect reciprocity, Peace, Friendship, and good Understanding between them….There shall be a firm and universal Peace between His Britannic Majesty and the United States, and between their respective Countries, Territories, Cities, Towns, and People of every degree without exception of places or persons.
The treaty’s other important feature was Anglo-American “comity.” It has lasted from Britain’s early and significant waves of settlers to America, through wartime alliances and financial collapses, as well as sharing the common law and the language of Milton, Shakespeare—and Donald Trump. True, we Yanks struggle with UK dialects on BBC series such as Poldark, but so do our UK “cousins” with New Englander “ay-yups” and Southern drawls on PBS documentaries.
Too, for all the resentments rebels held against King George III and the royals, millions of Americans have always danced attendance seemingly on their every action whether it was King Edward VIII’s abdication for the American divorcee he loved, Princess Margaret in a can-can chorus line, or grief over Princess Diana’s untimely death. Didn’t 29.2 millionAmericans just spend a sleepless night riveted to the televised nuptials of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle? Our mutual audiences of commoners are drawn to palaces and lives of the privileged. It’s the “emulative ethic” of not wanting to destroy the “haves,” but yearning to live like them.
Culturally, the two countries have cross-pollinated creativity whether in music, movies/theatre, writing, or the fine arts. And both countries share political activism that’s put millions on the streets opposing war and nuclear weapons, stopping global-climate change and sexual harassment, or vigorous opposition to Trump. His recent visit to the UK turned out thousands in its major cities. Londoners lofted a huge balloon of a diapered, demanding baby all but waving a nuclear missile. In a bit of lend-lease, they loaned it to Washington’s thousands for the national protests against Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now, neither populace is likely to know that U.S. territories were also specified in the U.S. Constitution. The third section of Article IV declares:
The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
Aside from offering protection to territories—except for expensive Acts of God and climate change—U.S. rules and laws don’t apply to territorial residents. Among the many other benefits, a territorial resident these days can:
+ become a U.S. “national”—but not a citizen.
+ be taxed onlyby the territorial government.
+ travel in the U.S. withouta passport.
+ vote and run for office—but only in that territory.
+ be elected as the territory’s single delegate to Congress, to author bills, vote on committees—but not on either floor.
+ vote in the U.S. primaries—but not general elections.
A much-needed and great benefit of the UK becoming a territory would be its influential voice to Washington decision-makers. It’s underscored by common sense and experience from centuries of being the world’s leading power. They certainly could furnish expertise to politically unhappy Americans in how they undermined rulers such as the war-loving Richard II, John I, the weak Edward II, braggarts like Henry VIII, and the unhinged George III. Not to mention legions of prime ministers with similar qualities.
They also could teach us how the UK was able relinquish world power and its prohibitive costs to address crucial domestic needs and stave off rising fury of the ruled. Today’s priorities are reflected in its current budget allocations: pensions (20%), health care (19%), social needs (14%). Defense/security gets only 10%. In fact, defense spending has been dropping steadily from 2000 when it consumed nearly 3 percent of the GDP to nearly 2 percent this year.
The transformation has to be attributed to reality and practicality concerning Britain’s declining global role after WWII, but also Labour party control of the government from 1945-5, most of the 1960s and 1970s, and from 1997-2010.
Its singular achievement was establishing the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948 which covered everyone. It stemmed largely from middle-class’ anger for not receiving the free care provided the poor. Like the rich, they were forced to pay out of pocket for insurance, doctor visits, hospital stays, and nursing homes. Though the NHS cost taxpayers $198 billion this year for all those expenditures, it also includes the latest hearing aids, vision and dental care—and free prescriptions for those over age 60. Small wonder NHS is the envy of most Americans.
In the EU, Britain’s influence over policies became marginal, another reason for Brexit. It never was the case in, say, WWII when Winston Churchill was prime minister or other commanding leaders who followed. There’s something about the clipped speech of a Brit presenting issues and workable ideas that still commands respectful attention from American decision-makers and the 70 percent of us who desperately want the Medicare-for-All program.
Another area of advice and influence might be the millions in revenues the UK gained by a 5 percent “stamp duty reserve” tax on all stock market transactions. Add its new Unexplained Wealth Order detecting money laundering by high-rollers engaging in drugs and other illegal deeds. Or raising billions by working toward lower exemption rates and closing escape hatches in inheritance taxes. Britain’s current yield is $6,784,970,400. Replicating that change in our federal tax system would provide a good start for addressing economic inequality in this country.
But perhaps a UK territory’s greatest influence on Washington would be in controlling our exploitive global corporations, Congressional warhawks, and the military-industrial complex. Today, UK leaders and people want shut of joining our successive regimes’ bloody efforts to control global oil resources and trading. The UK has joined wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and is now complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen. Saudi bombing attacks have caused at least 56,000 deaths, the starvation of at least 14 million, and creating a potential 350,000 refugees. As an outraged Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell recently wrote in the Guardian:
As supporters of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and key arms suppliers, we bear a unique responsibility. We cannot look the other way as this catastrophe in Yemen unfolds. We must stand true to our values, to strategic common sense, indeed true to our allies’ best interests and make clear that we can no longer support [the Saudi] war in Yemen.
Saying “no” to joining America’s endless wars would be difficult to be sure. But as a self-governing territory, the UK could call a snap election on this issue. If it passed, it would free up a sizable portion of current expenditures for defense and security programs (this year: $103.9 billion). And it would surely give pause to our endless wars by stopping a president and jingoistic lawmakers from ram-rodding unquestioned, unaudited $717 billion-dollar Pentagon allocations.
Sovereign pride probably would be the chief obstacle standing in the way of UK voters weighing territorial status. But instead of considering it a “come-down,” they could be asked to think it’s little different from being in a symbolic commonwealth of today’s large, self-governing countries like Canada or Australia, or small ones like the Bahamas, and Fiji. These former colonies still retain “friendship and practical cooperation” with the UK. Nor do their leaders shrink from consulting officials in the “mother country” about knotty problems. They have come to know UK responses are based upon 2,000 years of experience—fortunate and sometimes not-so-fortunate.
Besides, in deciding to bow out as the No. 1 world power these past decades, the UK’s people were well aware of the ancient proverb: “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” The Kingdom has skillfully avoided destruction by putting practicality and survival ahead of pride or Brexit wouldn’t exist. Today, in the fearsome, monumental global challenges lying dead ahead for both of our countries, it might be wise to finally have an official, if loose, tie such as territorial status. It would legally bind and benefit the long-lasting comity hoped for long ago in the Treaty of Ghent.