Will Britain Join NAFTA?

From the September 1998 Trumpet Print Edition

A hot debate is warming up in Britain over whether the United Kingdom should continue with the Prime Minister Blair’s policy of seeking closer ties with the European Union.

In a recently publicized speech entitled “Britain’s Final Choice: Europe or America?”, Conrad Black, owner of the British conservative daily newspaper The Telegraph, stated that the debate was over whether or not the UK should opt for membership in the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA) and gracefully withdraw from its current membership of the EU.

Addressing the Center for Policy Studies in London, the Canadian media tycoon declared, “None of the continental European countries has a particular affinity with the United States and Canada or anything slightly comparable to Britain’s dramatic modern historical intimacy with North America.” He believes that by forging closer links with the EU, Britain will be forced to give up its sovereignty and to curtail its ties with the U.S.

The speech sparked a fresh wave of controversy between Euro-skeptics and Euro-enthusiasts, adding fresh fuel to the fire of the skeptics’ campaign against Britain joining the single European currency.

Black’s proposed shift from the EU to NAFTA appears legitimate when trade and investment figures are reviewed. The British economy seems driven ever closer toward the United States rather than Europe. This was underlined recently with the largest industrial merger in history, when British Petroleum announced on August 11 an agreement to purchase the U.S. oil company Amoco for $47.9 billion in stock.

Although numerous arguments against Britain’s involvement in closer European integration have been put forward by eminent commentators, none has demonstrated the ability to marshal majority support at the political level. But public opinion is resistant to EU integration, and hostile to adopting the euro in place of the British pound sterling.

The fact is, as Conrad Black currently asserts, there exists “no credible version of Euro-integration that does not involve a massive transfer of authority from Westminster…to the institutions of Brussels and Strasbourg, which are, by Anglo-American standards, rather undemocratic and unaccountable.”

With Britain accounting for two-thirds of total European investment in the U.S., Mr. Black’s call for hitching the British economy to NAFTA would appear to have significant economic and political benefits to both the U.S. and Britain. Not only does the bookkeeping suggest the UK would be better off, additional support has come from U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who suggested in April that Britain could become an “associate” in NAFTA. Additionally, Eurostat (the statistical arm of the EU) reported that the U.S. invested nearly twice as much in Britain as it did in the rest of the EU.

Will Britain, the silly dove of Hosea 7:11, turn in her pro-European flight to her old ally across the Atlantic? Watch for such a prospect as rising anti-Anglo-Saxon sentiments continue to be aired by an increasingly polarized European Union.

All of this controversy sets the stage for next year’s referendum on whether Britain should join the single European currency. Eleven of the 15 member states are poised to adopt the single currency in January 1999. Britain will not be one of them.