- - Sunday, March 3, 2019


The petty internal squabbles and wars of the Europeans were once thought below the concern of Englishmen, our stuffy cousins across the waters. But members of both Conservative and Labor parties are fighting fiercely among themselves now over the wisdom — indeed, the propriety — of leaving the European Union.

Breaking up is hard to do, particularly when the party of the second part, like any spurned party of the second part, tries to hang on for dear life to the dearly departing. The vote to break up the Union was, after all, close, with 52 percent voting to leave and 48 percent voting to stay. Theresa May, who emerged as the prime minister after the vote, had wanted to stay, and even now seems to pine for the old days.

Imagining Britain having once wanted to be regarded as the equal of Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and the others of the union was hard for the rest of us to do. The United Kingdom has never been all that united, not like the United States where never is heard a discouraging word, but for centuries the kingdom was united in the view that if the kingdom was “in” Europe (there’s no avoiding geography) it was never “of” it.

“The sceptred isle,” as Shakespeare called it, was unique, “this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, this fortress built by Nature for herself against infection and the hand of war,” was set in the sea like a precious stone “against the envy of less happier lands.” Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and France, Italy and Germany, for that matter, could just eat their hearts out.

The kingdom’s scruffy cousins in the United States encouraged Britain to become part of Europe because the United States wanted a voice in the new Europe, and maybe London could speak for us from the inside to “lead from behind.” Where do you suppose Barack Obama got the words to dress up his idea of retreating from the world’s troubles?

The continuing postponements and the body language in those photographs of Theresa May huddling with the European bureaucrats are not hopeful signs of a formal British exit from Europe on March 29, though some members of Parliament insist it would not be all that bad. The kingdom would save $51 billion otherwise to be spent on the divorce lawyers, and free itself to strike its own beneficial trade deals around the world.

But the squeaks and groans will continue, whether about actual problems or mere complaining from Edinburgh and Dublin, where the Scots and the Irish were always more “remainers” than “leavers.” Although it’s unfashionable at the White House to talk about American responsibilities around the globe, it hardly behooves President Trump and his administration to stand in idleness while our No. 1 ally is, like Gulliver bedeviled by Lilliputians, mired in trouble. If Brexit happens, one way or another, the United Kingdom and the pouting Europeans have only until December next year to get things in place to prepare for the moment when the post-Brexit rules become effective.

We’re eager to do our part, so here’s a modest proposal. The United States should extend an invitation to the British prime minister, whomever she or he might be on that distant date, to come over for a week’s Festival of the Special Relationship.

It would be “a cultural affair;” none of this jazz about a “summit,” no need to pretend that we don’t notice there’s a difference in the size of Kim Jong-un and the size of Mrs. May or Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg or whomever is living at 10 Downing Street. Strategy in all its aspects would be discussed behind the scenes of the festival. The “cover” could include a wealth of celebratory events, from a special program at Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre to a British festival of music and movies (called “film” to give it highest tone) at the Kennedy Center. Who wouldn’t want to see “Brief Encounter” again, or Greer Garson one more time as Mrs. Miniver? The visiting prime minister could make the major oration at Colonial Williamsburg (final proof of no hard feelings between cousins) to re-emphasize the deep mutual ties of language, literature, history and political philosophy.

Critics of course would carp at such a celebration. Let them carp. The Special Relationship is always essential to the foreign policies of those whom Charles de Gaulle, with a curl of lip, disdained “the Anglo-Saxons.” What Shakespeare called “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” would be spared a fate worse than death, incorporation into Europe.

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