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Should Britain join the United States?

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London Times columnist David Aaronovitch has surrendered. In a column in Thursday's paper he claims that enthusiastic support of British involvement in the European Union is pointless. De Gaulle, he concedes, was right to be sceptical as to whether the British could ever be engaged participants in the European Project. The British do not understand, trust or like their European neighbours. Of late, the feeling is mutual.

Euro-sceptic Tories embrace isolation with glee. We could be another Switzerland, they suggest (though without the mountains and chocolate). Aaronovitch's reaction? "Switzerland, Meh".

He instead suggests (tongue in cheek) that we should apply to join the United States. He lists a number of advantages including the fact that Prince Charles would never become king and that the Scots and the Northern Irish could stop agonising over national identity.

The idea of an effective union between America and Britain is not a new one. 250 odd years ago, Britain was trying to decide whether or not to cede Canada and the West to the French. One point in favour was that it would rein in the expansion of the colonial settlements. The fear was that if that were not done, the farmers of America would produce their own manufactures, reducing the value of the transatlantic trade and might one day prove impudent enough to seek independence. Why, some asked, was there to be expenditure of British "blood and treasure" in a war that would benefit only the colonists.

One American rose to the challenge of quieting those fears. He had a different vision. There would be expansion, perhaps so great that there would be more British Subjects in America than there were in Britain, but that was nothing to fear. First, he contended, there would be so much land, that the Americans would be too busy growing things to manufacture anything. Britain would be creating an enormous market for its manufactured goods. Secondly, loyalty was not an issue. As he put it:

"The inhabitants of [the colonies] are, in common with the other subjects of Great Britain, anxious for the glory of her crown, the extent of her power and commerce, the welfare and future respose of the whole British people"

He described his fellow colonists as "animated with a truly British Spirit". The author of this stirringly patriotic treatise was a Mr Benjamin Franklin (see his work "The Interest of Great Britain considered with regard to her colonies and the acquisitions of Canada and Guadaloupe".)

So should we be trying to revive Franklin's vision of a Britain focusing its trade on America? The thought has crossed some great minds in the past and also some lesser ones, including that belonging to a Mr Newton Leroy Gingrich. He suggested in April 1998 that Britain should join NAFTA as an associate. The notion got vigorous support from Conrad Black, the owner of the conservative British Newspaper, the Telegraph. Baron Black of Crossharbour, as he is properly known, has other things on his mind at the moment like completing his prison sentence for mail fraud and the obstruction of justice but he may be persuaded that it is time to dust of his 1998 speech: "Britain's Final Choice: Europe or America?". Of course having served time for fraud his own travel options may now be somewhat more limited. The question as to whether the UK would benefit was looked into by the US International Trade Commission which concluded that it would. Phil Gramm was an enthusiast, though he appears to have been looking at it as a backdoor into European Markets.

Clyde Prestowitz over at Foreign Policy Magazine has taken up the suggestion. Like Aaronovitch he even toys with the notion of the various kingdoms becoming States. However, since the principal benefit he identifies is that the US would have more time zones than Russia, one suspects he may not be taking it all as seriously as he might.

Perhaps it is time for America to clear out the spare room so that Grandma can move in.

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