A narrative much loved by those opposed to Britain leaving the EU is that we will end up isolated and friendless. Unless we are fully signed-up members of a 28-nation geopolitical institution, apparently, it is impossible to be a country with any realistic prospects of advancement. Since most countries in the world are not in the EU this is, by definition, poppycock.
It is true that forging regional, multilateral trading relationships is commonplace around the globe. The UK has no desire to leave the EU amid acrimony and, indeed, seeks an agreement for departure by October 31. But if one is not forthcoming, it is not true that the UK will be cast adrift. The visit of John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser, reaffirmed what we have been hearing over and over again – that the US, or at least the current administration, is with us.
Mr Bolton repeated what President Trump has said and the London ambassador Woody Johnson has also made clear: that the US is ready to strike a trade deal with the UK soon after Brexit. No one should be under any illusions that this would be straightforward or necessarily greatly advantageous to Britain. Negotiations would be hard. The American economy is vastly bigger than ours and they have more clout. Mr Bolton, though not a trade envoy, signalled that it might be possible to have sector by sector agreements, though these could infringe WTO rules.
But it is less the detail that matters here than the direction of travel. If the world’s greatest economic and military power is throwing its weight behind us so enthusiastically, then the naysayers and gloom-mongers fearful of Brexit can hardly sustain their predictions of a solitary Britain cut off from influence and allies. Moreover, the EU negotiators, who have so far declined to reinstate talks about the terms of the UK’s departure, may also get the message that unless they are prepared to negotiate a new deal then a far closer post-Brexit relationship will develop between the US and the UK, to the EU’s detriment.
Most British prime ministers immediately on taking office hot-foot it across the Channel for meetings in Paris and Berlin, usually on the same day to avoid offending either of the two leading European powers. Boris Johnson should make his first foreign visit to Washington. At least he knows he will get a warm welcome there.