Royal baby helps relieve Brexit Blues
Big news flash seen and heard quickly ’round the world: Kate, duchess of Cambridge, has just given birth. The newest member of the royal family of Britain — excuse me, that should be the United Kingdom — arrived Monday in good form. The baby boy weighs 8 pounds, 7 ounces (that is 3.8 kilograms in Continental Euroweight).
Meanwhile, in news barely recorded by the world media, the House of Lords in the United Kingdom has handed a major setback to the tortured efforts of the government to withdraw from the European Union. On April 18, the senior house of Parliament voted to demand that the government negotiate a customs union with the EU as part of departure, known as Brexit.
The supranational European organization began as such a unified trading zone in the 1950s. That has served as the basis for continuing increasingly complex political as well as economic integration. The EU also includes a common currency, known as the euro.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s hardline government plans a sharp break with the EU. That would facilitate negotiating trade accords in other parts of the world without lingering bureaucratic ties.
The original European Economic Community began in 1957 with six members — Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Britain did not join. Later efforts to enter were painful. After vetoes by France in 1963 and 1967, Britain finally entered the common market in 1973 but never embraced the common currency.
Over the past century, the House of Lords has slowly but steadily lost power to the “lower” house of the bicameral Parliament. The House of Commons can overturn the vote of the Lords, but may not.
Meanwhile Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the United Kingdom and plays important if subtle governmental roles. Royalty and representative government have important complementary functions. Walter Bagehot’s important 1867 book “The English Constitution” brilliantly analyzes the “efficient functions” of Parliament and the “dignified functions” of the monarchy.
The former manages the government. The latter performs the ceremonial activities of the nation, by so doing insulating national institutions from the passions of party politics. The United States lacks such a distinction, which helps explain our own durable fascination with the British royals.
Since World War II, the American media and public have paid considerable attention to developments in the British monarchy — the happy, the tragic and the scandalous. That war helps explain why this is true.
Before the United States formally entered the global war, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and government colleagues gave priority to forging close alliance with the Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and colleagues reciprocated. Britain’s king and queen visited the U.S. in June 1939, just before the war began in Europe. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill became the first prime minister of Great Britain to address Congress. From the start of the war in Europe, the British government carried out a sustained large-scale campaign to generate positive press and effective influence with the American people as well as leaders. This successful effort reflected a more limited, earlier such campaign during World War I.
Our strategic partnership reinforces joint influence in the extensive areas where interests, commitments and policies overlap. During a 2015 visit to Washington, British Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied Congress against further Iran sanctions. There was no significant protest, even from Republicans. No other foreign government leader could have done that.
Collective British voter movement away from the Conservative and Labour parties is a long-term trend. That was directly reflected in the indecisive result of the British general election in 2010, which led to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Yet no one doubts institutions of government will endure. Queen Elizabeth, prudent and responsible head of state, deserves some credit for that — shared credit.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.”