So, President Trump says the US will pull out of the international treaty designed to control Iran’s nuclear programme. The typically aggressive and melodramatic declaration makes you wonder, really, what the motivation is – Is it to confront a threat to regional (or even world) peace. Or perhaps just brinkmanship, a chance to upstage his predecessor, who worked so hard to get the Iran deal signed off. Surely not?
But the Iran deal was not just a legacy of the Obama administration. It was also an alliance between many countries – the US and its European allies included. Scuttle the deal and you also damage deeply the alliance that is a co-signatory to it. The gulf between the US and European positions on this matter is now metaphorically and literally, as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.
This matters for two reasons. First, the Trump administration was lobbied – hard – to stay in the deal. Macron and Merkel engaged in high profile, high stakes relationship-building visits to Washington last month. We sent Boris Johnson to use the unrivalled influence of Fox News to secure a breakthrough.
The Trump presidency decided other voices were weightier – Israel, Saudi Arabia amongst them. Is Europe’s stock so low? On the basis of this one issue, then Yes, that’s the way it looks.
However, of bigger significance could be what comes next. And Trump has already signalled that, with new and hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton apparently keen on sanctions – the US and its companies won’t trade with Iran and won’t trade with any company that does.
Amongst many things, this is a significant interruption to the UK’s strategic interests. Look at the following, posted by the British Government after trade relations were normalised in 2016, following the agreement now binned by the US:
“There is a positive outlook for UK-Iran trade relations. Iran is the biggest new market to enter the global economy in over a decade, offering significant opportunities in most sectors, with potential to grow as the market in Iran expands.
Iran’s significant oil and gas reserves will be an important driver of economic growth. Other sectors in this diversified economy with the potential to contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and employment and where UK business has particular strengths include:
- airports and aviation
The Iranian government is keen to attract foreign investment and technology transfer across all sectors.”
The “biggest new market to enter the global economy” in years. Now to be closed to British companies who want to also do business in the US – as the conveyor belt of history carries us towards our tryst with Brexit.
It seems, increasingly, that the promised sunlit uplands of the UK trading with the rest of the world, freed from the smothering embrace of our 27 former partners is becoming, to use meteorological parlance, rather occluded as this latest cold front moves in from the west.
And this is but the latest blow. As others have said, Trump’s latest move comes after mobilising for a trade war with China, and previous threats of punitive tariffs and now sanctions against us. Some negotiating partner.
Will Hutton’s dissection of our economic prospects was as near forensic as you can get; “I can find no grounds for optimism on the economy, “ was his diagnosis. Angela Eagle and Imran Ahmed lay bare the sheer unsustainability of current arrangements in their just-published “The New Serfdom”. The Resolution Foundation weighed in too with their heavyweight report on how millennials are, and will remain, much worse off than us baby-boomers, in just about whichever way you chose to measure it. This intergenerational inequity is a hugely destabilising force in our society.
Surely it is the duty of any government to manage risk – the risk that its citizens are subject too. This primary responsibility is often presented instead as one of protecting freedom or guaranteeing security. But these are just different ways of saying that it’s about the management of risk.
So, I think it is time. Time, we placed the security of the British population above sectional bickering. Time to say that Yes, we voted to leave the EU, but never in the same way lemmings leave a cliff. Time to take the opportunity ironically presented at almost the self-same moment as the US President pitched us into this latest vortex – the Lords’ vote on our membership (or not) of the European Economic Area.
The Commons will pass its judgement on that idea and possibly very soon. I can see no earthly reason for abstaining in any such vote – can anyone else?