Gordon Sondland is a busy man. He recently testified to Congress about his role in President Donald Trump’s attempt to extort campaign dirt from the government of Ukraine. That testimony follows from Sondland’s previous deft maneuvering to insert himself as Trump’s point man on Ukraine. All of these many plots and schemes appear to have left Sondland with little time to do his actual job: representing the United States as ambassador to the European Union, of which Ukraine is not a member.
This is the week, and now the weekend, when the Brexit negotiations have reached their decisive moment: the U.K.’s last clear chance to reach a withdrawal agreement with the European Union. It’s a big moment for the U.K. You’d never know it, but it’s also a big moment for the United States.
Over the past month, I’ve traveled in both the U.K. and Germany, asking about the Brexit process and aftermath. Two words that I seldom heard in either place unless I mentioned them myself were United States. Brexit is unfolding with the United States assuming only the most distant presence—and taking shape with scant reference to U.S. preferences and U.S. interests.
In part, this distance from the United States reflects well-justified wariness of the Trump administration. British leaders have, by now, learned not to trust Trump vaporware. Through the early part of 2017, Trump and Trump-administration officials again and again promised rapid progress toward a post-Brexit free-trade agreement. Trump told British reporters at the Hamburg G20 in July 2017: “We”—meaning the United States and Great Britain—“have been working on a trade deal which will be a very, very big deal, a very powerful deal, great for both countries, and I think we will have that done very, very quickly.” There was a time when pro-Brexit politicians and pundits believed and relied on those words, but that time is long gone.