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The Iron Lady, the Gipper, and Brexit

Relevant Reading:

Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship
Richard Aldous

Reagan and Thatcher Then — and Now
Matthew Continetti in National Review

Forty years since Margaret Thatcher first became Prime Minister, there is no better time to revisit the legacy of the Iron Lady. On this special episode of the podcast, our own Richard Aldous finds himself in the guest’s chair to discuss his 2012 book Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship. Filling in as host is Matthew Continetti, Editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon. Tune in or read the transcript below to learn why the Reagan-Thatcher relationship was rockier than commonly realized, and what lessons it might teach us amid the current crisis over Brexit.

Matt Continetti: Hello and welcome to The American Interest Podcast. I am Mathew Continetti, Editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon at freebeacon.com. Today I find myself in an unusual position. I’m here to interview the regular host of this podcast, historian Richard Aldous. Richard is the Eugene Meyer professor of British History and Literature at Bard College as well as a contributing editor to The American Interest. He is the author, as I’m sure you’re aware, of many books, including histories of Disraeli and Gladstone, Eisenhower and Macmillan, and biographies of the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and the conductor Malcolm Sargent.

We’re here today to talk about his book Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship, a somewhat revisionist take on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s personal diplomacy with President Ronald Reagan. We’ll also explore the question of how Lady Thatcher might approach today’s Brexit debate. Welcome, Richard.

Richard Aldous: Thanks, Matt. I feel as if the tables have been turned on me.

MC: I know. I should actually say thank you for allowing me to fill in for you, and congratulations as well on an excellent book, which I greatly enjoyed reading. I guess I’ll just start off with this: Looking over your CV, it reveals a pattern of writing about historical pairs. I’m wondering what’s attractive and what’s difficult about this sort of history?

RA: I’m very much interested overall in the question of leadership—whether it’s political, or cultural, or diplomatic. There is something I find genuinely interesting about putting two characters into contrast with each other. Obviously, Reagan and Thatcher have this very special relationship the way they describe it, but what attracted me to them was that they actually disagreed about almost every major issue. That was the kind of thing really I wanted to explore.

But you’re absolutely right that there is something fascinating about seeing two leaders sparring with each other, working with each other, to some degree feeding off each other, whether that’s Gladstone and Disraeli, Reagan and Thatcher, Macmillan and Eisenhower, all interesting in their different ways.

MC: Was there anything in particular that led to you this pair to writing about Reagan and Thatcher?

RA: There were a number of things. I’ve written a lot about the special relationship, the Anglo-American relationship, and this is another one of those totemic relationships. It’s very often compared to that between Churchill and Roosevelt during the Second World War. But the thing that’s always struck me about Reagan and Thatcher is that it’s always presented as a marriage:  These two they may have tiffs along the way, but they were just like a married couple. That seemed fundamentally wrong to me. The real dynamic behind that relationship wasn’t President Reagan’s poodle, but, at the same time, Thatcher wasn’t the intellectual brains behind the outfit as she’s often presented.

MC: You point out in the book that the first time they met both were out of power.

RA: That’s right. I mean, they met in the 1970s. At that stage she seemed the closer to power. He was just the ex-California governor at that stage. She was the leader of the opposition. There was a sense that the Labour government was already in crisis. But I think even at that stage she recognized that the ideas behind what later came to be called the Reagan Revolution were hugely influential on her, and she saw what was going on with him, what was happening with the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation. That these were places where she was able to mine ideas and prepare for the Thatcher Revolution that took place from 1979. In fact, 40 years ago in May of this year.

MC: It’s funny that in some ways she preceded Reagan because her elections were always one year ahead of his, and yet she almost seemed to have this. . . .I don’t want to say dialectic. She was interested in his ideas as you point out, but her ideas were slightly different. I was struck reading the book that, for instance, they had a different take on tax policy.

RA: Yeah. In fact, when she comes for her first visit after he’s elected in 1980, there’s a major disagreement about not just tax policy but economic policy generally. The context to that is that by 1981 Britain really looks as if it is economically in crisis. By the summer of ’81, there will be race riots on the streets, and a lot of people will be saying that these are driven by rising unemployment, a sense that the ratchet is being turned on the economy and that ordinary people are really, really suffering.

The Reagan Administration looks at that and thinks, “We don’t want that kind of thing.” Yeah, there’s a very important, to use your word, dialectic that goes on about economic policy, about foreign policy, and particularly about policy towards the Soviet Union.

MC: Right. Before we turn to that though, it struck me there’s another difference. Reagan, as you observe, was shaped by and in many ways led the religious right at that time, and yet that type of religious conservatism doesn’t seem that apparent in the UK. Is that right?

RA: Yeah, I think that’s probably right. Religion is less overt in British politics. Tony Blair’s press secretary famously said in the late ’90s, “We don’t do religion.” I think that is broadly true. On the other hand, Thatcher’s own background, the fact that her father was a Methodist minister, was very important to her, and to some degree it does kind of frame her rhetoric—this sense of being very upright, of being very straightforward. Later she will give her famous speech in Scotland where she will refer to the importance of morality and faith and this kind of thing.

She probably took that as far as most British politicians could, but you’re absolutely right. There wasn’t this appeal to a religious base in the same way that there was with President Reagan in that Sunbelt constituency that he had.

MC: Well, let’s turn to national security where it seems like most of their disagreements took place. I was surprised reading the book at how quickly the disagreement came into view once Reagan was installed in 1981. The various debates begin with an argument over pipeline politics and sanctions over solidarity. Is that right?

RA: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. In fact, that is the first, as you say, of a series of disagreements; pipeline, over the Falklands, over how to deal with the Soviet Union, over SDI. You can go on and on and on with this whole list of things where they profoundly disagree. They argue and, on most occasions, are eventually able to come to some kind of agreement or accommodation.

But this is actually quite interesting because it’s a good example of where Margaret Thatcher is siding with Europe. I know we’re going to talk about Brexit later. Very often she has been presented as being completely anti-European, not working within the European Union. This is a good example of where she is when the United States says, “We’re going to cut off all the technology for this Soviet pipeline.”

That has real-world implications. For Europe, it has real-world implications in Britain for manufacturing and particularly engineering firms. She pushes back very strongly against that, and it sets a tone because what becomes apparent, and this is not true once George Bush becomes President, is that Ronald Reagan, because he has such a thick skin, because he’s so comfortable in his own skin, he’s able to take any amount of criticism from her as long as it’s conducted face-to-face.

What happens during their entire time together is that broadly she’s always very supportive in public, always acknowledges and uses the language of the special relationship, and Churchill and all of this kind of thing. But the payback is that when she’s in the Oval Office, when she’s at Camp David she is going to say exactly what she thinks. Sometimes that is in ways that President Reagan’s advisors are horrified by, but he never seems to be offended by.

MC: Indeed, the Reagan team came to joke about the handbag, right?

RA: Well, she’s famous for her handbag. There are these instances on one occasion during one crisis. I think it was Grenada. Margaret Thatcher is on the phone, President Reagan has taken this phone call during the middle of a cabinet meeting, and he just holds the phone away from his ears so that the cabinet can hear that she’s absolutely tearing into him, and he just puts his hand over the receiver and just says, “Isn’t she wonderful?”

There is a sense that she’s able to say those kind of things, but unlike so many leaders, he’s able to take it and in fact welcomes it. Partly he knows that he can also deploy it. He deploys that with NATO leaders, European leaders, with the Canadian prime minister and so on because sometimes she’s tearing a strip off them over one of his policies.

MC: We need to pair some of these disagreements. The first two seem to me to fall into the category of a debate over sovereignty. That is, they came at loggerheads over the Falkland Islands where it was British sovereignty that was being challenged, but then the following year they also got into a row over Grenada where it was Margaret Thatcher actually upholding the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of nations.

RA: Yeah. These are two of the biggest disputes that they have. They myth of the Falklands is always that President Reagan was right by her side. That is not the case. Argentina was a very important ally for the United States in the Cold War. We know how involved the Reagan Administration was in South America and so on. They saw Argentina, but they did not want these two allies to be at war with each other, so there’s a sense that they tried to act as a mediator.

She’s infuriated by that. Again, it kind of tears a strip off him. There’s a wonderful diary which listeners can find online by Jim Rentschler. He was in the National Security Council. He’s taking the notes of one of their conversations. Remember, this is a Republican. He records in his diary that during this conversation the president comes off sounding like “more of a wimp” than Jimmy Carter.

If you’re a Republican, then the insult doesn’t get much worse than that. There is a sense of having to navigate that, and then, as you say in Grenada, Britain feels completely betrayed. He comes pretty close to lying in a bare-faced way over Grenada. He says in his diary that when she phones he says, “Well, you know, we’re still making the decision,” and then he says, “You know, I couldn’t tell her that actually the forces were already on their way.”

That has profound implications because she later says that this has been a harsh lesson in how large powers behave. In other words, that the United States can do this kind of thing. That’s one of the reasons why she then starts looking to encourage reform in the Soviet Union because she realizes that to some degree Britain needs to play the Soviet Union and the United States off against each other if it’s going to maximize its own position on the world stage.

MC: And then when you turn to the issues of the Strategic Defense Initiative and also Reagan’s abrupt departure from the Reykjavík Summit, you see a disagreement between Reagan and Thatcher over the idea of deterrence.

RA: Yeah. Margaret Thatcher after Reykjavík says, “This was like an earthquake underneath my feet.” The entire system of Western deterrence looks as if it’s just going to be torn up when President Reagan makes that offer to Mikhail Gorbachev: “Why don’t we just get rid of all of them?” That has come without any consultation with Western allies, and it’s the reason why immediately afterwards Margaret Thatcher, after being in China, more or less goes around the entire world in order to get back to Washington so that she can confront Reagan about this and make sure that to some degree she’s able to nail the Western alliance back down again because she feels that he’s acted in a way not just that goes against British interests but more generally against European interests, and NATO and the European Union.

MC: I confess as an American conservative, as I was reading these debates, my loyalties were torn because while, of course, I worship at the altar of Ronald Reagan, I tend to side with Thatcher in some of these intellectual disagreements over state sovereignty and also deterrence. There’s another area of debate that I thought was very interesting, which was the issue of terrorism which confronted both Reagan and Thatcher, particularly the terrorism sponsored by the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi. There, too, Thatcher actually upheld the principles of international law, you say, to argue against Reagan’s multiple bombings of Libya.

RA: Yeah, it’s one of the reasons why I’m very convinced, without getting necessarily into the debates about the war itself, that Margaret Thatcher would not have supported the subsequent war in Iraq for precisely those kind of reasons. The way that she saw the world was that, yes, if it was something like the Falklands where Britain’s sovereignty had been broken, then you had to act, but that you had to accept under international law that there were bad regimes out there and that you couldn’t go and fix all of them. You couldn’t just interfere in the internal affairs.

You’re right over Libya, but it did leave her in a very difficult position because ultimately unlike France she did allow American F1-11s to take off from the UK in order to bomb Libya, but she did that really as an act of solidarity and to protect the special relationship. But again, she expressed her fears and her concerns and her objections very clearly to Reagan. But at the end of the day, one of the things that always strikes me about Margaret Thatcher—for all of the sense of speaking with belief and standing firm in her convictions—is that ultimately she was a realist.

She was somebody who looked at politics through that lens of the art of the possible. That’s one of the things that holds right until the very end when perhaps the bunker mentality took over. It was one of the things that enabled her to be so nimble-footed on the world stage that she never boxed herself in entirely by principle. She took issues on a play-by-play basis.

MC: It was interesting to me reading the book. So much of it is spent in these very interesting stories of the debates over specific Cold War issues and policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. And then it seemed that around 1987, once the INF Treaty was coming into view, and once we were getting towards the Washington Summit, that’s when the myth-making began. The relationship seems to take a turn where there were very few disagreements from that point forward, and, in fact, there seemed to be a lot of energy invested in really communicating to the public that this personal relationship between Reagan and Thatcher was iron-clad and it had always been so.

RA: I think that’s absolutely right. That works on a number of different levels. Obviously by 1987 there’s a sense that Reagan is beginning to come into his lame duck period, so yeah, she wants to consolidate that. It’s clear by that stage that something is happening historically, that the dial is being turned on the Cold War. I don’t think anyone quite expects that the Soviet Union will collapse in the way that it does, but clearly this is a success story, and it’s a joint one.

After all, she was the woman who introduced Mikhail Gorbachev to Ronald Reagan. She was the first one to identify him, so she has a sense of ownership on this. She vouched for him in a way. That was one of the reasons that Reagan felt that he could trust Gorbachev. Again, they want to consolidate that story, but also there’s something very personal that we sometimes forget that Reagan was under a lot of political pressure by this stage, Iran–Contra. She is unambiguous, whatever the politics. She comes to Washington, she does all the Sunday shows, she makes the speeches. She is 100 percent behind the fact that Reagan is a great President, that you can trust him, that perhaps mistakes were made, but that he is a fundamentally honest man, and I believe in him. The Reagans, and I say the Reagans because Nancy is an important part of that, are really grateful for that support at a moment of maximum danger for them politically. As you say, you then move into this period of myth-making and pushing disagreements to one side.

MC: You have this fantastic anecdote in the book of Thatcher’s appearance on Face the Nation where Lesley Stahl was the host, and this is in the middle of Iran-Contra. Thatcher, in my view, completely wipes the floor with Stahl and says, “What are you talking about? America is a great country. Ronald Reagan’s a great President.” And then you say that in that Reagan diaries the President made an entry saying Mrs. Thatcher was absolutely fantastic on Face the Nation. It reminded me of another President who seems to pay a lot attention to the Sunday shows. Apparently, it’s not novel with the current occupant of the Oval Office.

RA: I think probably all presidents pay attention to the Sunday shows. It just depends how much they say they do.

MC: Or whether they tweet about it, right?

RA: Sure.

MC: What surprised you during your research into both of these world-historic figures?

RA: I think there were a couple of things. Obviously, the overall argument of the book is that there were debates. When you start off writing a book, you have a particular instinct, but even I was surprised by just how intense the debates and disagreements were. By the way, I think that’s a good thing because it shows that the special relationship is something real—that these were politicians, leaders grappling with issues of immense complexity, that they were both trying to work their own national interests, but that they were able to engage in these debates and move forward. You can think of some relationships where Britain has been perhaps subservient or on other occasions when it’s led too hard perhaps.

That was number one, but the second and most interesting thing was how important her ideas were. I was very struck that Margaret Thatcher was very often seen as somebody who didn’t have very much hinterland. That’s not true. She was always attending think tank debates where she would just turn up unannounced. She was a great reader. She would bring academics and historians and opinion formers in to debate ideas.

I think as well that Ronald Reagan was more interested in ideas than people realize. Before he came to power, he was a regular at the Hoover Institution. The other thing that strikes me, though, is that Reagan was very often seen as not being on top of material. He was seen as a lightweight in politics, maybe a lucky politician. I’m absolutely convinced that is not the case. He may not have been somebody who bothered with all the minutiae of politics, but when you look back as a historian that seems to be a strength because what he gives is clear strategic direction to his administration, and perhaps never more so than at the moment.

At the end of his first year they’ve been dealing with tax policy, and then they have a big meeting deciding what they’re going to do next with a focus on national security. One of his advisors says to him, “In fact, what are we going do about the Soviets and the Cold War?” He says, “Here is our strategy on the Cold War. We win, they lose.” Now, everybody laughed, but by the time you get to 1989, the year that he leaves office, that same year the Berlin Wall comes down. By 1991, the Soviet Union has completely collapsed.

And when you then trace through the ’80s, the various national security directives that he was giving, the policy, there is a sense in which there is a clear link between that very simple sentence and what happens subsequently. That’s not to underplay the importance of Gorbachev, and Thatcher and so on. But at the end of the day, the United States is the world’s number one power. It is the most important country in the world. When there’s clear strategic direction like that, it filters out to all of the various agencies and departments. It informs policy.

I think that this idea really has taken root, certainly with me, but more broadly I think historians now recognize that the clear setting of strategy was something that was highly significant and very important.

MC: It’s fascinating just how expansive that strategy was. We began this conversation talking about the pipeline, and you see the economic warfare element pressuring the Soviet Union economically in terms of technology. There’s the political warfare element of Reagan’s rhetoric of the evil empire and his address to the British parliament at Westminster the year before, and then, of course, there’s the defense build-up and the introduction of SDI, which you argue convinced the Soviets that they just could not compete.

From some of my own research into the history of the American conservative movement, it’s fascinating to me how many of these strategies were drawn pretty straightforwardly from the pages of National Review and specifically the writings of the Cold War theorist James Burnham, who Reagan awarded the Medal of Freedom to in 1982. In the course of his speech giving Burnham the medal he said that he cribbed from him during his years on the rubber chicken circuit. But it also seems to me that he was using some of that same strategy in his public policy.

RA: That’s a good example of what we were talking about before—that he is thinking about ideas, that he never claimed to be an intellectual, but he recognizes that politics is more than about the day-to-day. It’s more than just about maneuvering things around. There is an ideas component, and he’s quite happy to draw on that.

It is worth pointing out, of course, that in a lot of the criticism that he takes—this is a debate within conservatism itself, as we know—what we now usually refer to as neoconservatives are very critical of Ronald Reagan during the ’80s, they are writing vociferously against his policy towards the Soviet Union and are also physically most of them out of power during this period. But even within the administration there are arguments about whether the President is being soft on the Soviet Union, whether he’s being soft on communism and so on.

It’s one of the things that we always have to guard against as historians, that everything always looks so inevitable to us when we look back. Part of what we’re trying to do, to use that phrase of Ernest May and Richard Neustadt, is to think in time. When you think in time with the Reagan Administration, these are not obvious things that he’s doing. He is very much radical in the way that he’s dealing with the Soviet Union, and that gets push-back from liberals, but it’s also getting push-back from within the conservative movement itself.

MC: I couldn’t help thinking as I read your book what this history would have looked had the Reagan presidency taken place in the age of social and digital media where all of these decisions, and all of these statements and all of these appearances would have been scrutinized, and discussed, and shared and reacted to often in the most hysterical terms.

RA: Yeah. I think there are couple of things there. One, this is almost the last pre-digital presidency. I’m old enough that I can remember the first Gulf War, which was really the first CNN war where you would watch bombs going down the streets of Baghdad and turning left at the traffic lights, this kind of thing. There was a famous briefing where Norman Schwarzkopf used that kind of footage. You could follow everything.

On the other hand, let’s not forget Reagan was the great communicator. I can’t help feeling that if he had been President in this Facebook/Twitter age that he would have recognized possibilities in that and would have used that in a clever way. For example, he was one of the first politicians to embrace the autocue so that he always appeared to be speaking to people in a way that was spontaneous.

In fact, when Margaret Thatcher gave her address to Congress, he gave her lessons in how to use the autocue and simple things about what to do with the pieces of paper on your lectern and what to do with your hands. He was a great communicator, and I can’t help feeling that he probably would have been able to embrace the new technology to his advantage.

MC: Let us turn to someone who was not so great communicator, and that’s British Prime Minister Theresa May. We had an earlier discussion about what would Margaret Thatcher do faced with the circumstances and exigencies of Brexit. What’s your read on where things stand as we record this in late March?

RA: The simple fact is that we are under the law nine days away from Britain leaving the European Union and that we are nine days no closer to knowing how Britain will leave the European Union. Theresa May this morning has written to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, asking for an extension until the end of June.

It’s not clear whether that will be accepted. The EU is pushing back already and saying, “Well, the latest that you could have a short extension will be until the middle of May, and if it goes beyond that, you have to hold European elections in the UK.” Everything looks chaotic. In parliament today she said that she would not allow Britain to extend beyond the end of June, that she would no longer be Prime Minister.

I think there’s a genuine sense of chaos, which is now enveloping this entire process. That’s not to say that her deal won’t go through. Some people have said that in years to come this will be taught as a strategic masterclass in how to simply wear down your opponents to narrow down choices to finally force through the thing that even a few weeks ago was being rejected by a record margin in parliament. It was one of the worst parliamentary defeats in modern history. The simple fact is, to use that William Goldman quote about Hollywood, nobody knows anything.

MC: Those historians who might look back and see this as a strategic masterclass will have to think in time, won’t they?

RA: They really will have to think in time. I have to say that personally, it’s a bit of a stretch to think of this as a strategic masterclass. If it eventually happens, it will almost be because Britain trips over its own shoes and falls into a withdrawal agreement. Your point about being a great communicator is important, because it seems to me that [this is] the failure of Theresa May. We can talk about the government, but she has very much taken this as, “I am in charge.”

Even her own cabinet have expressed their frustrations at her unwillingness to allow cabinet to share in the decision-making process. If we think back to that famous Maurice Cowling conception of politics as being about rhetoric and maneuver, she has signally failed in terms of rhetoric. She hasn’t been able to articulate in a compelling kind of a way exactly what her vision for Brexit is either to her own side or to the House of Commons more broadly.

It’s very striking that she lost her voice mainly because Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the EU Commission, had chain-smoked for about eight hours through the meetings he had with her. Not something that you could actually imagine Margaret Thatcher tolerating. That should be pointed out.

MC: Don’t EU regulations forbid that?

RA: It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? Yeah. Here we are that somebody like Michael Gove, who spoke for her in that debate, was able much better to articulate the vision for the withdrawal agreement than she had. There’s been a failure of rhetoric. There’s also been a failure of maneuver as well because she’s operating as effectively a minority government. If you are in a minority government, you have to be able to play the politics to build consensus around an idea—something that she has signally failed to do.

She hasn’t reached out to other parties in the House of Commons. She hasn’t been able to maneuver her own party into position. I think that this has been a failure on both of those levels: an inability to articulate a vision and an inability to maneuver the politics of the House to gather this sense of consensus in order to out-maneuver your opponents.

Of course, we have to remember the old cliché about politics that the people on the benches opposite you are your opponents. Your enemies are the ones on the benches behind you on your own side. Brexit has very much been an instance of that I think.

MC: One of the things that became clear to me reading your account of the Falklands crisis was the difference in orientation between the United States and the United Kingdom. That is, Thatcher is always looking towards Europe whereas the United States in the case of Falklands and many other cases is being pulled in another direction, in this case the hemispheric concerns of UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. I wonder what’s your evaluation of America’s relationship not just with the UK today but more broadly with Europe? Is there that sense that here too America is being drawn away from Europe, more concerned with the Pacific and the rising threats of China and North Korea?

RA: Yeah, I think there’s been a clear direction of travel. Obviously, under President Obama there was the tilt to Asia and thinking about framing politics in that kind of way—saying, for example, on Ukraine, “Well, guys, this is your concern. You need to sort it out. You need to work out what you’re doing.” It was towards the end of President Obama’s term.

Maybe there was a recognition that that policy needed to tilt back in the other direction, but I think that it’s been continued under President Trump as well although he doesn’t have the clear sense of looking to Asia in the same kind of way. Nevertheless, when you look at the way that he’s thought about Europe has been very much a sense that, “Well, you guys need to be doing more on your own. You need to be making more contributions to, for example, defense spending and NATO budgets.”

Whether or not this would actually happen, there’s been some talk that perhaps the United States might even withdraw from something like NATO.

MC: Although now Trump wants to add Brazil.

RA: So there’s a kind of reconception, exactly. There’s always thinking in that kind of way. On the other hand, a lot of his instincts I think are European. Clearly, he’s got family connections specifically to the UK, even because of things like his golf courses, for example. He’s got a lot of cultural interests. Actually, he’s been one of the people who has spoken very positively about Brexit. He said that Brexit is a great opportunity. He said that a trade deal will be something that could be done very quickly and very easily. He’s friends with a lot of the leading personalities in the Brexit debate, Nigel Farage, for example, but also Boris Johnson who is still the bookies’ favorite to be the next Prime Minister. That could turn out to be very important.

Britain is going to face a very, very interesting choice if it leaves the European Union because, essentially, that choice is going to be quite stark—is Britain going to broadly see itself as being in alignment with a European regulatory framework, or is it going to look across the Atlantic and broadly come within an American regulatory framework? Those two are very, very different. They’re symbolized in Britain by something very simple: chlorinated chicken. Whether Britain would be prepared to eat chlorinated chicken, which is obviously under the U.S. regulated market. That’s become the symbol, bizarre though it may be.

MC: Who would have thought Mr. Perdue would be the defining figure of the Brexit debate?

RA: It’s always the strangest things, isn’t it? That does capture an odd element to this Brexit debate, actually, that a lot of the things that are done by the European Union on workers’ rights, environmental rights, being able to take your cell phone anywhere in Europe and use it under your domestic tariff and so on—a lot of these are very simple things.

On the other hand, it’s very clear that there is a pathway for Britain that is very different that would involve the United States and that kind of regulatory framework. That will be a very interesting and a very big debate once Brexit has gone through.

MC: As they conduct that debate, let us hope that they look back to the examples of figures like Reagan and Thatcher. Richard, I’ll just thank you very much for allowing me to fill in your shoes and interview you about this wonderful book, Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship.

RA: Thanks so much, Matt. I’ve really enjoyed it. What I’m worried about now is that I’ll never be allowed to sit in that chair ever again after the brilliant job that you’ve done.

MC: Thank you.

Published on: March 22, 2019
Richard Aldous teaches history at Bard College and hosts The American Interest podcast. Matthew Continetti is Editor-in-Chief of The Washington Free Beacon.
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