Britain's Brown urges Congress to resist protectionism

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 4, 2009 

WASHINGTON — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told a joint session of Congress on Wednesday that the world must have a unified response to the international economic crisis if it's to survive an "economic hurricane."

Mixing optimism with frankness, Brown said the best way for all nations to avoid economic catastrophe was by working in unison to stimulate the economy and by agreeing on global rules and standards for banks.

"So that the whole of the worldwide banking system serves our prosperity rather than risks it, let us agree on rules and standards for accountability, transparency and reward that will mean an end to the excesses and will apply to every bank, everywhere, and all the time," he told members of the House of Representatives and the Senate who'd gathered in the House chamber.

Brown told lawmakers to resist nationalistic protectionism "that history tells us that, in the end, protects no one" and hurts everyone in the interwoven global economy because "a bad bank anywhere is a threat to good banks everywhere."

The prime minister also said that the time was ripe for greater cooperation between the United States and Europe because of pro-U.S. heads of state such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and himself.

"And let me say that you now have the most pro-American European leadership in living memory," he said. "And a leadership that wants to cooperate more closely together, in order to cooperate more closely with you. There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe."

Brown pledged Great Britain's constant friendship with the United States and announced that Queen Elizabeth would bestow an honorary knighthood on Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who's battling a brain tumor. Kennedy issued a statement that said the honor was "moving and personal."

Brown addressed a Congress that's deeply split along partisan lines over what approach to take to fix the ailing U.S. economy, with Republican lawmakers railing against President Barack Obama's stimulus plan and budget proposals.

The divisions were reflected in the reaction to Brown's economic message. Democrats applauded heartily, while Republicans responded tepidly.

"There was nothing that I heard that I didn't agree with," said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. "We have an integrated economic system; we have a global market. If banks get sick here, they get sick there. He (Brown) understands it, President Obama understands it."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that Brown's ideas posed "an interesting question" about how far international cooperation could go, but he added that the United States is busy "working on our own (economic problems) right now."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a member of the House Financial Services Committee, said he feared that Brown's ideas could lead to the United States losing a degree of sovereignty.

"I have concerns about having international control of the banking system," King said. "I don't want to surrender economic banking power to an overseas body."

Brown's trip to Washington came as his popularity is sinking at home. A recent poll found that his Labour Party has the support of only 28 percent of Britons, while 48 percent back the Conservative Party.

Brown's appearance wasn't the hottest ticket in town. Many seats on the House floor were filled by congressional staff rather than lawmakers.

He also didn't receive the kind of raucous reception that Sarkozy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair did when each of them addressed Congress. Brown's lukewarm reception wasn't lost on King, who told colleagues it was embarrassing that some lawmakers skipped Brown's address.

"That's not a reflection against Gordon Brown, it's a reflection on us," King said. "Here's our greatest ally. Congress should have been here at 10:30 a.m. It shows parochialism; it shows a lack of interest."

King surmised that there were no-shows because Brown isn't perceived as being as charismatic as Blair was.

"It could have been star appeal, but we should get beyond that,"" he said. "The guy had something to say, and he's our closest ally."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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