That extra special relationship

The Anglo-American Special Relationship is becoming the EXTRA Special Relationship – and not for the right reasons.

The Special Relationship is based on a shared historic, legal, cultural, and philosophical root buttressed by military and political alliances, a shared outlook of the world and intelligence services which are joined at the hip and just about every other part of the political anatomy.

The Extra Special Relationship is based on a shared pariah status, siege mentality and Britain and America’s  common need for friends in an increasingly friendless world.  The Brexit vote has isolated the UK from its former partners in continental Europe. Trump’s style plus his anti-Islamic, anti-EU, anti-free trade, anti-Nato, anti-Chinese and pro-Russian and pro-Israeli rhetoric has done the same.

On top of that, Prime Minister Theresa May needs a big trade deal to show that Brexit can work to Britain’s advantage. Trump is offering a massive bribe—the trade deal.

But can such a deal be negotiated quickly? Is it really in Britain’s interest?Is it in the interests of the wider world? Is it worth the price of cosying up to Trump?  What impact would this have on British politics?

Yes, the deal can be negotiated quickly.  It has effectively already been completed. It is called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which has been hammered out between the Obama Administration and dumped by the Trump people. All  that is required on the part of the British and American negotiators is to go through the documents and change EU to UK. That should take a lot less than the 90 days allotted by Ted Malloch, Trump’s ambassador designate to Brussels.

Trump wants a weakened EU. A united Europe is a commercial competitor to the United States. He supports Brexit and the alt-right anti-EU populist movements sweeping across the continent because businessman Trump knows he can get better deals negotiating with a motley collection of national governments than he can with the world’s largest trading bloc.

But this is not good for Britain. The May government wants out of the European Union but it does not want the European Union to fail. Britain has historically always been separate from but part of Europe.  Instability on the European continent dragged it into two disastrous world wars in the twentieth century and scores of others in the centuries before that.

There are other key areas of disagreement. Britain is a leading advocate for global free trade. It is pro-NATO and like the rest of the alliance worried about Trump’s talk of obsolence and closer political and military relations with Russia.  Commercial, political and military attacks on China are seen by Britain as dangerously counter  productive and a pro-Israeli Islamaphobic policy is viewed as yet another recruitment poster for Al Qaeeda and ISIS.

Next there is the impact that a close Trump-May relationship would have on British domestic politics. Theresa May’s majority in the House of Commons is a slim 15 votes and Trump is disliked and distrusted  on all sides of the House. Yes, America’s status as the world’s only super power means that government ministers have to work with the Trump Administration, but they should be wary of being seen to support Trump the man.

He is heartily disliked in Britain. A hundred thousand protesters took to the streets of London the day after his inauguration. But more telling was a survey conducted by ComRes of the wider British public. Sixty-six percent said that the world was in a “more dangerous place” as a result of the election of Donald Trump. Ten percent said it was safer.  Fifty-eight percent thought Trump’s election set a dangerous precedent for American and world politics, and 15 percent thought it was “good to shake things up a bit.” And finally 53 percent  thought Trump was a “bad man” and 15 percent thought he was good.

British PM Harold Macmillan once famously said that Britain’s role was to play Greece to America’s Rome. The belief was that British wisdom would temper gung-ho shoot from the hip Americans . Tony Blair’s experience in Iraq underscored the dangers of that approach.

* ToTom Arms is the author of the Encyclopedia of the Cold War and is currently working on a major book on Anglo-American relations. He also broadcasts on foreign affairs for American radio and writes a regular column for US newspapers.

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6 Comments

  • “Trump wants a weakened EU. A united Europe is a commercial competitor to the United States.”

    One of the issues when having a business man in elected office (and it is particularly bad when dealing with one who is in property) is that they often don’t see how their experience as an operator within a market is different to what is best for the market. More often a business “wins” by less competition (they get to exploit the lack of competition) when the markets (normally) “wins” by increased by more competition driving prices down and quality up (yes not all markets). Trump is like a front line soldier who has suddenly been made a general, there is a reason that people normally rise through the ranks and need experience in multiple different areas before taking a top job. Trum is in the world of “win/lose” when in trade you need to be trying to establish a “win/win” (on aggregate, there are normally some who will lose locally).

    “He supports Brexit and the alt-right anti-EU populist movements sweeping across the continent”

    I think the “alt-right” is a particularly US phenomenon and doesn’t really translate to Europe.

    “53 percent thought Trump was a “bad man” and 15 percent thought he was good”

    We need to stop with the generalised name-calling of Trump and actually start focusing on the tangible. He is now promoting torture, he is not being open in his financial conflicts of interest and promoting policies that were tested to destruction when they fed the great depression. There is red meat of issues to criticise him for, far too little is being made of them.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Jan '17 - 1:47pm

    A good analysis by Tom , and psi a constructive response.

    There are real dangers in the current approach of the new and in my view it must be said, awful, president.

    The two issues psi mentions, yes indeed , Trump on torture, and his finance.

    Factor in his ludicrous and contradictory statements on wanting to have less nuclear weapons , and wanting more ! And happy for Saudi Arabia et al , to get them , or an increase in the arms race, because America would win it big !

    His attitude to Mexico and it’s president . His plans for the embassy in Jerusalem.

    His Dakota pipeline decision and how this shows disdain to the native American sensibility.

    We need to be clear and call a spade a spade and not just shovel , whether as verb or or noun, insults ! There is , though , a lot we might feel needs us to insult !

  • I did mis-phrase a point above:

    “He is now promoting torture”

    It is or than that, as the head of the Exec in the US if he is talking about doing it he is presumably actually attempting to re-introduce it (insofar as the US court system will allow him). That is more than just promoting, but obviously their will be US legal questions about what he is actually able to do. But my phrasing under plays the issue.

  • John Littler 28th Jan '17 - 2:36pm

    Britain is going spend…….( you decide)…..years living a lie that there are huge untapped markets for most of our exporters or services out there beyond western countries ( and Japan).

    While Fox fills his time and wastes our money, talking to the likes of Peru ( 0.00 something percent of UK exports) about British jam, we take the eye off the ball where we could be maximising Britain’s earnings in easily the biggest market in the world on our doorstep, which has been growing faster than USA for some time now and we are about to Leave. We then also leave free trade with another 53 of the better countries to trade with.

    Clearly there are exceptions in the likes of arms, specialist vehicles, luxury goods etc., but for most exporters, they could not cover their stationary costs by sales to Brazil and South America, Russia, the Indian sub continent, or the whole of Africa. What there is is very much poverty, extreme inequality, much recession, crises, wars and different cultural tastes and interests, as well as expensive shipping, bureaucracy and corruption.

    Even China has only two International level cities in a sea of poverty and many British firms have come to grief setting up there.

    Expect a lot more politicians sucking up to tyrants in oil regimes and Corporates greasing palms as some have been found out recently, handing over large bungs.

    “Take back control” will replace a benign arrangement with similar countries on our doorstep with democratically arrived at high standards on the environment, food safety and workers rights, for one beckoning from the USA, which will bring in secret foreign Corporate Courts, anonymous hormone grown beef, infected chicken washed in bleach, GM crops and potatoes harvested after burning the stalks off with old engine oil.

  • Simon Banks 29th Jan '17 - 4:50pm

    I think for some time the American view of the “Special Relationship” has been “We love how quaint you are; you do what we say.” Nonetheless, language and shared history (the Americans are probably more serious about Magna Carta than we are, for example) do help us to be close.

    Trump is profoundly dangerous. His lurch to Russia could endanger Eastern Europe or could lead to the much cleverer Putin exploiting it too much and a counter-lurch which could trigger nuclear war. His dismissal of climate change action is more certainly deeply harmful, though others haven’t mentioned it here. We should be co-operating more closely with the EU and with Germany, France and Italy in particular. Brexit comes at just the wrong time. I hope the Liberal Democrats will lead on arguing against a deal with Trump’s America at all costs. After all, each of his big changes could be reversed in four years time and some may not even get by Congress, which has Republican but not necessarily Trumpist majorities.

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