IN A great article for CapX, Henry Hill lays into the so-called ‘Special Relationship’ with the United States, terming it the ‘Servile Relationship’ and citing our acquiescence in America’s involvement with the Northern Ireland Protocol and its self-appointment as ‘guarantors’ of the Good Friday Agreement. Sadly, he rather spoils his prose by using the hideous expression ‘Atlantexit’ to describe the necessary recalibration of our relationship with America. If we really must suffix every political break-up with the word ‘exit’ these days, I think ‘Srexit’ would be both less jarring and more accurate: one doesn’t have to be anti-Atlanticist per se to recognise that the fantasy of the Special Relationship is both demeaning and damaging to both our foreign policy and international standing.
In many ways, the ‘Special Relationship’ is the mirror side of our membership with the European Union. Relations between Britain and America have always been close, though not always amicable, due to our shared language and culture. Although Churchill coined the term in 1946, it was arguably Harold Macmillan, post Suez, who set us on the course towards the current dysfunction, stating rather patronisingly that Britain should play Greece to America’s Rome. Notably, Macmillan was an enthusiastic pursuer of Britain’s membership of the European Union. In the mind of this highest of high Tories, both offered a soothing balm – post Empire, Britain might no longer be top nation, but we still sat at all the top tables of the world.
Macmillan’s was a very Tory vice, namely that meaningful power, policy or material interests, even national sovereignty and democracy, matter less than the preservation of form and social status. As our economic power diminished relatively to America’s, dwindling almost to inconsequence, our politicians seemed to cling ever more desperately to the delusion of an outsized British influence. Although it is true that individual American Presidents have been warm towards Britain – Ronald Reagan and latterly Donald Trump spring to mind – many such as Eisenhower, Obama and now Biden have proved hostile.
This relationship is special only in the sense that it is really rather tortured, as all relationships based on a divorce must be. Lately, it has become even more problematic with the rise of ‘Woke’ culture throughout the Anglosphere, especially the United States. Although there has always been some Anglophobia in American politics, notably over the Irish question, the recent hysterical rejection of the Anglosphere’s founding culture – namely that of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant straight males – finds its expression in a deep hostility from the Woke Anglosphere elites towards Britain as both the progenitor and sometimes modern exemplar of that culture. The New York Times, for instance, seemed to develop an obsessive horror of Brexit Britain, and some of the American Democrats’ current hostility can no doubt be ascribed to their interpretation of Brexit as facilitating the rise to power of Donald Trump.
Of course, it also works the other way – beleaguered Red State America sometimes sees in Brexit Britain a cultural ally, which perhaps explains why the administration of the uber White Anglo-Saxon Protestant straight male Donald Trump was so well disposed to us.
In upshot, we cannot ignore the modern reality that our relationship with America – and indeed other Anglosphere countries – must take into account that the divides within our societies are currently both exceptionally bitter and much greater than any shared ties between the countries – a cyclical pattern throughout our shared history, as the historian Kevin Phillips showed in his work The Cousins’ Wars. Insisting on the sham that a warm and enduring ‘Special Relationship’ is some kind of constant in world affairs ignores the fact that, until and if the culture wars are won, the relationship will swing back and forth between warmth and toxicity depending on what combination of Woke and anti-Woke factions are in power at any time. Failure to recognise this truth meant Brexit Britain failed to capitalise on the goodwill shown by President Trump and now has to contend with the outright hostility of the Biden administration.
Finally, in recent years a new concept has emerged on the international stage – that of CANZUK – foreseeing much deeper co-operation between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Although is unlikely that this will progress much further until the war on Woke is won for the reasons already discussed, another prerequisite for its success is that the make-believe of the Special Relationship is finally dispensed with. The very concept of an exclusive Special Relationship with the United States was always a grotesque insult to those countries that had voluntarily shed their sons’ blood for us in two world wars. We cannot expect Australia, New Zealand and Canada to want to be equal partners with us in this exciting new venture while we treat them like country cousins.
So, Boris, my advice is to seize the day. We should not overplay our hand, of course, inflate our rather minor role in the scheme of things nor resort to the petulant anti-Americanism of France, but it’s well past time to stand firm and just say no. Moreover, polling shows (and we all know how much you love polls, Boris) that by very large margins both Remainers and Brexiteers want America to butt out of our internal affairs. As the man who, whatever your manifold failings, did bring Brexit home, use the opportunity of the Northern Ireland Protocol to announce a hard Srexit – and your place in British history as a statesman, the man who finally laid to rest the ghost of Suez, will be assured.