The UK’s “special relationship” with the United States is more fragile than ever. Just when Boris Johnson bets on it

It is logical that the UK will turn to its most important ally for support during this period; The presidential term of whoever wins on November 3 expires around the same time that the British are expected to go to the polls in 2024.

This means either Donald Trump or Joe Biden will play a major role in influencing UK Brexit policy before the end of the year. They will probably do the same with all of British foreign policy after they take office.

When Churchill used the words “special relationship,” he did so on American soil alongside his friend, President Harry Truman. World War II ended the year before, but Europe was still extremely fragile. An aggressive Soviet Russia made clear its intentions to increase control in Central and Eastern Europe, while promoting alternative political ideologies in the Far East. And although the Nazis had been defeated, many fascist parties and groups were still powerful across the continent.

The solution? Neither the safe prevention of war, nor the continued rise of the world organization will be achieved without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. This means a special relationship between the Commonwealth and British Empire and the United States. ” Churchill said. Such an alliance implied, he explained, “the continuation of the intimate relationship between our military advisers, leading to the common study of potential dangers”, as well as “the exchange of officers and cadets in technical schools.”

Indeed, the two nations have since cooperated on a wide range of security, economic, cultural and diplomatic matters. During the Cold War, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan stood shoulder to shoulder in opposition to the Soviet Union, celebrating free market capitalism and Western democracy. Perhaps the strongest sign of their association was that Thatcher was the only foreign leader to speak at Reagan’s funeral in 2004.

After the September 2001 attacks, Tony Blair was by far the most staunch international supporter of President George W. Bush and one of the few European leaders to follow the United States in Iraq.

Beyond political leaders, the two countries together formed the foundations of NATO and the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, institutions that have stood the test of time, regardless of who is in charge of either government.

“There is no question that Blair and Bush had a partnership that was unrivaled during the Iraq war. The same is true for Thatcher and Reagan during the Cold War, ”says Malcom Rifkind, former British Foreign Secretary. And although “it does not happen with all prime ministers and with all presidents,” Rifkind acknowledges, “the intimate institutional relationship on security and a wide range of international affairs has been maintained.”

However, the question many British politicians are asking themselves is, outside of security, how much can they trust the US to protect UK interests in a post-Brexit world? In other words, how special is the relationship really?

Of particular interest is the current dispute over Johnson’s plan to nullify part of the Brexit deal he signed with the European Union, called the Northern Ireland Protocol. Critics say Johnson’s plan risks a tough border on the island of Ireland, between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and breaks the Good Friday Agreement. 1998 negotiated by the then American. President Bill Clinton. That agreement ended decades of sectarian violence and found a way for both unionists and republicans to work together to rule Northern Ireland.

His own government ministers have admitted that it would violate international law. And unfortunately for Johnson, the Irish-American lobby has a lot of influence in Washington DC.

“I don’t think the British public understands the reserve of public support for Ireland in America. Growing up in America, I attended a lot of St. Patrick’s Day parades, but nothing for St. George’s Day, ”says Thomas Scotto, Professor of Political Science at the University of Glasgow. “Britain is certainly related to the United States, but what will happen if the United States is forced to choose between Ireland and Britain remains unforeseen.”

We could find out soon. In recent weeks, Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, among others, have reminded the UK that breaking the Good Friday Agreement would likely mean not having a trade agreement with the US.

“Although Ireland has been able to harness its diplomatic power, this recent public endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement has been driven primarily by American politicians,” says Jennifer Cassidy, an Irish academic and diplomat at the University of Oxford. “I would certainly say that it gives the Irish the confidence that if a hard border is established, the world’s greatest power will be a true ally in what will be a horrible time.”

The question of who the United States would back extends beyond the Irish question and is arguably the biggest issue for Johnson as he charters Britain’s future. And perhaps the biggest question is exactly what a reelected Trump would do.

We know that the president supports Brexit and does not like the European Union. We also know that he likes to give the impression that he and Johnson are close, repeatedly calling him her friend. In a long list of comparisons that are made of the couple, fairly or unfairly, they are the only two world leaders who have been hospitalized for coronavirus.

If he wins re-election in November, Trump may see a strategic advantage in closer relations with the UK in a way that would undermine the EU. This, in turn, could lead to a beneficial economic relationship for the UK.

As beneficial as this may be to Johnson, it comes with risks. “Trump is not a popular figure outside the United States. In our latest poll, 61% of Brits thought Trump was a terrible president. Almost 8% said it was good or great, “says Chris Curtis, director of political research at pollster YouGov. .

And even if Johnson were of the opinion that the British public could overlook Trump’s toxicity if he propped up the country after Brexit, there is little evidence that this would win over voters. “The British already believe that we have a very close relationship with the United States and only 21% want to see it closer,” says Curtis. “If given a choice, our research shows that the British would prefer to have a closer relationship with Europe.”

Johnson may already know. Rifkind believes that if Trump were to make proposals to Britain, “Johnson is at least smart enough to know that being friends with Trump is not something that helps him with the British public.” And that’s an audience Johnson, or his conservative successor, will have to face in 2024.

In fairness to Johnson, he hasn’t shown much appetite to give in to Trump. On more than one occasion, he has sided with his European allies Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron on various international affairs, including Iran. He also refused to meet with Trump during the 2019 Conservative leadership contest, after his team decided it would do more harm than good.

Less mysterious is what position Biden would take on both Northern Ireland and Brexit as a whole. We know that you are opposed to the UK breaking the Northern Ireland Protocol and we know that a President Biden would seek a return to multilateralism.

If Johnson wanted to join Biden in restoring this kind of order to the world, he would not be unpopular with much of the British public. “Research shows that the British public is more supportive of the Democratic presidents of the United States,” says Scotto. “There is a small percentage of Brexiters who support Trump and his nationalist agenda and may have some influence within the Conservative Party, but it is generally a fringe group.”

Unfortunately for Johnson, some of those voices are supporters of his Conservative Party and of people who voted for him in December, when he ran an election campaign promising to “Get Brexit.” And however marginal his views may be among the general public, the British political system makes it very difficult for a leader to rule without the broad and full support of his own party.

Now, the Prime Minister has decided, somewhat inexplicably, to reopen the Brexit debate, with his supporters pushing for a tougher stance.

Which brings us to a paradox. A hard Brexit gives the UK the most freedom to deal with global partners, however, tougher Brexit potentially nullifies the UK’s ability to deal with its most important partner of all, at least in the case of a US presidency. Biden.

Worse for Johnson, some believe that even in the event of a Trump victory, the special relationship might not be special enough for Trump to support him.

“I never grew up thinking there was a special relationship, and neither did my parents. All we knew about the UK was the Queen and a horrible comedian named Benny Hill, ”says Scott Lucas, professor of American studies at the University of Birmingham. “Sure, you have the security relationship and the relationship between institutions. But it is not a relationship of equals. The United States, of course, wants a good relationship with the United Kingdom, but it also wants one with Japan, Germany, or Israel. Britain is not necessarily the first port of call with the United States, much less with the American public. “

As noted many times during the Barack Obama presidency, if the United States wants to know what is happening in Europe, it can pick up the phone and call Germany very easily, just as Trump managed to find common ground with French leader Emmanuel. Macron. at the beginning of his presidency.

Johnson was already facing a difficult fall. Trade talks with Brussels are reaching a fever pitch, just as the coronavirus is making a comeback. He faces some minor but not insignificant rebellions within his party for his handling of both.

As the year draws to a close, Johnson would benefit from the support of his older brother across the pond. However, you cannot ask for that support until the voting has taken place; doing so could rock the boat with any of these radically different perspectives. Which leaves the Prime Minister in a very uncomfortable waiting pattern as he prepares for some of the most difficult weeks he has faced in an already hellish year.

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