The term ‘special relationship’ was first used by Winston Churchill after World War II to describe the shared political, economic, military, and cultural interests between the United Kingdom and the United States. Today, that relationship has entered a period of uneasiness as the countries have leaders with opposite personalities.
The recent banter between U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May shows that the special relationship is being tested.
Trump and May have butted heads over the state of British intelligence after a terrorist attack in Manchester, over Trump retweeting anti-Muslim material from a member of the British far-right, and over Trump canceling a visit to the U.K. to open the new U.S. embassy in London.
The two differ personally as well as politically. Trump is criticised for being too boisterous while May is criticised for being devoid of charisma.
The dynamic between the leaders could be seen as a microcosm for the uncertain state of the special relationship, but while this American Administration has proven difficult to work with, it remains an important strategic partnership for the U.K.
According to a report released by the Office of National Statistics in September 2016, “Data from 2015…indicates that the USA stands as the UK’s largest export partner and second-largest import partner – second only to Germany – in terms of trade in goods and services. In 2015, the USA accounted for 19.7% and 11.1% of UK’s total exports and total imports, respectively.”
As the U.K. prepares to sever ties with the European Union, their economic relationship with the U.S. is as necessary as ever. No one knows what Brexit’s true impact will be, making it all the more important that the special relationship maintain the strength it has enjoyed for the last few decades.
Mary Dejevsky of The Guardian wrote in January 2018 that the expectation of a special relationship has actually hindered May’s ability to form a connection with Trump.
According to Dejevsky, other European leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron are, “benefiting perhaps from not having the ‘special relationship’ baggage that so burdens the UK’s transatlantic diplomacy.”
But while the special relationship is bending, it doesn’t appear that it will break. The U.K. and the U.S. remain members of many of the same international organisations and treaties.
Both are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, founding members of NATO, and part of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization among others.
British and American interests in the global political sphere with regards to human rights abuses, terrorism, alliances and more have been aligned for a long time – and they still are. The modern manifestation of the special relationship is both a burden and a boon for the U.K., and the British government may have to make peace with that for the foreseeable future.
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