Is the “special relationship” being relaunched?

Ian Black
IAN BLACK

Boris Johnson was obviously delighted to meet Joe Biden on June 10 on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall, southwest England. Britain’s conservative prime minister praised the Democratic American president as a “big breath of fresh air” after the difficulty of dealing with Donald Trump and his “America First” strategy, and spoke about the “unbreakable relationship” between the US and the UK. relationship

 Johnson avoided using the more familiar “special relationship” between Washington and London because it sounded old-fashioned – as it indeed does – and implies neediness and weakness, as he believes. That phrase dates back to the early years of the Cold War and was a reference to the Atlantic Alliance of which Nato was the direct result. Many of his predecessors have employed it since then, but as the UK’s global status and power have declined, it has often been seen as one more important to British politicians, if often happily indulged, by friendly US presidents. relationship

 But Boris – as he is widely known on both sides of “the pond” – succeeded in updating that key connection with the publication of what was officially referred to as “the Atlantic Charter” – a modern version of the two countries’ shared interests.

 Both men are hoping for historical comparisons with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt by forging a new agreement to demonstrate that the current UK and US governments can frame a post-Covid order in the same way the 1941 charter, designed to destroy Nazi tyranny, inaugurated a new world order after 1945. “Just as our countries worked together to rebuild the world following the second world war, so too will we apply our combined strength to the enormous challenges facing the planet today – from global defence and security to building back better from coronavirus to stopping climate change,” Downing Street declared.

 The new charter mentions eight shared challenges, including cyber-warfare, the climate crisis, protection of biodiversity and preventing future pandemics. With regard to Covid, Johnson pledged that the UK will donate more than 100 million vaccines to poorer countries over the next year, while Biden promised 500 million doses of Pfizer jabs to 92 low and middle-income countries and the African Union.

 In all, the G7 nations have collectively agreed to provide a billion doses of vaccine in an effort to end the pandemic in 2022, even as charities and campaigners have warned that the global approach was not happening fast enough and that the current health and economic crisis will not be over until the entire world has been jabbed. This point has been made repeatedly by the former Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown, who described the summit as “a colossal failure.” A related difficulty is that the UK and Germany will not agree to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines.

 Another highly challenging topic is the inexorable rise of an autocratic and assertive China and what to do about that given the different approaches in Washington and Brussels, as well as individual EU member states, especially Germany. The new Atlantic Charter includes not a single reference to China although many of its issues are relevant to Beijing’s growing dominance. Forced labour by the Muslim Uighur minority is an increasingly worrying issue.

 Having noted a G7 promise to set up an alternative to China’s “belt and road initiative” as part of a push back covering human rights, supply chains, support for Taiwan and demands to reveal more about the origins of Covid, Beijing issued an angry statement, via its London embassy London, complaining that “the days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone.” This confrontation is only likely to escalate.

 Yet another source of G7 tensions is concern about the damaging standoff between the UK and the EU over post-Brexit arrangements. Little time remains to sort this out: a ban on sausages and mincemeat being exported from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, which still abides by EU rules, is due to come into force on June 30. Biden (of Irish origin) has urged the UK to avoid a trade war and preserve the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 and do everything not to inflame sectarian violence.

 Emmanuel Macron, the French president, warned Johnson that a “re-set” in relations between Paris and London depended on a speedy resolution of this dispute. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, raised the issue too, as did Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission and Charles Michel of the European Council. Dominic Raab, the British foreign secretary, undiplomatically urged the EU to be “pragmatic” not “bloody-minded.” Raab also accused European countries of believing “offensively” that Northern Ireland was not part of the UK. relationship

 Biden, on his first trip to Europe since his January 20 inauguration, was to keen to repeat his message that “America is back and diplomacy is back” after the disruptive four years of his Republican predecessor. But the three days G7 leaders spent at their summit in Cornwall were a vivid and disturbing reminder of the uncertain times in which the whole world is living – even if Trump is no longer in the White House. levant

by: IAN BLACK levant

IAN BLACK