Jonathan Herald Column - The 'Special Relationship'


Since being elected I have had the privilege of visiting Washington DC on two occasions as part of Parliamentary delegations.

Firstly on a programme sponsored by the US Government to learn more about the US system of government where I was paired up with Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent. Secondly, on a trade mission to discuss the Welsh and British interest in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the European Union. On the later trip colleagues and I were able to make headway in removing the ban on Welsh lamb and beef exports to the States.

On both visits I developed a great love for the country and its people. However, whilst the British establishment and the media gush about the so called ‘special relationship’, my time with US politicians gave me the impression that the UK was just a one in a number of important bilateral relationships for the US – indeed they seemed embarrassed when my colleagues kept on mentioning the phrase. As a layman in US foreign policy in my previous academic life, US foreign policy is far more interested in Pacific affairs and the challenges posed by the growth of China as opposed to European matters, let alone little Britain.

Since the demise of the empire, the British establishment sees the United States as some sort of comfort blanket, and its foreign policy is to basically align itself as closely as possible to whatever instructions are sent from DC, sometimes with disastrous consequences such as the invasion of Iraq. It must be something to do with post imperial insecurity.

With the election of President Trump however I expected a far more cautious approach from the current Prime Minister. But the British Establishment only knows one game, and it was not surprising to see Theresa May walking around the White House garden literally hand in hand with the new President. The British media, including the State Broadcaster went into spin hyperdrive as expected – however it might be sobering to note that the visit did not make the front page of any of the major newspapers in the States.

Trump of course is a revisionist politician. He doesn’t support international law and rule, has little respect for protecting human rights and vital accords such as the Geneva Convention. These are all vital victories the USA has helped normalise after having to intervene in two World Wars. In making such a kowtowing visit to DC to pay homage to the new President, Theresa May has made a major political error. Every time Trump goes native she will have to defend the indefensible.

Less than 24 hours after the visit the British Government found itself having to justify Trump’s decision to base immigration policy on religious prejudice. In one act he smashed through international law on human rights and the Geneva Convention on refugee policy from war zones. Trump has also issued his support for torture as a legitimate interrogation technique also against the Geneva Convention and international human rights law.

The response of the British Government to these events was to meekly say that US immigration policy was a matter for the US. Instead of standing up for what’s right, the British Government is now just an appeaser for very dangerous incumbent in the Whitehouse.

Of course the British establishment has form on these issues. We can all reflect on history to see what happens when leaders are content with a policy of appeasement and those who are in a position to stand up to prejudice and tyranny fail to do so.

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