The United States and the United Kingdom have an enduring bond that is more crucial than ever with both nations now charting new courses following turbulent results at the polls.
With a common history, culture and language, the United States and the United Kingdom have a long track record of cooperation in defense, trade, intelligence and a host of other areas, stretching from educational exchanges to the arts. This special relationship has been called the “beating heart of the free world” and has resulted in incredible freedom, stability and prosperity that has been the envy of both enemies and allies.
Former French President Charles de Gaulle chafed under the dominance of what he called, with a contemptuous curl of the lip, “the Anglo-Saxons,” voicing the not uncommon fear that a Britain inside a European Union would be little more than a Trojan horse for the United States.
Bound to stay together
The next chapter of the special relationship may prove to be fraught with potential peril, as both nations have taken political turns toward national priorities and risk isolation from some long-held economic allies and political partners.
“Unquestionably,” according to John Bew, a history and foreign policy professor at King’s College London, reflecting on the global political and economic climate, “this relationship has assumed way more importance than it might have had even a year ago” (quoted in “Anglo-American Relations Are Back in Town in a Big Way,” Reuters, Jan. 26, 2017).
“Britain and the United States,” cautions an insightful Reuters commentary on March 24, 2017, “are bound—one might say doomed—to remain in a special relationship for one of the best of reasons: They will need each other.”
Drifting away from the Continent
Britain’s unexpected decision to exit the European Union—commonly referred to as “Brexit”—will likely mean that its privileged access to that single market of 500 million consumers on the Continent will be revoked or dramatically altered. Having moved into Downing Street without an election, and facing nearly half of the country opposed to the Brexit decision, British Prime Minister Theresa May needs to avoid a trap in the exit negotiations. That won’t be easy, since Brexit is anticipated to be the hardest task any prime minister has faced since the Second World War.
In jeopardy is the status of London as global financial center and the 45 percent of British exports that are sold to fellow members of the EU, supporting more than 3 million British jobs. A recoil from Europe will require alternatives, and a comprehensive trade deal between the United States and the United Kingdom—the world’s largest and fifth-largest economies—would be a great bargaining chip.
In her speech to American congressional leaders in January, Mrs. May stated that “such an agreement would see us taking that next step in the special relationship that exists between us. Cementing and affirming one of the greatest forces for progress this world has ever known.”
“Let us,” she continued, “renew the relationship that can lead the world towards the promise of freedom and prosperity.” The British government is also seeking to resurrect past economic ties and trade with its Commonwealth partners to support the U.K.’s commercial well-being.
America needs a partner
The new U.S. administration will need Britain too. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump set off numerous diplomatic and economic alarm bells as he campaigned repeatedly on a promise to put “America first.” He declared he would revitalize America’s position in world trade by emphasizing protectionist trade policies, including withdrawal from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, halting negotiations to draft the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and EU, and finding a way out of or completely revising the NAFTA pact with Canada and particularly Mexico.
Because of his support for Brexit and for other countries who might want to follow Britain out of the bloc, the Trump administration created a political earthquake felt across Europe. EU Council President Donald Tusk went so far as to label Donald Trump as a major threat to the European Union—lumping him alongside the other hazards of radical Islam, Russia and China.
Leadership through partnership
Some believe that a U.K. that is strong on the world stage and able to act as a truly sovereign, independent nation would provide an outstanding partner for the United States. The U.K. is America’s largest foreign investor, and America is the U.K.’s largest export market.
London and Washington collaborated in every major military and diplomatic action of the 20th century with only the briefest of squabbles. Critics of the special relationship often claim that it is based purely on the U.K.’s following Washington’s orders, but as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once explained, “The special relationship does exist, it does count and it must continue, because the United States needs friends in the lonely task of world leadership.”
New leaders and intertwined agendas
Though already linked by the nationalist sentiments that brought them both to office, a clear signal was sent that the Anglo-American alliance will be at the heart of strategic thinking in the Trump administration when, just a week after inauguration, British Prime Minister Theresa May was the first foreign leader to meet with Mr. Trump in Washington.
President Trump—who took to calling himself “Mr. Brexit” during his election campaign—bonded with Mrs. May, according to a Politico report from Jan. 28, 2017, over their shared admiration for the teamwork of conservative icons Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Trump said that he wanted their relationship to be “even better” than that one.
Britain is open for business
Mrs. May displayed a cautious, deliberative resolve in the steady march to triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal exit mechanism that has initiated two years of negotiations that will end with Britain becoming the first country to opt out of the political structure of the EU.
A proponent of free trade and globalization, Theresa May has been promoting her post-Brexit vision of a “Global Britain” that’s “open for business.” The prime minister’s political hand has been strengthened by the performance of her nation’s economy, which remained buoyant in spite of the doom-laden scenarios predicted before the vote.
While the U.K.’s position is currently strong, it is also brittle. The prime minister is attempting to thread the needle in achieving a clean and final break—she avoids the term divorce because of the potential “emotional backlash”—from the European Union, while striving to maintain free trade with the bloc, reject EU immigration mandates and avoid paying the EU anything near the estimated £50 billion ($60 billion) bill that Brussels negotiators regard as Britain’s share of financial liabilities.
The history behind the historic bond
The close relationship between U.S. and British leaders is especially exemplified by Winston Churchill (who coined the term special relationship) and Franklin Roosevelt. They forged the Atlantic Charter of 1941 as the British and their empire were standing alone against Nazi Germany, thus launching a military alliance on which the world still relies more than many people care to admit.
“We pledge our lasting support to the special relationship,” stated President Trump emphatically.Recalling that historic bond between leaders facing uncertain times, Mrs. May, as a personal gesture, presented Mr. Trump with a copy of Churchill’s famous speech to the American people following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. She shared with Mr. Trump that “the sentiment” Churchill had expressed—“of a sense of unity and fraternal association between the United Kingdom and the United States—is just as true today as it has ever been.”
“We pledge our lasting support to the special relationship,” stated President Trump emphatically.
The relationship through thick and thin
The special relationship has outlasted the individuals that have occupied the White House and Downing Street. Lyndon Johnson and Harold Wilson, for example, sparred over Vietnam; Richard Nixon and Edward Heath reportedly couldn’t stand one another. But the partnership blooms when a president and prime minister work well together.
Shared national histories and mutual interests are important, but personal relationships have oiled the machinery and made it hum. Roosevelt and Churchill. Reagan and Thatcher. Bush and Blair. And now, perhaps, Trump and May.
Fast friends and shared commitments
The defining image of U.K. and U.S. relations was of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan. The grocer’s daughter and the Hollywood film star had a rapport based on their shared commitment to small government, economic liberalism and anticommunism.
Later, when President George H.W. Bush seemed to be wavering in the face of the challenge from Saddam Hussein during the run-up to the First Gulf War, Mrs. Thatcher famously encouraged him, “This is no time to go wobbly, George.” He did not, and they, too, became fast friends.
“The Anglo-American relationship,” she later said, “has done more for the defense and future of freedom than any other alliance in the world.”
To the front of the line
In recent years the relationship turned decidedly sour, as former U.S. President Barack Obama, who never pretended to be an Anglophile, told British voters that, if they chose to secede from the EU, they would go to the “back of the queue” for a trade deal with the U.S. As it turned out, his intervention backfired spectacularly, with four opinion polls published the following week all registering a large swing to “Vote Leave.”
President Trump reversed direction immediately, pledging that Britain was “not at the back of the queue, but the front of the line” in terms of bilateral trade agreements with America, and the special relationship took on new life.
Is the special relationship just coincidence?
While the special relationship between America and Britain has been the world’s most powerful bilateral partnership for over 70 years, it actually goes far deeper than most comprehend. The existence, identity and blessings of these two nations fulfill prophesied roles that are rooted in the biblical story of God’s promised rewards to Abraham and his descendants.
Prior to his death, the biblical patriarch Jacob (grandson of Abraham) prophesied to his sons what would happen to their descendants “in the last days”—described in the 48th and 49th chapters of Genesis—because of Abraham’s obedience. It is not a coincidence that a great company of nations followed by a single great nation rose to a global dominance unparalleled in human history.
The time of Jacob’s trouble
While obedience brought spectacular blessings, rampant sins will bring national punishment (Hosea 4:6-10; 5:5, 9; 10:13; Jeremiah 2:19) for both the United States (Manasseh) and Britain (Ephraim) in a catastrophic period of tribulation that both nations will face together (Jeremiah 30:5-7).
As the end of this age looms, these two nations will likely adhere to each other more closely for mutual survival. For more about the incredible history—and future—of this special relationship, read our booklet The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth in Prophecy.