New Fractures in the 'Special Relationship'

Forerunner, "WorldWatch," July-August 2021

For many decades, the United States and Britain have enjoyed what has been called the Special Relationship. While the two countries have quarreled in the past, particularly over the matter of independence, they settled into a mostly cordial association, recognizing their shared language, history, and political principles. True, some presidents and prime ministers have felt the brotherly love less than others. Even so, the two English-speaking nations have usually found themselves on the same side of international efforts and disputes.

The church of God has long understood that the Special Relationship goes deeper than mere political agreement or speaking a common tongue. It has taught that America and Britain are the modern descendants of the Israelite tribe of Joseph, which Jacob split by divine inspiration into the half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, which became his heirs (Genesis 48:1-22). He prophetically describes Ephraim as “a multitude of nations” and Manasseh as a “great [nation]” (Genesis 48:19), which aptly portrays the British Commonwealth, once an empire, and the United States of America, respectively. In this way, their Special Relationship is the modern iteration of a brotherhood that reaches back almost four millennia to Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt.

Modern fractures in the Special Relationship have most often occurred because of divergent political ideologies between the American president and the British prime minister. Conversely, the closest ties have come when the two nations’ leaders have had common political philosophies (for instance, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher). With the election of President Joseph Biden at the head of the most liberal administration in American history, the distinctive bond between the two nations will be tested as he squares off with the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The word many journalists use to describe the Biden administration is “woke.” It has pushed a slew of left-wing political and cultural programs, including the teaching of Critical Race Theory, increased funding and access to abortion, radical climate change regulations, and over-the-top backing of all things LGBTQ. Conversely, for all of Britain’s recent cultural liberalism, the Johnson government has taken a strong stance against the “woke” agenda, putting the two nations at odds on that front.

This antagonism has leaked into other matters. On June 3, 2021, the Biden administration’s senior diplomat in London, Chargé d’Affaires Yael Lempert, issued a demarche (a diplomatic rebuke) to Britain’s government, vehemently disagreeing with London’s stance on and handling of its dispute on the Northern Ireland border. This “crisis” concerns an impending European Union ban on sausages and other chilled meats being exported from the United Kingdom, now a non-EU country after Brexit, to Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK but still under EU rules. The Biden administration argued that the British government’s position jeopardized the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland, a matter the president, a staunch Irish nationalist with Irish-Catholic roots, takes personally.

Worse, Lempert included a not-so-subtle warning that, if Britain failed to follow the EU’s mandates on agro-food standards, the likelihood of a US/UK free-trade agreement might disappear. The British took it as an arrogant lecture from a self-styled superior—and an anti-British one at that. The president has made no secret that he is an anti-Brexit Euro-federalist who values ties with Brussels, and thus with Berlin and Paris, more than with London, especially after it broke with the EU. Both Northern Ireland and the EU have encouraged Biden to pressure the prime minister on the issue. The demarche was his obvious response, occurring just before the G7 Summit in Cornwall.

The official British response to Biden’s finger-wagging has been the typical stiff upper lip most observers expect from the UK government. However, there are signs that it has not been taken well behind the impassive façade. Pundits like Nile Gardiner, writing in The Telegraph, are calling the president’s abrasive denunciation “the kind of treatment that is normally dished out to enemies of the United States, such as Russia, and hardly ever issued against a close ally.”

While otherwise playing down the controversy, Prime Minister Johnson took time at the G7 Summit-closing press conference to mention the divisive issue and gently dig in his heels, saying, “[W]e will do whatever it takes to protect the territorial integrity of the UK.” He had earlier threatened to suspend the Northern Ireland agro-food protocol by triggering its Article 16, which can be enacted for reasons of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade.” The British government believes the protocol undermines its national sovereignty, and at present, it seems willing to go to the mat, as it were, on the issue.

Though this “Sausage War” appears to be a minor matter, President Biden’s haughty interference has ratcheted tensions between the two governments higher than it has been for many years. It will probably not cause a substantial break in relations between the brother nations, but it exposes cracks that may need more than just minor plastering to cover over. The left-wing American administration will find it more challenging to persuade the right-wing British government to back its plays on the world stage, just when China, Russia, Iran, and other volatile nations are beginning to test American resolve.

For more than two centuries, Great Britain and the United States have held a firm line against aggressors and tyrants worldwide. They work best in concert, leading the free world toward relative peace and prosperity while enforcing international treaties and laws with sometimes overwhelming military power. A strained Special Relationship, like the one seen at the G7 Summit, may be all it takes to inspire less savory characters to exploit the discord and move the world toward increased conflict.

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