My Lords, in our current discussions about what is sometimes called the special relationship, it is inevitable that the character and personality of the current President will be a dominant feature. There are two temptingly polarised alternatives: the President is an unpredictable maverick and he will test the relationship to its destruction; alternatively, Trump is but a blip, the new President will repair the damage and normal service will be resumed. My case is that neither of these is tenable. There has never been an unsullied golden age in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. It is true that when the personal relationships between President and Prime Minister have been strong, greater influence has perhaps been available from this side of the Atlantic. But if we remember the closeness of Thatcher and Reagan, it is also true that that did not stand in the way of the illegal invasion of Grenada by the United States.
From the point of view of the United States, the relationship is one of choice, but for the United Kingdom it has been one of necessity. The post-war decline of the United Kingdom, the end of empire and the expression that we had lost an empire but not found a role meant that we had to look elsewhere. What better role than to be close to the most powerful nation in the world? That closeness brought rewards. It brought the Marshall plan and Polaris, after Harold Macmillan went to meet President Kennedy, and of course it still allows us access to the Trident system. Things had to be given in return; the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, will remember that there was a very large American ship in the Holy Loch, and there were those who challenged that. However, it was a necessary part of our bargain.
For the United States it has been a question of choice and its wish to have a close ally in Europe as European co-operation post-war both economically and—yes—politically began to emerge. It is notable that in the 1960s President Kennedy supported Britain’s attempts at membership of the European Economic Community. To some extent, that long-standing policy was echoed by the intervention of President Obama in our debate about whether we should stay in or leave the European Union. Why was this so? It was because the United States wanted one country that could be relied on to put the American case in Europe. It is quite legitimate. It never made any secret of its motive and the truth is, to coin a phrase, we rather enjoyed being the voice of America.
What difference does Trump make to this? Ill informed or incoherent as he may be, his clear objective is to further American interests by any means possible—a kind of civilian equivalent of hybrid warfare. It may not be the language of the Ivy League or of the Washington habitué. Diplomatic or domestic conventions may easily be disregarded. This is a man with a transactional approach, with short-term rather than long-term goals.
Yes, we will continue to be important to the United States—sharing intelligence and the nuclear burden of NATO, and even perhaps in the Security Council, although recent positions taken by the United States will make that yet more difficult. None of this will arrest the pivot—not President Trump’s expression but Hillary Clinton’s, when Secretary of State—towards the Pacific. President Trump is a competitor, not a conciliator, and heaven knows there is plenty of competition to be found between China and North Korea.
We will tolerate the boorishness. We will tolerate the unpredictability out of necessity, not least when seeking a trade deal with the United States. Who believes that the offer of the President will be anything other than an attempt to secure the interests of his core support across the United States? We will inevitably lose influence with the United States, just as I believe our efforts—which may be successful—to leave the European Union mean that we will be leaving influence in Europe. This is an unhappy coincidence.