John Major: America, Britain and Europe

Sir John Major, UK Prime Minister (1990-97), Speech in Chatham House, 10 November 2011 [extracts]


Dean Acheson’s disparaging WestPoint speech, in which he asserted that: ‘Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role’.

The Pacific is the growing centre of gravity for future global growth; it is an area of exploding population; and it is the essential force driving global trade. This has changed its profile, and every nation – most certainly the United States – must take account of that. The fact that China is now the owner of over 25 percent of American government debt, simply illustrates a reality few believed they would ever face.

Europeans point derisively at Lehman’s collapse, and its aftermath. When US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Europe to get its act together over Greek debt, he was met with a mixture of public indignation and private scorn. There was much talk of ‘pots’ and ‘kettles’. Yet it is telling that no-one reacted so dismissively to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao when he made a similar assessment of the eurozone.

Does this mutual disdain between the US and continental Europe matter to the UK? Yes, it does. If it continues, bilateral relations may be weakened. Why so? It is a truth expressed too rarely that the US expects the United Kingdom to use her Anglo-Saxon influence within the European Union. She wishes our shared views on free trade, on deregulation, on low taxation and on fiscal responsibility to be presented within Europe.

If US links with the EU weaken, if her interest wanes, if she looks elsewhere, the British value to America weakens too, and so, potentially, does an elemental part of the Anglo-American alliance.

Some will see this differently. They argue that, if the US is disillusioned with continental Europe, and the UK is frustrated within the EU – both of which propositions are true at the moment – that the solution is simple: the US and the UK should move closer together. Some Atlanticists and extreme Euro-sceptics go further: they argue that enhanced collaboration with the US is an alternative to the UK-EU nexus. This is sheer fantasy. The US does not want the UK as a proxy 51st State. It is the sensible, pragmatic Anglo-Saxon voice in Europe that the US welcomes: remove that, and the value of Britain to America diminishes.

You may also like...