COMMONS

UK-US relationship "in good health" says Foreign Affairs Committee

03 April 2014

The Coalition Government has developed in public a more mature and measured relationship with the US, the Foreign Affairs Committee says in a report today, although there has been no fundamental change in the nature of the tie. The Committee declares the relationship to be "in good health".

In particular, the Committee said that it was not aware of any evidence that the House of Commons vote in August 2013 against potential military action in Syria had damaged the UK’s relationship with the US. Rather, the Committee concluded that the episode illustrated general features of the UK-US relationship, namely that developments in the UK could influence US policy; and that the underlying tie was resilient.  

Today’s publication follows up a Report produced by the previous Foreign Affairs Committee at the end of the last Parliament, which recommended that the UK Government should adopt a more hard-headed and less deferential approach to the US. In its Report today, the Foreign Affairs Committee welcomed the fact that the Coalition Government seemed to have taken up its predecessor’s recommendation.

Chairman's comments

Committee Chairman Sir Richard Ottaway said:

“The UK has assets, capabilities and characteristics that US policy-makers value. As long as UK Government positions are well-founded, there is little historical evidence that taking a difference stance to the US, or declining to comply with US preferences on special issues, damages the UK Government’s relationship with Washington in any long-term way. Moreover, having an independent perspective is often a valuable and valued part of what the UK brings to the relationship with the US. 

The Government should take confidence from the value that US policy-makers place on the UK contribution to the relationship, from the deep-seated historical, economic and cultural connections between the two countries, and from the historically proven capacity of the UK-US alliance to endure despite differences on special policy questions.”

In consequence of the United States’ continued pre-eminent position in international affairs, the Committee said that it continued to be in the UK’s interest for the UK Government to stay close to the development of US policy and to work to exert influence in the US to win US support for UK international objectives.

UK-US Joint Strategy Board

The Committee criticised what it saw as the UK Government’s poor provision of information about the UK-US Joint Strategy Board, which was created during President Obama’s State Visit to the UK in May 2011. The Committee said that there was potential for the UK and US to do more to develop coordinated approaches to long-term strategic issues around the world. However, in the absence of further public information, the Committee said that it was hard to assess the extent to which the operation of the Board so far was realising this potential. The Committee said that the creation of the Board appeared to have been announced over-hastily without adequate preparation having been put in place.

Strategic issues

Among strategic issues that it considered, the Committee agreed with the Government that the proposed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could have significant positive strategic impact for the UK and the Transatlantic relationship. The Committee also said that the evidence it received, and the discussions it had, had left it in little doubt that US policy-makers would prefer to see the UK remain an EU Member.

The Committee said that it saw its Report as one of several strands of Parliamentary work intended to contribute to debate before the scheduled production of the next UK National Security Strategy in 2015, alongside work being undertaken by the Defence Committee, among others.

The Committee left to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee consideration of the implications of the release of information by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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