‘Just so needy.' Brexit strained the UK-US relationship – but officials say it's now back on track

‘Just so needy.' Brexit strained the UK-US relationship – but officials say it's now back on track


Next week, when US President Joe Biden arrives in London, his British counterpart Prime Minister Rishi sunak might smile about how far US-UK relations improved since he took office in October last year.

It's no secret that in recent years, the relationship between these two old friends, once described as a'special relation', has suffered strains in London and Washington, DC.

Both sides of Atlantic have a long list of events that are relevant to modern history. These include the failures of Iraq, the perceived preference of the Obama administration for other European Allies, the divergent economic paths and the turmoil of the Trump Administration.

Brexit is the most significant event in British history when it comes relations with the world.

CNN spoke to several British and US officials who were not allowed to speak on record to better understand the evolution of their relationship in the wake of the United Kingdom’s 2016 decision to exit the European Union.

CNN reported that 'the UK's position in the world is defined by its relationship with America'. After Brexit, under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Britain was so desperate. The White House is a place where time is a precious commodity. We didn't want to waste it on them.

The United States was keenly interested in Brexit and its impact on Northern Ireland.

In early this year, leaders from around the world travelled to Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary. Former US President Bill Clinton, who helped broker the peace agreement, brought to an end decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

Brexit would upset the delicate balance of Northern Ireland, as it is the only part in the United Kingdom that shares a land border between the EU and Northern Ireland.

The government of Theresa May, then Prime Minister of the UK, made it a priority to reach a realistic version of Brexit in Northern Ireland. She negotiated an agreement that would have resolved many practical issues, but her plan failed to pass the UK Parliament. Johnson, her replacement, signed a document called the Northern Ireland Protocol. This was found to be insufficient, and could have fallen apart by the time Johnson's premiership ended, as London and Brussels were unable to agree how to implement the protocol.

The Biden administration made finding a solution to the Northern Ireland problem a top priority. Sunak's promise to resolve the issue by the 25th anniversary Good Friday Agreement and the fact that he was able to reach a deal with the EU known as the Windsor Framework instilled new trust in the British. This had been missing in Washington for several years.

Sunak showed us that he was someone we could do business with through Windsor,' a senior US diplomat told CNN. Sunak's Windsor visit showed that he is someone with whom we can do business, a senior US diplomatic official told CNN.

The US wants the UK and other allies to do this by 2023. We are seeking practical victories. The official from the administration said that the current situation in Ukraine and its economy is not the time for grandiose pronouncements, but rather pragmatism, and a willingness to get the job done.

Many US officials shared this sentiment. They compared small, but practical achievements with grand ambitions such as a free-trade deal that Truss and Johnson both hoped to achieve.

Instead of romantic notions of a "special relationship" steeped in history from the early 20th century, the US-UK Partnership is much more transactional.

The US and UK officials both understand that Washington is the leading partner. However, the strength of America around the globe is also due to its global network of allies that share its goals and who are willing to work hard to achieve them. The diplomat stated that this is what sets us apart from Russia and China.

A British government official said that the US knew it could no longer be seen as the policeman for the world. "That's why we've praised their efforts in Ukraine, but they've credited us with leading the international response."

Real-world benefits are already manifesting themselves. US officials point out the exceptions made in Biden's Inflation Reduction Act for critical minerals. They also point out the recent US-UK artificial intelligence deal, which lists the UK's domestic defense equipment as one of the sources.

The official from the US administration says, 'These aren't carve-outs that we'd likely grant to any other non EU country.

Some said that Biden's trip to the UK, which will take place next week before other European partners, was carefully planned. In Europe, the travel plans of the president are closely watched. While they may not be of much concern to Americans in the United States, it is a good indication of the ranking of allies in Europe. US officials deny this, but they do acknowledge its importance in Europe.

Behind closed doors, the thawing of relations between UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was evident. Both men are warmly complimentary of each other and share similar worldviews. But officials who work for them say that their lives have become much easier in the last year.

CNN reported that 'the Americans could easily remind us of how much they spend in Ukraine and what a junior partner we are'. But they don't. They are gracious, and they cooperate with us.

Officials on both sides have spoken of their desire to redefine the special relationship into an agreement between partners "of first resort" - something Blinken even said about the UK in the past. The British, rather than trying to cling on to the special relationship they are happy with the new award. Officials say that this is a mature, new approach to a friendship which needed a boost.

Sunak's successful resetting of the US-India relationship can be used to learn lessons. Officials on the US side described their distrust for Johnson and their despair over Truss. Both were viewed as being inherently unreliable. While Truss's assessment was based on her brief tenure in office, Johnson's view was shaped over many years of public service.

Now, UK officials seem to grasp this point. People who were involved in the negotiations of the Windsor Framework claim that they made specific efforts to prevent leaks or involve the US before the deal was completed. Although the negotiations were with Brussels, they knew that US officials watched everything.

The opposition Labour Party in the UK, which is expected to win the general elections next year, seems to have taken this into account. US diplomats informed CNN that they noticed Labour politicians addressing key US talking points around inflation and foreign policy.

Sunak may be facing many challenges at home, including economic problems, low poll ratings and a growing migration crisis. After years of Britain being perceived as a basketcase by the rest of the world, Sunak has managed to do something that Truss, Johnson, and May all failed to achieve: reassure the UK's main ally of its seriousness.