Could Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation’s Reagan-Thatcher?

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While the usual suspects in the global media are looking at recent events and forecasting doom for the enduring U.S. relationship with Britain — our staunchest ally — in reality, things are lining up for a realignment of cooperation like nothing that has been seen since the Reagan-Thatcher years.  

The Washington Post has declared that the Anglo-American relationship is “in tatters,” and The Guardian whinges, “The shared values and interests that bound Britain and the U.S. together for 75 years are disolving.”  But these portrayals are patently false.

Yes, the whole business of the leaked cables that led to Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation as the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the U.S. was unfortunate, but his departure ultimately will not have been an unfortunate occurrence. Ambassadors are entitled to their opinions, but once his statements were public, Darroch became “damaged goods” in Washington. Officials were hesitant or unwilling to meet with him and his associates — and who could blame them?

But, beyond Darroch’s impaired status as a diplomat in Washington, his policy beliefs did not exactly embrace President Trump’s program of bilateral harmony or Anglo-American exceptionalism. Darroch falls into the “Remainer” camp — those who feel Britain’s place is more aligned with Europe than an outward-looking global power unconstrained to forge individual relationships of its own choosing.  

For the top British diplomat in Washington to hold such a view is somewhat at odds with not only the outcome of the Brexit referendum, as voted on by the British people, but also with a U.S. president who expressed, days after his inauguration, that Brexit is a “blessing to the world” and that the vote to leave the European Union (EU) was a “tremendous asset, not a liability.”  

Perhaps, most significant of all, during his first days in office, Trump pledged his support for a bilateral free trade deal as an alternative to the EU, which he dismissed as “making it hard for companies to do business.” In short, Darroch and Prime Minister Theresa May have in President Trump a willing and enthusiastic partner to emerge victorious from their nation’s greatest political crisis in recent memory.

Alas for the May government, its unsteady hand in structuring an exit strategy has ensured its demise. However, May’s failures have paved the way for a successor — likely Boris Johnson, the former London mayor and U.K. foreign secretary — who could usher in a golden age for a “special relationship” not seen since the days of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Waiting in the wings is an incoming prime minister — the final deadline for Conservative Party members to vote to replace May is on Sunday — who is not only pro-American, he was born here and maintained dual citizenship until relatively recently. Moreover, Johnson and Trump appear to have a positive personal relationship.  

On his official state visit last month, at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth, President Trump made no secret that he prefers Johnson in the role of prime minister. He told The Sun newspaper: “I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person. … I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent.” Johnson repaid the compliment during his campaign, saying he wanted to mimic some of the Trump administration’s “clever” tax cuts. “Look at what Trump is doing,” he told Conservative Party members during a conference call. “They’ve got growth running at 3.6 percent.”

As for the prized free trade agreement, which any Brexit PM would be thrilled to claim, President Trump said while in Britain: “As the U.K. makes preparations to exit the European Union, the United States is committed to a phenomenal trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K. … There is tremendous potential in that trade deal — I say probably two and even three times of what we are doing right now.”

Notwithstanding the disdain of the global media and progressive foreign policy analysts, the U.S.-U.K. relationship remains the strongest, most important foreign policy relationship that exists — and it is about to get a lot stronger. 

The Darroch affair is not fatal. As former Thatcher adviser John O’Sullivan points out: “Relations between London and Washington have survived worse upsets than this. President Eisenhower ensured that British diplomats did not get their phone calls returned by the State Department for six months after the Suez crisis.” 

Moreover, we need each other. As Conrad Black wrote recently: “A Johnson–Trump relationship could, in some respects and with much-evolved styles, re-create the immensely successful cooperation of the Roosevelt-Churchill alliance that won the Second World War and the Reagan-Thatcher alliance that won the Cold War.”

Lee Cohen is a historian, senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the Danube Institute in Budapest. He formerly was director of the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.

Tags Boris Johnson Conservative Party Donald Trump Prime minister Special Relationship Theresa May US-UK relations

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