It is a common trope to describe the UK as a poodle to the US. It is said the Europeans saw the UK as America’s unsinkable battleship.
It certainly appears in the press that the UK does anything the US requests. But this is curious. Several decades earlier there was great debate among the British elite about whether UK should join the US as a US state. But the idea that the UK should be a long time permanent friend of the US violates the core statement of Lord Palmerston.
Lord Palmerston said ‘We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interests it is our duty to follow.’
Gideon Rachman’s 2015 article in Financial Times (Note 1) ridiculed the habit of UK intellectuals to see the US as a declining empire and China as the future. Time seems to have been on the side of these UK intellectuals not their detractors. But if major UK intellectuals saw the rise of China then, behind the scenes many foreign policy makers would be considering how to protect the national interest. What is involved here is making sure that the escape hatch is not closed, that the option for a quick change of sides is not concreted over. Such a manoeuvre, the UK dumping the US and joining China, would generate cries of perfidious Albion, but who cares? The national interest comes first.
For the UK to commit itself to following the US ‘come what may’ would be as Talleyrand put it: ‘worse than a crime, it would be a mistake’.