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How The U.K. Is Reacting To Trump Canceling His Trip To London


To take a broader look at the British relationship with the U.S. under President Trump, George Parker joins us now. He is the political editor with the Financial Times. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: This is an old question but a newly-relevant one - is the so-called special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. still intact? The prime minister's office today insisted that, yes, it is.

PARKER: Yes. That's right. The prime minister's office said it was an enduring relationship which was nothing to do with who's occupying Number 10 Downing Street or the White House at any given time. And I think this special relationship is a bit of a hackneyed old expression which British politicians seem desperate to use. And whenever they meet American presidents, the American president feels obliged to use the expression.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Are you saying just retire the expression altogether?

PARKER: I would love the expression to be retired. And I think it basically - it always makes the British sound a little bit needy in the relationship...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

PARKER: ...To be honest. We have a relationship with the United States which is built on years of historical cooperation, including in times of war, and extremely deep economic relationships as well, plus the ties of kin and country and all the rest of it. But I still think, you know, the Americans have a lot of other special relationships around the world. And I think it would be good to retire this one.

SHAPIRO: I guess what I've heard U.S. and British officials say about that term, special relationship, is that it implies that there's no daylight between the two countries, that everything is more or less understood without having to negotiate or play a tug of war or, you know, checks and balances. And the question is, is that still the case? Or is there now a real difference of position between these two countries that are allies?

PARKER: Yeah. I mean, there is. I mean, there - in some areas, there are obviously incredibly deep ties and bonds of trust. So I'm talking here about intelligence sharing, for example, military cooperation. But there are other areas where Britain and America are certainly not in the same place, certainly not under the Trump administration's view of the world. I mean, the British government is fighting the forefront, for example, of fighting climate change. It's a leader in paying for overseas aid. I think it's one of the only G-7 countries which is actually meeting its target for paying for third-world development. It's a very open country generally. So I think in many respects, the differences between Britain and America these days are often far greater than they are between Britain and the European Union even as we are about to go our separate ways, of course.

SHAPIRO: How much of the larger divide here between the U.S. and the U.K. is about personalities as opposed to policy? President Trump angered British leaders by insulting London's mayor, retweeting racist videos from an anti-Muslim group in the U.K. What's the divide here between personality and policy?

PARKER: Well, I think that personality - I mean, I know that Donald Trump is a highly divisive figure, of course, in the United States. To British sensitivities, he is - there are very few senior political figures in the U.K. who would identify with Donald Trump. People regard him as almost beyond the pale. I think some of his tweeting in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in London last year was grossly insensitive.

And then retweeting videos by a group which is so far beyond the pale in Britain - Britain First, this sort of far-right organization - for Britain's supposed closest ally in the world to be doing that, it was just - it really was frankly astonishing. And I think, you know, you can't distinguish, I guess, between the policies and the personalities. But most people struggle to see behind the personality of the president at the moment, I think.

SHAPIRO: George Parker is the political editor at the Financial Times speaking with us from London. Thank you very much.

PARKER: Many thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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