thumbnail Europe is key to Britain’s foreign policy aims, warns academic

A leading academic says David Cameron’s decision to block a new EU financial agreement could leave Britain out in the cold.

Dr Simon Tate, of Newcastle University, has spent years researching British governments’ obsession with having a ‘special relationship’ with the US, and argues that uniting with Europe makes far more sense in the long term.

Instead of trying to repeat the mistakes of 60 years of history, Dr Tate believes the best option for Britain is to work with other European member states on a new approach to foreign policy.

“The EU is one of the few bodies capable of a genuine partnership with the US – something we have always failed to achieve alone,” he said. “With Britain at its helm, this could be an attractive option that would create a new era of foreign policy and bring about a significant re-balancing of Anglo-American relations.”

Despite increasing doubts about how healthy it is, political geographer Dr Tate suggests that successive governments have seen maintaining the special relationship with the US as a key foreign policy aim – at the expense of building better ties with Europe.

However, since its conception, the special relationship has never really lived up to the expectation of allowing Britain to reinstate her previous global power and influence.

He suggests the Cameron government seems to appreciate the need to avoid simply repeating history - breaking a circle which was first defined and successfully managed by Churchill’s government in 1945. However, recent events may have stalled progress for the foreseeable future.

“It is unlikely that Cameron will ever share with President Obama the same close personal relationship as Churchill and Roosevelt or Bush and Blair,” said Dr Tate. “This makes it more difficult to approach transatlantic diplomacy with the correct tone but equally it may prove helpful in putting some distance between the two governments.

“However, it makes no sense for us to go it alone – we need to have a voice in Europe to have any power on the world stage.”

In his book, British Foreign Policy in the Era of American Hegemony (published January 2012 by Manchester University Press) he sets the special relationship debate in a historical context and discusses how what has happened in the past shapes how governments have reacted since, and what needs to change to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

He says that being cast as a junior partner, both economically and militarily, has resulted in Britain having a diminished role in the relationship, which in turn has resulted in a diminished ability to influence American policymaking or perform an independent and influential British foreign policy role.

Dr Tate looked at case studies from Churchill’s government; the Suez crisis; and the War on Terror as part of his research, which included many hours spent poring over dispatches, briefing papers and minutes in the Public Records Office in Kew, London, to fully understand the decision making process.

Dr Tate can be contacted at


published on: 16th December 2011

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