Boris Johnson writes on ‘How submissive UK is to Uncle Sam’ (2006)

On the 3rd July 2006. Boris Johnson writes


Are we just a poodle? No, a super-poodle

Yes, but why? Why are we so pathetic? Britain is so grovellingly submissive to America as to make lapdogs look positively butch and poodles like keen independent spirits. We are all, by now, familiar with the craven manner in which we have decided to hand over British subjects for trial in America.

The baffling question is why? We beg, we fetch, we sit, we look up adoringly and wait to have our mangy old ears tickled by Uncle Sam, and it is not at all clear to the casual observer what we are getting in return.

In two weeks, my constituent David Bermingham intends to be at the Goring and Streatley regatta, and I hope he takes a fond last imprint on his mental retina of the delights of the English summer: the picnics, the blazers, the girls in their filmy dresses, the blissful trailing of fingers in the river.

Because immediately thereafter, Mr Bermingham is going to be super-magnetically suctioned to spend at least two years on remand in a Texan penitentiary surrounded by the low-lifes Dubya never got round to executing.

He and two others are alleged to have committed a fraud against what was then the NatWest Bank. But the outrageous thing is that this fraud – if it took place – took place in this country, and against UK interests, and if it was committed, it was committed by UK citizens.

No UK authority has shown the slightest interest in prosecuting Mr Bermingham, and yet the Americans – without any prima facie evidence whatever – are able to snatch him from this country as if it were the 52nd state. No other European country is so invertebrate in the protection of its nationals.

All other governments insist on some political discretion in such cases, or at least that the US must provide prima facie evidence.

But oh no, says HM Government. You want some of our chaps, do you? Be our guest. Carry on. Frightfully good, sir.

It is time, for a second, to set aside our outrage and work out the possible reasoning of the apparently supine British ruling classes. It will be helpful to take our minds back to Gordon Brown’s audacious statement, two weeks ago, that he wants a replacement for Trident.

There was some perplexity about why Gordon was making this announcement, when it should surely have fallen to the Prime Minister. There was some doubt as to the intended target of our new nukes. Korea? France?

But no one seemed to contest the rationale for buying this terrifying and terrifyingly expensive new firecracker, namely that a nuke is your ticket to the top table. In the great regatta of international diplomacy, it is the nuke that gets you on to the stewards’ lawn.

And if you are in the upper reaches of the British establishment, and you think and care deeply about the long-term future of the country, then you know how important it is to have that shiny nuclear passepartout. Without a nuke, they fear, we would cease to be taken seriously in the comity of nations. We might be kicked off the UN security council.

We would cease, in the phrase of Douglas Hurd, to “punch above our weight”; and these vital nuclear tokens are, of course, provided by America. The current Trident D5 is deployed on four Vanguard-class submarines, and though we make the subs and their engines (Rollers, of course), the missile itself is American.

It is the Americans who supply the three-stage solid-fuel rocket measuring 13 metres and weighing 60 tonnes, and capable of delivering 12 warheads over 6,000 kilometres. It is the Americans who service the missiles and who provide many of the components of the warheads.

Now, when Gordon proclaimed his enthusiasm for Son of Trident, he wasn’t seriously suggesting that we were going to develop it all ourselves. Passionate though he is, these days, about “Britishness”, he wasn’t proposing that the new UK nuke should be as British as a Cornish pasty or a pair of Geri Halliwell’s pants.

He can’t conceivably have meant that Britain was going to create its own independent ballistic capability, not unless he was going to axe the NHS and the social security budget to pay for it. He knew that we were going to depend on America for our security, as we do in so many ways, visible and invisible, not least in intelligence.

That is the calculation that must always be at the back of the minds of the British establishment – whichever party is in power – and that is at least part of the explanation for the crushing and humiliating deference we show in the matter of this extradition treaty.

Indeed, I am sure this was the calculation, the importance of sticking with America, that weighed most with the Prime Minister when he joined the war in Iraq. As a narrow-eyed assessment of the UK interest, it is very far from irrational.

The only question is whether we are now in danger of poodling far more than even the Americans expect. Whatever you think about supporting Bush in Iraq, our posture on this one-sided extradition treaty amounts to a paranoid super-poodling.

No American administration is going to pull the plug on the transatlantic alliance – and 50 years of nuclear cooperation – if we decided to put some symmetry into an extradition treaty that allows the Americans to vacuum up our citizens without providing any evidence, and yet gives us no corresponding rights over suspects in America.

We should without delay repeal this disastrous treaty, signed by David Blunkett in 2003, and whatever the paranoia of the British officials who devised it, I bet it would make not a bean of difference to the transatlantic

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