“With the US we will be drawing up a new Atlantic Charter, 80 years after Churchill and Roosevelt agreed the first.” Boris Johnson in The Times today
A crucial element of the “Atlantic charter” in 1941 was that it marked formally the end of Britain’s historic “Great Power” role. That role had been underpinned by Empire for a century or more but Roosevelt knew, and reluctantly Churchill was forced to accept, that a withdrawal from Empire was essential in the post war world. It was the main bargaining chip the US played in acceding to Britain’s request for help in the war in Europe, and later in the Far East.
When the various tripartite allied summits with the Soviet Union took place Britain was increasingly the junior partner. And in the post war creation of a new world order essentially a duopoly of power emerged. Britain was an ally of the US but not really a significant world player in its own right.
Once Britain lost its Empire – it took much longer than it should have – it began its search for a role. The defeated Axis nations – especially Germany, Japan and Italy – made economically and politically better progress in recovery than Britain. The 1950s saw a Britain struggling still with its imperial fantasies best illustrated by the preposterous delusion of Suez. Dean Acheson, former US Secretary of State, effectively told us in 1962 to stop pretending we were a big player anymore and to turn to Europe.
Any new Atlantic Charter will exclude Britain – President Biden knows that this side of the Atlantic economic and political power is centred in Brussels not London. Cooperation between the United States and Europe is one of the major geopolitical plays of our times. Post Trump the auguries are good. Biden treasures his Irish heritage and today that heritage is a European one as well And Ireland, mostly free of British imperial rule, is a good example of a positive outcome from the 1941 “Atlantic Charter”.
So whilst Boris Johnson can pretend that he can be Churchill to Biden’s Roosevelt the President will be looking at the united nations in the EU rather than the offshore oddity that is the United Kingdom. Europe’s economy is around ten times of that of the U.K. Britain is a legitimate member of the G7 but with the EU an integrated economy and trading entity it will be on the leading EU countries that Biden will be focusing.
Johnson’s blather about a new “Atlantic Charter” is meaningless flimflam. Britain, notwithstanding our historical links and our common language, is low in the list of priorities for President Biden. This side of the Atlantic there are thirty European nations which collectively and in many cases severally are pragmatically and emotionally well ahead of Little England.