The new Atlantic Charter, signed by the Prime Minister and President Biden as a 'reaffirmation' of the Special Relationship, is a somewhat mixed bag. The Atlantic Charter of 1941 envisioned a postwar world order we're all too familiar with, from respecting national sovereignty and democracy overseas to the aim of lowering tariffs. This 'New' Atlantic Charter, on the other hand, reaffirms some of these clauses, but adds some new ones, which bring into question what the plan for national sovereignty is.
Clause Four of this new Charter is a commitment to "protect our innovative edge in science and technology to support our shared security and deliver jobs at home", whatever that means. The 1941 charter emphasised peace and wrote on paper the need for global co-operation to ensure this. This 2021 charter provides a non-binding commitment to 'science and technology'. Assuming this is a reference to Covid-19 and the importance of vaccines and vaccine development, along with other related health technologies, the clause of this charter brings up the question – what kind of trans-Atlantic co-operation will take place after this? Certainly, attempts to re-open travel with the United States are welcome and a positive sign that both sides are willing to produce real results, but when it comes to technology or science, where are the efforts to share and cooperate on technological development, particularly between the U.S.'s technology sector and the U.K.'s world-leading research institutions? If so, how will this make Britons more secure and deliver employment at home? We hope that all these questions can be shelled out and that the United States truly appreciates Global Britain's hand of friendship with the current Administration.
Clause Six is another section in need of elaboration – a pledge towards "an inclusive, fair, climate-friendly, sustainable, rules-based global economy for the 21st century", as if words representing all things good represent a binding commitment to the 'new economic order'. This clause, moreover, signals where this would be going, emphasising "high labour and environmental standards". This is a source of concerns and brings up the question of whether the same old patterns of globalisation and foreign policy from the U.S. will continue – will the U.S.'s push to change the world economy continue and is this clause an open concession to this.
The U.S. is no doubt Britain's greatest ally, but no form of economic co-operation should lead to another country deciding how the U.K.'s economy should be reformed, and never has this been the case. Nobody opposes the idea of having an economy that benefits more citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, but this does raise concerns over Britain's control of its economic future. Evidence of economic co-operation, such as the 15% minimum level of corporate tax, does raise concerns about economic sovereignty and who has control over Britain's economy. Typically, market forces, tempered by government (at varying levels), should decide our economic future, the kind of jobs we get, and it's for government to help those falling through the cracks, but this clause suggests that international agreements, instead, will be deciding our future.
We hope that more substantial and tangible evidence will quell these concerns, but this is a reminder that Global Britain needs to chart its own course, and not overly rely on the agendas of others.
On foreign policy and human rights, and other issues that require international co-operation, Britain has always been happy to aid the United States in its goals, from helping set up NATO to ending the Cold War, but never has there been this level of cross-border intervention, apart from the European Union of course. On economic issues, there have long been disagreements, but both sides have respected one another's internal and domestic policies.
As much as Thatcher and Reagan had been great friends and allies, with similar views on foreign policy and seemingly similar political agendas, there were strong disagreements on internal policy, and that was accepted. The Thatcher Government's first Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe, was a vehement opponent of 'Lafferism' so prescribed by Reaganite Republicans, describing Lafferism as having 'led US policymakers astray'. While Howe's supply-side reforms and liberalisation policies, continued by his successor Lawson, and used to justify a later tax cut, it remained the case that both sides had disagreements and could be averse to one another's political views. The Reagan Administration never attempted to intervene or change the Chancellor's plans at the time. Yet now, the U.S.'s plan for a minimum corporate tax, likely an attempt to address their own problems with companies relocating, means that the White House has dictated British domestic tax rates.
The Special Relationship has lasted through decades, wars, political disagreements, and both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and Conservative, Coalition and Labour governments, on both sides of the pond. There is little disagreement that this hasn't been beneficial to the U.K. and British subjects, but, "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.", Mrs. Thatcher said at the College of Europe. Less an anti-European speech, it was more a warning for the people of Europe. She spoke highly of her admiration for the 'great European cities' of 'Warsaw, Prague and Budapest', and the clear British connection to the city of Bruges, to Belgium, and to Europe – but the warning couldn't be clearer.
The new Atlantic Charter provides some hope for the Special Relationship, showing that initial concerns about Biden's political differences with the Prime Minister were overridden by the historical bonds and ties between the two countries, as well as their shared values - and we applaud the U.K.'s efforts in advancing this. However, a word of caution is always needed and there is reason for concern – Britain's future must be, and can be, in Britain's hands. Many on the left of British politics may oppose free markets and prefer interventionism, and our democratic system encourages debate over this, but at least they would have control over this were they to be elected.
Global Britain must chart its own path and the new Atlantic Charter must respect the principles of national sovereignty heralded by the 1941 charter.