What is the 'special relationship'? Keir Starmer meets US President Joe Biden

 (Steffan Rousseau / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)
(Steffan Rousseau / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Keir Starmer has met President Biden as part of a longstanding ‘special relationship’ between the two countries.

The Prime Minister met President Biden at the White House yesterday (Wednesday, July 10).

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said: “The Prime Minister congratulated President Biden for hosting an excellent Nato summit so far. Both leaders agreed that, in its 75th year, Nato is stronger and more united than ever.

“They reflected on the importance of the Nato alliance and the special relationship in the context of current geopolitical challenges, including the ongoing war in Ukraine. They agreed we must continue to do whatever it takes to support Ukraine and ensure aggressors like Putin do not win.

“Moving on to discuss the situation in Israel and Gaza, they discussed their shared ambition for an immediate ceasefire to get hostages out, get humanitarian aid in and make progress towards a two-state solution.

“The President welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent comments on establishing closer relationships with our European counterparts, as well as the UK’s commitment to AUKUS. They reflected that, at a time when we face growing challenges across the world, we are at our strongest when we unite and work together.”

But what is the ‘special relationship’?

Where does the term ‘special relationship’ come from?

The phrase can be traced back to 1946, when the prime minister at that time, Winston Churchill, attended Westminster College and gave a speech when he and then-serving US president Harry S Truman were receiving honorary degrees.

He spoke to students about the alliance between the two countries, and first coined the term ‘special relationship’.

He was speaking about the. need for the two countries to band together in the face of the Soviet Union and said: “I come to the crux of what I have travelled here to say. Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organisation will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples.

“This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States… Would a special relationship between the United States and the British Commonwealth be inconsistent with our over-riding loyalties to the World Organisation? I reply that, on the contrary, it is probably the only means by which that organisation will achieve its full stature and strength.”

He said the pair needed to work together in rebuilding Europe in the wake of World War Two.

President Truman in turn signed into law the Marshall Plan, in which the US vowed aid to rebuild Europe two years later, on April 3, 1948.

The history of the UK and US

The two countries have always been on speaking terms, but it is only in recent years they have been special allies.

The two countries started to bond after the American Civil War.

The British supported the Americans during the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the US government – unlike most European nations – supported the British in the second Boer War (1899-1902). The US also supported Britain in World War One.

When did the countries become close?

The ‘special relationship’ that Churchill spoke about continuing is the one that came as a result of his relationship with president Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War Two.

It is said that, as well as opposing Nazi Germany, the pair also bonded on a more personal level.

It is reported: “They loved tobacco, strong drink, history, the sea, battleships, hymns, pageantry, patriotic poetry, high office, and hearing themselves talk.”

The pair wrote out the Atlantic Charter, a joint plan from the two in how to defeat Hitler in August 1941. After Pearl Harbor, they became even closer, as Churchill moved into the White House and stayed through Christmas so that he and Roosevelt could plot strategy in person.

Their friendship is enshrined in Westminster Abbey and is the first memorial to a foreign head of state.

Unveiled in 1948, the stone plaque reads: “To the honoured memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1882 – 1945 a faithful friend of freedom and of Britain. Four times President of the United States. Erected by the Government of the United Kingdom.”

And ever since?

Walter Annenberg, former president Richard Nixon’s ambassador to the UK, once said: “I have always maintained that England and America belong in bed together” – and the leaders of the UK and the US have worked together ever since.

President Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were said to have a strong bond, as did Tony Blair and George W Bush, who both sent troops to invade Iraq.

And Sir Keir seems be continuing the bond, even joking with President Joe Biden about football in their meeting this week.

Mr Biden told the new PM: “I kind of see you guys as the knot tying the transatlantic alliance together, the closer you are with Europe. We know where you are, you know where we are.”

Following England’s dramatic qualification for the Euro 2024 final, the president also quipped that, “It’s all because of the Prime Minister”.

Asked by a reporter if football is coming home, Sir Keir added: “It looks like it”.