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Britain's Interests From A Post-Imperial Standpoint

02/02/2017 13:32 GMT | Updated 02/02/2017 13:32 GMT

It really is very difficult to understand what is going on. The debate here over whether or not Parliamentary authority was needed before the Prime Minister could issue a notice under article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon was bad enough. At least that is now resolved and those who want to follow the technicalities can read the judgements handed down by the Supreme Court. But when it comes to whether or not the President of the United States can decide things by executive order and, if, so, the effect of the orders, I have to say that it is beyond me. Let's leave it to the American Bar to resolve the issue: they are already throwing amendments to the Constitution about like hand grenades. Most of us Brits can add little to the debate, not that that will stop the North London intelligentsia from sounding off at their drinks parties:

"..well, I have it from Archie who knows all about the law, no, not just because of that illegal dumping matter - that was so unfair, by the way - but because his brother's a barrister. Well, he says it's just like our case on the Royal Prerogative, except that the President isn't royal of course, not that I care about such distinctions, they're just Liz and Phil to me. Still, America was a colony once, or even several of them, and there is this thing called the common law... blah... magna carta .... blah... Council of Nicea... blah... offside rule..."

Yes, well. Addition to sum of human knowledge: zero. World prosecco stock: minus several cases. About the usual score in fact.

With the content of the immigration orders, initially it seemed we were on much safer ground. A 120 day suspension of the US refugee settlement programme, a permanent ban on Syrian immigrants and bans against those coming in from another 6 states where Muslims are in the majority. Confusion over those who hold Green cards. Well, it is all mediaeval. Everyone knows that the US has a history of indiscriminately accepting refugees. They should stick to it. After all, it isn't as if they were coming here. But then the rot of doubt began to set in. The US has blocked immigration from particular jurisdictions in the past. Barack Obama excluded the countries in question from the visa waiver programme. A distinguished writer for The Times believes that Trump is entitled to make the move. Perhaps there is more to all this than at first appeared.

It is at this stage that you are in for a disappointment. Aa a readerof the huffington Post you will be used to a perpetrating analysis of the issues leading up to a brilliant conclusion, to high moral tone and to pretensions to common sense - the wisdom of Aristotle combined with the decisiveness of Alexander. Well, you can go to The Guardian for that sort of thing. We commentators have the luxury of saying that we find US politics difficult to understand- even harder than our own or those of the EU which, God knows, are quite hard enough. That is my excuse for less marching and more "wait and listen", until the Americans have had a chance to clarify the debate.

For governments, however, it is different. The currents may be confusing but a course has to be picked and the way in which we deal with the States will have real consequences. What approach should be taken? Should Mrs May regard herself as "a citizen of the world" to borrow a phrase used by Matthew Parris last week? Should she be casting her sympathies beyond Britain in formulating policy or should she be keeping the focus on British interests, go 'little Englander' as it were?

Once upon a time everything that happened in America was the concern of the British government because its citizens were our colonists and we exercised an Imperial jurisdiction. In the end it all went wrong, of course. Perhaps we didn't do it very well or perhaps, once the capture of Québec had eliminated the threat from France, the colonialist did not have so much need for British support. Either way the 1781 surrender at Yorktown spelt the end of our jurisdiction and our entitlement to dictate America's affairs. When we gave up our colonial role we ceased to have the right to interfere.

For that reason it is no business of ours who they select for their President, how they look after their health and in general how they deal with other countries. We may comment of course but they are entitled to throw those comments in our faces just as we would the other way round (can you remember the enthusiasm with which the public welcomed Obama's unwise intervention in the Brexit debate?). But there are areas where their interests interfere and overlap with ours and there we are entitled to have our say, apply sanctions or go to war just like any other independent nation.

I am sure that readers will think of lots of areas which fall into this category but somewhere at the top of the list would be:

the environment - clearly of fundamental importance to everyone and an area where deliberately sabotaging treaties is more or less an act of aggression;

defence - we are partners in NATO and winding it down would endanger our security;

avoiding nuclear war - radiation knows no frontiers;

refugees - in that it is a world wide problem and we need to work together to solve it; and, of course,

a trade treaty- well, we would certainly like one of those, wouldn't we?

The role of the Government must be to pursue British interests in these and other areas whatever it might think of the regime with which it has to deal. Yes, Trump should visit the Queen if it would help. Her Majesty has, amongst her other responsibilities, an important role in the national diplomatic team and would, I am sure, wish to play her part in something as important as our relations with the US. Mrs May's government should keep relations friendly even if that does mean avoiding certain subjects where our approaches differ. Protests as to America's place in the world are for Americans. Following the loss of our imperial role our legitimate interests are in things which affect us.

First published in the ShawSheet