Over this past summer, I spent three weeks in England. During my stay, I was curious to see what ordinary British citizens thought of the United States, especially given the deep bond our two countries have had–at least in the past.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was the first foreign head of state to visit the White House in January. At the time, she and newly installed President Donald Trump sought to strengthen mutual ties in business, commerce and foreign affairs. During a joint press conference, Trump stated “everlasting support” for the U.K.-U.S. relationship. May said the two were “laying the groundwork for a U.K./U.S. trade agreement” and that such a trade deal was “in the national interest of both countries.”
The eagerness for a trade deal may stem in part from the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union (EU). This separation, also known as Brexit, was made by a referendum on June 23, 2016, with 52.5 percent voting to leave and 47.5 voting to remain. The U.K. and the EU now have two years to agree on the terms of the split. Potential downfalls from the split include Britain losing its place as a global financial center and British citizens living in the EU losing their residency rights.
The U.S. has also been in turmoil. Since Trump took office in January, his presidency has been marked by controversy, from his possible ties to Russia and his travel ban on Muslim-majority countries to his handling of racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and threats against North Korea.
So with all this uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic, I asked myself, “Is the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom really strong anymore?”
A social worker I spoke with in London said, it isn’t. “If we align ourselves with America, we’re screwed basically,” he said.
A family friend of mine, Rob Silk, told me, “Trump is increasing racial and religious hate,” referencing Trumpʻs criticism of Muslims in the past, his proposed travel ban and his use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Trump even made a statement on CNN in March 2016 that “ I think Islam hates us. There’s something there that, there’s a tremendous hatred there. There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There’s an unbelievable hatred of us.”
One police officer I spoke with said, “We (the United Kingdom) have a very integrated relationship with the Muslims.” I also witnessed this acceptance first hand during my stay. Islamic culture is widespread and highly accepted throughout central London. Muslims live everywhere within the city, walking amongst other British citizens every day.
Despite the current political turmoil, I believe the bond between the U.S. and U.K. will improve in the long run. With the U.K. leaving the EU, it will potentially have to seek trade elsewhere. The U.S. should take that opportunity and focus on strengthening its relationship with the UK. Both countries need each other–now more than ever before.
by Danielle Springel, Special to Ka ‘Ohana