Who Is ‘Special’ After Brexit?

British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election to take place on 8 June. The sudden move, which the government had repeatedly ruled out, has been widely interpreted an attempt to outflank a weak opposition and neutralize opposition to the developing Brexit plan. But what is the driving force behind this single-minded vision? And how will it shape the forthcoming negotiations?

The term ‘special relationship’ has been a mainstay of British public discussion since Winston Churchill used it in the 1940s to describe the relationship between the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth and the United States of America, and to build support for the USA entering into the Second World War. Like much Second World War rhetoric, this Churchillian phrase has been re-appropriated by the current UK Conservative Party to attempt to re-describe the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

In February 2016, David Cameron claimed he had secured a ‘special status’ for the UK inside the EU if the people voted to remain. On 29 March 2017, Theresa May wrote in her formal letter to President of the European Council Donald Tusk that the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, but seeking a ‘special relationship’. May makes these overtures to the European Union two months after being the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump, and reaffirm that special relationship. Apparently the UK is seeking to multiply its special relationships, although this implies that at some point the relationships will stop being so special, and the suspicion is that the UK regards itself as special, or needs to be told it is by its partners and the rest of the world. This may be what ‘Global Britain’ – which is apparently the vision for the country after Brexit – is supposed to mean: a Britain that is celebrated across the world.

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