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MPs call time on the 'special relationship' with US

More than 60 years after Winston Churchill first coined the expression to describe Britain's alliance with the United States, MPs today finally called time on the "special relationship".

The cross-party Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said that the well-worn phrase no longer accurately characterised the modern relationship between the two countries and should be dropped.

While the committee stressed Britain remained close to America, it said it was important to recognise it was just one a series of relationships the US had with key partners and allies.

As the UK's influence in Washington diminished with the decline of its economic and military power, it said the Government should be "less deferential" towards the Americans and take a more realistic view of the relationship.

"The use of the phrase 'the special relationship' in its historical sense, to describe the totality of the ever-evolving UK-US relationship, is potentially misleading, and we recommend that its use should be avoided," the committee said.

"The overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK."

As with much to do with the "special relationship", however, the recommendation proved controversial, with five members of the committee - three Labour and two Tories - voting unsuccessfully for it to be dropped.

When Churchill first used the expression in the aftermath of the Second World War, he was inspired both by the shared struggle against Nazi Germany and the looming Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union.

However, the committee said that in the eyes of the rest of the world, the relationship was now more likely to be defined by what was generally seen to be Britain's unquestioning support for President George Bush over the Iraq War.

"The perception that the British Government was a subservient 'poodle' to the US administration leading up to the period of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath is widespread both among the British public and overseas," it said.

"This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK."

The committee said that in urging a more pragmatic approach to UK-US relations, it was simply mirroring the attitude taken by President Barak Obama since he entered the White House.

"The UK needs to be less deferential and more willing to say no to the US on those issues where the two countries' interests and values diverge," it said.

"The UK's relationship should be principally driven by the UK's national interests within individual policy areas. It needs to be characterised by a hard-headed political approach to the relationship and a realistic sense of the UK's limits.

"In a sense, the foreign policy approach we are advocating is in many ways similar to the more pragmatic tone which President Obama has adopted towards the UK."

Committee chairman Mike Gapes said many politicians had been "guilty of over-optimism" about their ability to influence the US.

"We must be realistic and accept that globalisation, structural changes and shifts in geopolitical power will inevitably affect the UK-US relationship," he said.

"Over the longer-term the UK is unlikely to be able to influence the US to the extent it has in the past."

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: "As the report notes, "the British media's pre-occupation with the state of the 'special relationship' is frequently at the expense of coverage of the more substantive aspects of the relationship".

"It doesn't really matter whether someone calls it the "special relationship" or not.

"What matters is that the UK's relationship with the US is unique, and uniquely important to protecting our national security and promoting our national interest."