Matthew Norman: Isn't it time we declared our independence?

The Natwest three will soon be plucked from their homes and rendered unto Caesar
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The Independent Online

Old Britain has now left the Union, through not secession or independence but demotion. No longer one of the United States, with all the fiscal and legal implications that brings, we are now no more than an client kingdom of what most respondents in an intriguing new opinion poll of OB attitudes to the US see as a global imperial power.

The final indicator of this relegation isn't the remorseless sycophancy of a PM whose guidance to Sir Christopher Meyer, when he took up the post of ambassador to Washington, was elegantly stated as "get yourself up the arse of the White House and stay there". It isn't the Government's non-denial denials over allowing the Americans to use our air space to kidnap foreign nationals and fly them off in executive jets to be tortured by Syrians, or the fact that we can neither maintain nor deploy our "independent nuclear deterrent" without a thumbs up from the White House. It isn't even the gratifying portrait of our beloved Deputy PM prostrating his girthular self before a US billionaire desperate to build a super-casino on the site of that iconic statement of modern British splendour, the Millennium Dome.

The absolute clincher is the treatment of the "NatWest Three". David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby, to refresh the memory, stand accused by US prosecutors of a multimillion-pound fraud involving Enron. By a rather cute irony, major fraud involving off shore accounts and vast sums looping the global cyberloop at the speed of light is something Mr Blair's government feels lies so far beyond the grasp of your average Old Briton's intellectual range that it determined to abandoning jury trials in such cases.

Given this acknowledgement of the complexity involved, you'd have thought the Government would be loath to hand over anyone accused of such a crime to the Americans without compelling evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the 2003 extradition treaty - a unilateral one, as we'll see - the US need not produce a shred of even prima facie evidence to have OB citizens yielded into its charge at speed. All it need do is ask for them, and they shall be given. So these three merchant bankers are scheduled to be flown to Texas, erstwhile home of Georgius Ibecilicus, Imperator Mundi, and of his erstwhile best buddies at Enron, next week.

There, unless Mr Blair intervenes for the only reason he would ever do so - political and media pressure - they will be shackled and orange jump-suited like fellow Old Britons held in Guantanamo for years for no apparent reason. They will be closeted in a state penitentiary for two years, with all the attendant horrors for themselves, their wives and their aggregated ten children, until the full majesty of American justice feels ready to bring them into court.

The fact that the alleged crime was committed here, and against a company (NatWest) based here, and that prosecutors here haven't shown any interest in bringing them to trial, seems irrelevant. The fact that the process only works the one way, America having refused to ratify the treaty of which it takes such advantage, couldn't matter less either. If a US national commits a crime in America against an American firm, and our authorities request that felon's presence because a UK company was somehow involved, the Americans can and almost certainly would tell us to sod off. And off, meekly and even gratefully, we'd doubtless sod.

It is at this point that the astute reader will see why this country no longer merits that 51st State sobriquet. If a US citizen commits a crime even in one of the weedier States - given that we're dealing with the biggest chicken ever to inhabit Downing Street, let's go for Rhode Island - and scarpers to California, Rhode Island will have him returned to face trial. Under current Old British law, we lack such a constitutional right.

The intended of that fast track extradition treaty, needless to say, were terrorist suspects, and not white-collar criminals. Yet again, as in the cases of Walter Wolfgang and Steve Jago (the man nicked for possession of Henry Porter's Vanity Fair article cataloguing every Blairite assault on personal liberty, in police history's most holistic and symmetrical arrest), we are presented with a crude lesson on how bad law is inevitably, malevolently misapplied. It is a lesson everyone must have learned already, except for Mr Blair whose abilities as a student are suppressed by his feelings for the US.

With its Senate and emblematic eagles, the US political system is modelled on republican Rome, and the Americans, like the Romans, see themselves as the centre and guiding light of the world. Our political system, on the other hand, is supposedly the system of a sovereign nation led by a leader with a paramount duty to protect its people.

How quaint that notion sounds today. Not content with placing American interests above the safety of his own nationals by joining that deranged invasion of Iraq, this Prime Minister has remained blithely satisfied until now to permit the extradition - to a country with a notably brutal penal system and a famously unreliable justice system - three men whose passports purportedly guarantee Her Britannic Majesty's protection while abroad; but not, apparently. at home.

This is precisely how the client kings of Rome behaved, sending their annual tributes back to the Emperor and their suspected criminals to the Capitol in chains. Of course, they had absolutely no choice. What makes the premiership of this vain and foolish PM so despicable is that he does have a choice and prefers not to take it, so that one can see the essence of the "special relationship" encapsulated in this unilateral extradition treaty: we give them whatever they want, they give nothing back.

And so, unless Antonius Sycophantus, first Procurator of Old Britain, caves into the crescendoing pressure and begs his imperial master to spare the NatWest Three the full majesty of American justice, they will soon be plucked from their homes and rendered - extraordinarily, given the lack of any evidence - unto Caesar despite not technically being Caesar's at all.

A year ago today, 52 Old Britons died for reasons directly and incontestably traceable to our pathological obeisance to American imperial ambition. They celebrated their Independence Day on Tuesday. Isn't it time we had ours?