Now we've had to stop sharing British intelligence about Manchester with the US, it's clear the special relationship isn't so special anymore

We are told that Theresa May will ‘raise’ the issue with President Trump. 'Listen, would you mind awfully getting your chaps in line? We’d really rather they stopped doing things that might prevent us from getting the bomber's friends into Belmarsh if it’s not too much trouble?'

James Moore
Thursday 25 May 2017 12:19 BST
The New York Times claimed that these images show evidence gathered at the scene of the Manchester attack
The New York Times claimed that these images show evidence gathered at the scene of the Manchester attack

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Imagine what would happen if the EU leaked intelligence related to the Manchester attack to European newspapers.

What’s that? You’re saying the EU doesn’t have an intelligence agency? Good point. OK, imagine what would happen if the French handed the name of the attacker, the death tolls, and the fact that it was a suicide bombing to France 24 hours before the Brits were ready to release that information.

And then, imagine if Le Monde published pictures of the scene, including the remains of a backpack, screws, nuts and the remnants of a device held by the bomber, all of which might be quite important to the police in their ongoing investigation.

The tabloids would be besides themselves. It’d be all over the front pages and if you thought The Sun’s “Hop Off You Frogs” was awful, it might prove to be mild by comparison.

Manchester attacker Salman Abedi: What we know so far

Leader columns in the more respectable parts of the press would fulminate, columnists would trot on to the BBC’s Newsnight to shake their fits at the unreliable “ally” across the channel. Forget the hunt for the “jihadi family”. It would dominate the narrative.

Liberals would wince at some of the hyperbole, regret the racist language (because you know it would happen), and shudder at the posturing. But secretly we might understand it.

A wounded nation, having seen its children murdered by a medievalist maniac, getting sand kicked in its face by a close so-called ally. What could be worse?

Well, it’s happened. But, of course, it wasn’t the French that did the kicking. It was the Americans. Our best bud, and number one ally. The country we play cheerleader for in international councils. The nation we stand "shoulder to shoulder" with, come what may, and with which we are constantly being told we have a “special relationship”.

Thanks to leaky US intelligence sources, it was American news broadcasters that were able to offer their viewers details well before they were officially released, while the New York Times published the photo of the backpack.

And because it is American officials that did the leaking (by the way just imagine the furore Stateside if the shoe had been on the other foot) Home Secretary Amber Rudd was merely “irritated” as opposed to, you know, furious, outraged, apoplectic.

We are told that Theresa May will “raise” the issue with President Trump. "Listen, would you mind awfully getting your chaps in line? We’d really rather they stopped doing things that might prevent us from getting the bomber's friends into Belmarsh if it’s not too much trouble."

Police in Manchester, those at the sharp end of a major investigation, have stopped sharing intelligence, and no wonder. It’s one thing to be part of the “Five Eyes” alliance (Australia, Canada, and New Zealand along with the UK and the US), quite another to keep the information flowing if the conjunctivitis suffered by one of them results in discharges at worst possible time.

But even that won't last.

Perhaps the most damning point to be made about all this came from Lord Blair, the former chief of the Metropolitan Police.

This is what he said during the course of an appearance of Radio Four’s Today programme: “I’m afraid it just reminds me exactly of what happened after 7/7 when the US published a complete picture of the way the bombs in 7/7 had been made up and we had the same protests.”

He added: “This is a very grievous breach but I’m afraid it’s the same as before.”

It isn't hard to work out why. American intelligence officials chose to think first of doing their contacts in the US media a favour with the information the UK supplied them with because they knew that they had nothing to lose by doing so. So why not?

That special relationship, has been a cornerstone of British foreign policy since the Suez crisis made it clear who was calling the shots in the world after the Second World War? It was a bit of a myth even in what might have been called its heyday, during the era of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who enjoyed an ideological and personal relationship that was so close it sometimes looked like a romance.

But when Reagan wanted to invade Commonwealth Grenada? Mrs T was quickly jilted. She got a couple of hours notice, and her objections were ignored as American troops parachuted into the Caribbean.

As they did then, British officials will probably slink off into a corner somewhere at the UN and look all hurt in response to this latest display of contempt towards them.

To smooth their ruffled feathers, Theresa May might, if she's lucky, get an extra trip to the White House if the US can squeeze her in between the Germans and the Chinese.

Even if she doesn't, normal service will be resumed when the dust has settled? “What? You want access to NHS contracts when we privatise it, and the right for your companies to buy whatever promising looking tech firm they choose as part of the trade treaty we’ll sell to the public as a great deal for Britain? Sure thing. Before we sign, is there anything else we can do?”

Lest you think this is a piece of knee jerk leftist anti-Americanism, I should say now that I love the place, and its people, who (despite its politics) are some of the world’s most welcoming. I went there regularly before having kids, avidly consume its culture, and even its sports, have friends there.

But, as the Americans say, it's really is time for Britain to wake up and smell the coffee.

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