John Major: Be realistic about UK-US relationship
The UK should stop using the term "special relationship" to describe its alliance with the US, former Prime Minister Sir John Major has said.
The ex-Tory leader said the term was "patronising" and "sentimental" and should be "consigned to history".
In a speech in London, he said the US would increasingly be looking to Asia for economic and political support.
But the UK's trade, defence and cultural links with the US meant it could play the role of "candid friend".
The term "special relationship" was first used by Sir Winston Churchill in a famous speech in 1946, reflecting the two countries' fight against fascism during World War II and his personal friendship with President Franklin Roosevelt.
'Preserved in aspic'
It has been used by a succession of prime ministers and presidents, most recently by David Cameron and Barack Obama during the latter's state visit to the UK in May.
In a speech to the Chatham House think tank, Sir John said the UK-US alliance had proved "solid and reassuring" for generations but the term special relationship was no longer applicable in today's fast-changing world.
With economic power shifting to Asia, he said it was natural that Washington's focus should be on developing relationships with powers such as China and India and - as this happened - it would be wrong for US-UK relations to be "preserved in aspic".
"Too often people talk of a special relationship. Every US president is advised to use the phrase and courteously does so but - although not intended to be so - it is rather a patronising term.
"The president cannot ignore the changing world. He would be failing in his duty to America if he did. He is likely to be followed by many presidents who must take account of strategic realities, however bound emotionally they may be to the ties of the 'special relationship'.
"It is time to consign this phrase to history. We don't need it."
While in terms of pure economic and political power, the UK-US relationship was "an alliance of unequals", there was much that the UK could still bring to the equation, he added.
Its enduring links with the US and the strength of its co-operation in defence and intelligence meant the UK had a responsibility to act as a "candid friend" rather than an "unquestioning echo" when it came to key foreign policy discussions.
This could, he suggested, extend to a more independent and pro-active UK approach on Iran and aspects of the Middle East peace process where it might be prudent for the US to "lead from behind".
The US was unaware that much of the world blamed it for the current "stalemate" in efforts to build a two-state solution and the UK could help Washington appreciate international concerns, he said.
The UK should also be more "candid" with Israel, he added, drawing on its own experience of dealing with unrest in Northern Ireland.
He said while he understood their policy of not engaging with Hamas, the UK's experience in Northern Ireland showed a different approach was more successful.
"It was only when we engaged the IRA directly - albeit initially through intermediaries - that we began a process that led to peace.
"Talking and talking and talking - continually and without huge gaps in time for backsliding - can bring together the most intransigent positions."