One of Barack Obama’s first acts on becoming the US president was to return a bust of Winston Churchill, a gift to the White House from Britain. It was seen by some as a snub, and he has been criticised in some quarters for neglecting America’s traditional European allies.
Well, it seems no longer. On the British leg of his European tour he appears to have gone out of his way to stress that Washington’s links with London do matter, and speaking to parliament in Westminster Hall he opened with an appeal to that most British of character traits, humour.
“I am told that the last three speakers here have been the Pope, Her Majesty the Queen and Nelson Mandela, which is either a very high bar, or the beginning of a very funny joke,” he said to genuine laughter.
Going beyond flattery about the two countries’ much-vaunted “special relationship”, Obama stressed their mutual interests, saying: “As two of the most powerful nations in the history of the world we must always remember that the true source of our influence hasn’t been the size of our economies, or the reach of our militaries, or the land we have claimed; it has been the values, that we must never waver in defending around the world.”
Although the relationship remains far more important for Britain than the USA – and both parties know it – this visit will have done much to reassure the British that, after an initial coolness, this president counts on them, and can be counted on.