Outgoing US Ambassador Matthew Barzun has warned against assuming Donald Trump’s Scottish roots will deepen the so-called ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the United States.
The president-elect’s mother emigrated from the Isle of Lewis to the USA, prompting suggestions his presidency will usher in closer ties with the UK. In his first telephone conversation with the British Prime Minister, Mr Trump told Theresa May that the UK was “very, very special place” for him, and that his mother Mary had been a “big fan” of the Queen.
However, asked about the importance of the president-elect’s Scottish ties, Mr Barzun said: “I think it’s important that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what makes this relationship special is that some subset of Americans can trace their lineage to the United Kingdom.
“I’m one of those people, and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but I don’t think that accounts for the magic that happens between our two countries.”
During the EU referendum campaign, Boris Johnson controversially criticised President Barack Obama over the placement of a bust of Sir Winston Churchill outside the Oval Office. A bust of the wartime Prime Minister has been in the White House since the 1960s.
In an article written three months before he was made Foreign Secretary, Mr Johnson sparked outrage by speculating the “snub to Britain” may have been because of the “part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire”.
Mr Barzun said: “Familial links are fine, but America is big and changing. Even when Sir Winston gave his speech 70 years ago when he coined the term ‘special relationship’, the percentage of Americans who were British-American wasn’t all that big, and now even less so.
“If we are making it reliant on some sort of ethnic identification, then you are really missing the magic. It is about the values we share.”
Mr Barzun will leave the role in five and a half weeks before Mr Trump makes an appointment to one of his country’s top diplomatic posts. Asked about Mr Trump’s restrictions on Muslims entering the US, Mr Barzun said that like him, his successor would swear an oath to uphold constitutional freedom of religion, and would carry it “in their minds and their hearts”.
He declined to comment on the president-elect’s tweet suggesting Nigel Farage should be the next UK ambassador to the US, but said the current ambassador Sir Kim Darroch was “doing a great job”.