To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of the United States of America about the participation of the United Kingdom in the semiquincentennial commemorations of the American War of Independence being planned in that country to start in 2025.
My Lords, US planning for the 250th anniversary of independence is at the early stages so it is premature for HMG to start working on specific events. The closeness of our relationship today is testament to the work of generations of Americans and Britons over a quarter of a millennium. We have come a long way since 1776 and the American war of independence, and we look forward to marking and celebrating the success of the modern UK-US partnership in 2026.
My Lords, in 1976 there was a state visit by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. During this, they presented a bicentennial bell cast in the same Whitechapel foundry as the Liberty Bell of 1751. They also loaned to the people of the US an original copy of the Magna Carta. Would the Minister like to put on his thinking cap and come up with some equally imaginative suggestions for 2026, which might include, for example, a project run in collaboration with the American Battlefield Trust, to identify and rededicate the graves of British soldiers who rest on revolutionary war battlefields and elsewhere in the United States?
I thank the noble Lord for his question, and also for a rare opportunity to use the word “semiquincentennial” in conversation. US planning for the 250th anniversary of independence in 2026 is still in its early stages, so plans are not yet fully formed. He makes some very good suggestions which I will happily take back, because I particularly like the battlefield idea. There are no immediate plans for a state visit, but I am sure that is something that will be considered. I should declare an interest as I lived in the US for five years, both my children are dual nationals and I am member of the Pilgrim Society.
My Lords, the magisterial biography of the Border reivers by George MacDonald Fraser starts with the inauguration of President Nixon taking over from President Johnson, with Billy Graham giving the eulogy. The Minister references the Pilgrim Society. There was an outward emigration group of Border reiver families after the pilgrims, of less strong character perhaps, from whom so many in America are descended. The story of the Borders, and the story of Scotland, and America is so linked, including Trump’s mother being Scottish—which we overlook. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, the Minister could perhaps think about an aged bottle of whisky, which I know the Minister and I both enjoy, but it is also an opportunity for America to withdraw its ban on haggis. The story of Scotland and America is very strong, so can the Minister make sure it is linked to any of the preparations?
My Lords, I have read The Steel Bonnets, which is a very fine book, and I agree with his strong character remarks, which he phrased very artfully. I will certainly take the haggis suggestion back, although I am not sure that I can make any promises.
My Lords, it is not in my nature to adopt a serious note when we have heard some quite interesting comments. However, the US is our most important ally, and these celebrations are only three years away. It is important that we work to ensure that we have a positive diplomatic programme to celebrate, not just within the FCDO but with other departments, including the MoD and DCMS, so that we put on a proper show of solidarity with our American friends.
I completely agree with the noble Lord. That gives me an opportunity to restate the fact that the US and the UK relationship is one of being top allies in defending freedom and democracy around the world through our unrivalled defence, intelligence, security and, indeed, trade ties. Regardless of who is in power, whether on trade, security or defence, the US is always our closest partner, and we do more together than any other two countries. Last year on 10 June 2021, the PM and President Biden signed a new Atlantic Charter and joint statement, setting an ambitious agenda for US-UK co-operation across a wide range of areas.
My Lords, bearing in mind that this is close upon us—it is three or four years away—could we not refer this to the British-American Parliamentary Group, and could not Members in all parts of the House submit ideas? I will submit one now: would it not be a marvellous thing to have two tea parties, in Boston, USA, and in the wonderful city of Boston, Lincolnshire, with the American President attending the latter and Prince Charles attending the former?
My Lords, I cannot resist saying that the Temple Church held a service last Sunday commemorating the close relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, and we had the president-elect of the American Bar Association to give the address. Might the Minister encourage other organisations, not necessarily churches, to take part so that it is not just a parliamentary or government matter?
The noble and learned Baroness makes an extremely important point. Of course, the American Bar Association has been a proud supporter of things such as the Runnymede Trust for many years, and I commend it for its efforts. Absolutely—this should be widely spread. The ties are not just governmental but are between people as well, and we should celebrate that fact too.
My Lords, in our commemoration of the centenary of World War I, we put a great deal of effort into the reconciliation between ourselves and our enemy Germany. As we look at commemorating the 250th anniversary of the American war of independence, could we put the same amount of effort into what was our other main enemy in that war, which was of course France? The battles of Chesapeake Bay and of Yorktown were basically Franco-British as much as a war of independence with the United States. If I were American, I would certainly want to mark the role of France as a key ally in America’s war of independence. May I suggest that some discreet conversations with Paris about how we approach this sesquiquincentennial might be appropriate?
To help the noble Lord, it is semiquincentennial—I have said it quite a lot over the last few days.
I do not know—I like the idea, which is a good one. Perhaps we could offer to paint the Statue of Liberty, for example, as an act of reconciliation. I cannot speculate as to what conversations will be held with France, but of course we should be celebrating all our alliances.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Pilgrims. I have to say that I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the importance of the relationship. It is extraordinary how over the last two centuries the English-speaking peoples have assured a certain security and peace in the globe, and that absolutely needs celebration. There will inevitably be a huge fleet review for Fleet Week, because they always do that in New York. Can the noble Lord say whether we are likely to have a ship available to go and take part in that big American celebration in three years’ time?
Will the Government encourage the organisers of these commemorations to include a lecture by Professor Andrew Roberts, whose recent award-winning biography of King George III shows that the last monarch to reign over the American colonies was no tyrant but a man who kept strictly within his constitutional position?
I have no doubt at all that the historian Andrew Roberts to whom my noble friend refers will be involved in these celebrations, not least of course because of his work on Winston Churchill, who also had American roots. I am sure that he will take an active part.
My Lords, as a patron of the Battlefields Trust, may I very much associate myself with the tenor of this discussion and the Minister’s clear enthusiasm for a response? Will not the key to this be a degree of joint working, both between various organs of government and of course various private sector organisations and other enthusiasts? Will not the main themes be: first, to look at the military side, including the fact that many of our own regiments have an important history in that war; secondly, the wider issues of educating younger people into the reality of that situation, which was very nuanced, as many of us know; and, finally, the wider diplomatic opportunities to commemorate the very happy subsequent association of our two countries, which is what primarily this is geared towards? However, I also bring in the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that the French were there also, and today happens to be 14 July.