This is a terribly difficult time for the families of the sailors missing in the Atlantic. I met many of them to discuss the US Coast Guard’s search for their loved ones. Their determination to remain strong and positive for one another in a time of grave crisis was inspiring. This ordeal is theirs, and the hearts of all Americans go out to them.
It was therefore disturbing to me that a contributor to these pages chose to make it about something else — namely our extradition treaty and the status of the special relationship between our two nations.
The argument that the alliance is lopsided is demonstrably wrong. By addressing that claim clearly and quickly, we can place the focus of our energy back where it belongs.
The search for the yachtsmen is a testament to the special relationship. It was restarted not because the coast guard felt that it had done an inadequate job — on the contrary, it had searched exactly as it would for Americans. It happened because the UK asked. Requests were made formally through government channels and informally through representations from the men’s families, MPs and the public.
The decision to resume the operation did not surprise me. Nor does it strike me as an example of our relationship being skewed in America’s favour. Rather, it is proof that Britain retains significant influence in Washington.
Far from our alliance being one where the US holds the upper hand, it is an indispensable partnership of equals. Not that it is without its awkward moments and we shouldn’t paper over those.
But there are critics and cynics who seize on every issue to justify their view that the special relationship favours America. And our extradition arrangements are always wheeled out in support.
So, for the record: it is not easier to extradite someone from the UK than from the US because of a different burden of proof. While the standards of evidence are different in terminology, in practice the UK’s “reasonable suspicion” test is the same as the US’s “probable cause”. They are the standards that police officers in our respective countries must meet to justify an arrest. And no one has ever identified an extradition case that would meet one standard but not the other.
It is also worth noting that the US has never denied an extradition request from the UK under the present treaty. Britain, on the other hand, has refused on 12 occasions — including Gary McKinnon. Again, this does not strike me as evidence that the special relationship is imbalanced.
America looks to Britain because it has unique and exceptional assets that help to influence global attitudes and shape the policies of the international community. There is no other partnership in the world that America prizes as highly — or one which is as close, or as productive. And when such a valued friend calls asking for help, we respond as a friend would: quickly, decisively and positively.