May and the ‘special relationship’

Theresa May speaks outside the Houses of Parliament on Monday. She became British prime minister on Wednesday.(Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

Great Britain and the United States were staunch allies well before Winston Churchill began citing their “special relationship” late in World War II. That friendship, long mutually beneficial to both nations and the world, persists.

So does that “special relationship” billing, which White House spokesman Josh Earnest repeated this week.

And though it’s a time of serious change in the United Kingdom, there’s a reassuring basis for confidence that it will maintain its long-term alliance with the United States.

Yes, British voters, resentful of being increasingly regulated by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, chose in a June 23 referendum to leave the European Union.

And Theresa May became the U.K. prime minister — and the second woman to hold that job — Wednesday. She also became the leader of the Conservative Party with the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, who recognized the Brexit outcome as a decisive repudiation of his urgent appeals to remain in the EU.

But Prime Minister May, who also opposed Brexit, has repeatedly stressed a continuing commitment to the U.S. — and to NATO. During a speech in April she said of the British-American link: “I know as well as anybody the strength and importance of that partnership.”

As British home secretary for the last six years, Mrs. May has worked closely with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials on the counterterrorism front. She said before the Brexit vote: “Our security and intelligence agencies have the closest working relationship of any two countries in the world — and I know that it would certainly survive Britain leaving the EU.”

And CNN reported Wednesday that Mrs. May “has staked out ground in keeping with the relatively hawkish pro-U.S. and NATO mainstream of the Conservative Party.”

No, Mrs. May, though a Conservative, is not an ideological stalwart of the right in the Margaret Thatcher mold. The first woman to serve as Britain’s prime minister, the “Iron Lady” held that office longer (1979-90) than anybody else in the 20th century.

And Prime Minister May’s surprising choice of mercurial fellow Conservative Boris Johnson as her foreign secretary raised eyebrows — and concerns — in the U.S. and Europe.

Mr. Johnson, the former mayor of London, has a bad habit of making outrageous statements.

On Wednesday the BBC quoted an unnamed “EU source” offering this reaction to Mr. Johnson’s new role: “Everyone in the European Parliament thinks it’s a bad joke and that the Brits have lost it.”

Then again, Mr. Johnson was a high-profile — and evidently effective — voice for leaving the EU. Mrs. May has emphasized her resolve to follow the voters’ will as the complex separation from the EU, which could take years, is achieved. So she must form a credible governing coalition, including Brexit advocates, in her Cabinet.

Some analysts also detect a savvy method to her alleged madness by putting Mr. Johnson where she can keep a better eye on him.

Ultimately, however, U.K. prime ministers, like U.S. presidents, come and go.

But for more than a century, the British-American alliance has held strong.

And in the best interests of both nations, and the world, it must endure.