The New Special Relationship
Theresa May's desperate attempts at making Donald Trump post-Brexit Britain's most important partner will prove to be a dangerous political liability
Do opposites really attract? Photo: Twitter/KNE
During the American elections and until 20 January most pundits agreed that Trump’s outrageous statements must be taken seriously, however not literally. The last week proved them wrong. He signed numerous executive orders, repealing Obamacare, banning international abortion counselling, withdrawing from TPP, building the wall and making Mexico (!) pay for it, building two controversial pipelines with "American steel", drastically decreasing regulations and - his most controversial move - an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and a temporary ban on arrivals from 7 Muslim-majority countries. While all of these executive orders are very short-sighted and targeting the wrong causes, the latter has been nearly unanimously condemned throughout the entire political spectrum, especially outside of the US. All European politicians in the political mainstream were quick to publicly voice their opposition. Yet, when Theresa May was asked at a press conference in Turkey - apparently an important post-Brexit partner - on Saturday about her position on the executive order, she declined to answer three times and stated that the “United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.” Only after much pressure from the public did No. 10 finally release a statement that the prime minister “does not agree” with Trump on this issue.
"I dealt with Qaddafi. I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn't let him use the land. That's what we should be doing. I don't want to use the word 'screwed', but I screwed him. That's what we should be doing.” Donald Trump in a March 2011 phone interview with "Fox and Friends"
May’s hesitant reaction appears to be part of a greater strategy: to cosy up and avoid confrontation with the new administration and find the post-Brexit partners she so desperately needs. She even invited him for a state visit to the UK this summer, even though Bush’s and Obama’s state visits only took place over two years after their inaugurations. It is quite obvious that this was just a move to suck up to Trump and quite clearly placing trade over principles and values. This is in stark contrast to the message she was giving the British public before she left for the US on Thursday. She claimed she would exert pressure to persuade Trump to abandon his counterproductive policies. Yet, in the press conference on Friday she seemed overly eager to give the appearance of the two being best friends and the “special relationship” continuing as usual. This in itself isn’t a problem, however failing to even mention any disagreements and completely ignoring the new administration’s controversial - and highly contradictory - first moves is, at the very least, questionable. Trump didn’t even bother to mention NATO. May had to highlight that the new president is “100 percent behind NATO”. When asked by a reporter whether Trump really stands behind his words, despite being “known in the past to change position[s] on things”, he stressed that “I really don’t change my position very much”.
In an interview with The Times and "Bild" Zeitung a couple of days before his inauguration he was still of the opinion that “NATO was obsolete”. He further continued, “it’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right ... With that being said, NATO is very important to me.“ Not to mention the contradictory message he is trying to send to America’s most important allies, it is pretty clear that he is not “100 percent behind NATO”. Needless to say, the first and only time all NATO countries collectively defended a member state was after the September 11 attacks.
“I don’t hire a lot of number-crunchers, and I don’t trust fancy marketing surveys. I do my own surveys and draw my own conclusions.”
― Donald J. Trump, Trump: The Art of the Deal
Trump is also known to be a great supporter of Brexit, which he was eager to point out at the joint press conference with May, who, by the way, voted and campaigned to remain in the European Union. But of course, now she is Ms Brexit. Or in Trump’s words: the “people person”. In the interview with the two papers Trump again stressed his support for Brexit. Similar to his view on NATO and multilateral trade agreements, he is deeply sceptical about the European Union. He told Michael Gove and Kai Diekmann: “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.” However, the day before the EU referendum Trump said: “I don’t think anybody should listen to me, because I haven’t really focused on it very much, but my inclination would be to get out, because you know, just go it alone.” This should be highly alarming to both the UK and the EU. Post-Brexit Britain can’t just rely on the goodwill of the United States; the success of Britain also depends on a stable and prosperous EU and access to the single market. After all, it trades half of its goods with the EU. Just to name an example, in 2015, 45% of all cars built in the UK were exported to the single market and many of the suppliers are located throughout the entire EU. Making a clear cut between the highly interlinked economies in the European Union will be highly disruptive.
Trump’s opposition to the EU and support for Brexit has nothing to do with his love for the UK. It is part of an ideology promoted by the alt-right and European right-wing populists. After he appointed Steven Bannon as his Chief Strategist and a member of the National Security Council, the influence of the movement on the president became undeniable. Bannon turned the conservative Breitbart News website into the platform of the alt-right that spread numerous fake news stories in support of Trump. Moreover, European populists, especially Nigel Farage, have maintained close ties with Trump. Farage even campaigned for him and was the first foreign politician to visit Trump Tower only 4 days after the election. In a slightly overenthusiastic move Trump even suggested on Twitter that the UK government name Farage as the next ambassador to the United States.
Together they will make the special relationship great again. (Photo: Nigel Farage/Twitter
Marine Le Pen also visited the golden offices a week before the inauguration. The administration’s prospective new ambassador to the European Union is rumoured to be Ted Malloch. On BBC Two’s This Week he was quite open about his views on the European Union and doesn’t hide his ambitions at working towards the demise of that very organisation. Putting the UK at the front of the queue for future trade deals should be seen as part of a strategy promoted by the alt-right and Farage to destroy the European project at all costs.
“Well, I had in a previous year a diplomatic post where I helped to bring down the Soviet Union, so maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming.” Ted Malloch, prospective new Ambassador to the European Union
But a trade deal with the “America first” president will prove to be highly controversial in the UK, especially those who are in support of a universal and free healthcare system or high environmental and food standards. On 21 January, over 100,000 Londoners attended the Women’s March. Yesterday over 10,000 protested in London against the “Muslim ban” and the way the UK government dealt with the issue. Another protest is already planned for 4 February, with over 20,000 interested in attending the event on Facebook.
Indeed, Trump is one of the least liked world leaders in Britain (and the rest of Europe) and making the future of the country dependent on him, while at the same time distancing the UK from its European neighbours, is not in the long-term interest of the UK. Trump’s closeness to Farage, who also doesn’t hold very favourable opinions, should be a concern to the British government, as their interests differ quite considerably. However, if May continues to give Trump her unquestionable support and fail to condemn his ignorant and contradictory policies, she is supporting the vision of the ugly future of Bannon and Farage (where liberalism, feminism, political correctness and supranational organisations do not exist). Trump’s apparent willingness to give the UK a “great” trade deal should be viewed suspiciously by the UK and Europe. As the prospective new American ambassador to the EU made quite clear, it could potentially serve as a tool to ruin the political union and return to Trump’s vision of a cold war-esque foreign policy, where friends and enemies are clearly defined. Needless to say, that era has long passed and Trump’s outrageous policies are doomed to fail. May’s decision to give Trump her seemingly unquestionable support and announce a state visit within the first week of his presidency could prove to be a dangerous political liability. Many Brits across the political spectrum are infuriated and she risks to further complicate Britain's relationship with the EU.
“Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.”
― Donald J. Trump, Trump: The Art of the Deal