Trump’s retweeting of the far-right group Britain First placed new pressure on the ‘special relationship’ this week. But with the US an important strategic partner for ‘Global Britain’, Ben Stetson asks how the Prime Minister can demonstrate the need for cordial relations whilst recognising Trump’s low approval rating in the UK.
The Prime Minister left Westminster behind this week to forge new friendships, attempting to charm the modernising Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. An older friend across the pond however chose to promote some objectionable material through his usual channels. May suddenly found MPs on both side of the House demanding the Government cancel President Trump’s state visit in the New Year, and commentators speculating on the seemingly vulnerable special relationship.
The debate over whether the UK should roll out the red carpet for President Trump ticks on. However it poses a greater, more serious, looming question: can the UK ‘go global’ post-Brexit without the USA? There is no doubt that Brexit has already altered the perception of British influence on the world stage, but will we need the USA to help us chart our new course?
In order to maximise the opportunities of Brexit we need to leverage what influence we have to get a good deal with Europe, but also secure bilateral deals across the world. Without America’s bulldozing influence, this could provide a tricky task. Unfortunately, right now, the ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda is isolationist at a time when we need it to be looking outwards.
So what does this all mean for the Prime Minister? May made a popular and – given her Cabinet’s public outrage – an important decision to call Trump out on his endorsement of Britain First’s messages. She earned political points across the spectrum domestically, but also internationally. Though there is not much time available for backslapping…there is still a potential state visit from President Trump in 2018 to consider.
Whatever the agenda, whatever the weather, May knows that if the visit is to go ahead it must do so seamlessly. ‘Global Britain’ requires the USA to be an asset, not a liability.
This latest controversy makes the argument for welcoming Trump even more difficult to spin. Lobby hacks and snappers are rubbing their hands together thinking of what might be; an inappropriate comment from the President to Her Majesty is not beyond the realms of possibility. Squaring the UK’s reliance on a good transatlantic relationship with the public’s widespread disdain for Trump will be one of May’s toughest communications tests yet.