Big in the USA: Theresa May to Meet Trump
If you are just waking out of a coma, then the feeling of entering a crazy world must be overwhelming. But, if you are still baffled, yes, Britain has made it to the US and the PM will be the first foreign leader to meet with President Trump. Hopefully, this won’t be a rushed marriage of convenience, and her heart will remain true to her “people.”
Everybody is awaiting the PM Theresa May’s Friday meeting with Trump that is guaranteed to forge a special relationship, because as she jokingly said, “opposites attract.” A joint press conference with President Trump will follow at 1pm (6pm in Britain). With any luck, Trump will make sure how to spell her name, since in a memo released to the media by the White House, announcing May’s meeting with Trump, her name was misspelled three times.
Trump, referring to the meeting and its significance in discussing a future trade deal between the US and the UK, complained that Democrats have yet to confirm his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. Earlier on Thursday, addressing Republican lawmakers, he said: “I don't have my commerce secretary -- they [UK] want to talk trade. So, I'll have to handle it myself. Which is okay."
May’s speech to Republicans in Philadelphia
On Thursday, talking to Republicans in Philadelphia, Theresa May delivered a speech soothing to the ears of her “fellow Conservatives,” reminding them of their shared principles: liberty, work, nationhood, economic prudence, patriotism, and “putting power in the hands of the people.”
The last reference, of course, points to the Brexiteers’ campaign, driven mostly by right-wing populists Boris Johnson and Ukip’s Nigel Farage, and Trump’ own campaign brand of right-wing populism. In many ways, May and Trump don’t just represent the established conservative views of their parties, but they are also at the centre of a right-wing populist movement that disregards the complexities of economic and political problems, only to offer simple, black and white explanations. For May and Trump, also share also the same enemy: the EU and immigration; both interconnected by distrust to globalisation. The similarities were noticed by Republican Congressman Kevin Cramer, who wondered after listening to May’s speech, “Is this Donald Trump’s long lost sister?”
In her speech, May also warned about Russia, advising caution: "We should not jeopardise the freedoms that President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher brought to Eastern Europe by accepting President Putin’s claim that it is now in his sphere of influence." On Friday, the Russian Embassy in the UK tweeted a reply in the form of a poem: “‘Engage but beware,’ Prime Minister said. As far as we’re aware, Cold War was long dead.”
But, she also rebuked previous UK and US governments’ attitudes “to remake the world in our own image” through military interventions, suggesting that she might be more clearheaded in her foreign policy. However, when there is real threat, she advocated cooperation and action to help “our friends and allies in democratic countries.”
She insisted on Nato, even though Trump has consistently called it “obsolete” and that it would need to be updated to focus on terrorism. For May, Nato is important for its role in controlling Russian aggression.
She was given three standing ovations by Republican congressmen, while tabloids in the UK celebrated her speech as a “hit”, with some trying out their Americanisms: “She nailed it.”
Her meeting on Friday in the Oval Office will focus on trade, security, intelligence and the future of Nato. At the moment, due to the UK’s current withdrawal process from the EU, no trade deals can be negotiated with the US, but Trump wants to sign a quick deal in the foreseeable future.
May has been warned by Lord Wood not to appear “too fawning or chummy by his side” and to “be professional” regarding the meetings, her clothes and the handshakes so that everything she does is for the protection of the British national interest. But as always, the speedy and efficient Nigel Farage tweeted valuable advice: “Britain should crack on with a UK/US trade deal. What can they do, kick us out?”
But, Speedy Gonzales should display some form of patience, because May might be giving too many things away, and too easily. The type of a MacDonald’s super-fast, indulgent deal spiced with self-aggrandising compliments to offer instant satisfaction might be detrimental in the long run.
This is particularly important when it comes to the NHS and May’s refusal to clarify whether the NHS will be part of a US trade deal. The possibility that US firms might be taking over the NHS, turning it into a crippled version of Medicare is frightening. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said that May should be more clear: “Hollowing out our health service in the name of a trade deal with the US would be an utter betrayal of most of those who voted to leave the EU.”
The other big thing that stands out and will be crucial in the ways this special relationship pans out is what a former State Department official, Jeremy Shapiro, said about Trump’s character and his opinion of May. Shapiro said, “but Trump has her boxed up in her domestic politics — the problem of Farage, her need to control the Brexit wing of her party and her need to fashion a Brexit that won’t destroy her prime ministership.” Shapiro stressed that Trump dislikes the special relationship of Reagan and Thatcher; he “can’t stand that.” And most importantly, Shapiro said that Trump will see May’s desperate desire to meet him as weakness: “There’s no way Trump will say it that way face-to-face, but later it will come through in the relationship and in any U.S.-U.K. trade deal.” Shapiro said that Trump admires leaders who don’t ask for early meetings because they are usually the strongest. It was suggested that May’s early meeting would lead to an unfavourable deal, but Trump’s unpredictability can turn everything upside down.
At the moment, we can only wish that May retains her posture and doesn’t turn into a horrible caricature, like Blair who was accused of being Bush’s poodle. May might appear to be begging for dog biscuits, but she wouldn’t take any leftovers. And who knows, she might bite, too.