28 Jan 2017

From President Trump to Erdogan: Theresa May’s tour

In Philadelphia only two days ago, the Prime Minister repeated to Republican Congress members the words of Churchill: let us forever be “proclaiming in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man.”

Well, not “forever” maybe.

As her plane flew straight over London heading for Ankara, President Trump was back to his Executive Orders, this time barring all refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Did he tell her he was about to do this? Apparently not. Does she mind? She’s just been asked that in Ankara. She dodged the question three times and then eventually said: “The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.”

The question came at a press conference in the Prime Minister’s offices. These used to be the offices of the President before he up-scaled a couple of years ago to a grand, out-sized palace on the other side of town. As the President hopes to abolish the post of Prime Minister as part of his draconian constitutional reforms it’s not clear what will happen to it next.

Earlier, Mrs May had lunch with President Erdogan hjmself. He has locked up more journalists than China. The UK objected to the coup against him. Now he’s engaged on a bit of a counter-coup, crushing dissent in the country and hoping to win a referendum in April that could turn Turkey into a police state, with him cemented in at the top until 2029.

Mrs May did this morning say in front of President Erdogan at a press encounter: “It is important that Turkey sustains democracy by maintaining rule of law and upholding its international human rights obligations.” But many of the 27 staying inside the EU would’ve been sharper in their language and they wouldn’t have announced as she just did that an arms deal to help Turkey build TFX Fighter Jets is back on (having been suspended after the military coup attempt).

Mrs May is building up an interesting travel history that begins to paint a picture. She was first over the threshold to see the US President, the first Western leader to visit President Erdogan since the coup and, only last year, Mrs May addressed the Gulf Council in Bahrain trying to boost arms deals to the region. She is definitely not squeamish about this sort of thing.

There was an expectation before they even landed here amongst the No. 10 team that President Erdogan and his team would fall upon the visitors for any intelligence on the new US President. But the truth is that the talks in the White House yesterday appear to have been light on detailed foreign policy and heavy on chats about Brexit and nostalgia-layered bonding.

Instead, Mrs May has talked with President Erdogan about improving trade, fighting ISIS together and his plans for Syria. President Erdogan was no fan of President Obama and will be hoping the US administration moves towards his view of who are the real allies in the Syrian war and who are not. He’s no fan of the EU after he feels they reneged on a cash for taking refugees deal. Mrs May is expected to urge him not to open the door for more refugees to move into the EU for fear it could trigger another crisis that Europe is unable to cope with.

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