13 Jul 2018

Trump undermines May then praises her to the heights

In searing heat on the lawns of Chequers, Donald Trump laid it on with a trowel to Theresa May. We are becoming used to the sequence of offence given greatly, accusations that he’s been misunderstood and then proclamations that he reveres the individual in question.

We got an Olympic class display of those skills today as the President stood next to the Prime Minister he’d grossly undermined in a newspaper interview published overnight. It was all “fake news” he claimed, even though great chunks of the exchanges were available as audio on The Sun website. He didn’t seem convinced of his case enough to attack the journalist who conducted the interview when Theresa May pointed out he was in the seats laid out for the outdoor press conference.

President Trump revealed he had apologised to Theresa May over breakfast this morning for a sustained and acutely painful attack last night as she hosted him for dinner at Blenheim Palace. Talk about ingratitude. In the interview the President accused her of betraying the referendum electorate, dragging out the negotiations for too long, not listening to his advice and setting things off in a direction that would hug Europe close and make a US/ U.K. free trade agreement impossible.

At the podium today the President pulled back on the lot or claimed he’d been misquoted. Mrs May, as penance for his bad behaviour, extracted a pledge that there could be an full-scale FTA between the U.K. and the US even though, as President Trump correctly said, the White Paper published yesterday would make that unlikely to say the least.

On the way out I spotted MPs from the pro-Brexit ERG in the car park who were waiting to see Mrs May for tea. They were distinctly disbelieving of the idea that a US/U.K. free trade agreement was now possible and determined to join the ERG rebellion planned for next week on the Trade Bill if the government goes ahead with current plans. They want to pull policy back to where they think her earlier speeches had planted it, closer to the alternative White Paper, written by David Davis’ old team at DEXEU, which has been appearing on the ConHome website.

Mrs May could be forgiven for wondering which is the real Donald Trump. Is it the man who fuels these backbenchers at a time of acute instability in the party and gives them all the rhetorical ammunition they need to mount the barricades? That man can seem closely related to the one who tweets snippy criticism of world leaders from the sanctuary of the White House. Or is it the man who says something warmer and gushing when he’s standing next to you and about to take tea with The Queen?

So President Trump has undermined the PM only to praise her to the heights. The relationship with the U.K. is now beyond special, super special. He has, incidentally, visited 17 countries in his presidency before getting here. Theresa May has wowed him over two days, he said, in meetings at NATO and in the U.K.

The man proclaiming fake news in a few answers produced a few easily verifiable porkies of his own: US contribution to NATO figures, German reliance on Russian energy and his regularly repeated claim that he was in the U.K. on the eve of the EU referendum and predicted, in Scotland, on camera, that Leave would win. He wasn’t, he didn’t, though they did.

He insisted there was a “lot of love in the room” at the NATO gathering, which is not e takeaway you get from other NATO sources who seemed deeply alarmed by his rhetoric in Brussels and not at all convinced he’d got the new commitments he has been boasting about since the meeting.

And when asked about his words to The Sun about how Europe was “losing your culture” with immigration, the proud descendant of migrants to the US sounded like he was making a barely concealed distinction between migrants of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The great disruptor instinctively distrusts multi-lateral organisations like NATO and all NATO members now hold their breath wondering what he will say when he is side by side with President Putin next week. It could be stuff that is much harder to unsay than the criticisms of the British Prime Minister and her Brexit policy.

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