President of the United States, Donald Trump, is currently on a ‘working visit’ to the UK amid widespread protests at the President’s record on treating minorities.
His visit continues today as he travels to Scotland to play golf, after meeting The Queen at Windsor Castle yesterday.
Mr Trump had made some inflammatory comments regarding the Government’s current approach to Brexit negotiations. He suggested in an interview with The Sun newspaper that the ‘softer’ approach outlined by the Prime Minister last week, in which the UK will maintain a ‘common rulebook’ with the EU, will make UK-US trade deals impossible.
Interestingly, just hours after the comments were made by the President, Mr Trump appeared to have backtracked. In a joint press conference held at Chequers, Mr Trump told reported that a US-UK trade deal “will absolutely be possible”, with Mrs May reiterating that they had plans for an “ambitious” trade deal.
In typical Trump-like language, the relationship between the UK and US was then described by the President as “the highest level of special”.
This turn around is important. Firstly, and uncharacteristically, Mr Trump told reporters that he has apologised to Mrs May for the comments in The Sun.
However, secondly, he told the conference how his advice to the PM on how to deal with the EU more effectively was “maybe too brutal” for her.
This comment gives a useful insight into how he successfully he thinks the PM is dealing with Brexit. His recent engagements with Kim Jong-Un, and in particular Vladimir Putin, evidence this.
Arguably, members of NATO, including France, Germany, Canada and UK, have more in common with the US than Russia. Yet the way Mr Trump treats each respectively is interesting and telling.
Mr Trump has recently taken swipe at NATO members, in particular, Germany, for failing to spend a target two per cent of national income in defence. The attack has been criticised by Congressional Democrats leaders as a “brazen insult” considering, amongst other things, the support NATO has shown to the USA.
The war in Afghanistan, the first and only war waged under NATO’s Article 5 collective defence obligation, in which an attack on one member is an attack on all, was triggered by September 11, 2001. In the years after the attacks, which took place in Mr Trump’s hometown of New York, soldiers from across NATO member states have given their lives for their respective countries. As of July 2018, the total number of fatalities in Afghanistan is 455 from the UK, 158 from Canada, 86 from France and 54 from Germany.
In contrast, Mr Trump has begun to embrace Vladimir Putin as a peer despite Russia’s recent hostilities across Europe. Allegations have even been raised over whether Russia has been smuggling weapons to the Taliban. However, Russia strongly denies these claims. Despite this, Mr Trump believes Putin to be the easiest to negotiate with out of Mrs May and Nato.
What does this tell us, and how is linked to his comments about his brutal approach to the EU? Clearly, it shows us that Mr Trump treats allies as enemies and enemies as allies more than any other US President.
However, beneath this, the deeper meaning is that Mr Trump respects strength. Regardless of politics, or ideological divergence, physical strength, brute force, and knee-jerk reactions, seem to be what Mr Trump is most capable of responding too. Anything more thought out, considered, or nuanced appears to be too slow and drawn out for a response.
Mr Trump therefore represents the ‘fast-food’ approach of world leaders, incompatible with Mrs May’s long drawn-out Brexit proposals.
The comments Mr Trump made about his approach being too brutal clearly show that he thinks Mrs May is not brutal, nor strong enough to command great respect by the President.
Her Proposals, despite is turn around yesterday, do not receive the Oval Office’s Seal of Approval.
As such, the relationship between the UK and US may not be “special of the highest level”, and it could be the case that Mrs May is outshone by Vladimir Putin.
On a national level, this would not be a great look for a leader who is already regarded as weak.
In her own party, undoubtedly, Mr Trump’s initial comments will have been welcomed by hardline Brexiteers, to whom, a US trade deal was a major promise in the Referendum campaign.
Equally, these comments angered MPs both sides of the house, with Labour and Conservative MPs alike arguing that Mr Trump’s comments weakened the PM, and strengthened the case for a ‘harder’ Brexit.
The PMs approach to Brexit has potentially already reduced the likelihood of a US trade deal, and with Mr Trump’s comments both about the deal, and about the PM not being brutal enough, on an international level too, this shifting of global allegiances once again shrinks the UK’s position in the world.
All eyes should, therefore, be on his meeting with Putin, in Helsinki on July 16.