As the Commons vote to trigger Article 50 and the Prime Minister publishes a White Paper outlining the 12 principles of Brexit; Theresa May is facing a divorce in a political climate within the West that has not seen this much division in recent history.
Donald Trump himself has stated that he predicted Brexit and believes it would be good for the UK. However, his protectionist stance does not align with May. This was shown in his call for a travel ban immediately following what most said was a satisfactory visit with the PM. Her lackluster and delayed response was not met with praise and indicates what instability the US could cause as the UK tries to extract itself from the EU over the next few years.
She is in the precarious position of negotiating a trade, immigration and exit deal with the EU, while maintaining her close ties with America, the UK’s key foreign ally. There is no denying that there is isolationist and divisive tendencies within the West, as shown by France’s current election race which may see the daughter of a former fascist activist win and who has herself promised an EU referendum in France within six months of taking office. However, this groundswell does not translate well into the international political space.
This disaffection with traditional government does not make democracy a lost cause and can still be harnessed to restore public trust in these institutions. This is what is missing, what people thought Trump would bring, and what they are now seeing as traits that are more suited to an episode of the apprentice.
The new president does not play by the same rules as everyone else, and therefore, although May requires our American cousins on side, in her approach to EU officials she cannot be seen to be Trump’s lapdog in a ‘UK and US against the world’ stance. There is no effective foreign policy strategy without co-operation. Discussion of issues of contention with a view to arriving at a mutually beneficial conclusion should be the goal, even when we are waving goodbye to Europe. Good relations must be maintained not only for the sake of proximity but because Britain will still have a key role within the European framework will have to work alongside other EU countries within NATO and conceive a humane and coherent strategy on helping displaced persons travelling to Europe from war torn countries.
Trump does not add to the issue of Europe, he inflames it. May cannot contain him like she can a bumbling Boris. She requires the US but not Trump. She needs a well functioning ally, not a leader who thinks he is a one man band. Trump knows this, which is why a trade deal is only to be implemented after Article 50 is triggered.
One would think with May and Trump being leaders of conservative parties that they would see eye to eye, however, one is an experienced and stoic politician, while the other is a bombastic showman. Brexit, as well as running the UK effectively, is May’s top priority and so her efforts must remain on this rather than being caught up in unnecessary wranglings (akin the Mexican President), and the only way she can do this is to herself have a robust foreign team liaising with trump to at least attempt to stay on the front foot of any future Trump surprises – if that is possible…
Image courtesy of flickr user Michael Vadon