For Britain, Davos was Trump deciding whether he wants to have a jolly holiday in the UK continues as Trump and Theresa May tried to decide what does their special relationship goes from here. Things can be patched up, but few relationships survive harsh words, broken promises, and bad faith. Even a relationship as deep and as long-lasting as the UK-US relationship may one day reach a breaking point. It may not happen under Trump’s watch, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise anyone. The special relationship has become an awkward alliance for Britain and Theresa May.
For now, Trump is all charm and good intentions. A bilateral talk with Theresa May seemed to go well and he even apologized for that one time he retweeted material from a far-right political group based in the UK. The issue wasn’t raised by Theresa May, but it was certainly nice of Trump to apologize.
Of course, it’s easy to praise him for the apology now. It would have been nicer if Trump had deleted the retweets and publicly apologize then rather than publicly lambasted Theresa May on Twitter for her muted condemnation. Saying he retweeted it because he was concerned about ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ is a bit like saying you support the KKK because you’re concerned about black unemployment.
On the plus side, Trump admits his love for Britain. Great place, wonderful people, strong leader (yeah, right!) and America will always have its back. They like each other a lot, so that’s nice. It’s also crucial for Theresa May since crashing out of Europe means Britain needs America’s trade more than ever. Much like Europe, it’ll be interesting see whether Britain’s trade will win out over America First. Despite Trump’s assurances, those further down the government chain know that it’s will be just as difficult as any of Britain’s Brexit agonies, but for now, Theresa May will kiss the ring of Emperor Trump.
Inevitably, the question of the state visit came up and once again, nothing is confirmed. There seems to be a push for Trump to come later in the year, possibly October, although details are still muddled. Trump claims that the visit in October will be a State visit which will involve meeting the Queen and riding in the coveted golden carriage. Meanwhile, Downing Street is hoping to get another ‘working visit’ first before the State visit, a sort of dress rehearsal before the main event.
The matter has been a sore point for both leaders. Theresa May made the offer within days of Trump taking office last year, but both sides have been mired in the controversy and the fallout that followed. The State visit has yet to be finalized and Trump’s planned trip in February to open the new US embassy was called off in wake of Trump retweeting far-right material. He blamed the sale of the old US embassy which he claimed to be unhappy with, shifting the blame to Obama even though the decision was made under George Bush.
Trump is even reported to have said that he won’t come to Britain unless there are no large protests and a warm welcome all the way along. He’ll be waiting for a long time as people across the country have vowed to form one of the biggest protests since the Iraq War. British politicians are urging Theresa May to cancel the visit and even the Speaker of the House of Commons, normally impartial in political matters, declared that he would not let Trump speak in Parliament to cheers.
Trump and Theresa May know full well that few people will welcome Trump on his visit. Trump’s annoyance at not being invited to Prince Harry’s marriage to Megan Markle has raised an even bigger storm, even when Harry wanted to invite the Obama family. The meeting of royals, which may include Prince Charles, Prince William, and Kate Middleton among others, has caused much concern that Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks may herald a diplomatic faux-pas.
It would have been better for Theresa May to wait a little longer. Inviting Trump so soon was bound to cause trouble. Many US president had to wait at least a year or two before being invited. The speed of Trump’s invitation is as much a sign of Britain’s desperation as it is a sign of a lack of common sense.
One more moment that skirted the edge of tragi-comedy was Brexit. In an interview with Piers Morgan, Trump boasted that he would have negotiated Brexit differently, perhaps implying that he would have done a much better job.
So, just to recap: Trump is saying that he could negotiate one of the most complex economic and political divorces in Britain’s history on an issue that has sharply divided Britain’s people and politics and come out of it with a better deal than anything that Theresa May, his government, and the whole civil service could come out with. Does Trump really think that a relationship that has lasted 40 years and reaches into almost every facet of the economy can be so easily negotiated? Trump wanted to be tough on Brexit, tougher than Theresa May was when she repeatedly threatened to walk out without a deal and leave everyone hanging.
Perhaps for Trump, it is really that simple. Fine! Great! Good for him! Perhaps we should let Trump take control and see if he really can do it. It would be quite a thing to witness: Trump telling the British people that he’s going to build a big, beautiful wall along the Irish border and make the Republic of Ireland pay for it. Maybe the European Union, the Republic of Ireland and the IRA will understand why it has to be done. Maybe.
For Britain, the inglorious soap opera saga continues.