Justin Bowie’s politics: May and Trump – difficult diplomacy

By Justin Bowie

When the UK voted to leave the European Union last June, the desire to ‘take back control’ was seen as the central reason. Quite what the phrase meant was often left open to interpretation. To some, taking back control was linked to Britain being able to control net migration from other EU countries. For others, it was so that Britain would be able to regain what they believed to be a lost sovereignty, after years in a union they argued had become increasingly political and federalised.

It should surely be a shame for those who voted with such intentions, then, that Theresa May’s actions in regards to Donald Trump have demonstrated the weak bargaining position her country holds in any trade negotiations, and that any sovereignty we have gained is undermined by our subservient position to the US.

In the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Trump, there was a general feeling that Britain and the US – often close allies – would grow closer again. Trump himself, after all, appeared to be keen on starting a dialogue regarding any trade agreement, and his own antipathy towards the European Union could only benefit Britain. Irrespective of his controversial views, the idea seemed like a positive one from a British perspective; Trump’s comments contrasting with Obama’s more stony suggestion that the UK would find itself at the back of the queue.

The problem with such a view, however, is that any assessment of Trump which portrays him as holding British interests at heart is an incredibly generous one. The President himself will know that he is in a far more powerful position than Theresa May. In the aftermath of Brexit, the British Prime Minister will have to be seen to be making key trade deals with other nations, irrespective of what they entail, and she will be in no position to deny whatever Trump offers.

Trump will be aware of the fact that he holds the upper hand in any key negotiations, and – with his past as a rather ruthless businessman in mind – will no doubt be keen to exert his own influence and power if it is to his benefit.

May’s lack of condemnation of Trump’s latest plans to ban people from certain Middle Eastern countries from the US, with the exception of those in which he has business interests, has been rather telling. While it is not the role of a senior politician to meddle in foreign affairs and try to exert influence where they are not wanted, Trump’s plans extend to citizens holding dual nationality who were born in one of the banned countries.

This means that one of Theresa May’s own Conservative MP’s is no longer allowed to enter Trump’s US. Such a policy will likely affect more Brits, and in some cases may be detrimental to their lives if they are expected to enter the country for working reasons.

In such cases May should be expected to voice her firm disapproval. The Prime Minister has a duty to speak up for her own citizens if the policies of a foreign nation are expected to affect them in a particularly negative manner, and her initial lack of reaction demonstrates her impotence in dealing with the US.

If May feels as if she cannot disagree publicly with Trump, fearing a potential breakdown in relations, then the concept that Britain has in any way taken back control over their own affairs after voting to leave the EU seems like an incredibly tenuous one.