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Trump and May Are Not Reagan and Thatcher

A closer look at what is going to be the future relationship between Donald Trump and Theresa May.

November 24, 2016

A closer look at what is going to be the future relationship between Donald Trump and Theresa May.

It is five months since Britain voted in a national plebiscite to leave the European Union. Today, the nation is uncertain and unsteady about what leaving Europe really, truly means.

In his autumn statement, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond has announced massive new government borrowing amounting to an extra £226 million a week as a result of the predicted economic slow-down resulting from Brexit.

This is in contrast to the promises made by the pro-Brexit campaigners like the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, that Britain would have an extra £350 million each week to spend on health care.

Trump’s appeal

As the bill for Brexit comes in, President-elect Trump has appealed via a tweet to Prime Minister May to nominate Nigel Farage, the rumbustious anti-European who is justifiably claiming Brexit as his personal victory, to be the next UK ambassador in America.

It is not clear if the rent-a-quote Mr Farago who is never seen without a cigarette and pint of beer would really fit in to Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue.

But other than France’s Marine Le Pen, Farage was the only European politicians of note to back Mr Trump so perhaps this is payback time.

To begin with, the spin doctors at Downing Street were proclaiming that the Theresa May-Donald Trump relationship would reproduce that which was between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Trump’s mixed signals

They briefed that the Queen had been told to extend an invitation to Trump for a full pomp and ceremony state visit with a sleep-over in Buckingham Palace as if this would bring the new president to heel and do whatever the Brits wanted.

But this had dwindled away after a second transatlantic call when Mr. Trump asked the British prime minister if she had plans to visit the United States and to make sure to look him up if she came here.

Diplomats are scratching their head as to whether that was a formal presidential invitation or not. But now even the most fervent pro-Americans and anti-Europeans are laughing all over social media at the idea that Nigel Farage should represent Britain in Washington.

Nigel’s political graph

Unlike the president-elect, Mr Farage has never ever won national office in Britain. He has tried several times to win a seat in the House of Commons but always been rejected by voters.

He has won election in low turn-out elections to the European Parliament where voters chose a party list and not individual candidates.

European Parliament elections are a great moment for a protest vote and and Mr. Farage has captured the anti-immigrant and anti-open trade passions that also helped Mr Trump to power.

Moreover, his anti-Europeanism chimes with much of the Conservative Party’s thinking egged on by mass circulation newspapers owned off-shore, notably the English press empire of Rupert Murdoch.

Successive Tory leaders refused to face down Mr. Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party. David Cameron made the historic error of conceding to a key Farage demand – for a populist plebiscite to leave Europe – and paid for it with his own political life.

Years of instability?

He bequeathed to the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, the most difficult task in British politics since Neville Chamberlain handed over to Winston Churchill after his disastrous misreading of European politics in the late 1930s.

Churchill had to set Britain back on its feet and May has to find a way out of the Brexit quagmire that David Cameron handed on to her.

Years of uncertainty lie ahead for the British economy. Does Britain stay in the EU Single Market and Customs Union and accept its rules is the key question?

The pound, which bought US$1.49 on 24 June, buys US$1.24 today. An estimated 83,000 jobs will relocate to Europe once London-based banks are no longer legally able to trade and clear in euros.

What the UK is losing out on

The boss of Jaguar Land-Rover says reducing access or placing World Trade Organisation type tariffs on cars exported to Europe will damage the UK’s flagship car-maker.

University chiefs are quaking at the loss of the £11 billion strong export earnings British universities generate by teaching 435,000 students from overseas, who anti-Europeans in UKIP and the Tory Party are targeting rather like Donald Trump targets Mexicans in America.

Every European head of government from Angela Merkel downwards has said that if the UK wants to keep trading in Europe, it cannot indulge in rosinenpickerei – cherry-picking the bits of the EU it likes but offering no solidarity on the more difficult aspects of Europe’s open economy and civil society.

This week, speaking to business leaders, Mrs May claimed that her Britain will be the “global go-to place for scientists and innovators.”

But this cannot possibly be squared with her obsession with putting up barriers to foreign university researchers and other skilled professionals who are told they are no longer welcome in Britain after a referendum campaign won largely on anti-immigrant themes.

May’s future plans

Whatever the future relationship between Donald Trump and Theresa May, with or without a role for Ambassador Farage, Britain is going to spend years trying to work out its own Europe question.

Margaret Thatcher helped unify Europe by abolishing national vetoes and conceding power to Brussels to manage the EU Single Market.

Mrs. May now has the mission impossible of taking the UK out of Europe without doing serious economic damage.

She would dearly love Nigel Farage to go and live abroad somewhere rather than be the raven on her back demanding ever more isolationism. But making him Ambassador to America is not part of her plans.


Farage was the only European politicians of note to back Mr Trump so perhaps this is payback time.

Even the most fervent pro-Americans and anti-Europeans laugh at the idea that Farage should represent UK in Washington.

Churchill had to set Britain back on its feet and May has to find a way out of the Brexit quagmire that Cameron handed on to her.

Whatever the future relationship between Trump and May, Britain will spend years trying to work out its Europe question.