Nick Cohen

Theresa May’s Trumpian delusions

Theresa May's Trumpian delusions
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The Tory press is swooning because Mrs May will on Friday become the first foreign leader to visit Donald Trump. Think of that! We are still top of the world; still, after all these years, at the front of the queue to pay tribute to the new emperor of the West.

Despite everything, and the cruel effects of the passage of time, when flirty America wants a relationship, we are what we have always been: ‘the special one’.

As Mrs May herself will tell the president,

So as we rediscover our confidence together – as you renew your nation just as we renew ours – we have the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to renew the special relationship for this new age. We have the opportunity to lead, together, again.

If there were a semblance of rational thought behind the PM’s ecstatic fantasies, I could forgive the excess. All countries need allies, and British foreign policy has always been based on alliances that promote our national interests.

Here are a few of ours.

We have an interest hard won over two world wars and one cold war to maintain the peace of Europe. Regardless of whether you think the Kremlin has blackmailed Donald Trump or bribed him or both, he is the first US president since Herbert Hoover  to regard European security as a burden. The Russian annexation of the Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine are small matters to him, and I cannot see that changing. The thugs of the new right in its Trumpian and Faragist manifestations, and the trash of the Corbynite left, are united in their common admiration for Putin. The key point for our diplomats to grasp is that they would stay united even if he wasn’t bribing them, as he has certainly bribed Marine le Pen. .

The old ditty about hacks applies to the alt-right

You cannot hope to bribe or twist

(thank God!) the British journalist.

But, seeing what the man will do

unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

They admire the contempt for democracy and human rights, the Russia First foreign policy, and the success of the Kremlin’s lies (a success they have every intention of emulating.) Trump’s Breitbart gang can even try a strategic argument: America’s enemies are China and Islamic state. The US should seek an alliance with Russia against both, and let Europe go hang. For them, Russia is a friend because it is a power that it is conservative, Christian and, above all else, white.

Beyond the white nationalists, all Americans can ask with justice, why they should commit blood and treasure to a rich continent more than able to afford its own defence.

Opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons is also a declared aim of British foreign policy for obvious reasons. Trump doesn’t agree with it. We are also against torture for moral and practical reasons. Trump is not so sure.

We have a strategic interest in maintaining the Iran agreement, as wars in the Middle East are wars among Europe’s neighbours. Trump may want to tear it up.

Finally, and I appreciate I will offend Spectator commentators with my appalling political correctness here, but hard truths have to be faced. British foreign policy is not entirely shitty. Whatever disagreements I and others have with Mrs May, we must concede that her government does not seek to denigrate and abuse women or mock the disabled. It is not clearly racist in its attitudes to Mexicans, blacks and Muslims. Although her ministers lie on occasion to get themselves out of holes, they do not tell gigantic lies all the time, just for the fun of it, to keep in practice, and as a matter of course, and then scream abuse at everyone who corrects them the truth.

Freddy Gray and Gabby Morrongiello, White House correspondent for the Washington Examiner, analyse the first days of Trump:

Trump does, and as he does it, he raises the basic question: how can the Prime Minister believe a single assurance he gives her in Washington?

For all these reasons, May ought to be able to accept the possibility that the American alliance we have had since Pearl Harbour may be over, or at least in a state of suspension until Trump leaves power. But how can she?

The logical shift in British foreign policy ought to be to hug our European allies close. We should be cooperating on defence, asking what we should do if the US abandons NATO, and agreeing a common policy on Russian aggression. We cannot because at the moment Trump is threatening our American alliance, Brexit is tearing up our European alliance.

Far from worrying how exposed Britain is becoming, the Tory party and Tory press have decided that our enemy now is not radical Islam or autocratic Russia but the EU. According to the Prime Minister, when European leaders say that, if you leave a club, you cannot enjoy the benefits of a club, they not stating the obvious but seeking to 'punish' Britain. This is not just a slip of a tongue by May but the true voice of her government and of a right-wing press, which disastrously for our national interest is widely read on the continent, and taken to be the true voice of the country

I saw how deep the rot had sunk when I spoke at meeting organised by Prospect alongside Sir Christopher Meyer, our former ambassador to Washington the other day. I  listened as an otherwise sensible and congenial man slowly lost his marbles. He began sanely enough. Meyer said he banned all his staff from using the words ‘special relationship’  in the Washington Embassy. The Americans did not believe in this baby talk, and would always seek to screw us in negotiations, not least because American negotiators were always lawyers, and screwing the other side was what lawyers do. Meyer listed the ways British and Trump’s foreign policy were now at odds, I  listed above, and added a few of his own.

But then, like a car skidding on an oil patch, Meyer  flew off the road. He pointed out with smug pride, that in an interview with the Times, Trump has said he thought the UK was ‘so smart in getting out’ of the EU, while being disobliging about Angela Merkel. Or as Sir Christopher called her ‘our adversary’.

There you have it: Britain’s new foreign policy consensus. A German chancellor, who does not threaten us, is our enemy. A US administration, which may ally with a Russia that actually does threaten us, is our friend. Meanwhile an avowedly protectionist, America First President is so in love with us he will give trade terms so – to coin a phrase, ‘special’ – they will compensate for the loss of our single market membership.

Anglosphere fantasies. Needy and demeaning teenage bleats about special relationships. These are all distraction techniques from a Brexit establishment that has lost the capacity to face reality. That reality is, in case you had not noticed, that we are now alone in a dangerous world that owes us nothing.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

Topics in this articlePoliticstheresa may