Donald Trump has always been consistent on Brexit. He admired the spirit of the vote, a freedom-loving people defying their elites, as his deplorables would go on to do. He likes Britain. He dislikes the EU, which he has always regarded as a sort of protection racket for German manufacturing and an institution that gets in the way of his golf course development.
Ever since Trump’s inauguration, he has made it clear that America is ready to give Britain the ‘beautiful’ free trade deal that so excites Brexiteers. But he and his advisers have been consistently disappointed by May’s insistence that she must stick by E.U. terms and regulations at the expense of improving and deepening the UK-US relationship. For May, it seems, the special relationship is not across Atlantic.
Trump has reiterated his disappointment today by saying that May’s Withdrawal Agreement “sounds like a great deal for the EU”. He added that “we have to take a look seriously about whether or not the UK is allowed to trade… Right now if you look at the deal they may not be able to trade with the US. I don't think they want that at all.” He means a special UK-US bilateral trading relationship.
This is a shame, in his eyes, since he was so well disposed to Brexit. According to a former senior White House source, when May went to visit him soon after his inauguration in early 2017, he offered the Prime Minister her a temporary and even immediate Free Trade Agreement but she declined, saying it would ‘jeopardise’ negotiations with the EU. It’s also quite possible she didn’t want to be seen cooperating with such a toxic figure as Donald Trump.
There been a distinct diplomatic pattern when it comes to Trump and Brexit: he makes an enthusiastic albeit perhaps inappropriate gesture. The British turn him down pat. So Trump then makes the controversial-but-blindingly obvious point that May has botched Britain’s opportunity.
Remember what the President said about Brexit in that notorious Sun interview when he came in July: he said May had ‘wrecked’ Brexit and her plans would ‘kill’ any trade deal. During that visit, he reportedly advised May she should sue the E.U. for better terms. Again, she ignored him.
Well, in as much as Trump dwells on Britain at all — not much I’m afraid — he still thinks the same way. In his mind, Brexit was, like his election, something special. But Mrs May has ruined it because she doesn’t get the ‘art of the deal’. The E.U., if anything, must have gone up in his estimations, since with their backstoppery, they’ve shown how leverage works.
No doubt Trump hasn’t the foggiest as to the technicalities of Brexit or the complexity of the Irish border question. But he has strong gut instinct for power, and a habit of spotting winners and losers. And he’s seen enough of May’s administration to know what he thinks.