Boris Johnson is absolutely right to say that his successor as London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has behaved like a ‘puffed up pompous popinjay’ about Donald Trump’s cancelled visit to Britain. And they aren’t the only ones. The whole ‘Trump visit’ story has become an embarrassing mass exercise in British grandstanding.
In fact, if you want a perfect example of British delusional thinking look not at Brexit, look instead at the way we have handled the prospect President Donald J Trump’s arrival on our shores. Nothing better illustrates our sense of self-importance, our priggishness, and our ability to convince ourselves of rubbish if it makes us feel good.
Long before Trump was the Republican nominee, our Parliament had a full debate about banning him from our shores because he had said right-wing things we deemed unacceptable. MPs actually discussed whether Trump was such a threat to British values that he should be blocked from entry or whether he should be taken to a curry house in order to show what a wonderfully diverse country we are.
Then, after Trump shocked the world by becoming president, the idea of his UK visit turned into a bigger controversy — here, at least. Theresa May was called an ‘appeaser’ for inviting our most powerful ally to visit Britain. There were protests about the very idea of Trump being treated as a dignitary; stuffy monarchists fretted that he might say something inappropriate to the Queen.
Whitehall, fearing violence on the streets, drew up plans for a ‘dummy run’ — a low-key flying visit to test the waters of public opinion towards Trump. Trump would see the Prime Minister but not stay the night in Buckingham Palace. Nobody seemed to think about whether the President of America (and especially the current one) might not be willing to be treated like a bad smell, or even that it was worth his while visiting Britain more than once.
Meanwhile, our rivals on the global stage had no such frets. President Macron, the French president who was elected largely because he presented himself as an anti-Trump, promptly rolled out the reddest of carpets to welcome Trump to Paris on Bastille Day. The French did not really protest; thousands came out and waved flags and cheered. French magazines talked up how glamorous Melania Trump looked. Nobody called Macron an appeaser.
Then, late last year, Trump wounded British pride by retweeting anti-Muslim Britain First videos. This stupid act forced Theresa May to rebuke him — she could hardly have ignored it given the outcry. The left immediately went further, again demanding the cancellation of Trump’s visit, the rescinding of the invite. People like Owen Jones essentially threatened political violence (although I doubt Owen himself would do anything too rough) if Trump turned up.
Well, it worked. Trump has now cancelled the visit, citing concerns about objections raised to the moving of the US embassy in London. Everybody knows it’s really because of all the fuss and fury that he would generate. As Khan said, so self-satisfied, Trump has ‘got the message.’
That is, the American Commander-in-Chief, the most powerful man on the planet, reckons, in as much as he thinks of us at all, that Britain is probably too unfriendly a place for him. The trouble is, while our transatlantic friendship, the so-called special relationship, matters to us quite a lot, especially with Brexit looming, it is considerably less important to the US. No doubt Trump would greatly enjoy being treated like a king by the queen — he’s spoken warmly about the ‘pomp and circumstance’ of British public life and about what an avid monarchist his Scottish mother was. But he has rather bigger matters on his plate. Indeed the obvious feebleness of Trump’s excuse for not coming suggests that Great Britain is fairly low on his list of his priorities. Yet the left and Twittersphere are crowing as if they have resisted a determined enemy and defended Britain’s honour. What a silly, vain people we are!