Tune out all the noise around Brexit, and read what Donald Trump said today:
‘I’m surprised at how badly it’s all gone from the standpoint of a negotiation,’ he told reporters at a bilateral meeting with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. ‘But I gave the Prime Minister my ideas on to negotiate it and I think you would have been successful. She didn’t listen to that and that’s fine, she’s got to do what she’s got to do, but I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner, frankly. I hate to see everything being ripped apart now. I don’t think another vote would be possible because it would be very unfair to the people that won … But I thought it would happen, it did happen, it’s a very tough situation.’
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 14, 2019
The Independent called these remarks an ‘extraordinary attack.’ But it isn’t extraordinary and it isn’t an attack. In fact, Donald Trump has for the last two years been remarkably consistent on Brexit. Throughout the process, he has done nothing but offer the British government friendship and a trade deal. He made the same offer this morning. The British government has not responded in kind.
Trumphobes and Whitehall experts will scoff. Britain can’t just replace EU trade with American trade, they say, when nobody has suggested that it can. (A tariff-free relationship with the world’s most powerful economy might be useful, though, you never know.)
Trump is an idiot, he doesn’t understand the complexities, they say. But so what? I am not sure anybody quite understands the Brexit riddle.
Trump has Nigel Farage whispering in his ear, they say, as if that were the worst thing in the world.
Trump told May that she should sue the EU, they scoff. How ridiculous! Well, how’s the Prime Minister’s preferred approach working out?
For various reasons, the British government has never been able to compute the idea that – no matter how much people may dislike the 45th president – he is our friend on Brexit. It could have been useful for Britain to have had a bilateral relationship with his administration, especially in the context of our departure from the EU.
It should have been possible to take advantage of the fact that, for various psychological reasons, Trump sees himself as sun to Brexit moon. But it wasn’t. That is a serious diplomatic failure. It shows just how unimaginative and weak-minded Britain’s political leadership is.
In fact, if you want to understand quite how bad Theresa May’s government has been, it helps to go back to January 27, 2017: the day Theresa May visited Donald Trump in the White House. Trump was very keen to offer May a trade deal there and then, but she demurred. She was more eager to get Trump to reaffirm America’s commitment to NATO.
As Steve Bannon, who was there, tells me:
‘President Trump tried to coach May during her White House visit. He told her to get on with it because time was her enemy not her friend. He also offered to do a bilateral deal with the UK. You could tell she didn’t really comprehend what he was trying to tell her. She seemed like a deer in the headlights.’
Westminster know-alls will tell you that it would not have been legally possible for May to enter into trade negotiations with Trump before our exit from the EU. Maybe so. But surely the mere offer would have been useful leverage, as the Author of The Art of the Deal might say.
One can’t help wondering who the real idiot is: Donald Trump? Or Brexit Britain?