There will be relief in Conservative Campaign Headquarters as the Nato summit draws to a close with no election gaffe in sight. With the UK hosting the summit of world leaders, there had been concern that the arrival of the US president with less than a fortnight until polling day could have thrown a spanner in the works. Instead, Donald Trump has said little to cause alarm in Tory high command. When asked about the prospect of NHS privatisation as part of a UK/US trade deal, Trump said the NHS would not be on the table – as the US had little interest in it.
In Boris Johnson’s press conference this afternoon, the UK Prime Minister attempted to play it safe. He spoke about the importance of Nato along with what had been a practical and constructive event. In the question and answer session that followed, Johnson dodged a number of tricky questions on his relationship with the president.
Asked whether Trump was a liar, Johnson refused to address the question and instead discussed Nato. Asked about NHS privatisation in a UK/US deal, Johnson dismissed such claims as fiction and said he was tempted to wind up the press conference. When he was asked whether he thought that Donald Trump ‘as a leader and as a man’ was good news for the West, Johnson – who in the past has praised Trump for having many good qualities – did at least answer though he was relatively restrained. Rather than talk about the man in question, he focussed on the UK/US special relationship:
‘I certainly think that the United States has massively contributed to Nato, has been for 70 years a pillar of stability for our collective security. If you want evidence of the willingness of the United States to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, I would point you back to what happened in the case of the poisonings in Salisbury. The United States actually expelled 60 [Russian diplomats]. That was a fantastic testament I think to the trans-Atlantic alliance.’
Johnson allies have fretted that Donald Trump’s presence in the UK could play to Labour’s advantage. So far that doesn’t appear to have been the case. With Trump now flying out of the country, the Conservatives will attempt to move back into full campaign mode and spend the rest of the campaign doubling down on their key messages.