Air Force One touched down at Stansted Airport last night for the annual Nato summit, held just over a week before the British public go to the polls. So far, Donald Trump has avoided becoming embroiled in the campaign. He told reporters: ‘I’ll stay out of the election’.
Spectator USA editor Freddy Gray took to the airwaves this morning to discuss the impact of a potential Trump intervention alongside BBC Radio 5 Live‘s Emma Barnett and Paul Harrison, the former Number 10 press secretary to Theresa May. During the discussion, Harrison told BBC Radio 5 Live about his experience of working with Trump. He described what happened from Number 10’s perspective when the US president gave an interview to the Sun newspaper where he criticised Theresa May’s Brexit deal:
The guy’s a force of nature, so part of it [dealing with Trump] is a contained nervousness about not knowing precisely what will happen… At that stage, he’d done an interview with the Sun that essentially said the Brexit plan that we were working to probably wasn’t what people voted for and would “destroy” – I think his words – US trade. So we flew back into a storm that we didn’t even know was coming. And then there’s this extraordinary press conference.
Asked about how Mrs May’s team reacted, Mr Harrison said:
It’s really a kind of “Let’s make the point and let’s reinforce our argument about why what we’ve done isn’t detrimental to trade in the way that he thinks it is”… Look, of course, [it was a] genuinely frustrating moment. It was an extraordinary week. And I suppose what I’m trying to demonstrate in the telling of that is, as I say, this guy is a force of nature.
The former press secretary told how he attempted to smooth things over with the Trump team:
I mean, again, you know, that particular interview, which was really incendiary and really difficult, had been done in advance. There was then a bilateral at Chequers where I sat down with various teams and tried to explain why this perhaps wasn’t quite right or certainly why we wanted to add a different flavour to his current view. And then there was a press conference at which he was genuinely nice…
Without giving away any state secrets, the way that these bilateral meetings work is if there is one thing in particular that is vital as a takeaway, be that, you know, views on the Iran deal, or whatever, it’s just a question of continuing to press it throughout the meeting.
Freddy then made the same point in perhaps less diplomatic terms:
One of his advisers once told me that trying to get a message into his head before a press conference is like trying to use a sledgehammer. You just have to keep smashing it until it gets into the brain. And you could see the adviser just said, ‘don’t interfere in the election, don’t comment on Corbyn, if they say “the NHS”, say “absolutely not”.’ And you could see he was really trying to stay on message and I find it quite sweet. It’s like watching a child trying to be good.
You can watch the full discussion here: