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The New Special Relationship?

31/01/2017 12:35

The meeting of Donald Trump and Theresa May took on a significance way beyond the usual meeting of two world leaders. Whatever the actual outcomes of this meeting, the question is really about what type of relationship the UK wants to have with the US.

Images of the leaders holding hands and speaking warm words about each other made for some good initial media coverage. The relationship looked close and seemed a good foundation for the future.

However, just hours later, Mr Trump announced his travel ban policy and, presumably, didn't mention this to the Prime Minister. Her failure to respond critically and quickly is either a sign of strength allowing her to consider the issue before speaking (No 10) or a sign of weakness and capitulation (opponents).

Boris Johnson's ability to ring up Mr Trump's close aides and secure reassurances about the position of UK citizens is being portrayed as an immediate benefit of the new special relationship. However, the policy, as things stand, remains in place and the reassurances appear only partial.

There appears to have been no outside influence on the policy in the first place, let alone from the UK.

By coming together with Trump, May believes that they can 'lead together again'. This invoking of past glories is completely consistent with both Trump's 'Make America Great Again' and May's own vision of the post-Brexit world.

The tough approach risks alienating European Member States at a time when the UK needs them to at least be listening to us. Hanging around with a new best friend whilst he sneers at old friends, such as Mrs Merkel and Germany, is not a good strategy in advance of Brexit negotiations. Trump is proving to be the 'bad boy' of world politics and we are hanging around with him.

Looking for a trade deal with the US first, before others, may ultimately show weakness on the part of Mrs May's government. The US is bound to look for advantages for its farmers and others, wherever it does deals. It is not just looking to maintain its global economic advantages but extend them.

So that initial deal between the UK and US will set the tone for others will want and demand from May's government. To give too much to the US just to get a deal risks making the UK a soft touch for others. It should also be considered that, according to the latest Centre for Cities 'Cities Outlook', British cities depend on EU exports.

In foreign affairs, the UK will always be the junior partner to the US. Mrs May signalled the end doctrine of armed intervention to impose democracy but Trump is still active militarily having started with a Special Forces operation in Yemen. The justifications may vary but intervention will continue.

Trump has an electoral mandate that he is implementing. Everyone knows the types of policies he will implement. The travel ban should not have come as a massive shock, even if the apparently inept way it was introduced is. So Mrs May and her team are aware of who they are dealing with.

It appears that the need for an economic prize could outweigh all else.

You could argue that the UK has been on a steadily downward trend in terms of economic and global influence since the late Victoria era and certainly since the Second World War. As well as undoubted initiative, ideas and drive, that initial power was also built on early industrialisation, exploitation domestically and particularly abroad. Circumstances that will not be repeated. Joining the EU was part of the plan to make the UK important again. In a post-Brexit world, the Government has decided that getting close to the US will show that the country is on an upward trend.

But how much do other policies, such as the travel ban, come second? How badly does Trump have to treat other allies before a trade deal looks less attractive?

Critically, great care has to be taken that the whole initiative does not become just a couple of old imperial powers looking to rediscover past glories.

For the UK, at the heart of the new special relationship is how much economics potentially outweighs all else?

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