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It was on the tip of Boris Johnson’s tongue. What’s-his-name, tall guy, perma-tan, wispy hair, bit of a temper. Big Twitter game, small hands. Not keen on criticism. Oh, he was going to kick himself when he remembered.
Despite the fact that the Leader of the Free World had just dominated the UK’s Nato summit, the prime minister found it unfathomably difficult to utter the words ‘President Trump’. He couldn’t manage The Donald, The President or even POTUS.
Instead, Johnson namechecked only “the current US administration”, “the United States” or just common-or-garden “America”. At this gathering of world leaders, just a short hop from Harry Potter Studios near Watford, He Who Must Not Be Named was suddenly invisible.
Of course, the PM’s reluctance to even say Trump’s name was part of a wider Tory strategy to reduce the guilt-by-association inherent in the president’s presence in this penultimate week of a British general election campaign.
“The US” may have stood “shoulder to shoulder” after the Russian poison attack in Salisbury, but Johnson was determined to avoid any political contamination by the highly toxic substance known as Don-ichok.
Just as there was no personal handshake on the steps of No.10 on Tuesday, there was no joint press conference on Wednesday. Any photos of them together were blink-and-you-miss-it moments snapped on the fly, as they ducked and weaved among the throng of fellow Nato leaders.
They usually brag about their most special of special relationships, but this was a conscious uncoupling to rival Gwynnie Paltrow and Chris Martin (another lesson in transatlantic separation).
When Trump cancelled his own solo press conference, many assumed it was a fit of pique over the way Justin Trudeau and others had ridiculed him. But there must be a strong suspicion it was actually a carefully calculated way of avoiding any damage for his British host. Given his habit of incontinent sharing, better to avoid any pesky election questions completely.
But with Trump, as the whole of Washington is currently trying to prove, there’s always a quid pro quo. If the Trumpian quo was avoiding any mention of the election (and yesterday actually denying any NHS sell-off), the British quid (and sterling is a lot cheaper since Brexit after all) looked like a clear signal from Johnson that Chinese firm Huaweiwould not be allowed anywhere near our 5G phone network.
Johnson seems to embrace the fact that this is a transactional president more than any other. Give him something and he’ll give you something, as long as you realise it’s always America First.
Not for nothing did Johnson open his press conference today by hailing what he saw as the most important outcome of the Nato summit: other countries increasing by $130bn their contribution to their own defence, as the president demanded. If Trump is a silverback gorilla, Johnson is his orang-utan friend, urging the others to groom the jungle VIP.
Even though Trump wasn’t named by the PM, the election was never far away in the incongruous surroundings of the Grove golf hotel that hosted the summit. As if making up for the president, Johnson spent the final few minutes of his press conference riffing about “eight days to go”, Corbyn and getting Brexit “done”.
The bemused international press corps looked a bit baffled by the lurch into domestic electioneering. But at the back of the room, another looming presence looked very pleased indeed. Dominic Cummings had a look on his face that seemed to say ‘no Trump, no problem, job done’.
Quote Of The Day
“We’ll go directly back. I think we’ve done plenty of news conferences.”
President Trump bails out of the Nato summit
Wednesday’s Election Cheat Sheet
Jo Swinson told HuffPost UK the election “isn’t a popularity contest”. And in an interview with Andrew Neil she admitted the Lib Dems “should have stopped” the bedroom tax while in coalition with the Tories. Oh, and an Extinction Rebellion protestor dressed as a bee glued themselves to Swinson’s battlebus.
John McDonnell said Labour’s plans could save families more than £6,700 a year. The figure was hotly disputed by other parties.
Brexit Party MEP John Longworth had the whip withdrawn as a punishment for disagreeing with Nigel Farage’s election strategy. Longworth had said the party should fight just 30 key Labour seats.
Former Labour minister Ivan Lewis published a Facebook post telling his ex constituents that “the only way to stop Corbyn in Bury South is to vote Conservative”.
The New Statesman said in its election editorial that Jeremy Corbyn was “unfit to be prime minister”.
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