In June 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union, something I regarded to be a political disaster. I then came to the U.S. just in time for another. I have British and American citizenship, which means Theresa May of the Conservative Party is my prime minister and Donald Trump of the Republican Party is my president. One calculated and reserved, one aggressive and volatile, and both with politics I do not feel represented by.
In a setting of uncertainty in global politics, the spotlight was sure to be on newly appointed — not democratically elected — Prime Minister May and how she would respond in foreign relations. Brexit was a chance for Britain to claim back the sovereignty the EU had supposedly taken.
However, the way May has approached relations with President Donald Trump and the EU makes Britain look spineless and desperate. The U.K. should be pursuing strong international relations and does not need to alienate our European allies and compromise our values to do so.
May was the first foreign leader to visit the newly inaugurated Trump on her trip on Jan. 27, much to the delight of the Conservatives in Westminster. On this visit the two leaders held a joint press conference, as well as hands.
It has generally been assumed this naked desperation for a relationship with Trump is May’s way of showing the EU she doesn’t need them: we’ll get a better bilateral trade deal with the U.S. While May might get a deal by appeasing the unpredictable and outspoken president, Britain should watch before it burns its bridges with Europe.
Just seven days into his presidency, Trump then received an invitation from Theresa May on behalf of our queen and country for a state visit. Quickly after, over 1.85 million people signed a petition stating that allowing this invitation to be for an official state visit is an embarrassment to the queen.
Trump’s visit was reportedly scheduled to be in June but was postponed to October, when the British Parliament will conveniently be on recess.
What is unusual — and in my opinion rather inappropriate — is the phenomenal speed at which the invitation was extended. It is certainly unprecedented to invite a president such a short time into their presidency. This exposes May’s frantic attempt for a close relationship with Trump. George W. Bush received an invite after 978 days in office and Barack Obama after 758, and most never made official state visits.
Several conservative members of Parliament defend the invitation, arguing that the U.K. has extended these invitations to a whole host of leaders over the years, some more controversial than others.
Mobutu Sese Seko, president of the then Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo, visited in 1973 and President Vladimir Putin was invited in 2003 — when a Scot tried to jump in front of the carriage and attack him in my hometown of Edinburgh. However, we cannot justify Trump’s invitation simply because we have a history of extending invitations to dubious leaders. Why should rolling out a royal carpet for an embarrassing list of past rulers make it okay to do it for new ones?
Throughout political history there has been the notorious so-called “special relationship” between the leaders of my two countries. Trump has made his new vision for the U.S. clear and if May’s plan is to follow the path blazed by Trump, we will find Britain with less power and international influence than ever before. I do agree that Britain needs all the friends it can get right now, but for reasons I certainly don’t understand May is not looking for these among our European neighbors.
May has refused to guarantee that EU nationals living in the U.K. will be safe after the U.K. begins the formal withdrawal process without guarantee that U.K. nationals abroad will have their rights protected. There are over 3 million EU nationals in the U.K., and she is using the lives they have built in our country as a political bargaining chip.
It is the right and strategic thing to do to ensure the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. This would likely shift the hostile dynamics of the Brexit negotiations. On March 1, the unelected upper house of Parliament in the U.K., the House of Lords, voted 358-256 that ministers should guarantee the right of EU nationals in the U.K. This is the government’s first defeat in the passing of their Brexit bill, and a small step in the right direction.
After visiting her new friend across the pond, May went to the Malta summit of European leaders on Feb. 3 to watch them criticize Trump and give her the cold shoulder when she offered to act as a bridge between Europe and the U.S.
By “taking back control” and leaving the EU, we are limiting our independence in a new way by appeasing President Trump. We are pandering to a president who espouses values that have been condemned repeatedly by British politicians, in the shaky hope that we will fare better in a post-Brexit world. And in this world of Brexit and of Trump, one I never thought I’d see, Britain will continue to lose both friends and power if May continues to pursue these relations.