The British, like everyone else, enjoy feigning horror at President Donald Trump. Deep down, however, we know we need him, and we like him a lot more than we let on. The United Kingdom is in a difficult diplomatic position as it seeks to extricate itself from the European Union, and the transatlantic alliance with Uncle Sam seems ever more important. Happily, Trump likes the idea of a sovereign Britain. In the early days of his presidency, he made warm noises toward us. He senses that Brexit is, like his election victory, an expression of popular revulsion against the globalist elite. He doesn’t like the E.U.
A few kind words from Trump, and our government swoons. And gosh did he lay it on thick with May at the Davos World Economic Forum on January 25.
“There was a little bit of a false rumor out there, I just wanted to correct it,” he said, eager as ever to set right misguided reporters. “We love your country. We have the same ideals and there’s nothing that would happen to you that we wouldn’t be there to fight for you . . . We’re on the same wavelength in every respect.”
He also said that Britain and America are “very much joined at the hip” when it comes to the military.
Theresa May looked uncomfortable—she always does. Yet these words were exactly what she wanted to hear. Relations between our countries have been rocky in recent months. In November, Trump managed to upset a lot of Britons by retweeting some jihad horror porn videos that had been posted by Britain First, a strange fringe British group. May, under huge pressure, rebuked him. In revenge, Trump expressed his displeasure at the Prime Minister on Twitter—though, amusingly, he initially messaged @theresamay, which is the Twitter handle of some poor woman who shares a name with the PM.
That clumsy squabble left a sour taste. The British NeverTrump movement—yes, we have one—took to the streets to protest. I did a TV debate with a young British leftie named Owen Jones, who threatened civil unrest if Trump did arrive on our shores. The moderator seemed to think he was very sensible.
There was also the niggly issue of the royal marriage of Prince Harry to the American actress Meghan Markle. Both Harry and Meghan have assiduously courted Barack Obama and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Those two media darlings, it is almost certain, will be invited to celebrate the nuptials. But Trump? Fat chance.
It’s thought that Trump is sensitive to this possible slight—nobody really knows. At any rate, whispers of it only added to the British sense that relations with Trump were at a low ebb.
Then, on January 12, Trump canceled his visit to the U.K. He cited the obviously flimsy excuse that he thought the moving of the U.S. embassy in London to Battersea, a relatively unfashionable area, was a bum deal.
The Stop Trump U.K. group declared “a great victory.” London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has had Twitter rows with the U.S. Commander in Chief, boasted that the leader of our greatest ally had “got the message.”
But a lot of Brits were unhappy that an American president had been made to feel unwelcome here, and May’s government was clearly distressed. Boris Johnson, perhaps hoping that Trump would notice, tweeted that Khan was a “puffed-up pompous popinjay.” Number 10 immediately started trying to arrange a make-up rendezvous between The Donald and Theresa. After it emerged that Trump was going to Davos, British officials made overtures to the White House—but, according to first reports, Team Trump wasn’t interested. Instead, it was said, Trump would meet with President Emmanuel Macron, who had hosted him so generously in Paris on Bastille Day last year.
Perhaps Trump was playing hard to get. Perhaps British journalists, insecure creatures that we are, had convinced ourselves of a snub that wasn’t altogether real. But over the weekend of January 20-22, something changed. Number 10 and the White House managed to agree on a very public rapprochement, and the Special Relationship seemed back on track. Trump told May over the phone that she could be a 21st-century Churchill. After their meeting, he even went so far as to offer an apology for having retweeted Britain First, in a television interview with his friend the British journalist Piers Morgan.
May, for her part, reiterated her invitation for him to visit. Immediately, the Stop Trump brigades fired themselves up again. In my inbox, I have an urgent request from a group called 38 Degrees begging me to sign the petition against Trump’s visit. “It looks like Theresa May has given in, for now,” it says, but “if 150, 000 more of us sign. . . . Before Trump has even had a chance to book his plane tickets . . . we’ll take it straight to Number 10.” It’s rather sweet to think of Team Trump booking the Commander in Chief an airline flight to Great Britain. But it’s not exactly sane, and if you want an example of the parochialism that passes for politics in Great Britain, it’s hard to think of a better one.
A lot of people will sign such petitions—there are several circulating—and certainly, Donald Trump’s visit will be accompanied by large protests. Yet most Brits are relieved that Trump is coming, and glad that the Special Relationship hasn’t yet been sunk.