Kevin Schofield: Offering Donald Trump a state visit could be Theresa May’s worst decision yet

Written by Kevin Schofield on 30 November 2017 in Opinion

By proposing to give the the unpredictable president the red carpet treatment, the PM has made herself a hostage to fortune.

Even at the time, it seemed a tad hasty. Donald Trump had only been US president for less than a week when Theresa May - desperate to ingratiate herself with the Oval Office’s latest occupant - offered him a state visit to the UK.

Officially, she was merely passing on an invitation on behalf of the Queen, but the reality was clear: Brexit Britain needed to show that the special relationship with America remained strong, and this was an easy way to do it. Her Majesty had little, if any, say in the matter.

Even Barack Obama, whose election was greeted with elation around the globe, had to wait two years before being extended the same privilege.

Standing in the plush East Room of the White House, May told the world that Trump had - unsurprisingly - accepted the offer as she hailed the “bonds of history, of family, kinship and common interests" between Britain and the US.

The first signs that the Prime Minister’s dealings with the president would be less than conventional came just minutes later, when he inexplicably grabbed her hand as the pair walked along the White House colonnade.

The moment was captured on film and immediately beamed around the world. Downing Street, however, were content with the image it conveyed of two leaders bound together at the beginning of - they hoped - a fruitful partnership.

That optimism was punctured when, roughly 12 hours later, May landed in Turkey to discover that shortly after she left Washington, Trump had ordered that all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries into the US should cease. He had given no indication to May of his plans when they had lunch in the Oval Office, so she was completely blindsided.

The travelling press pack used a press conference May staged with her Turkish opposite number to try to get her reaction to the move. Unable to think on her feet, she deployed the none-too-convincing ‘nothing to do with me, guv’ response.

When she arrived back in London, No 10 tried to hold the line but, under pressure from her own MPs, a statement criticising the policy was finally issued by the Downing Street press office - after midnight and at least 12 hours too late.

In the 10 months since, the Prime Minister has repeatedly been forced to distance herself from Trump - the man who was supposed to be her best buddy on the global stage - be it over his withdrawal from the Paris climate deal, his criticism of Sadiq Khan after the London terror attacks or his response to the Charlottesville race riot.

This is because, by being in such a rush to cosy up to him, May made herself a hostage to fortune, tying her own political prospects to a president who is unconventional at best, and unhinged at worst.

And that state visit, which those of us on that historic US trip were assured would take place this summer, has still not happened, and may never take place.

There have been many missteps by Theresa May since she became Prime Minister - from triggering Article 50 without a clear Brexit strategy to, of course, calling a snap election which saw her humiliated and obliterated her Commons majority.

But in a crowded field, and for creating a running sore which will never heal so long as he remains president, offering Trump all the pomp and circumstance of a state visit with such indecent haste may well be the worst of the lot.




Kevin Schofield is editor of PoliticsHome.

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