Trump in the UK: A special relationship?

How would you shortly assess UK-US relations in the age of President Donald Trump, what is Trump bringing with him for the visit? Read few comments.

Iwan Morgan, Professor of US Studies, Institute of the Americas, University College London

Recent comments by Trump on the suitability of Boris Johnson to become PM and the need for the UK to enlist Nigel Farage in renegotiating Brexit are unprecedented and violate all conventions of neutrality in the internal politics of an ally. Trump and the UK Government (insofar as we have one) want different things from the visit. DT wants to be filmed with the Queen and the UK establishment for the benefit of his election-campaign footage (he’d have loved going own the mall in the golden royal carriage but security concerns rule that out). Trump also wants to demonstrate that he is respected by America’s longest and closest ally. The UK government wants to remind Trump of the special relationship and lay the foundations for a close alliance with the US once UK is out of EU – no matter that the UK and Trump’s government are currently at odds over Iran, climate change and other matters.

It is ironic that Trump is here in the last days of Theresa May as PM – a polarizing leader meets a paralyzed one.

Will Trump’s endorsement help or hurt Boris Johnson is difficult to determine. If Johnson is one of the two candidates whose name the party will place before voters, he will win whether Trump backs him or not – such is his popularity with the party membership. But he has to be on of the two leadership contenders of 13 who win most votes from the Conservative MPs before his name is put before the broader party. It may be that Trump’s endorsements solidifies some opinion against him – but who really knows?

Robert Singh, Professor of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London

US-UK relations are now in very poor shape, and as bad as they have been since the 1956 Suez crisis. Some of this pre-dates Trump, and is a matter of the UK allowing its defence capacity to wither and its diplomacy to side with European allies rather than the US (over Iran, for example). But Brexit has diminished our utility to Washington even further, while Trump’s transactional approach to international relations has devalued the traditional investment in alliances made by successive US presidents since 1945. Already, the Conservatives have allowed the UK to neglect the importance of our close ties to Washington, not out of altruism, but as a way to enhance and project Britain’s otherwise limited international influence. Should a Corbyn government come to power, even our diplomatic and intelligence cooperation will cease. The so-called special relationship is, to all intents and purposes, dead.

Robert Busby, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University

Trump’s arrival for a formal state visit will certainly boost his own esteem and bolster his image as a world leader. In going to both Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street he can get the images and the status which will affirm to his loyal support at home that he is able to, and capable of, engaging meaningfully in all spheres of the international environment. From the British perspective the timing of the visit has now become a problem. As ever Brexit dominates. If the UK had left the EU by now then Trump’s visit would have potentially offered the chance to engage in trade deals and to look at longer term liaisons, but with October 31st now the next leave deadline then the timing catches Britain in a period of limbo. Politically Theresa May’s imminent departure from office presents both the US and the UK with a short term problem. There is no longer term certainty at present of who will be the next Prime Minister and Trump is not really in the position to meet the increasingly large array of candidates in any meaningful way. He may stoke up a lot of media attention if he spends much time with Nigel Farage, and he has also suggested that he would like to meet Boris Johnson. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour party has declined to meet Trump or attend a state dinner hosted by the Queen. At present therefore this trip looks as though its main impact will be symbolic. It is hard to see how concrete plans for future activities can be made when there is so much uncertainty in British politics, and indeed when combined with the starting gun for the US presidential election, then for both entities there is the prospect of change and challenges.

Bill Jones, Senior Honorary Research Fellow, Liverpool Hope University

The old idea of a ‘special relationship’, dating back to Churchill and the second world war, is really history I believe. It’s always been a myth- when UK pursued ‘imperial ‘ interests in 1956 over Suez, the US pulled the plug sharply and we’ve had to live with the idea every since that unless we work with and through America we won’t amount to much in the world.

Leave supporters believe that switching our main emphasis to USA instead of EU offers great hope for the future. I think this hopelessly naive. Trump is focused narrowly upon US interests and won’t give us anything substantial. This extends to any trade deal he might offer us.

Public opinion in UK is very hostile to Trump and his policies: half the population think he is ‘dangerous’ and some 80% don’t like him.

His forthcoming visit to UK will be difficult: he will embarrass some by showing warmth to Farage and Johnson; he might well make gaffes in his dealings with the Queen; and he’s likely to encounter substantial negative demonstrations.

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