Donald Trump's anger at Britain is a reminder of who we really have a special relationship with

The US president has confirmed exactly what Sir Kim Darroch said in his confidential emails: we can't expect anything from his ‘America First’ administration

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 09 July 2019 11:00 BST
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Donald Trump: 'The ambassador has not served the UK well, I can tell you that'

So much for the “special relationship”, then. Only a few weeks after the British rolled out the red carpet and threw every bear-skinned guardsman they could find at a state visit for Donald Trump and his family, he – this childish, petty man – turns round and treats Britain like a vassal state?

Imagine if Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker or Michel Barnier had Tweeted that would not “deal with” British diplomats or ministers because they had said disobliging things about them? Or that the EU had a shrewd idea the British intelligence services had been conducting some light surveillance on the Brexit talks?

Imagine the outrage at such insults to British dignity. The anger would be unbounded.

Or what, now, if Emmanuel Macron had decided that the British ambassador to Paris will no longer be invited to dinners at the Elysee Palace because our new prime minister, Boris Johnson, had, when foreign secretary, described the French as “turds”?

Trump, we know by now, doesn’t do irony. But the British do, and may at least extract some wry amusement from watching a man criticised for being inept, dysfunctional and clumsy, giving such an inept dysfunctional and clumsy response. It rather proves the ambassador’s point

It also substantiates the more significant point that Sir Kim Darroch made in his supposedly confidential emails: that the UK can expect no special favours on trade, or anything else, from this “America First” administration.

If the British think that they can leave their strong and productive relationship with the EU and look for bright new deals from the US (or, dare one suggest, China or Russia) then recent events may remind them about what a small player the UK now is – and how much smaller it will be out on its own in the world.

In the EU, the British still have a powerful say over affairs with close neighbours and our largest market; we are partners. With America, China or Russia we are at best uneasy acquaintances.

Already we can feel the diplomatic chill. The world becoming a lonelier place to defend British interests. As another, earlier, leaked memo, from the departing High Commissioner in Singapore, expressed: "The nation Singaporeans admired for stability, common sense, tolerance and realism grounded in fact, they see beset by division, obsessed with ideology, careless of the truth, its leaders apparently determined to keep on digging.". Much the same goes for the rest of the world.

The UK needs to get real about its clout. It is in real terms, allowing for exchange rate distortions, only about the ninth largest economy in the world – not the fifth or sixth, as so often parroted. If and when the Brexit slump arrives, and Scotland and Northern Ireland leaves our union, then the new United Kingdom of England and Wales will be lucky to be in the top dozen. The UKE&W will have about the same GDP ranking as Mexico or Brazil, the difference being they are growing emerging markets, not mature stagnating ones. The EU, China and the US are all about 10 times larger by GDP than the UK.

(We are not half as rich as we think, by the way. The UK ranks around 24th in GDP per head, the real measure of wealth so far as individual long term living standards are concerned – way behind the likes of Norway, Australia and Hong Kong).

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But what about Trump’s claim that all will be well once Boris is prime minister and, as he once suggested, Nigel Farage is our man in Washington? Sorry, but no: as Sir Kim wisely stressed, America still comes first. Trump merely judges that these two would be amendable to accommodating US interests, and will do as they’re told.

If Boris tries to stand up for British interests where they diverge from America, he too will end up trashed on Twitter as “Bumbler Boris Stone Cold Loser” or some such. Remember that Trump was once a hand holding fan of Theresa May. It didn't last.

The answer? We could send the US Ambassador to the UK, Robert Woods, home for saying that Donald Trump is a “visionary” as retaliation. Or ban him form Buckingham Palace. Of course it wouldn't happen. The British are not as spiteful in diplomatic relations but, more significantly, the Americans are bigger than we are and we need them more.

Leaving aside leaks, insults, and the flummery of state visits, international relations are run on fundamentals of interest and power. The reality is that Trump’s antics have merely reminded the British that they cannot rely on the US. We are share far more in common with our EU partners than anyone else – Ireland, France, Poland, Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark. These are the real special relationships, but they are the ones we have forgotten.

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