by Kevin Meagher
How far should Theresa May have gone in upbraiding the immigration policies of President Trump?
If she had listened to the sustained Twitterburst over the weekend, and then again this afternoon, she would have channelled her inner-Hugh Grant and recited that pompous load of tosh his fictional prime minister ladles over the smarmy US president in Love Actually:
‘I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to, erm… Britain’.
Instead, she despatched the home and foreign secretaries to speak to their US counterparts and, gently, one assumes, articulate the government’s displeasure about the effects on British citizens with dual-nationality from the seven (mainly Islamic) countries affected by Trump’s new edict. Within the remit given, they seem to have secured her desired result.
It’s hardly gunboats up the Potomac.
But that’s as far as the Prime Minister should go.
Of course, Theresa May has not handled this adroitly. She could have saved herself a lot of political strife if she had got out in front of this issue from the start.
Downing Street should have robustly made the (obvious) point that longstanding protocol dictates that prime ministers do not comment on the internal affairs of the US, but that, at the official level, the law of unintended consequences vis-à-vis British nationals would be pointed out.
Diplomatic niceties are there for good reason. Do we want Donald Trump responding in kind and coming out for Scottish independence?
Theresa May’s strategic responsibility is to secure an alliance with the new White House that will, in turn, deliver a suitable bilateral trade deal once we leave the EU.
Clearly Trump is a mercurial figure, so why jeopardise a successful initial meeting just so she can ‘virtue signal’ to the Twitterari?
Disagree? Then can anyone point to precedents where British PMs have publicly criticised key domestic policies of US Presidents?
Theresa May’s detractors are genuine, sure, but this is high-stakes international statecraft we’re dealing with, not passing a resolution in the junior common room.
Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron would have done exactly the same thing as Theresa May: Look a bit embarrassed, soak up the anger about being America’s poodle, then issue the most anaemic, mealy-mouthed coded criticism that lands no more than a glancing blow.
Rest assured, the flaws in Trump’s policy will do for it and common sense will prevail by April.
Making sure Britain has the best chance of surviving as a trading nation outside the EU must be the government’s overriding concern.
We need to properly accept that Brexit means we are living in an age of realpolitik. Idealists who want to wag their fingers at Donald Trump are free to do so; but they should not pretend this is anything other than idle posturing.
Britain is leaving the EU and Donald Trump is now US President. These are now immutable facts.
The task is to work with the grain of these twin realities and ameliorate the worst excesses of both.
It might not be pretty, but that’s grown-up politics.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut