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Act one of the West’s great three-part psychodrama will come to a close today, and act two will begin as Donald Trump arrives in Britain for his working visit. The American President caused plenty of waves on the first day of the Nato summit in Brussels. He accused Germany of being “totally controlled by Russia” and demanded that member nations raise their defence spending to 4 per cent of GDP.
Actions not words
Nato’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has told people to look at actions, not words. Trump has actually increased American investment in European defence and the US did sign the joint declaration that Nato does not recognise the annexation of Crimea. Nevertheless, the United States’s allies are worried, and they know words can matter a great deal in geopolitics – the Soviet Union authorised the invasion of South Korea by the North in the 1950s because American public pronouncements seemed to imply a lack of interest in Korea.
With Trump’s visit, the UK finds itself in the unwanted position of being the bridge between the Nato summit and Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Even without the great drama over what Britain’s position in the world will actually be post-Brexit, the UK is scrapping over how to respond to Trump.
Protests? What protests?
While the Government has been hard at work to make the visit run as smoothly as possible, there will be large protests in London – from which every effort is being made to keep the President shielded.
Britain’s longest-serving ambassador to the US, Sir Christopher Meyer (who was hospitalised yesterday by thugs), sees it in simple terms. He writes for the Indy: “The plain truth is that the US is our single most important partner and ally” – Britain cannot afford to be petulant.
While liberal metropolitan Britain wrestles with its morals over Trump, there’s further reason to believe he will wade into our own private melodrama. Our reporters have spoken to sources close to the President who say he is in favour of a clean Brexit and won’t be afraid to say so publicly, especially if asked to comment.
And while attention will be concentrated on Trump’s visit, the focus of Europe’s capitals will be very much on us. Today is White Paper Day, when the EU finally gets to see the UK’s full proposals.
Friends stick together
May has got her defence in early, writing an OpEd in The Sun to defend the plan as the "best outcome" for both the UK and the EU, while her former aid, Nick Timothy, defends it as the "least worst option".
If a much-disputed report in The Spectator is to be believed, Angela Merkel has already had a gander at the paper (the Speccie reported that May was refusing to make changes to it because Merkel has pre-approved the paper, triggering Brexiteer uproar).
The EU wants to play nice for now – they fear what could happen if they destabilise May. And, oddly enough, Trump’s behaviour at the Nato summit has apparently generated feelings of solidarity in Europe, with a sense that now is not the time for Britain and the EU to turn on each other.
If May can survive, then the EU still believes a deal is possible. However, sooner or later Brussels will start poking, if not tearing, large holes in Britain’s proposals. If May bends, she’s going to have rather a lot of trouble selling what was already a controversial plan at home. Backbench Brexiteers are preparing to flex their muscles – might it be that British overconfidence of a deal being reached is to be replaced by European naivety?
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