January 22, 2017
Theresa May will urge Donald Trump not to undermine European unity when she meets him in Washington within days, insisting that Britain sees a strong EU as a crucial partner on both economic and security issues.
The White House announced on Saturday that Mrs May would meet with Mr Trump on Friday, making her the first foreign leader to meet with him since the inauguration, with a visit from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto scheduled for later this month. Mrs May’s team had previously described as “speculation” reports that the prime minister would meet with Mr Trump as early as next week; she had been expected to make the trip in February.
Mrs May told the Financial Times in an interview that she expected to have “very frank” discussions with the new president when she visits Washington, saying honesty was a key element of what she believed would be “a very special relationship”.
The British prime minister said she wanted to make early progress towards a US-UK trade deal, but she also made it clear that she did not share Mr Trump’s insouciant approach to the possibility of the EU starting to disintegrate.
Speaking at the end of a week in which she set out for the first time her plan for Brexit, Mrs May said: “The decision taken by the UK was not a decision about breaking up the EU. I want the EU to continue to be strong and I want to continue to have a close and strategic partnership with the EU. It is important for security issues. With the threats we face it’s not the time for less co-operation.”
I want the EU to continue to be strong and I want to continue to have a close and strategic partnership with the EU. It is important for security issues. With the threats we face it’s not the time for less co-operation
Speaking in her Maidenhead constituency, where appointments kept her from watching Mr Trump’s inauguration ceremony, Mrs May said she was sure that the new president “recognises the importance and significance of Nato”. She added: “I’m also confident the USA will recognise the importance of the co-operation we have in Europe to ensure our collective defence and collective security.”
Mrs May’s comments will be welcomed by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who gave only a lukewarm reception to Mr Trump’s election and who fears the new US president may reverse decades of support from Washington for the EU project.
Mr Trump is close to Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence party leader, and has endorsed Britain’s decision to leave the EU, which he claims is little more than a “vehicle for Germany”. Mr Farage was on Friday hired as a commentator for American TV network Fox News, providing political analysis for the main channel and the Fox Business Network’s daytime and primetime programmes.
Anthony Gardner, departing US ambassador to the EU, said senior figures in the president’s transition team had been asking EU officials which countries would follow Britain in voting to leave the bloc. “To think that by supporting fragmentation of Europe we would be advancing our interests would be sheer folly,” Mr Gardner said. “It’s lunacy.”
Mrs May said she hoped she and Mr Trump could discuss progress on a UK-US trade deal — one of the biggest prizes for Britain once it leaves the EU. “I’m confident we can look at areas even in advance of being able to sign a formal trade deal,” she said.
“Perhaps we could look at barriers to trade at the moment and remove some of those barriers to open up that new trading relationship.”
Asked about whether she could strike up a personal rapport with a president who has been accused of making misogynistic and racist remarks, she said: “I’ve been clear about those areas where I feel some of the comments he has made were unacceptable. He has apologised for those comments.
“The whole point about a [special relationship] with the US is that we can sit down and be very frank with each other about what we think.”
Asked about Mr Trump’s suggestion that the two leaders might recreate the closeness of the Reagan-Thatcher relationship of the 1980s, Mrs May said: “As you know I’m not someone who goes around with a model I want to emulate from the past. When he says that he means he wants it to be a very special relationship and I’m confident we can make it such.”
Mrs May was speaking at the end of a week which saw her follow a key speech laying out her plans for Brexit with a visit to Davos, spiritual home of the “citizens of the world” whom she once claimed were “citizens of nowhere”.
Back among the citizens of the Thames Valley, Mrs May said bankers and policymakers at Davos had “welcomed the clarity” of her Brexit speech. “They now have a better framework in which they can operate,” she said.
Mrs May said she was not bluffing when she said she would walk away from exit negotiations if she was offered a “bad deal”, describing as “shorthand” the idea of Britain turning into a version of Singapore if it was set adrift from the single market.
“What we are saying is we won’t sign up to a bad deal,” she said. “But whatever the circumstances, we want to maintain the competitiveness of our economy. We’re not going to sign up to a bad deal.”
Mrs May’s Brexit speech caught many at Westminster by surprise with its clarity and sense of purpose. She rejected recent accusations that she is hesitant. “I’m still the same prime minister I’ve always been from the moment I came into office,” she said, arguing that people have simultaneously accused her of being a control freak and indecisive.
She added that she will not loosen her grip on decision-making in government. “I think it is right, not just me as prime minister but across government, when we make decisions affecting people’s lives we examine that evidence properly.”