Ahead of her meeting with Trump tomorrow, British Prime Minister Theresa May joked that “opposites attract” and called on the US President to renew the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States and lead in a new, changed world. In the United States for what will be Trump’s first meeting with a foreign leader since he took office last week, May signaled a shift in foreign policy, bringing her position more in line with that of Trump.
Following a disparaging statement from the French Finance Minister earlier in the day, in which Michel Sapin said that “Madame May can go see whoever she wants. I understand she goes to see the new U.S. president given the history between the U.S. and the U.K” and added that “she is not going there to negotiate,” because allegedly “neither she nor Mister Trump are in a position to negotiate“, May decided to prove him wrong, and urged the US and UK and their leaders to stand united and confront new challenges, including the rise of economies in Asia that people fear could “eclipse the West,” the threat of Islamic extremism and a resurgent Russia.
“So we – our two countries together – have a responsibility to lead. Because when others step up as we step back, it is bad for America, for Britain and the world,” May told members of Republican Party at their retreat in a speech often punctuated by applause from an enthusiastic crowd.
“This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over. But nor can we afford to stand idly by.”
Following her speech, UKIP’s Nigel Farage tweeted that “I can hardly believe Mrs May’s words about our place in the world and with America. I’ve wanted all of these things for years” and added that the PM said “things that I could only ever have dreamt that a British Prime Minister would say.”
I can hardly believe Mrs May’s words about our place in the world and with America. I’ve wanted all of these things for years.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) January 26, 2017
Some of the key points touched upon by May in her speech as summarized by Axios:
- The U.S. and U.K. are at the start of crafting a great trade agreement, but that the new deal must serve both national interests. (This can’t happen until after Britain official leaves the EU.)
- U.S. and U.K. should stop intervening in other countries to try to “remake the world in our image.”
- On working with Trump, she said, “Haven’t you ever noticed, sometimes opposites attract?” She added she would challenge Trump on issues like torture.
- When it comes to Putin, May’s advice was “to engage, but beware.”
- She said “there is nothing inevitable about conflict between Russia and the west,” and that the countries should work to make “cooperation more likely than conflict.”
- She is pushing for major reform of multinational organizations to better serve the nations that formed them. She added, “The most important institution is and should always be the nationstate.”
- NATO should be “as equipped to fight cyber warfare” as it is to fight conventional warfare.
- U.S. and U.K. should work together to fight the “evil ideology” of “extremist Islamism
Of note, as Reuters points out, is her break with the interventionism that launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan underscores a change in global politics. It also fits with Trump’s move to put “America first” and scores well with voters in Britain whose feeling of being left behind by globalization helped fuel Britain’s vote to leave the EU last year that propelled May to power. Aware that Brexit will shape her legacy, May welcomed her early visit to the United States, a boost to her attempts to show that Britain can prosper outside the European Union despite criticism at home for cozying up to Trump.
On her U.S.-bound flight, May concentrated on similarities with the U.S. leader, who some reporters suggested had a style in stark contrast to her more cautious, restrained approach. “Haven’t you ever noticed … sometimes opposites attract?” she answered with a laugh
The biggest open issue, however, is trade, and the desire of both nations to eventually sign mutually beneficial bilateral contracts.
Eager to win favor – and a trade deal – with the new U.S. president to bolster her hand in the divorce talks with the European Union, May said both countries shared many values and that, contrary to his statements that NATO was “obsolete,” Trump had told her he was committed to the U.S.-led military alliance. May said she supported Trump’s “reform agenda” to make NATO and the United Nations “more relevant and purposeful than they are today,” and “many of the priorities your government has laid out for America’s engagement with the world.”
But there may be sticking points in Friday’s talks – May said she condemned the use of torture and would stick to UK policy, suggesting Britain may not accept intelligence that could have come from such methods that Trump could reintroduce. “We condemn torture and my view on that won’t change – whether I’m talking to you or talking to the president,” she said when asked what impact it would have if Trump brought back a CIA program for holding terrorism suspects in secret prisons.
May will have navigate the middle ground carefully, wary of being criticized as too pro-Trump or alternatively as too negative toward a future trading partner.
But the take home message is that any gain for the UK and US, is a loss for Europe, which would prefer to see the UK in a position of weakness, and May knows this well. She has threatened to walk away from the EU if she fails to get a good deal, and some critics say that could give other countries, like the United States, the upper hand in any talks.
And the EU might not take kindly to any overly friendly overtures to a president some of the bloc’s main leaders have voiced concern about. Some kind of trade agreement, though, is high on her list of priorities, despite Britain and the United States being at odds over genetically modified organisms, meat production and public procurement and May unable to sign deals until after Brexit.
May says she will launch the divorce talks by the end of March by triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which gives up to two years to negotiate an exit deal. Only then can she agree with third countries. Both leaders should use the time to find areas where they could remove trade barriers, May said.
What tomorrow will boil down to? “We’re both very clear that we want a trade deal.”
For those who missed it, May’s full Philly speech is below
This post originally appeared on Zero Hedge