Theresa May greeted Donald Trump earlier today after the NATO meetings, perhaps hoping for a calmer colloquy between the two poles of the “special relationship.” Instead, even before arriving, Trump called May’s leadership into question on Brexit, wondering whether her Brexit deal delivers what the referendum promised. “It’s not for me to say,” Trump repeatedly noted at the post-summit presser, but that didn’t stop him from saying anyway:
“Brexit means Brexit,” President Trump tells a NATO summit press conference; “I’ve been reading a lot about Brexit over the last couple of days… it’s not for me to say what they should be doing in the UK” https://t.co/KAnIGoxkgI pic.twitter.com/9fg69k8iqn
— CNN (@CNN) July 12, 2018
May hopes Trump’s trip will help forge a future free trade deal, but instead Trump’s views on Brexit have cast a shadow over the visit. …
“I’m going to a pretty hot spot right now, right? With a lot of resignations,” Trump told a news conference at the NATO summit in Brussels.
“The people voted to break it up, so I imagine that’s what they’ll do. But maybe they’re taking a little bit of a different route, so I don’t know if that’s what they voted for.”
Speaking of voting, Trump got one point factually wrong in this presser. Ronald Reagan won Wisconsin twice, in both the 1980 and 1984 elections. The only state never to vote for Reagan is Minnesota, thanks to native son Walter Mondale being on both tickets, and Trump didn’t win Minnesota either. It’s not entirely clear what his point was in bringing that up, but, er … as Casey Stengel used to say, you can look it up. Maybe Trump should.
Anyway, on Brexit meaning Brexit, Theresa May had something to say in response:
In response, May said: “What we are doing is delivering on the vote of the British people.”
The Telegraph believes that Trump may be arriving with the intent to push a harder Brexit, putting the UK in immediate position to begin bargaining on a bilateral trade agreement. That would put May in a squeeze:
He added: “I believe that the people in the UK … like me a lot and they agree with me on immigration. And I think that’s why you have Brexit in the first place, because of immigration.”
Sources close to Mr Trump have told The Telegraph that he is a supporter of a hard Brexit and could publicly voice support for a clean break with Brussels in a move that would pile pressure on the Prime Minister.
And the Sun promises even worse in a preview of tomorrow’s front page, although they haven’t dropped the article yet:
The Sun sets the agenda for tomorrow's meetings: pic.twitter.com/zNDEeREar5
— David Gura (@davidgura) July 12, 2018
With special friends like these, who needs Boris Johnson? Speaking of whom, Trump suggested earlier this week that he might take a meeting with the Tory rebel:
Johnson, a vocal backer of Trump, suggested May was surrendering to Brussels.
“It is as though we are sending our vanguard into battle with the white flags fluttering above them,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
Trump has since praised Johnson and suggested he will talk to the former foreign secretary while in London.
“I like him,” Trump said of Johnson Tuesday. “Boris Johnson is a friend of mine.”
That seems like a little more significant than just catching up with friends. Johnson wants to push May into a harder Brexit than the compromise she floated this week, although for the moment May’s Conservative Party appears to be backing her up. That might change with the EU negotiators’ reaction to the plan:
The EU has issued a veiled warning that it will not budge on its red lines after Theresa May unveiled her long-awaited Brexit plan.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he would analyse the UK’s proposals with EU member states and the European parliament “in light of guidelines” drawn up by EU leaders.
This reference to guidelines was a heavy hint of the conflict to come in Brexit negotiations. The European council guidelines lay down the EU’s red lines, including the insistence that the UK cannot benefit from “cherry-picking” its favourite parts of the EU rulebook. …
The British proposals on customs, which are complex and untested, are also likely to run into trouble in Brussels. As part of an attempt to avoid a hard border on Ireland, the UK is proposing to apply EU tariffs to EU goods passing through the UK, while having the freedom to set different tariffs on goods entering the UK.
In carefully chosen language, the UK is describing this unprecedented arrangement as “as if in a combined customs territory with the EU”. But EU diplomats who heard early outlines of the plan said it sounded too close to earlier proposals that were rejected last year.
Negotiations between the EU and UK pick back up on Monday, the same day that Trump is scheduled to hold meetings with May and her government. Tonight, though, Trump and his team attended a lavish dinner hosted by May to welcome the president to the UK. No doubt she hopes that feeding Trump might keep him from feeding the wolves.