Wednesday 26 June 2019

Anne Applebaum: 'Trump's only reason for British visit was to have his ego stroked'

'Trump could not accomplish anything, either for the United States or Britain.' Photo: Chris Jackson/PA Wire
'Trump could not accomplish anything, either for the United States or Britain.' Photo: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Anne Applebaum

Britain is in the grip of an unprecedented political meltdown, a crisis on a scale that was unthinkable even six months ago. As of tomorrow, the prime minister, Theresa May, will have resigned.

Support for the two historic political parties, Labour and Conservative, is at an all-time low. In their hastily planned European parliamentary elections, the new Brexit Party came first, while two anti-Brexit parties, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, came second and fourth. The ruling Conservative Party finished a distant fifth.

In total, votes for anti-Brexit parties outstripped votes for the Brexit Party, though the country remains committed to withdrawal from the EU. Some polls even show if parliamentary elections were to be held tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats would be the overall winner.

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More than a dozen people are running open campaigns for the Tory Party leadership, members of the Labour Party are openly fighting with one another, and the government has ceased to make decisions of any kind. And, this week, US President Donald Trump arrived.

Why? Clearly, he did not come to town to conduct any important business, to do any deals or negotiate any treaties: there isn't anybody to negotiate with. He might have issued some threats - there had been talk of plans to cut off intelligence co-operation with Britain if it continued to do business with the Chinese company Huawei - but the British cabinet isn't in a position to co-ordinate a response, so it hardly matters. Nor will his presence have enhanced the fabled, albeit somewhat shopworn, Anglo-American relationship.

His last visit to Britain was a PR catastrophe. He insulted Mrs May, he embarrassed Queen Elizabeth, and he even managed to annoy the 'Sun' newspaper, a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid that attacked him as "Fake Schmooze". At the time of his last visit, 77pc of Britons disapproved of the US president, and there is no reason to think that the numbers have improved.

From London's point of view, the visit made no sense, either. British attempts to humour Trump, to engage him, have all failed. May's efforts to forge a relationship with Trump had previously backfired, simply adding to her widespread unpopularity. Aware of his toxicity, the leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties did not attend a state banquet in his honour. Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, also indicated she would not meet him.

But other members of the royal family had, it seemed, no choice. A state visit, as opposed to a working visit, implied extensive time spent with the queen, who is head of state, up to and including that Buckingham Palace banquet. And this, it seems, is the point. Trump could not accomplish anything, either for the United States or Britain.

But he did achieve something which is, for him, actually more important. He was photographed with some uniquely recognisable, world-class celebrities: the queen, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry. They were all there, doing their duty, because they have to. And Trump's compulsive, narcissistic need to be the centre of attention was serviced.

Everywhere he goes, Trump is bored by working meetings, and rude to those who attend them. He can't make deals or negotiate because he doesn't know enough about the issues. But where there is empty pomp and circumstance he is impressed and pleased. The logistics of this visit, like any presidential visit, were immense. The British state will have spent £18m (€20m) on his security; hundreds of hours will have been wasted on planning. And all so one man's fragile ego could be boosted for another day. (© The Washington Post)

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