President Donald Trump, famously, has two modes: flattery and hostility. Theresa May had a taste of the latter following Trump’s decision to cancel his trip to the UK. But he has changed mode again for Davos – and is now laying it on thick.
At their press conference today, he told the PM: ‘There was a little bit of a false rumour out there, I just wanted to correct it. We love your country. We have the same ideals and there’s nothing that would happen to you that we wouldn’t be there to fight for you … We’re on the same wavelength in every respect.’
Music to Brexiteer ears. In case there was doubt, he added: ‘I have tremendous respect for the Prime Minister…the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot.’ He also said that Britain and America are ‘very much joined at the hip’ when it came to the military. All that on top of yesterday’s phone call between the President and Prime Minister, in which he told her that she was the 21st-century Churchill. The old charmer is fully engaged.
The British government will be thrilled at these compliments. Brexit Britain is putty in Trump’s hands. May courted him at the start of his administration, and quite rightly — as we extricate ourselves from the European Union, we need America, our greatest ally, more than ever. But Trump, a salesman, can spot a desperate customer when he sees one. He knows he has what deal-makers call leverage. In as much as thinks about Britain at all, he knows we need him more than he needs us.
May’s government know that too. The row over the Britain First tweets, the angry Trump tweets to May that followed that, and the recent awkwardness over the Trump visit and the US embassy in London were far more worrying for Theresa May than they were for Team Trump. You can get a sense of how distressed the British government were by looking at Boris Johnson’s angry tweets to professional Trump-hater Sadiq Khan two weeks ago. This was followed by paranoid British reports about how Trump was going to shun May and meet Macron in Davos. Britain is like a jealous mistress. We pretend to hate Trump, and yet we are worried that some swarthy, camp Frenchman will steal the Donald away.
But after all that, Trump has turned on the amiability once again — and we can all start talking about the special relationship again. The trouble is, much as he and May want to tell us they like each other, their body language tells another story: she clearly thinks he’s an unusual orange person (he is) and he clearly thinks she is horribly stiff (she is). But hey ho. We are where we are, for now at least. Britain should probably be grateful that the leader of the free world is looking kindly on us.