Expert View

State visit is chance to remind Trump of EU’s role in peace

by David Hannay | 23.04.2019

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

From the day she took office in July 2016, Theresa May’s government has insisted – with steadily decreasing credibility – that Brexit would strengthen rather than weaken the UK’s crucial relationship with the US. There’s little sign of that. Nevertheless, a presidential state visit has now been pencilled in for June 3, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of D-Day – where the EU’s role in the security of this continent couldn’t be more pertinent.

A new UK/US trade treaty was to be the jewel in the crown of our independent post-Brexit trade policy which would compensate for the damage likely to be done to our main trade relationship as a member of the EU. It was assumed the administration of Donald Trump, which in contrast to every other US administration from Truman to Obama has flaunted its hostility to the EU and been a vocal supporter of Brexit, was bound to pay more attention to our interests and our policies. It has not quite worked out that way.

Last week the recently re-elected Democrat Speaker of the US House of Representatives, which under the US constitution plays a vital role in the negotiation and ratification of any trade treaty, warned that no such treaty which damaged the Good Friday agreement on Northern Ireland had any chance of being ratified by Congress. And yet that is just what our government’s most enthusiastic Brexiters are setting out to do with their rejection of the Irish backstop in the UK’s Withdrawal Treaty with the EU.

Even without that warning, the chances of any UK/US trade agreement negotiated by the most protectionist US president since the 1930s bringing net benefit to the UK was vanishingly small. More likely we would be pressed to swallow a number of unpalatable concessions which would damage our food protection and the NHS.

The Trump administration’s main foreign policy decisions have likewise been inimical to the UK’s interests and have invariably been undertaken without any advance consultation. Withdrawal from the Paris climate change accords is hardly going to help achieve one of the government’s main objectives – tackling global warming. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the Golan Heights as part of Israel’s territory, in defiance of international law and UN Security Council resolutions, is only too likely to further destabilise a region on our doorstep. Weakening NATO’s deterrent capacity vis-a-vis a newly assertive Russia puts our own security under threat. The list goes on, and it could get longer in the next two years.

That is the background against which it looks as if Donald Trump may be cashing and – in the prime minister’s extraordinarily premature invitation during his first week in office – paying a state visit to the UK, when he comes to Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

The one thing we must not do is to dishonour the sacrifice of those US service men and women  who gave their lives to liberate Europe. But there are surely better ways of doing that than feting a US president who, had he been of that generation, would certainly not have been present on Omaha Beach. In recent years the French government has found a fitting way to honour our own citizens who took part in the landings. Can we not do the same for their US counterparts?

And during those commemorations might it not be appropriate to remind the US president that both NATO and the EU have made and are continuing to make a vital contribution to the security and prosperity of a continent, to which, after all, we too belong?

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe