Europe and Britain have never seen anything like it. Donald Trump has been roaring through the continent like a hurricane, upsetting politicians as he delivers one bombshell after another.
First he picked a fight with America’s Nato partners, calling them ‘delinquent’ for not meeting their financial obligations to the organisation. Germany’s Angela Merkel was on the receiving end of the biggest blast.
As an affronted German Chancellor was smoothing her ruffled feathers, the Great Disrupter turned his bombastic thoughts to Britain, declaring that Theresa May’s Brexit plan was a betrayal of those who wanted to leave the EU.
President Trump and Theresa May meet at Chequers
But far worse was to come. His contention in an interview with the Sun newspaper that her latest proposal would ‘probably kill’ any trade deal with the US has dealt it a near mortal blow.
The American President deliberately turned the knife when he declared that Boris Johnson — who resigned earlier this week in protest at Theresa May’s plan — would make a ‘great prime minister’. His statement, ‘I think he’s got what it takes’, carried the implication that she hasn’t.
It’s difficult not to feel for Mrs May, caught in the whirlwind. Did Trump have to humiliate her by praising her most deadly political enemy, who will almost certainly sooner or later try to topple her?
The American President deliberately turned the knife when he declared that Boris Johnson would make a ‘great prime minister’
His subsequent statement that he has a ‘very, very strong’ relationship with Mrs May will scarcely heal the wound. Nor will anyone be convinced by his absurd claim yesterday that the Sun interview was ‘fake news’. It’s all on tape!
Apart from being discourteous to his host in Britain, Trump stands guilty of interfering in the political affairs of a sovereign state by _singling out Boris for praise.
But his most incendiary statement — that Britain can probably kiss good-bye to a trade deal with the US if it goes ahead with the blueprint set out in Thursday’s White Paper — was perfectly in order.
It is simply wrong to assert, as Jon Sopel, the BBC’s US Editor and inveterate Trump hater repeatedly did on television and radio, that the President was interfering in our affairs, as Brexiteers allege Barack Obama did before our referendum.
The two cases are entirely different. David Cameron specifically asked President Obama to issue the threat that Britain would be required to wait at ‘the back of the queue’ for a trade deal if it voted to leave the EU.
U.S. President Donald Trump and the Queen inspect the Coldstream Guards during a visit to Windsor Castle in Windsor, July 13
Trump was obviously not seeking to influence voters since there is no referendum in the offing. And far from spouting what a British Prime Minister had begged him to, he was speaking his own mind in a way Theresa May found deeply uncomfortable.
No, he was spelling out a home truth — namely that if Britain remains part of the EU single _market for manufactured goods and agricultural products, it will be very difficult to sign a new trade agreement with America.
Maybe he exaggerated the impediments to such an agreement. Yesterday he backtracked, saying a trade deal will ‘absolutely be possible’. Of all the people in the world, the American President surely has the right to say whether or not a trade deal with Britain is on the cards.
The Queen meets the President of the United States of America and Mrs Trump
Trump, in short, is telling it as he sees it — even if changes his line and shamelessly denies what he said the previous day. In his forthright and often tactless way, he approaches problems with a fresh eye, and a kind of blundering directness.
That is what he did in Brussels on Wednesday. How can it be morally defensible for Germany to devote a measly 1.24 per cent its national economic output to defence while America spends 3.6 per cent?
Along comes Trump, with the clear-sightedness of the outsider, and bluntly announces it can’t go on. European politicians and their media claque naturally squeal because he is upending long-standing arrangements which have suited them.
Of course, Trump’s bark is worse than his bite. His customary approach is to open proceedings with a threat or an insult, and then to announce at the conclusion that he has secured the agreement he wanted, and that all parties are happy.
So after riling Nato allies on Wednesday, he announced on Thursday, without producing any evidence, that a consensus had been achieved that the Europeans would stump up more money.
The Trumps walking with the Queen at Windsor Castle
Similarly, when he leaves our shores tomorrow for a showdown or love-in (or both) in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, he will probably shower Theresa May with praise in terms at variance with his previous criticisms.
That’s his approach: insult followed by conciliation. Kim Jong-un, the thug who rules North Korea, started out in Trump’s lexicon as ‘little rocket man’, was partially embraced, then rejected, before being warmly embraced again.
Trump’s style is unlike that of any other statesman, though in his preparedness to offend leaders, and ignore the scruples of polite society, there is something of Margaret Thatcher about him. For all his intermittent wild judgments, and despite his abrasive style, there remains an exhilarating freshness about him — exhilarating, that is, not for the political classes, whose values and beliefs he threatens and disrupts, but for ordinary people who believe he speaks to their fears and hopes.
Who can doubt that most of the 17.4 million voters who backed Leave — and some Remainers frustrated by the Government’s glacial progress in negotiations — will have raised a private cheer at Trump’s plain speaking on Thursday?
Which brings me to the protesters who have been trying to thwart the President’s visit. I personally feel relaxed about the relatively small number of demonstrators.
Far more contemptible are the virtue-signalling politicians who are eager to insult the leader of the Free World, and risk jeopardising relations with the President of our most important ally.
This is what the former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, tweeted yesterday: ‘Right, I’m going on the anti-Trump demo. I had no intention to, but his crazed attacks on the EU, Nato and WTO have changed things. He dislikes everything I believe in and believes in everyone I dislike!’
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, could have found a perfectly good reason for banning the offensive 20ft balloon of Trump wearing a nappy that has been flying over the capital. Doesn’t this pathetic protest exhibit the boorishness which the President’s detractors claim to find in him?
How much cleverer is Emmanuel Macron in dealing with this force of nature than our home-grown dullards! When the French President visited Washington in April, he allowed his hand to be clasped, and didn’t demur when Trump flicked some dandruff off his collar.
But despite the endearments, he still criticised the American President’s world view in an address to Congress with almost Trumpian bravura.
Ed Miliband (centre) joins demonstrators on the ‘Stop Trump’ march through London, as part of the protests against the visit of US President Donald Trump to the UK
Let me say that I am relieved that the dreadful Donald Trump is not my leader. I can seeing how annoying he is. By his side, our own Boris Johnson is the epitome of probity and restraint.
But what he said on the subject of Brexit will have struck a chord in many hearts. We have a slow-footed and timorous Government that has taken an inexcusably long time to produce a half-baked plan cooked up by plodding civil servants.
Almost certainly — as Boris himself suggested last month in a secretly recorded speech — if Donald Trump had been negotiating our exit from the EU we would not be stuck in the ditch that we are. Nor do I think we would be if Margaret Thatcher had been our leader.
Fear and deference have informed all our dealings. The EU has set the agenda throughout the proceedings, and sent our negotiators back to the London with the word ‘No!’ ringing in their ears.
None of us wants the narcissistic and mendacious Donald Trump. But how I long for some of the Great Disrupter’s courage and clear-sightedness. How refreshing, and exhilarating, to have a leader who understood the yearnings of the British people.