Donald Trump accused of interfering in British politics
As the US president touches down for state visit, his comments on Brexit and the Tory leadership race risk diplomatic spat
Donald Trump has been accused of trying to interfere in Britain’s domestic affairs after the US president endorsed Boris Johnson and said the UK should push for a no-deal Brexit.
In an interview with The Sunday Times ahead of a controversial three-day state visit, which begins today, Trump said the next prime minister should refuse to pay the £39bn Brexit divorce bill and “walk away” if Brussels does not bow to Britain’s demands.
The US president, who the Daily Telegraph says “is proud of his disruptive influence on politics in America and abroad”, also said Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage should be involved in negotiating Britain's exit from the European Union.
In what the Sunday Times calls “a dramatic break with diplomatic convention, [Trump] launched a controversial foray into British politics, calling on the government to stop delaying Brexit and signalling that the 'excellent' Boris Johnson should be prime minister”.
CNN says Trump’s comments have “sent Britain’s establishment into a spin” and “will do nothing to ease [Theresa] May’s last days in office”, after she announced last month she was stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party in light of her failure to deliver on the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
With both Johnson and Farage on the up, “the US president is winning all his bets in the UK, and it would be out of character if he did not remind the hapless outgoing prime minister of that fact”, says Julian Borger in The Guardian.
His comments have, however, drawn a stinging rebuke from senior British figures from across the political divide. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Trump’s endorsement of Johnson represented an “unacceptable interference” in Britain’s affairs.
Corbyn, who has declined an invitation to attend a state banquet with Trump during the visit, said “the next prime minister should be chosen not by the US president, nor by 100,000 unrepresentative Conservative party members, but by the British people in a general election.”
Speaking to The Independent, which said the comments “risk sparking a diplomatic row on the eve of the state visit”, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a Tory former foreign secretary, said the comments by the “narcissistic and egocentric” Trump were “unprecedented for a president of the United States”.
“There’s nothing illegal about it, there’s nothing unconstitutional about it, it’s just distasteful interference in other people’s business,” he said.
Outgoing Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable also condemned the remarks, and one MP suggested the Queen should rescind Trump’s invitation to a state banquet tomorrow night.
Trump’s comments have drawn comparisons with that of his predecessor Barack Obama, whose last-minute intervention in the run up to the EU referendum campaign is widely regarded to have backfired, with some even suggesting it contributed to Leave winning.
At the time, the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson and others condemned a speech by the then-US president which warned Britain would be pushed “to the back of the queue” in any trade negotiation if it voted for Brexit.
“Brexiteers expressed outrage at Obama telling a few truths during the referendum campaign” says Cable. “I look forward to hearing them pour the same opprobrium on bully boy Trump for intervening in the contest to become Tory leader”.
As yet Boris Johnson’s office has not mentioned the remarks or Trump’s endorsement.
Trump and his family are due to meet the Queen today before enjoying a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. He is also due to hold talks with May and attend D-Day commemorations in Portsmouth before leaving on Wednesday evening for further ceremonies in France.
With up to a million people expected to protest his visit, security is expected to be tight, with the traditional open carriage procession down The Mall with the Queen set to be shelved.
Writing in The Observer, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said that the US president was “one of the most egregious examples” of a growing global threat from the far-right.
Khan, who has repeatedly clashed with Trump, said it was “un-British” to be rolling out the red carpet for someone whose “divisive behaviour flies in the face of the ideals America was founded upon - equality, liberty and religious freedom”.
“Britain is hoping Trump's visit will bolster its ambitions to work out a free trade deal with the United States if Brexit means a go-it-alone trade policy,” says the Telegraph, but “some Conservatives and the opposition Labour party... fear Britain would be steamrolled by the far bigger US into accepting an unbalanced accord, especially given Trump’s ‘America First’ stance in shaking up trade ties with Mexico, Canada, Japan and China”.
It could also have consequences on the other side of the Atlantic.
Claiming “the British royals will be serving as co-stars and extras in stock footage for Trump’s 2020 re-election ads,” Borger says “the rich pageantry that the British monarchy supplies will not only distract from the lingering clouds of suspicion, but send a bright red, white and blue message of reassurance to the Trump faithful that, while his domestic enemies might yap at his heels, he is still treated like royalty in foreign capitals”.