Joy Johnson: By courting Trump over the EU May is swimming with sharks

By the time this is read Prime Minister Theresa May will be on her way with her begging bowl to Washington. Earlier ending months of speculation, and to acclaim in the right wing press, the Prime Minister confirmed that despite the narrowness of the referendum result 52 per cent to leave and 48 per cent remain she was going to pursue a hard Brexit. We are leaving the single market – no ifs, no buts, no half in or half out, we’ll be on our own.

There was to be no mimicking the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher whose idea the single market was in the first place. In the grandeur of Lancaster House this prime minister, without a single vote being cast made this chilling threat – if she can’t make a deal on our departure from the EU she would walk away and set up a new economic model.

Despite her double speak that negotiations wouldn’t end on a cliff edge this threat represents the exact opposite. Outside the European Union, outside the single market the government’s new model would mean neo-economic liberalism becoming ever more savage.

With hard Brexiteers in the ascendancy regulations and workers’ rights that we regard as protection are for them merely red tape to be put on a bonfire. Right now, we have a crisis in the NHS. We have a government abrogating responsibility to local authorities without adequate funding for social care. And an ever growing wealth inequality that has been described as a ‘ticking time bomb’.

To be absolutely clear whatever side people were on this will be fought. And following the Supreme Court ruling that Parliament has to vote before Article 50 is triggered Jeremy Corbyn has vowed that a post-Brexit deal won’t benefit the corporate tax dodgers.

Labour won’t frustrate the process but once in Parliament amendments will be put down to stop any moves to Britain becoming a ‘bargain basement tax have off the shores of Europe.’ This is the political context that Theresa May takes with her to Washington for talks with a President that looks at the world through a prism as it affects Donald Trump.

When I tuned into inauguration day I was gloomy. By the end of the day with each frame that gloom became greater. The outgoing President Barack Obama and the First Lady were dignified and gracious. They had helped President Elect Trump throughout the transition. They had respected the protocols of the transfer of power.

Then after the oath was sworn President Trump thanked Obama for his help during the transition. It was he said ‘magnificent’. He then proceeded to trash his record along with every other former President and politician sitting there. This by someone who hadn’t served in any public office. Whose record is the reality TV performer, the business man who amassed his millions and the tape that had his’ locker room’ boasts as to what he can do to women.

It has become commonplace to deride Obama’s legacy but it should be remembered that he was hated by Republicans who did all they could to make him a one term President. They didn’t succeed on that front.

Incoherent rabble rousing
Protocol means nothing to Donald Trump. He says what’s in his mind at that particular time. In among the incoherent rabble rousing came the pledge to only ‘put America first’. Littered among the hubris of a speech that was dark from beginning to end were appeals to a nationalism riddled with appeals to reactionary sentiments.

So what does that mean for Theresa May when they meet? Her commentary thus far has been that she doesn’t want to give her negotiating hand away yet she has signalled her desperation for trade deals Trump apparently wants Theresa May to be his Maggie. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had the same world view

It is said that May will tell the President when he says things that are unacceptable. Trump’s world view is beyond the pale and not one that should be shared. Rather as journalists here didn’t hold the feet of the powerful to the fire during the referendum campaign journalists in the States are going through some soul-searching. They allowed Trump and his tweets to hog the headlines. He was gifted $2bn in free publicity during the campaign.

He knows too well the tactics of displacement. Cause a row, this time about the size of the crowds for the inauguration speech despite the evidence. Then have your senior adviser talk about ‘counter facts’ and have your press secretary tell the media one such ‘counter fact’ that the crowds were the largest of any inauguration – period.

Tactically it all makes sense. All that will be left will be Trump’s tweets. Up against a predatory Trump and his cabinet of billionaires Theresa May will be swimming with sharks.

This comment first appeared in Tribune, January 26. Joy Johnson writes in a personal capacity.