The indecent haste of Theresa May

Susanna Rustin argues in the Guardian that Theresa May being the first national leader to meet Donald Trump is ‘a national disgrace’. This depends on the purpose of May’s visit. If it were to urge President Trump to reconsider his flurry of illiberal executive orders, from a wall along the Mexican border, revocation of trade deals, approval of torture, reduction in UN funding, etc, then the free world would applaud her brave initiative and wish her every success. Sadly though, the pragmatic priority announced for her visit is to secure a trade deal for the UK with the US, something she desperately needs to shore up her otherwise vacuous Brexit strategy.

In this priority, May is morally compromised. Donald Trump is not only illiberal. He is vulgar. His much publicised comments about women, his mocking of disabled people, are sufficient in any decent civilised society to exclude him from public office for life. May’s insipid response to Andrew Marr’s challenge on Trump’s offence to women is that he has apologised. But this is inadequate. Trump would need to demonstrate substantial remorse to deserve such atonement.

So, we face the appalling fact that the US electorate has elected Trump as its President. That can only question the moral integrity of US society. Who wants a ‘special relationship’ with a US President who speaks and behaves as Trump does, or with a US society which elects him? Our special relationships should rather be with civilised societies who deeply share the UK’s moral positions and its Enlightenment values. Europe for example.

The Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is reported to be reconsidering his planned visit to the USA. Theresa May should cancel hers.

* Geoff Crocker is a professional economist writing on technology at and on basic income at His recent book ‘Basic Income and Sovereign Money – the alternative to economic crisis and austerity policy’ was recommended by Martin Wolf in the FT 2020 summer reading list.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Evershed 26th Jan '17 - 11:07am

    May’s role as the UK Prime Minister is to represent British interests not to tell the American’s she knows better than them and that they voted for the wrong President.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jan '17 - 11:08am
  • What happens if the French elect Le Pen or what about Duda or the various other right wing movements! It’s one thing to rightly see Trump as a bad guy. It’s entirely another to view the EU through rose tinted blinkers.

  • Richard Easter 26th Jan '17 - 12:43pm

    Revocation of TTIP and TPP is not illiberal. These were just corporate sovereignty agreements giving multinationals their own private legal system via offshore tribunals to take on democratically elected governments. Giving foreign multinationals more power than any other person or group in society is highly illiberal.

    TTIP and TPP have been condemned by all sections of society from the left to the right.

  • The most frightening things Trump has done so far (its less than a week) are to re-introduce Torture & the deletion of information about Climate Change from Government Websites.
    The old idea that Republicans defend Local Rights against Washington is also to be dropped – Central Grants will be withdrawn from States & Cities that dont implement all the new rules against unregistered Immigrants.

  • Nick Cunningham 26th Jan '17 - 1:17pm

    Still remember that night when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. That’s the problem, so many today have no understanding what walls represent nor indeed have the understanding, life was not a bed of roses before 1973, it was a hard for the majority. If it’s so easy to build the Brexiteers paradise of tomorrow, the question is why did some of our greatest politicians and minds failed to deliver it then, we could freely trade with the world and yet the economy never delivered. It saddens me to see walls once again coming into fashion in the mistaken belief they are the answers to our problems.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jan '17 - 1:22pm

    On Wednesday 25/1/17 at PMQ Theresa May promised military support for the Ukraine.
    The Foreign Secretary has obviously got more work to do. The body language of the Defence Secretary implied concern. Is the UK alone in this? Ukraine is not currently a NATO member. Is there support from the USA? Have there been any recent statements on this issue from the French or German governments? When the Russian Federation, the Ukraine and Belorussia left the former Soviet Union nuclear weapons in Ukraine were transferred to Russia, then led by Yeltsin.

  • Rob Parsons 26th Jan '17 - 1:32pm

    What Mrs May’s visit to Washington reveals is how poor Britain’s negotiating hand is. Of course the US is interested in a trade deal with us. They hold all the cards. They will tell us what they want, and Mrs May, abetted and cajoled by poodles Johnson, Davis and Fox, will roll over and beg for more. Trump is only interested in doing deals that benefit his kind of America and he will drive a hard bargain that will be no benefit to the citizens of the UK. This is what “taking back control” looks like: casting ourselves adrift on an open sea and waiting for a Trump sized whale to swallow us, which he certainly will. The Eocnomist says this much more eloquently than I can:

  • I am deeply unhappy with the way things are going in the USA. I would like to boycott American goods. I know there are many arguments against this but I just feel I want to do something. Anybody know of any sites that list American goods?

  • Sue Sutherland 26th Jan '17 - 2:02pm

    As a woman Lib Dem I find something repulsive in May’s desire to be Trump’s best friend but I find myself thinking ‘how can she?’ about a lot of things. I find it difficult to work out her motivation unless she simply wants power at any price. Thank you Richard Underhill for pointing out her promise to the Ukraine. If Trump does weaken NATO then this may be a way back from Brexit for us as a country and as a party. She may be thinking that the EU will then need us more than we need them so she’ll be able to get the deals she seems to think she can get. I think we must work out the Lib Dem position on this now before it actually happens, because it could be a way of convincing some Leavers that the EU is the way to peaceful containment of Putin’s ambitions and building up support for a referendum on the terms and conditions of Brexit in the context of a serious threat to Europe’s security.

  • William Ross 26th Jan '17 - 2:05pm


    I much like what Trump represents either but if you are going to boycott America better put China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, all of the Arab World and almost all of Africa first in the queue. That’s not thinking about Cuba and Venezuela.

    I think you need to get a grip on reality.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Jan '17 - 2:09pm

    It is not the duty or the role of the Prime Minister of one democratic country , to get involved in the detail of the policy of another.

    Nor is it the business of any leader , to talk about the private life of another.

    Where Trump does things that effect this country and our shared planet , any Prime Minister or leader has an opportunity for engagement , and honest direct conversation.

    When or if , as I suspect it shall be, Trump is in the dock, we shall see what we shall see.

    It is for us , as individual Liberals and Democrats , to criticise him , when he is awful, which to many of us , is often !

    If we criticise the Prime Minister of our country , and it is our country, on every single thing, we look like a very illiberal and undemocratic party. We are not that. Sometimes what is Liberal and Democratic is what is radical. Sometimes, and on these things in this increasingly dangerous world, it is what is moderate.

    I have written and spoken against Trump a lot. I have family in that country. In very many ways I love that place. But this is my country , and May is it’s Prime Minister. If she is awful herself , I shall say so openly and forcefully. Representing our interests abroad , which is what she must do , and better do, is not the time for condemnation .

    But Trump is awful !

  • As an American citizen I truly hate Trump to my core, as he is going to ruin one of my countries and harm millions of American people.

    With my British hat on though, I think you are being a little harsh on May. Telling off Donald Trump about mysogyny will change nothing, and damage the prospect of a deal which will help people in our country. It’s not like he’s the first horrible world leader who we reluctantly have to do business with, nor is he the worst

  • David Evershed 26th Jan '17 - 3:04pm

    Paul Barker

    Trump has not reintroduced torture in the USA.

    Torture is illegal and Congress would not support it being made legal.

  • Michael Cole 26th Jan '17 - 3:27pm

    Geoff Crocker writes: “Sadly though, the pragmatic priority announced for her visit is to secure a trade deal for the UK with the US, something she desperately needs to shore up her otherwise vacuous Brexit strategy.”

    I would recommend reading the book ‘Trump Revealed’ which describes, inter alia, his business dealings. On numerous occasions he has let partners and investors in his projects down, letting them hang out to dry. Many of these people invested all, or a large part, of their life savings. Trump has inevitably emerged unscathed, indeed usually showing a profit. To him this is ‘smart’ business. The authors readily acknowledge his contribution to the book but Trump has not sued, so the narrative must be essentially true.

    If you are contemplating making any kind of deal, let alone a trade deal, with Donald J Trump, be very, very, very, very careful.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Jan '17 - 4:25pm

    TTIP and TPP are greatly flawed from a free-trade point of view. In particular the corporate sovereignty provisions undermine free trade by giving foreign investors special rights to challenge democratically made domestic legislation via secret tribunals. It is unlikely that Trump has any concern over this aspect of trade agreements, or the many pro-corporate policies that are laundered through them (such as the IP-maximalism). If anything he probably thinks they don’t go far enough, and any trade deal cooked up by him is likely to have them in spades. A trade deal between Brexit UK and the Trump regime certainly would not have the safeguards to ISDS that the EU (under public pressure) forced the US to include in TTIP .

  • Another element of a misguided negotiating strategy by TM.
    Lets threaten a tax haven off the shores of Europe.
    Point out the number of German Jobs that could be lost.
    Hot foot it to the USA to cosy up to a self declared Germophobe.
    Now lets sit down a negotiate a good deal for Brexit.
    Good deals are done between parties who care about one another and based on mutual benefit.
    I despair at this government.

  • May’s very keen to meet Trump and Erdogan but won’t address the Irish Parliament… BTW if you need a laugh I really recommend this satirical piece on Foreign Office officials trying to explain to Boris Johnson that the British Empires gone!

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jan '17 - 4:59pm

    Lorenzo Cherin: The Prime Minister of Malaysia said he would ban homosexuals from entering the country. What? Suppose that Peter Mandelson (EU trade negotiator at the time) were to arrive? Refuse entry.

  • David Allen 26th Jan '17 - 5:54pm

    “if you are going to boycott America better put China, Malaysia,… all of the Arab World and almost all of Africa first in the queue”

    This spectacularly misses the point. Theresa May has not raced across an ocean to be the first leader to fawn at the feet of the new President of China, or Malaysia, etcetera. She has chosen to fawn at the feet of Donald Trump, days after his inauguration.

    It is difficult to decide which is the worst aspect of this ludicrous behaviour. Is it the moral disgrace in rushing to embrace a racist bully who grabs women by the pussy? Or is it that May’s reckless kow-tow so seriously endangers Britain?

    Trump talks about “deals”. What he means is “screwing the patsy”. Trump isn’t that smart, but he is smart enough to recognise a patsy when he sees one. May is desperately needy because Brexit means dumping most of Britain’s friends. Trump needs a market to sell US goods into. Bye bye animal welfare standards. Hello to cheap American GM foods and chlorinated chickens. Get it down you, Theresa, eat Trump junk food, or starve!

    May is not fit to be PM. This could be the beginning of her downfall.

  • Geoff Crocker

    “Our special relationships should rather be with civilised societies who deeply share the UK’s moral positions and its Enlightenment values. Europe for example”

    I’m not sure why Mrs May is so wrong attempting to do a deal with democratic America, but Europe has Enlighten values when they want to do deals with China.

    Thursday’s Bloomberg

    “Li and Merkel talked by phone on Wednesday and addressed “bilateral and multilateral issues,” according to German government spokesman Steffen Seibert. He said that Li accepted the chancellor’s invitation to visit Germany for more comprehensive talks on economic and trade issues”

  • Richard Underhill 26th Jan '17 - 8:19pm

    It has been reported that Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the USA’s southern border may mean costs of maybe $13 billion, to be paid for, at least initially, by USA. Is there also an abrogation of the 1951 UN refugee convention? Some of those arriving may, of course, be in transit through Mexico, without being Mexican citizens.
    My comment on Malaysia, above, was from the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4.

  • I heard Farage say that there could be a small fee crossing into usa to pay for it.

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jan '17 - 10:53pm

    If we do not explicitly condemn the terrible policies of other countries then in their eyes they might well believe that we as a country condone them.

    Worse, if US security forces return to torture then it will create a dilemma for the UK government – we do not use intelligence which is tainted by the torture of that intelligences source. Should we start ignoring all the intelligence eminating from the US because it might have been secured with torture?

    May has to tell Trump that torture is not on, that some of his policies are based on bigotry and that we will not roll over and accept his titbits when it comes to trade deals.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Jan '17 - 12:49am

    Richard Underhill

    I am not sure what your saying , on that, or how it is pertinent to my approach ?

    And , just to add, some good comments, but boycotts for democratic countries are never the answer in my view, included , America or Israel. The former , with Trump, might become as ghastly as the latter with their government recently, whether that is the case or not, the ballot box, and making friends with Liberal Democrats in the USA, Israel, or wherever, is the solution.

    I subscribe to the Liberal Party of New York, and make contacts with Democrats throughout this next years more essential than before !

  • I fear Brexit, but I feel that it had two sides. The positive side is that it exposed how vulnerable Britain’s economic mod would be if it leaves EU.

  • (Continue) For example, British manufacturing relied too heavily on foreign (mainly EU) suppliers, e.g. car industry importing 60% of its components from EU producers, and this makes weaker pound become less positive to British exports.

    Next, the financial sector mainly consists of international activities as opposed to financing domestic production, thus become more vulnerable to uncertainty and shocks (whereas in Germany the funding of domestic industries is much more significant).

    The high debt and deficit level, combine with low productivity, would also reduce confidence in case of uncertainty.

  • Little Jackie Paper 27th Jan '17 - 9:05am

    This morning’s Guardian write up ( of May in the US says:

    ‘On the eve of a much-anticipated visit to the Oval Office, the prime minister used a speech to Republican leaders in Philadelphia to pledge that the two countries “have a joint responsibility to lead”, but not as they did before.

    May argued that a new “special relationship” would be nothing like the one between Tony Blair and George W Bush, which saw the pair collaborate in invading Iraq and Afghanistan. “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are decisively over.”’

    That’s plenty good enough for me.

  • Nick Cunningham 27th Jan '17 - 9:12am

    ‘Theresa May suggests UK health services could be part of US trade deal’

    It seems everything is on the table in achieving these trade deals, even the NHS.

  • Arnold Kiel 27th Jan '17 - 9:20am

    Mays hastened visit, again, exposes her severe competency deficits.

    She is still obsessed with home-office issues such as border-control and imigration. On these issues she is a Brexiter (and Trumpist) at heart, more concerned with her past than the country’s future.

    Her “industrial strategy” exposes her economic incompetence: she believes she can turn an Economy built around EU-integration into one that flourishes outside. Few counties succeeded in government-led industrial strategizing decades ago, when rapid industrialization was the goal (and, unlike the UK today, they had the cash). Today it is about knowledge and global supply-chain integration; logically a supra-national phenomenon requiring supra-national governance. Her ambitious speeches, however, resemble Trump’s, at least in substance.

    Now she has demonstrated her utter incompetence in foreign affairs: Trump still has no government, not even a cabinet. There is neither a Secretary of State nor a Department of Commerce in place; key diplomats have been released before their replacements have arrived. May herself is poory briefed, Trump not at all (assuming he is briefable).

    So what is happening today is an unprepared meeting of two unprepared greenhorns, which violates practically every established rule of diplomacy. All May can hope for is nice pictures from a joint press conference with red blue and white flags to excite blind-flying Brexiteers for a few days during wich she probably successfully pushes the Article 50 bill trough Parliament. But not even that is assured (look at the Pence nomination video).

    In years to come, when the UK’s negotiation ressources are finally relieved from Brexit, the UK can start from a position of profound weakness to engage with a US-administration and its powerful negotiators with unpredictable results.

    In defying this reality, she will come back bragging to be first in line; let us at least hope she does not believe that nonsense herself. An incompetent PM is bad, an incompetent PM in denial is even worse.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jan '17 - 9:42am
  • Richard Underhill 27th Jan '17 - 9:50am
    I discussed this with a previous Commonwealth Secretary General, Shridath Ramphal
    who said it “It is a system of discrimination, but not as bad as apartheid.”

  • The Guardian article is a good illustration of why that loss making newspaper has the lowest circulation of all the popular titles.

  • Thomas – Agreed. Supply chains are so integrated across the EU that any benefit of a weaker pound is much reduced.

    But there’s an even more serious angle. The existing and rather elderly customs clearance system can handle around 50 million items per year. A new system was already in the pipeline with a design capacity of 100 million items.

    On the day we leave the EU that number will jump to to 390 million.

    But that’s just the software dimension. Dover has 40 minutes waiting time. Calais? Presumably not much more. How long does it take to build new infrastructure at ports? Will the French make it a priority on their side?

    Expect a monster pile up at customs. Even the rabidly pro-Brexit DM is alarmed.

    And if that happens expect just-in-time manufacturing supply chains to very fast cut the UK out of the loop. That means components going to the continent and also final assembly here. So planes, cars and many more.

    Does May have any idea what she’s doing? It doesn’t appear so.

  • Sue Sutherland 27th Jan '17 - 3:59pm

    Yesterday a reporter asked May about her meeting with Trump and she gave what was described as a quite flirty response. Oh opposites often attract. Yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jan '17 - 5:01pm

    There is no queue to go and visit Donald Trump. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might expect that Canada would be first but does not seem to be in a hurry. A renegotiation of Canada’s trade deals with USA would remind them of the predecessor of NAFTA and the attitudes of USA negotiators at the time. A businessman called Ross Perot opposed the policy of George H W Bush and campaigned for the Presidency in 50 states. Bill Clinton decided to go through with the deal.

  • Arnold Kiel – The problem of May’s industrial strategy is that Britain now will be cut off from EU supportz and UK economy is designed for EU integration as you said. However, Tory Green Paper did recognize several essential issues that Libdem should take note: improving national infrastructures such as housing roads, rails, energy or digital infrastructures; increasing R&D and investment funding (Britain R&D and investment spending are very low for OECD standard); forming an equivalent of American DARPA (you know that many commercialised applications in the US originated from the military). Libdem should take these ideas and correct its limitations (like the Hinkey Point problem, or the amount spent for broadband is too low), while also taking independent ideas like developing shipbuilding capacity outside BAE, and combine them with Libdem plans like Business Banking or Green Investment Bank.

  • Simon Banks 27th Jan '17 - 9:02pm

    One of the fundamental themes in British Liberalism is that foreign policy is not purely about “British interests”. Gladstone in opposition campaigned against Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria, for example. It is deeply depressing to see someone here saying the only role of our PM is to represent British interests. Besides, many issues don’t stop at national borders. Trump’s climate change denial threatens the prosperity and health of Britain, but everyone else’s as well.

    If May aligns herself with Trump and Trump touches off a trade war, our interest may not be to tie ourselves to the USA and our duty surely won’t be. On a party political level, opposing UK support for Trumpery could be a big issue.

  • Yet, subsequently as Prime Minister, Gladstone oversaw an Afghan War, the first Boer War, the invasion of Egypt and failed to provide any practical support to persecuted Christian minorities under Turkish rule despite the moral crusade of the Midlothian campaign that got him elected in the first place.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Jan '17 - 1:24am

    Sue Sutherland

    Yes, yuk, is correct ! I have been very vocal in saying May must represent our interests to Trump . But not in a nauseating way !

    Paul Holmes

    The reasons you give on Gladstone demonstrate why I am delighted to have the same birthday of the greatest Liberal leader who was Prime Minister and a man of peace far more than war, Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman !

  • I watched the news conference and it did Theresa May a lot of favours because she was articulate, intelligent and to the point – all the things that Trump wasn’t. His performance made Ronald Reagan look like Einstein. One thing that was interesting though was his answer to the question on the use of torture, where he basically said that the decision would be made by his Secretary for Defence who disagrees with him on the subject. A sign, perhaps, that he knows his limitations? Unfortunately he has appointed some pretty scary people to support him.

  • THE meeting meant nothing..It merely confirmed that Trump will tailor his performance to his audience and the occasion…NATO; lukewarm now equals 100% support..Torture; pro now equals maybe..etc
    Trump is a hard deal maker; May desperately needs a deal…As always, the devil will be in the detail, but I know who my money would be on!

    BTW…I’d like to be ‘a fly on the wall’ during his talks with Putin…T

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