Over the past two and a half years, the president has interfered in the U.K.’s domestic politics. He has repeatedly undermined its national security with his comments and actions after terrorist attacks in Britain. He has bullied and humiliated the prime minister, Theresa May. He has accused British intelligence agencies of spying on him, even after he promised not to do so. Trump has taken a predatory approach in trade talks, seeking to squeeze controversial concessions out of London at a moment of weakness, even at the risk of sabotaging the prime minister’s Brexit deal. He refused to listen to the British government on vital issues of shared concern, such as Iran and climate change.
And then there is the policy.
John Bolton has been in regular contact with leading Brexiteers, even as they warred with the prime minister over the nature of Brexit. White House sources told Axios that Bolton “encouraged the Brexiteers to keep it up.”
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have made it clear that the U.K., if it wants a free-trade deal, will have to choose America’s regulatory framework over the European one, putting the U.K. in a position of being unable to conclude a trade deal with the EU 27, its largest trading partner. Such a deal would include provisions on chicken and access to the National Health Service that would almost certainly not make it through the House of Commons.
The Trump administration castigated the British in public for their reluctance to sever ties with the Chinese technology firm Huawei, but was very slow to present evidence that Huawei posed a security risk and to work with the British on the problem. Even those modest efforts failed spectacularly when the May government said it would move ahead with granting Huawei access to parts of the U.K. telecom network. The Brexiteers, supposedly Trump’s allies, look set to continue this policy if one of them succeeds May. For instance, Dominic Raab, a leadership contender and the former Brexit secretary, told the BBC he would abide by May’s decision.
The British also feel as if they have gotten nothing from the Trump administration on their key foreign-policy priorities, including climate change and Iran. Privately, British diplomats vent their frustration at the administration. Publicly, they have no interest in acknowledging there is a problem, solely because they have so many other problems to deal with.
The United States needs the U.K. It will have to do more than keep the bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval Office. To preserve the alliance, it needs a very different approach. It should work with the U.K. on a trade deal that is compatible with the closest-possible relationship with the EU 27 and preserves the Good Friday Agreement with Northern Ireland. It should devise trilateral structures to preserve security cooperation across the Atlantic. It should open a strategic dialogue with the U.K. on China and listen to Britain on Iran and climate change.
None of this will happen in the foreseeable future. Instead, the situation is likely to go from bad to worse next week.