Further confirmation has arrived that U.S. President Donald Trump will make his long-expected visit to the UK in “early 2018,” according to U.S. ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson. Trump will come to the UK on a “working visit” to open the new U.S. embassy in Battersea. It has also been speculated that Trump’s visit will see him arrive on the remote and sparsely populated Isle of Lewes, the birthplace of his mother.
It is widely believed that the government now regrets its decision to offer the invitation of a state visit so early in Trump’s presidency, considering it is an honour usually (though not always) reserved for second-term presidents.
May’s visit to the White House in January, which made her the first foreign leader to do so, likely did not help her popularity in Britain, with many criticising the visit and a now-infamous photo of Trump and May hand-in-hand, gracing the front page of most newspapers.
Originally billed as a full state visit — including a meeting with the Queen — Donald Trump’s visit to the UK has already been downgraded, after an immediate and large public outcry, including a petition requesting his visit be downgraded that received 1.8 million signatures on the government’s official portal.
Events since then, right up to his retweeting of Britain First earlier this month and subsequent spat with Theresa May, have fuelled further opposition to any visit made by the president.
Thought to have been scheduled for 2017, the visit was postponed, reportedly due to concerns from Trump that any visit would be met with large-scale protests. After the announcement of Trump’s controversial so-called “Muslim-ban,” thousands took to the streets in cities all over the UK to protest the policy.
Later in June, amid speculation that Trump’s visit would be a “surprise one,” which would see him visit one of his golf courses in Scotland, protesters made clear that they would be able to mobilise quickly in the event of a such a visit. This, and the increasing disapproval for Donald Trump shown in opinion polls, would suggest that the President’s fears are more than justified.
Now, after the U.S. ambassador’s confirmation that a working visit will go ahead in early 2018, a group of 100 Labour MPs have signed a letter to Theresa May, urging her to cancel the visit entirely.
Though well-intentioned, and perhaps more political savvy than many realise, in that it will likely force the government to defend Trump to some extent, this request, if granted, seems more likely to gift the U.S. President an easier time, and cause more problems for Britain, than to allow his visit to go ahead.
Firstly, and as many in the UK government have been quick to point out, Britain’s political and economic relationships with the U.S. are arguably its most important, and are indeed likely to play an even larger role in shaping Britain’s position on the world stage post-Brexit.
A recent trade-row concerning Bombardier, a Canadian aeroplane manufacturer that provides thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland, gave cause to believe that, despite friendly rhetoric, Britain’s interests would be a secondary concern to Trump’s America First economic policy, but what little ability the UK government currently has to sway Trump seems highly unlikely to be increased in the event of his invitation to the UK being rescinded.
Therein lies the issue. Despite even the strongest ideological opposition to Donald Trump’s politics, it’s surely difficult to reconcile a course of action that might jeopardise in any way Britain’s future trading relationship with one of the world’s largest markets, considering that the consequence might well be a substantial loss of jobs here in the UK.
Admittedly, welcoming President Trump with an emphatic and determined display of civil protest, aimed not at his country, but at his ideas and his beliefs, seems unlikely to serve a much more useful purpose than rescinding his invitation.
However, if nothing else, it puts Donald Trump in an uncomfortable position and provides an opportunity for him to once again demonstrate his failings, without too much responsibility being placed on the UK government, which could be translated into unfavourable policy on trade, for example.
It’s said that Trump is at his least “presidential” when he is fighting petty battles, often relating to his popularity. The claims about attendance at his inauguration and the fact that he received fewer votes than his opponent still stick like a thorn in his paw and elicit particularly childish reactions when brought up. When he is faced with the categorically undeniable fact that he is, to a certain degree, disliked or unpopular, he regresses even further into this childishness, and it’s here where the insufficiencies of his temperament and manner are most apparent.
Conversely, where Trump thrives, and where he is able to most energise his base, is in causing uproar and outrage, and then mocking it. During the 2016 election, it was not uncommon to hear voters saying that, despite not liking Trump, they liked how he irritated the people they dislike even more.
This is emblematic of Trump; he thrives not on his own virtues, but on the often-imagined flaws of others. In the alternate reality he attempts to create for his supporters, the world is being taken over by the “Liberal Elite,” who enforce the dogmatic rule of “political correctness” with ruthless conviction. He alone is able to speak sense and say what needs to be said, in the face of the pearl-clutching “social justice warriors” and the biased “mainstream media,” who want nothing more than to silence him.
To play into this rhetoric by effectively announcing such strong revulsion to Trump’s opinion’s that we are unable to accommodate him in our country, would not only vindicate this worldview to his supporters, but would also let President Trump off the hook, considering his already-stated fear of public unrest in response to his visit.
Indeed, given this fear and considering his recent and unprecedented Twitter jibe directed at Theresa May, one does wonder if the President might secretly like to see his invitation rescinded to avoid personal embarrassment. Though of course only speculation, the possibility of this alone seems to be a good enough justification to allow the visit to go ahead.
To deny Trump entry to the UK on the basis of an undeterminable level of public disapproval would, at worst, harm diplomatic and economic relations with a long-standing and important ally and, at best, provide ammunition with which some could (perhaps partially rightly) berate us with tirades weighed down with such phrases as “snowflake” and “safe space.”
Receiving the President and offering up some form of protest will certainly not bring down his regime — and it will certainly not affect his policy or politics — but in stopping his visit, we would be awarding Trump an easy victory and denying ourselves the opportunity to clearly demonstrate our distaste in a way that he is unable to deny or ignore. This alone seems worth the cost of an invitation.