Theresa May has another issue on her hands. An irritation at the other side of the Atlantic. Her freedom to respond is limited, but her next steps could easily define her.
Donald Trump, the leader of the free world, lives and will die by his ‘America first’ doctrine. Blind to the irony, he seems intent on nosing into the affairs of other countries.
Sweden came first. After watching a Fox News segment that tenuously linked the influx of refugees with a rise in crime, Trump did what he does best. He Tweeted. Demanding that his 40+ million followers ‘look at what’s happening last night in Sweden’.
Questionable grammar aside, many thought Trump was referencing some sort of terror attack. Naturally, many believed that this jeopardised Sweden’s image for his followers.
It would be months later that Trump would take his first swipe at the UK.
In September, he suggested that a London terrorist was on the radar of Scotland Yard prior to his attack. Regardless of whether this is true, it is no business of the Trump administration and certainly should not be used to stoke fires for his own agenda.
May had been weakened by the election and has been scrambling for allies outside of Europe ever since. It was therefore more prudent in September to keep her thoughts private as regards Trump.
In October, Trump found more time in his hectic Twitter schedule, in between tweeting about ‘Crooked Hillary’, to offer the following: ‘Just out report: United Kingdom crime rises 13% annually amid spread of Radical Islamic terror’.
May’s response was again one of silence. Still weakened by her election loss and self-conscious of her own instability, she chose to take the moral high ground and not react to petty comments on social media.
Now, she faces a much greater and more disturbing challenge.
Only last week, sat in the Oval Office with nothing better to do while his administration works around him, Donald Trump took his meddling too far.
He retweeted onto his official account two videos recorded and made by Britain First (the far-right and highly nationalist British political organisation). They show the demonisation of Muslims with no understanding or rationale of how the clips were made.
By retweeting this, Trump seems to be openly and publically endorsing fascism.
Not only has he elevated Britain First and their divisive message onto the world stage, but he openly promotes their frightening anti-Islamic propaganda.
Theresa May now enjoys a different domestic situation. Saved by her Chancellor in a popular and appeasing Budget, May is riding a (small) wave of popularity.
Number 10 had more freedom this time to respond, promptly calling Trump’s actions ‘wrong’. It may not be the most piercing of criticisms, but it will do. At least for now.
May probably did not expect her counterpart to respond the way he did. Perhaps naively she thought the government could criticise Trump’s actions quietly and move on.
This was not to be. This is not a normal president, and the ‘special relationship’ is under no normal circumstance.
[Theresa May] don’t focus on me, focus on destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place in the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!’
Clearly, Mr Trump has forgotten that the USA is doing far from fine.
Divided by his blasé and reckless grasp on power and tormented by the largest mass shooting in US history last month. The USA is doing far from fine, and distracting his public by promoting British fascism will not stand.
May knows that she is still weak. She also knows she needs to maintain the special relationship. Especially, that is, after we have left the EU behind and will be relying on the wider world to keep us afloat.
Therefore, her response to Trump must be firm and calm. She would probably like nothing better than to revoke his state visit, tell him to shove his trade offerings where the sun don’t shine, and wish him well with the next seven turbulent years.
But she can’t. She knows that this is not how the world works — despite her greater leverage since September.
Like an annoying family member, May knows she may need the US to fall back on should she fall out of favour with EU friends. As the premier of a leading western power however, she simply cannot afford to let Trump promote the divisive politics of hatred and fascism as espoused by Britain First.
Her next moves could define not only her foreign policy, but her as a leader.