This week it was Trump’s turn to add further strain on the “Special relationship”, with the President choosing retweet 3 videos from the fringe far-right Britain First group that claimed to show Muslim youths committing acts of violence. Once again it displayed his penchant for rash, badly thought out actions, leaving his spokespeople to clean up his mess.
Besides the fact that the videos are of dubious provenance (the Dutch Embassy confirming that one of the perpetrators wasn’t a migrant as claimed), Trump’s actions do nothing other than incite hatred. Irrespective of the content of the video, by posting isolated incidents of cruelty without context with captions of “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”, the tweets only motive is evidently to increase anti-Islam sentiment and preach hate, the opposite of what any US president should be doing.
Moreover by having the President of the United States retweet content from Britain First, he has given the small extremist nationalistic group (that was formed by extremist outcasts from the BNP) an enormous level of free publicity. As a result, news channels are forced to talk about them thus further increasing their public exposure. This was just about the best outcome Britain First could have envisaged. Rather ironically in their posting of explicit, violent videos such as “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!”, they are not dissimilar from their Islamic extremist groups they so vehemently claim to oppose.
However the biggest impact from Trump’s myopic actions are by far the effect it has on Theresa May. Ever since Trump was elected, May has been trying desperately to attract his favour and thus strengthen Britain’s relationship with America in the post-Brexit world. She was the first foreign leader to visit Trump in the White House, only 7 days after his inauguration. Even after Trump’s numerous blatant violations of ‘British values’ such as in the Muslim Ban in January, May refused to condemn Trump’s actions until pressure finally forced her to concede that Number 10 “didn’t agree” with America’s “approach”.
Thomas Mair, the murderer of British MP Jo Cox, shouted “Britain First” repeatedly as he shot and stabbed her. This coupled with the inflammatory content Trump posted meant May would have no choice, but to post a serious rebuke. She was joined by a multitude of figures across every mainstream party as well as religious figures such as the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury.
Despite the strong response from May, Trump refused to back down and as he always does, he took May’s comments as a personal attack, issuing an angry response-
“Don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom”.
In doing so, Trump knowingly undermined May’s position. In the position that she is in regarding Brexit, May has to maintain a friendly relationship with Trump, however his inflammatory retweets and unrepentant behaviour has crossed a clear red line.
If she asks the Queen to cancel the state visit or to not invite him to Prince Harry’s wedding, she would involve the Royal Family in politics and incense Trump personally, thus jeopardising their relationship. If she does nothing, coupled with her previous insipid responses to the almost universally reviled Trump, she will look even weaker. If a post-Brexit Britain is going to force us to suck up to other leaders such as Trump in order to get trade agreements, maybe Brexit won’t allow for a renaissance by unshackling us diplomatically from the tyranny of Europe after all?
As a result, May has been forced to walk this tightrope that Trump has knowingly presented with her. However, luckily for her, as seen with Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian PM, who had a diplomatic spat with Trump regarding a migrant deal regarding asylum seekers on Australian islands such as Nauru, overtime Trump is capable of softening his stance. Regardless, this twitter spat has both angered Britain and harmed the relationship between May and Trump, doing no good for either leader during a time when both of them are sorely in need of allies. However I wouldn’t be surprised if by next week everybody has forgotten this incident, but for the wrong reasons.