Theresa May could be Trump's best asset

The Prime Minister has scored an important coup by being the first head of government to meet President Trump on Friday.

The PM's visit to Washington could yield quick wins for both May and Trump, argues Stephen Day
The PM's visit to Washington could yield quick wins for both May and Trump, argues Stephen Day

This meeting, a mere week after the President’s inauguration, will not only help to deal with the customary media speculation about the state of the "special relationship", but will also be of significant benefit to Brexit Britain, and critically, for Trump also.

British Prime Ministers have been visiting the US for decades, with Tony Blair the most regular visitor, making 22 trips during his premiership. However, it is the influence and status of Churchill and Thatcher that May will hope to emulate.

Also read: 'Well executed' but is this as good as it gets for May? 4 PRs on the PM's big speech

If a strong relationship with a female British Prime Minister makes Trump seem like Ronald Reagan, he may come to value Mrs May’s attention.

Trump needs to build respect and credibility internationally and at home and Theresa May is well-placed to help him.

She is one of the most powerful women in the world and is representing America’s oldest ally.

If she can get the Thatcher vibe going, then she really can be seen as a significant asset for Trump.

This will assist Britain’s relationship with the US but also enhance her status, potentially making her an intermediary with the rest of the world.

It may be ‘America First’, but perhaps Britain can be a close second and Trump’s dismissive attitude to the EU can only enhance Britain’s position.

But how best can May manage the mercurial Trump?

Trump has appropriated the ‘America First’ slogan of 1930s isolationist Charles Lindbergh, but the historical figure Trump most resembles is America’s youngest President, Theodore Roosevelt.

Trump does not quite seem the sort to "talk softly and carry a big stick", as Roosevelt advised, but there are certainly similarities between the bullish enthusiasm of the two larger-than-life characters.

Trump’s fight for the middle class echoes Roosevelt’s Trust-busting of big business. Similarly, on foreign policy Roosevelt sought to build good relations with Britain.

Theresa May will find some basis for co-operation on grand strategy – encouraging other European countries to increase defence spending and on action against ISIS, although there will be substantive disagreement over Russia.

The main objective for the Prime Minister in her White House visit will be to make progress in the field of trade.

An American deal would not quite make up for the imminent disruption of trade with Europe but would mitigate against many of the economic risks around Brexit.

There are potential quick wins for both May and Trump.

A deal with Britain will not threaten blue-collar American jobs, but would be built around complementary trade of high-value professional and financial services.

There will be differences over agriculture, industrial standards, environmental issues and public procurement, but in practice a bilateral deal between Britain and the US will be easier than one between America and the 28 members of the EU.

These issues do not need to be settled immediately as Britain cannot sign a deal until it has exited the EU, but this does mean that for Theresa May, this visit is likely to be first of many, and could be of great value to both parties.

Stephen Day is COO and MD of public affairs at Burson-Marsteller UK

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