A visit from the President of the United States is never a small affair. Air Force One thunders into Stansted, emblazoned helicopters, specially shipped in from across the Atlantic, whir over Central London, and 1,000 US security personnel, in addition to our own Police and Armed Forces, guard the President and First Family.
In most respects this visit from President Trump is no different – except that the negative media reaction and the size of the protests seem to be of a different order. The Mayor of London has permitted an insulting dirigible of the President to float across our capital, and banners attacking the President have been set up on bridges. Nick Clegg, a former Deputy Prime Minister, is going on a protest march.
This is all very short-sighted. Regardless of what one makes of his policies and character – and everyone has their opinion, good or bad – he is the democratically-elected leader of our most important and closest ally. If we can welcome the heads of state and heads of government of countries with appalling human rights records and internal policies, we can certainly roll out the red carpet for the President of the United States. To host someone does not mean you agree with them.
Over supper at Blenheim Palace last night, the President, Prime Minister and other guests might have reflected the words of Winston Churchill, who was born there and lies buried in the nearby churchyard at Bladon, that ‘jaw-jaw’ is always preferable to ‘war-war’. It is only through meeting people, talking and exchanging views, that you have a chance to change theirs. Simply telling someone to ‘go away’ is nothing more than petulant student politics which rarely achieves anything.
President Trump’s immigration policy of separating children from their families, his short-sighted policy of tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran, his re-tweeting of anti-Muslim sentiments from a far-right group here in Britain, his allegation that London hospitals are like ‘warzones’ as a result of knife crime, are all wrong.
However, on some issues his instincts are right. On NATO, the United States has given great service to European security, and it is hard to disagree with his general point that other NATO members should step up to the plate, and quickly. Elsewhere, his policy on North Korea appears to be bearing fruit. At home, his policy of tax cuts is helping many hard-working Americans and increasing Government revenues through record tax receipts.
Meanwhile, he has also told some home truths about the UK’s present EU negotiating stance as detailed in this week’s White Paper. Because we would be embracing the EU’s protectionist non-tariff barriers, courtesy of the ‘Common Rule Book’, a trade deal with the US would be less likely when we leave – and this is from a President who wants to do a deal, unlike his predecessor who once stated the UK would be ‘at the back of the queue’.
So, instead of being rude to the President, we should continue to engage constructively in order to advance our mutual interests – and meeting someone is the best means of achieving this.