Theresa May might talk some sense into Trump about torture
British Prime Minister Theresa May will become the first foreign leader to hold face-to-face talks with President Donald Trump when they meet on Friday. Trump’s long-standing adviser, Roger Stone, told VICE News that the leaders will have three issues on the agenda:
“The nature and framework of a future bilateral trade agreement post-Brexit; the need to significantly invest in Transatlantic defence and the likely state visit to London and Buckingham Palace this spring of President Trump.”
At a meeting of Republicans in Philadelphia on Thursday, the British prime minister will tell the audience that “As you renew your nation just as we renew ours – we have the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to renew the special relationship for this new age.”
May’s desire to ingratiate herself with the new president has drawn criticism in her own country from across the political spectrum. Fellow Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston tweeted: “You cannot lead on a global stage by advocating torture, disgusting racial stereotyping and turning back the clock on women’s rights worldwide.”
When asked about the possibility of allowing the military to use torture techniques in an interview Wednesday, Trump recounted a conversation with intelligence officials in which he was told that torture “absolutely” works, and argued that “We have to fight fire with fire.”
Katie Taylor, deputy director at international human rights organization Reprieve, told VICE News that the UK’s close relationship with the US means that “Trump’s fondness for torture is a serious concern.” During George W. Bush’s time as president, British agencies “shamefully became involved in the CIA rendition programme, which saw people abducted, flown to secret prisons, and subjected to appalling abuses.”
For Reprieve and anti-torture advocates on both sides of the Atlantic, the thought of a weak British prime minister aiding the revival of an American torture programme is a huge concern. The British government has, Taylor said, swept its complicity in previous torture programs under the carpet.
Roger Stone said that the “rebuilding of the defense relationship” between Britain and America “will occur both inside a redeployed NATO and outside in our bilateral relations.” On the campaign trail, Donald Trump talked often about the need for members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to pay their way, saying that the U.S. has shouldered too much of the burden for too long.
Both May and Trump have spoken warmly of each other and the implication from the Trump camp is that, under President Barack Obama, the relationship between Britain and the US weakened. “President Trump is investing in the almost dormant U.S.-U.K. special relationship because he sees it in our interest and that of the ‘English-speaking peoples’ – to use Churchill’s phrase – to do so”, Stone told VICE News.
Trump’s adviser went on to say that the president was already referring to Theresa May as “his Maggie,” that she was a person Trump would “come to adore and appreciate” and described her as “no nonsense and pragmatic.” “She had her ‘finest hour’ this week when she announced a clean break from the European Union, something that is not lost on our president,” he added.
Britain’s future departure from the European Union (EU) means of course that a bilateral trade deal will be on the agenda when the two leaders meet. Trump campaigned on the promise “America First” and has talked again and again about the damage done to American workers by free trade deals.
Britain is anxious to find something to hold onto in a post-Brexit world and opposition politicians as well as campaign groups fear that a new U.K.-U.S. trade deal will strip away regulatory protections.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the U.K. Labour party, told VICE News that Theresa May “must assure the British people that any trade deal between the United States and the United Kingdom won’t open up the National Health Service to privatisation and control by American companies.”
Corbyn added: “We won’t let Theresa May turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe to be ripped off by the world’s biggest corporations.”
Jean Blaylock, of campaign group Global Justice Now, sounded further alarm bells: “Trump’s administration is made up of multi-millionaires and billionaires from multinational corporates,” she said. “Wilbur Ross, who is expected to shape Trump’s trade policy, has been criticized for making his fortune asset stripping failing companies, without regard for jobs, pensions or safety standards.”
For Theresa May, securing the first meeting with the new American President is a prize that comes with a price. She has opened herself up to accusations that she is helping a man accused of racism, sexism, and stupidity look like a bona fide world leader. At a time when Britain’s future is gravely insecure, she may feel as though the chance to get in with the leader of the world’s most powerful country is worth it.
For the new American President, making nice with Theresa May brings the prospect of a much-needed friend and ally on the world stage. Not to mention a possible trip to Buckingham Palace and tea with the Queen.
Oscar Rickett is a freelance journalist who has worked on several documentaries about Donald Trump.
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