Sunday 12 May 2019

Mike Pompeo spells it out: When it comes to trade, Britain is basically a tramp waiting at America’s bins

There is something almost edifying about the Trump administration. At least they don’t bother to pretend that Britain’s role is anything other than to do as it is told

Three years and roughly eight million political lifetimes ago, a man called Barack Obama stood in a room in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and told Britain that if it voted for Brexit it would go “to the back of the queue” for a trade deal with the USA.

Britain, you may know, ignored that advice, and yet, for some mystifying reason, it appears to find itself not to at the front of the queue, and not even at the back of the queue. But rather, its role is now that of a tramp, waiting hopefully at closing time by the bins out the back of America.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is in town this week, taking his turn to stand in a room in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Pompeo is a kind of Trump-lite yoghurt in a 19-stone carton. The job became vacant, you might recall, after the last guy called the president an idiot, and in a rare moment of shrewdness in the Oval Office, Trump replaced him with one of the few people on planet Earth who would be in no position to do the same.

And here was Pompeo, standing next to Former Charterhouse Head Boy Jeremy Hunt, while the two pretended to be great mates, carrying all the while the kind of interpersonal chemistry that does not require a huge leap of the imagination to see Hunt hiding in the toilets at a summer garden party just to avoid him.

Indeed, Hunt began things with reference to the imminent the 75th D-Day commemorations, and a certain state visit that will overshadow them entirely.

“We look forward to welcoming President Trump,” he said, lying with about the same level of conviction that stops four-year-olds believing in Father Christmas. Only a small fib, of course, and a necessary one, but I have clean forgotten the last time I heard a frontline politician say anything they actually believed. It corrodes, this stuff, and the corrosion is not cosmetic anymore, it’s into the engine, the country well on its way to insurance write-off status.

And more to the point, here was Pompeo, outlining the “special relationship” as he sees it, which is to say that if Britain wants the trade deal which it wrongly imagines will salvage its economy and international reputation, it will do precisely what it’s told.

Does the UK government’s contract with Huawei for its 5G network pose a problem for the special relationship, Pompeo was asked. “I’m sure the UK would never do anything to jeopardise the special relationship,” came the answer. That’s a yes, then.

Would it pose a risk to intelligence sharing, he was also asked. “We will make sure our intelligence is held within secure networks,” came the answer. Another yes.

There is something almost bizarrely edifying about the Trump administration. Ruthless self-interest has always been the American way. It’s just that previous administrations have had the oratorical skills to conceal it within global, aspirational values. Freedom. Democracy. Stuff like that. That these guys just don’t have the bullshitting skills is refreshing in its way.

As the event began, rumours emerged that US trade officials have been referring to the forthcoming trade deal as the United States United Kingdom Agreement, USUKA for short, pronounced “you sucker”. Such rumours may not be true. But the truth within is held to be self-evident.

Moments later, Pompeo would be asking another audience within the same building, “Would the Iron Lady have allowed China to control the internet of the future?”

This is not the first time the “special relationship” has turned out to be so special that one half of it comes to visit the other half and mercilessly criticises it while it does so. The word “special” has a dubious status in the modern lexicon. Not everything described as special is done so in a good way.

Britain, in other words, will do what it’s told and wait to see what it gets. Still, what do you expect when you’re dealing with a comedy act? Not so much at the front of the queue as sat in the front row, a place for the vain, the masochistic, the desperate or the downright stupid. Or, occasionally, all four.

(Source: Independent)

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