As US President Donald Trump makes his first state-visit to the UK, widespread plans are afoot to stage mass protests against his invitation to visit the country. A “Stop Trump” group promises to hold a “carnival of resistance,” while the inflatable “Trump baby” is expected to again hover over central London, as it did when the president visited last year.
The right of citizens to mock and protest against politicians, both domestic and foreign, is of course a cherished right in any free democracy. It was, however, noticeable that Chinese President Xi Jinping did not receive such a hostile reception when he visited Britain in 2015, except from small gatherings protesting against the occupation of Tibet. The presence in Britain of the autocratic leader of a one-party state that locks up dissidents, and that thirty years ago this week shot dead thousands of its young people for daring to call for democratic rule was met with a collective shrug in Britain. On the other hand, the elected president of the world’s most powerful democracy and Britain’s main ally in war and peace for over a century was declared persona non grata by thousands in Britain who no doubt see themselves as progressive and defenders of human rights.
Anti-Americanism has long been an element of “progressive” opinion in the UK and across Europe. It is a backhanded compliment to the US that its leaders are held to higher standards of conduct that are autocracies like China or Russia, whose hard nosed realpolitik holds in contempt liberal concepts like human rights. But what is strange is to see frontline British politicians indulging in the same popular pastime of Trump-bashing as the street protesters and failing to distinguish between Trump the man and the office of president.
The leader of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in Britain have both refused to attend the state banquet the Queen is giving in honour of the American president at Buckingham Palace. Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry put out a video message accusing the president of “destroying the world order.” This, while US troops are still engaged in international coalition efforts to help Syrians and Iraqis rid themselves of rule by Isis, which poses a real threat to the coherence of states and those that live in them and therefore to the world order.
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, meanwhile tells us that Trump is behaving like the “fascists of the 20th century” by stirring nationalist sentiment with his populist rhetoric. Equating the America First populism of Trump with the ideology of Nazism and its systematic murder of millions not only exhibits Mayor Khan’s sorry lack of historical judgement, but is gratuitously insulting to Americans. A key element of Trump’s visit, after all, is to attend events commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day - the crucial wartime allied mission to liberate Europe from fascism, a mission from which over 60,000 young American soldiers never returned home.
It might seem of little consequence that leaders of the opposition party in Britain should insult or snub the US president during his official state visit. But with the current upheaval in Britain over Brexit and the disastrous showing by the ruling Conservative party in last month’s European elections, there is now a serious possibility that Labour could before long find itself the party of government. As Britain prepares to forge a path independent of the major European trading bloc on its doorstep, it can ill afford to alienate its Transatlantic ally and chief single-country trading partner, as Labour seems to be intent on doing.
On the eve of his arrival in Britain, President Trump warned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn he was “making a mistake” by displaying antipathy to the US and hinted that this could impact Transatlantic sharing of intelligence and military secrets. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meanwhile called Corbyn’s long-standing support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela “disgusting”. In an interview with the Sunday Times on the eve of his visit, President Trump nevertheless offered to work quickly on getting a trade deal with the UK once it left the EU. This is a major contrast with the threat by Barack Obama during the EU referendum in 2016 that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for any trade deal with the US. But Labour seems happy to put it at risk.
For Labour politicians to try to court domestic support by appearing in street protests, snubbing official events and gratuitously antagonising the leader of Britain’s major ally is not only puerile, but risks damage the cooperation and trust on which Britain’s security as well as economic well being relies.
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