Before the UK voted for Brexit, US president Barack Obama warned that doing so would put the country in the “back of the queue” for trade talks with the US. Britons ignored him and voted to leave the European Union anyway.
Britain had hoped to fare better with Donald Trump, who declared himself “Mr. Brexit” and promised to prioritize Britain in trade talks if he won the election. But Britain was nowhere near the front of the queue when president-elect Trump started making his first calls to foreign his leaders. British prime minister Theresa May was ninth on his list, behind the leaders of such countries as Egypt and Australia.
When they did speak, May’s spokesperson described their first conversation as “very warm,” in which Trump said that “he looked forward to enjoying the same close relationship that [Ronald] Reagan and [Margaret] Thatcher had.” But will Trump be May’ s transatlantic “political soulmate” as Reagan was to Thatcher?
Thatcher was the guest of honor at both the first and the last of Reagan’s state dinners as president. And although—or perhaps because—their relationship was based on mutual trust and respect, neither had a problem castigating the other. This was best illustrated in a phone conversation during the Falklands War, where Thatcher was furious with the US’s appearance of neutrality:
“I wonder if anyone over there realizes, I’d like to ask them. Just supposing Alaska was invaded …” asked Thatcher. “Now you’ve put all your people up there to retake it and someone suggested that a contact could come in … you wouldn’t do it.”
“No, no, although, Margaret, I have to say I don’t quite think Alaska is a similar situation” said Reagan.
“More or less so,” snapped Thatcher.
For his part, Reagan loyally defended Thatcher despite their sometimes frosty conversations. When Charles Price, the US ambassador to London, warned of Thatcher’s tendency to ride roughshod over dissenters, Reagan dismissed the warning and went on to praise “Margaret’s perseverance and persuasiveness,” which he described as one her “greatest strengths.”
Could May and Trump really have a similar relationship? May has been called on to moderate Trump (paywall) in a similar fashion; his protectionist policies spell trouble for Britain as it prepares to negotiate new trade terms with the US and the rest of the world. But she’s in stiff competition with Nigel Farage, ex leader of the nationalist UKIP party and Trump fanboy, who is positioning himself as the UK’s strongest link to the president-elect and has already met him in New York. In response, May is planning on launching a “charm offensive” to freeze out Farage and get her reins on Mr. Brexit.