Donald Trump has loomed large over the first day of Labour’s general election campaign. Kicking things off in Battersea this morning, Jeremy Corbyn accused the US president of wanting the NHS to form part of any post-Brexit trade deal between America and the UK. “Despite his denials, the NHS is up for grabs by US corporations in a one-sided, Trump trade sellout,” the Labour leader said.
The line – a variation of which appears on the front page of today’s Daily Mirror – is one of Corbyn’s hardy perennials. We can expect to hear it every day until 12 December. But, speaking to Nigel Farage on LBC this evening, Trump handed Boris Johnson a straightforward comeback. As he did after some cajoling from Theresa May on his state visit in June, he denied that access to the health service for big pharma would be on the table in trade talks.
Yet the Labour leadership are nonetheless be delighted with the headlines from Trump’s chat with Farage. “I love it,” says a chipper source in Corbyn’s office. “Let’s have this argument for the whole campaign. Bigly.” Despite Johnson and Trump’s repeated denials that the NHS is “for sale”, they believe tonight’s exchange proves their main attack line is cutting through.
Team Corbyn will also welcome the president’s enthusiastic endorsement of Johnson as a “fantastic man”, as well as his insistence that a Labour government “would be so bad for your country”. Corbyn’s speech this morning was primarily an exercise in defining Labour’s elite enemies – Mike Ashley, Rupert Murdoch, the Duke of Westminster – and lumping Johnson in which them. As far as the Labour leadership is concerned, Donald Trump praising the Conservative leader on a radio show hosted by Nigel Farage rather proves their point.
And Trump had good news for Farage himself – should the Brexit Party choose to take the fight to the Tories. “We want to do trade with the UK, and they want to do trade with us,” he said. “To be honest with you… this deal… under certain aspects of the deal, you can’t do it, you can’t do it, you can’t trade.” There, Farage can now argue, is the proof that Johnson’s withdrawal agreement is not really Brexit.
What both attack lines have in common is that they drag Johnson onto turf he is plainly desperate to avoid: what his call “Get Brexit Done” will actually mean for the UK in practice. The more the Tories are forced to talk about the shape of the future trading relationship they want – and the trade-offs it will entail – the more optimistic their rivals become.