Tory Brexiteers are in denial over Donald Trump

Events at the G7 underline how Leavers cannot pin their hopes on a free trade deal with the US. 

NS

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Theresa Villiers, the Conservative Brexiteer and former cabinet minister, had the unenviable task of trying to spin Donald Trump’s kamikaze diplomacy at last week’s G7 summit as a positive for Britain last night.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour:

“Clearly he prefers bilateral discussions to unilateral. So I think there's still every chance of reaching a trade agreement with the United States - clearly he's not a fan of multilateral organisations like the G7.”

At a basic level, Villiers is right – the president’s decision to reject the G7’s joint communique proves that much. But events in Quebec offer no evidence that this will be benefit Brexit Britain, and an awful lot to suggest the opposite.  

Of all the G7 leaders, Theresa May was alone in not having a bilateral with Trump. That is hardly a ringing endorsement of Villiers’ thinking. Her attempt to isolate Putin on the global stage in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning was also flatly ignored by the president, who instead humiliated her by calling for Russia to be readmitted to the group.

With Trump now en route to Singapore, May faces the ignominous prospect of having had less facetime with the man who is notionally Britain’s foremost ally than Kim Jong-un. That in itself speaks to the deficiency in Villiers’ thinking. Trump is drawn to one-on-one encounters with world leaders, but only insofar as they offer opportunities for power-play.

That, in practice, has meant cleaving to autocrats, strongmen and the leaders of the EU. Brexit means Britain has ceded its claim to the latter status and May, or for that matter any other British leader, can’t be said to be either of the former.  

The Prime Minister and her successors will be lucky to get much time around the table with Trump, let alone manage to overcome his protectionist impulses and parlay it into a fully-functioning trade deal. No matter how manfully Tory Leavers try to keep it alive, the Atlanticist fantasy that once justified a hard Brexit is dead. But without it, they have nothing to say. 

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.