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2 June 2017

Theresa May is getting nothing in return for her softness on Donald Trump

The Prime Minister's minimal protest over climate change suggests she still believes she can turn Trump into Reagan.

By Stephen Bush

Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris climate agreement – although the process will take three years and could be overturned if the Democrats win the 2020 election.

What it means in practice: the US will stop paying into the UN Climate Fund, designed to help poorer countries move up the value chain without the use of carbon-heavy energy systems, and to which it had promised $3bn by the end of the decade. It means the federal government will no longer seek to reduce emissions by 28 per cent. (Although the US is also no longer bound by the requirement to monitor its carbon data, for the moment, that requirement exists as part of American law.)

You have to hand it to Trump, he’s achieved a political first: uniting Goldman Sachs, Greenpeace and the Chinese government. The move has been widely condemned by world leaders, be they presidents or city mayors.

We have said…not a lot. Theresa May is the only major European leader not to have made a public statement, leaving it to a spokesman to describe her as “disappointed” in the move.

To which you can say: politics is the art of the possible, not about winking to domestic sentiment to get a boost in the polls. This is true, but that didn’t seem to stop the PM from accusing the European Union of interfering in the election to get Jeremy Corbyn elected. (That said, the idea that a centre-right politician might engage in acts of sabotage in order to get Corbyn elected doesn’t seem as farfetched as it did back then – it’s just that the politician in question seems to be Theresa May.)

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It’s true, too, that David Cameron bit his lip plenty of times as part of his and George Osborne’s efforts to pivot to China. (It’s that nation that is surely the biggest winner. They now have the opportunity to establish themselves as leaders on tackling climate change and to use their green energy projects to extend the same influence that their international aid projects have done in much of Africa.)

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But we can point to the real achievements secured by the Cameron-Osborne China pivot – depending on you live, quite literally, you can lean out of a window and point at Chinese investment in the United Kingdom.

What is May getting out of Trump? That “100 per cent commitment” to Nato only seems to add up to 100 if you discount support for Article 5 – that an attack on one member is an attack on them all, surely the foundation of Nato – and ignore his “money with menaces” approach to other members paying their share.

Our close embrace with this unreliable President, meanwhile, is undoing the work put in by her predecessor on China, and is a diversion when the critical work of the next two years should be building goodwill among the EU27.

Shortly after that visit, one mandarin told me that they thought Theresa May believed, wrongly that a position that was uncomfortable for her must therefore secure equivalent levels of good faith with Trump. But the suspicion must be that what this election has revealed is that she really does believe her own hype: and that despite all the evidence to the contrary, she still thinks that a few sit-downs with the British PM can turn Trump into Ronald Reagan.