Letter from Nicholas Dorn, Associate Research Fellow, published in the Financial Times

Financial Times, 01/02/2017

Trump/May meeting was not about trade
From Nicholas Dorn, University of London, UK

Sir, Janan Ganesh’s disenchantment with UK prime minister Theresa May is poignant (“A choice of agonies for a naive leader" Financial Times, January 31). However, it would be more coherent and incisive if he did not appear to accept her stated reasons for seeing President Donald Trump. 

Mr Ganesh writes of Mrs May being obliged to “cultivate him for the sake of a favourable trade deal”; as if trade tariffs were currently high, which however they are not. The government is no doubt aware of this. The visit was undertaken not for reasons of trade but for rather different, presentational reasons — to wave the flag of the Anglosphere, in order to stroke Leave voters and newspapers — and to signal deregulatory intent.

After the US, Mrs May went on to Turkey in order to demonstrate the more functional (if less appealing) aspect of her government’s trade policy, arms sales. Armament being something that the UK still does quite well, we can expect more of this. I suspect Mr Ganesh would agree that, regardless of what this government says, it is actually leading the country into isolationism, punctuated by shameful and embarrassing actions.

All the more reason, I suggest, the need for commentators to avoid taking at face value what the government says it is doing, for example that it seeks to open up the world to UK producers (actually the EU currently helps in that respect and leaving it does not). Let’s call a spade a spade: government speechwriters don’t necessarily unveil their true intent (as Mrs May herself is fond of pointing out); rather, they present what they think will wash. In this case, a miscalculation was made.

Nicholas Dorn
Associate Research Fellow
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies,
University of London, UK