Brexiteers are learning America First means America First

PUBLISHED: 00:02 06 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:25 06 March 2018

Donald Trump

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Donald Trump had Britain's best interests at heart, said the Brexiteers. As he now threatens the world with a trade war, they're being remarkably quiet

One of the most curious assertions of the Brexiteers was that America, and, more specifically, Donald Trump, had Britain's back. That, despite wildly diverging priorities and interests, Uncle Sam would put them aside to forge a bright new post-Brexit special relationship. Trump's America cared about the old motherland.

Nigel Farage, the then-president-elect's choice to be the UK's ambassador to Washington for the few brief seconds the thought entered his head, said Trump "likes our country and understands our post-Brexit values". He was "offering our country a gift" of a trade deal "done and dusted in 90 days", he said in January 2017.

The same month Boris Johnson voiced very much the same view, saying the UK and US were both "great campaigners for free trade".

"We hear that we are first in line to do a great free trade deal with the United States", he said. "So it’s going to be a very exciting year for both our countries.”

The Brexit press has stood four-square behind. A typical Daily Express splash last July hailed 'TRUMP TRADE JOY FOR BRITAIN', with the paper breathlessly reporting that a vague promise on a deal - in the form of a tweet, naturally - was "a clear signal that we are storming ahead of Europe in the race to sign a trade deal with America".

And even the normally sane Times declared that Trump "loved Britain" on the basis of a throwaway comment about his mother watching the Queen on television ("Any time the Queen was on television, an event, my mother would be watching. Crazy, right?" Right).

So, what did they think America First meant? Or his vow to fight on behalf of Americans against what he sees as unfair foreign competition? His promise to slap a big “border tax” on businesses that shift jobs overseas? His general call to tear up deals, step back from global institutions and champion US industries and workers?

For a man who presents himself as a dealmaker, Trump has a remarkably zero-sum view of international trade. You buy from me, I'm a winner. You sell to me, I'm a loser. What was it in all his previous previous conduct that they saw a president prepared to deal in pure altruism where Britain was concerned?

Now reality is dawning as an embattled Trump moves beyond rhetoric where trade is concerned. And the Brexiteers who hailed him as the great white knight are being remarkably quiet.

Where is Boris Johnson, the "great campaigner for free trade", on Trump's imposition of a tariff of 25% on American imports of steel and 10% on aluminium?

What does Liam Fox, the Cabinet's most ardent Atlanticist, think of the breakdown of trade agreements and limits on international finance that would inevitably follow the retaliatory tariffs on partners and allies? Trump tweeted that "trade wars are good, and easy to win" - they are not, and it is sadly superfluous to enquire whether the notoriously poorly-read Mr Trump is aware of the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, America's last assault on free trade, and its subsequent devastating effect on the global economy.

Downing Street said that during Theresa May's call to Trump on Sunday she raised "our deep concern at the President's forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminium tariffs, noting that multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties' interests". Although even this brief statement is probably about 25 words too long for the president's notably short attention span.

But from the Brexiteers, who swaggeringly assured us in the face of unambiguous evidence that Trump was about to embrace Britain and march hand-in-hand into a post-Brexit world of free trade prosperity, nothing. Nor the papers who obediently reported it as gospel.

Putting so much faith in a man because he said his mum liked seeing the Queen on TV. Crazy, right? Right. America First means America First.

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