Why May can’t pander to Trump on Farage

By Chris Rogers November 23, 2016 4:33 pm

Time was, you could ignore what Donald Trump said. It’s a bit more difficult now he’s President-elect of the United States. And if Mr Trump’s election broke the political paradigm, the first fortnight of his transition has shown he’s not about to stop tearing up the rule book. Including, it seems, to giving advice to his soon to be world leader peers.

Mr Trump’s latest intervention has come in the form of a tweet, suggesting an excellent future UK Ambassador to the US would be none other than Nigel Farage, the ‘is-he, isn’t-he’ stand-in leader of UKIP. Mr Farage himself has said the suggestion is a bolt from the blue, and that he’s very flattered.

It’s been a busy fortnight for Mr Farage as well, during which he’s apparently been considered for a peerage, suggested he might run as an MP for the eighth time, and now is considered a suitable candidate for an ambassadorship.

Well, considered by Mr Trump perhaps. But not Downing Street, which has given short shrift to the suggestion – allied with Boris Johnson’s party line of there being “no vacancy” for the position.

It’s absolutely the right approach to take and, for once when talking about Nigel Farage, the rationale has absolutely nothing to do with him. Much has been written about the new ‘post-truth’ world and how anti-establishment candidates are challenging the political elites. Mr Trump’s election is a symbol of anti-establishment feeling, even though the case of him as anti-establishment given his billionaire status and inherited wealth is rather thin.

But even if we’ve moved into a new normal, the Prime Minister has no alternative but to dismiss Mr Trump’s suggestion of Nigel Farage as ambassador out of hand. It would set a precedent that would doubtless be cited by countries the world over – particularly if other anti-establishment candidates achieve electoral success. By pandering to Mr Trump, the UK would give licence to other countries to effectively nominate their preference for ambassador.

Political commentators are entirely correct. Normal lines of diplomatic communication will reassert themselves and these suggestions will likely evaporate. After all, as strategic and trade allies, there’s little doubt positive communication between the US and UK will remain (albeit perhaps without the tag of the ‘Special Relationship’). But in the meantime, Downing Street has little choice but to stifle the grumblings and irritation, and to issue polite but firm refusals of Mr Trump’s suggestions.

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