You can’t pick your family. And apparently you can’t always have complete control over who you have to invite to visit.
That’s probably the feeling around Downing Street this morning. Well, that and a sense of whiplash at the speed a major political coup (Theresa May being the first foreign leader to meet new President Donald Trump) has turned into a serious issue for the Government.
The cause of the problem is of cause Donald Trump’s travel ban, for which it’s difficult to underestimate the depth of feeling. With demonstrations being held in cities around the world, rejection of the new President’s policy has been overwhelming. The Prime Minister and MPs had a first-hand view of the strength of public feeling last night, as thousands of people packed Whitehall to condemn Mr Trump’s immigration policy.
From a personal perspective, the ban is abhorrent, and from a practical one a textbook example of badly implemented policy. News reports have been rife with examples of people left stranded, either visiting or returning to the US, in many cases cut off from friends and family. US government departments have been ill-prepared to implement the policy, and with the likes of Sir Mo Farah publicly questioning whether he could be banned from a country he’s lived in for many years, there is a clear sense the policy hasn’t been thought through beyond the whims of the new American President.
The ban has also, very publicly, put huge pressure on Theresa May, who now faces demands to rescind or at least reduce the status of the state visit invitation offered to Mr Trump when she visited Washington last week. This reaction is understandable, both in terms of addressing public outcry and also protecting the reputation of the Monarchy. But it may not be the last time Downing Street faces difficult foreign policy decisions in the coming years.
With the announcement the UK would leave the single market as part of Brexit, the pressure has been on Mrs May and her ministers to show Britain continues to punch its weight on the world stage. The visit to meet Mr Trump was intended to help that process, and show the UK to be capable of offsetting loss of the single market with alternative international trade deals and the reinforcement of other close diplomatic ties.
That’s not to say Mrs May should or should not go back on her Brexit principles set out amid great fanfare a fortnight ago. But the outcry to Mr Trump’s travel ban is an example of the difficult balancing act the Prime Minister will have to perform. On the one hand, there’s an imperative to build relationships that ultimately foster alternative trade deals to the single market. But, on the other, it will mean Downing Street having to ingratiate itself with world leaders whose views will not garner support at home.
The saying, unfortunately, isn’t true. You can’t always pick your friends.