Barely an hour after Donald Trump’s joint press conference with Theresa May ended, all eyes shifted to the spectacle of Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, being driven into Winfield House, the residence of the US ambassador to London, where Trump is staying.
In the opulent setting of the Foreign Office, Trump was effusive in his praise for the departing May. But the fact that, in the next breath, he was meeting her nemesis, served to underscore the mess the UK’s political system is in.
May announced her intention to stand down last month, as her governing Conservative party took a drubbing in the European elections. The winner of that election was none other than Farage, who has capitalized on the government’s failure to deliver on the Brexit result.
As Trump stood next to May, he heaped praise on her approach to the Brexit negotiations, said that she was leaving the country in a very good place and even suggested that she might be a better negotiator than the President himself. “I think you deserve a lot of credit. I really do.”
All that will ring a little hollow as he welcomes his “friend” Farage, a man who has twice bought the Conservative Party to its knees over Europe.
Meeting with Trump works for Farage as it plays to his hard Brexiteer base. But the President’s limited popularity in the UK makes an endorsement less appealing.
Boris Johnson, the current favorite to replace May, declined a meeting with Trump, citing a previously planned event for his campaign. He did, however, hold a 20-minute phone call with the President.
For Johnson, it’s possible that declining to meet with Trump in person is more useful than a thumping endorsement. Looking too chummy with Trump could come back to bite him, whereas a short phone call shows that Johnson is a mature politician who wants a good relationship with America. Perhaps.
The opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, spent his afternoon at an anti-Trump rally. This plays well to his base, who loathe Trump’s brand of nationalism. One can only imagine how delighted Corbyn was to have Trump call him a “somewhat negative force.”
This state visit has been a pleasant distraction from the upcoming mayhem the UK is about to charge headfirst into. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Trump’s whirlwind trip has done little more than shake up an already chaotic political landscape.