May set to be first EU leader to visit Trump

Donald Trump appears to have picked Theresa May as his first European leader to meet face to face. [Gage Skidmore/ Flickr]

British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to become the first EU leader to visit President Donald Trump, after Downing Street announced a trip scheduled for the spring.

No other EU head of government – many of whom gave Trump a more cautious welcome than May – is believed yet to have any visits planned.

“We are pleased to have been able to make that happen and the prime minister looks forward to visiting the new president in the spring,” a UK government spokesman said last night (5 January).

May’s joint chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill travelled to the United States last month to meet Trump’s team.

“This was part of a process leading towards the PM’s first visit with President-elect Trump,” a Downing Street spokesman told AFP.

“During the second phone call with President-elect Trump, the prime minister suggested it would be a good idea for key staff from both teams to meet. President-elect Trump agreed this would be useful.”

According to Sky News, the visit is pencilled in for February, although there was no official confirmation. Trump will be inaugurated on 20 January.

Different noises from different EU capitals

Following the US election, the first call between the pair reaffirmed the “very special” relationship between their two countries, while May emphasised their “long history of shared values” and of standing together “when it counts the most”, her office said.

May at the time emphasised her wish to strengthen trade and investment with the US as the UK leaves the European Union following a June 2016 referendum on membership of the bloc.

May had previously criticised Trump – as candidate – over his plan to block Muslims from visiting the US, calling it “divisive and wrong”.

Her response was in stark contrast to Germany’s Angela Merkel, who initially did not speak by phone with Trump, but put out a statement pointedly stressing “values”.

It stated: ““Germany and America are bound by common values — democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments.”

Trump yet to speak to EU leader

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s spokesperson’s service gave muddled accounts of the first trans-Atlantic conversation between their boss and America’s new leadership.

Likewise, earlier this week, after the US had taken the unusual step of not vetoing a UN motion criticising Israel for settlement building in the West Bank, with Secretary of State John Kerry also criticising Israel, May’s government distanced itself from Kerry’s comments.

There have been no indications that euractiv.com is aware of from either Berlin or Paris for a meeting with Trump as yet, whilst Italy has a fresh prime minister who is also finding his feet.

Brexit

Trump himself was a strong supporter of Brexit, and famously touched down in Scotland the day after the referendum to visit one of his golf courses there and welcome the result – despite Scotland having voted to remain in the EU.

May had previously spoken to Trump following his election in November, during which he invited her to visit “as soon as possible”.

The prime minister’s office said the visit was secured after her aides met with Trump’s team.

Maintaining strong ties to Washington could help London as it faces economic uncertainty outside the EU, although so far Trump has not been viewed as making Britain a priority.

Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party, had joined Trump during his election bid and in November became the first British politician to meet him after the vote.

Brexit campaigner Farage to attend Trump inauguration

Nigel Farage, who has said he wants to be a bridge between the British government and the new US government, will attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration later this month.

The meeting was an upset for the British government and worsened still when Trump tweeted that Farage “would do a great job” as Britain’s ambassador to the US.

Downing Street and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson both stressed that there was “no vacancy”.

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