Last Saturday, The Amnesty asked for Guest submissions ‘In response to a week in Politics, Guest contributor Rory Bennett, shared his thoughts on the ‘Special Relationships’ and its implications for British foreign policy…
Disheartening as the current political landscape seems with the latest results in democratic countries signalling the end, it seems, of the complacent ‘liberal elite’ and the rise of twisted forms of populism not seen since the end of the Cold War, there is something more compounding still than the events themselves: the political establishment’s reaction to them.
While defiant in the uncertain maelstrom of the election, republicans such as Paul Ryan and Mike Pence earlier called a ban on Muslims entering the United States “not reflective of America’s fundamental values” and “unconstitutional”. And yet they stand emasculated and silent in the face of this new order, because politics has become more about being on the victorious side than integrity. Although it was not unpredictable, republicans in particular have proved they have no issue mutating their support in acts of realpolitik.
However, from a personal perspective I was horrified that the infection of resignation and placidness would extend so quickly to our own prime minister Theresa May. At a press conference on Saturday in Turkey she was asked about her opinion in regards to a new executive order signed by Trump in the presence of Pence (who would rather be unconstitutional than lose the power of vice president) banning or restricting Muslims from entering the country. May’s response was weak at best and accepting at worst.
It shows, in many ways, just how weak we are as a country; that our own prime minister refuses to denounce a concrete political act on behalf of the Americans, which is completely at odds with ‘British values’, so comfortably defended in the Brexit debate, now left by the wayside in favour of gently conceding to discrimination. May’s response to the question was similar to an unassuming vegetarian in a butcher’s, morally opposed but not wanting to engage.
This ‘pragmatic’ approach does nothing but normalize Trumps bigotry, and furthermore supports the idea that May is using relations with the US as a way of vicariously remaining relevant on the world stage. This has long been Britain’s policy, promoting the ‘Special Relationship’ and generally avoiding criticism of the Americans. This was tolerable when the actions of the US didn’t directly, or possibly officially, depart entirely from our own values. But this executive order goes against even what the brexiters argued during the referendum, it is not representative of the British view, and as our representative in international circles May should not show signs of tacit acceptance for something that is not acceptable. If something is not acceptable to Britain, then the prime minister must represent that opinion and therefore a condemnation must be the response.
Instead at the press conference May, supposedly modeled on Thatcher, chose to be as spineless as the afore mentioned republicans. Maybe Mrs. May should take more pointers from her party’s past, Winston Churchill who was incredibly outspoken for his time, proved that opposing bigotry and hatred lead to a path of vindication and greatness.
It must be mentioned that Downing Street later made a lukewarm statement clarifying May’s position, showing that underneath the venire of resignation was some kind of attempt to satisfy those shocked by her weakness, but it is not enough. Sometimes one must fight fire with fire and weakness in the context of this kind of extremism is pointless.
Again in the statement she repeats the phrase “Immigration policy in the United States is a matter for the government of the United States,” but in a globalized world that is simply not true. There have been reports that thousands of British citizens could be effected by this order. A poignant example is Sir Mo Farah, who wrote about how the order could impact him and his family, and emotively contrast it with his own story of arriving in Britain as a child. Mrs. May should listen to this knight of the realm’s story and be concerned with those like him rather than with upsetting the ignorant and bullish Trump. As Tim Farron aptly said “You would expect the British prime minister to fight Britain’s corner”. Trump’s order which is not even supported by his speaker or vice-president, reveals not only America’s fall from grace but also shows our prime minister’s priorities in stark and quite disturbing clarity.
It seems that the most germane metaphor for this prime minister’s attitude to Trump is the now infamous hand grab moment, (seems to be a fan of grabbing does Trump) and how potentially for the next 4 years May will have to grin and bear it as Trump acts with impunity.