According to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British opposition, US President Donald Trump’s support for Boris Johnson to become prime minister was an unacceptable interference in the country’s internal affairs. The results of the Conservative Party leadership contest, which saw the UK’s former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, beat the current one, Jeremy Hunt, were announced on 23 July. On the same day, Jeremy Corbyn urged his supporters to take to the streets to demand a general election “so the people of this country can choose who leads us – not 100,000 unrepresentative Tory party members.” In addition to this, the leader of the opposition stated at the beginning of June, prior to the US president’s state visit, that “the next prime minister should be chosen not by the US president […] but by the British people”.
What provoked such a comment from the leader of the Labour Party? The opportunity for a counterattack on the country’s domestic politics, perhaps? Or an attempt to protect the Kingdom’s interests from outside pressure?
Before visiting Britain, at the height of the political crisis surrounding Brexit and the bitter struggle for the post of prime minister, it is true that Trump did, in his own inimitable style, publicly back the election of Boris Johnson. In recent weeks, the US president has also strenuously praised Nigel Farage, the UK’s chief Eurosceptic whose party won in the European Parliament elections. He considers Farage to be a “very clever person” who is unappreciated, and thinks that he should be involved in Brexit negotiations.
As for Trump, the indiscretion of his statements and tweets have already become a familiar form of US foreign policy. Recently, however, the US head of state has been joined by various US ambassadors, who, in imitation of the president, no doubt, have been making some far from diplomatic statements of their own.
US ambassador Woody Johnson, who happens to be a close friend of Trump, stated in no uncertain terms that Britain’s cooperation with Huawei would be a “big mistake”. London saw this as direct pressure from Washington to prevent the Chinese company from taking part in the development of the UK’s 5G network. As well as the US State Department, it turns out that the US intelligence agencies are also actively involved in the matter. Moreover, the CIA tried to discredit its British counterparts by undermining their evaluation of Huawei’s threat to national security.
In another statement, the US ambassador to the UK stated that Britain will have to open its market to agricultural products from overseas, including chlorinated chicken, if it wants to sign a free trade agreement with the US after leaving the EU. He also hinted unequivocally that the British should allow US investment in the NHS, something to which Health Minister Matt Hancock has categorically objected.
The scandal surrounding British Ambassador Kim Darroch and his expulsion from the US was yet another incident where Trump’s actions indirectly influenced the balance of domestic political forces in London. Although the disagreement arose following the leak of diplomatic dispatches and the US president was only reacting to negative comments published about him, the harshness and insistence of his retaliatory measures actually undermined the positions of those in the UK government who were trying to defend the diplomat.
Kim Darroch was a minion of the then UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who defended the ambassador in the conflict with the US president, but the scandal had erupted at a really bad time.
The final phase of the Conservative Party leadership contest was already under way and whoever won would also become the country’s prime minister. There were only two contenders remaining – Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson. The main thing that ensured the leadership went to the latter was his reputation as a politician ready to take decisive action, since the British are absolutely sick and tired of bureaucrats who just can’t decide how the country is going to leave the European Union. They wanted to see action from their future prime minister and a willingness to clearly and consistently defend the interests of the UK. Given these circumstances, it really wasn’t the time for Hunt to compromise, especially when a UK representative was being so harshly and undiplomatically criticised, but he was forced to back down. Trump was standing on principle. All Hunt could do was launch an investigation into how the confidential dispatches were leaked to the press. Johnson was the winner. Now his victory in the leadership contest was virtually guaranteed.
In a similar way to the situation with the UK ambassador, Trump’s attacks on the mayor of London are also not quite as harmless as they may seem at first glance. Trump’s animosity towards Sadiq Khan has been going on for three years. In June, commenting on a spate of violent attacks in London, Trump tweeted that the city urgently needed a new mayor because “Khan is a disaster – will only get worse!”.
The row erupted after The Washington Post obtained a recording of a meeting between US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and a group of Jewish leaders. During the meeting, Pompeo clearly states that he will do everything possible to prevent Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn from becoming prime minister should his party win the forthcoming general election.
He is not talking about who he likes or prefers, but about directly interfering in an election. And not in just any old country’s election, but in the election of one of America’s closest allies – the UK! And now Trump has taken it into his head to decide whether Khan should be mayor of London or not. It’s about time British politicians gave some thought to whether their overseas partner is perhaps taking on too much.