Theresa May’s passive-aggressive parting gift for Trump

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LONDON – Donald Trump can do insults, but he could learn a thing or two from Theresa May about British passive aggression.

The outgoing prime minister will meet the U.S. president at Downing Street on the second day of his state visit Tuesday, and present him a gift laden with symbolism – and just a little snark: Winston Churchill’s own draft of the Atlantic Charter of 1941, a foundational text of the United Nations.

Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the U.N., pulling the U.S. out of some of its key initiatives and structures. And the gift will inevitably be read as a parting shot from the prime minister about the importance of multilateralism and the rules-based global order; territory where the U.K. and U.S. are increasingly at opposite sides of an ideological divide.

Queen Elizabeth herself also asserted the importance of the international institutions the U.S. helped found after the war. Addressing Trump at the state banquet in Buckingham Palace, she said: “After the shared sacrifices of the Second World War, Britain and the United States worked with other allies to build an assembly of international institutions, to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated.”

“While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace,” she added.

After the royal pageantry of day one, Tuesday could see political fireworks, with the president’s delegation engaging on policy matters with May’s government over a meeting in the Cabinet room and a lunch at No. 10 Downing Street’s State Dining Room. Trump and May are due to hold a joint press conference in the afternoon, before visiting the Churchill War Rooms museum beneath the streets of Westminster.

Day of protest

Protests are expected around the U.K., and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to speak at the London rally, a party official said.

Trump marked his arrival in the U.K. on Monday morning by lambasting the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who on Sunday wrote in the Observer newspaper that Trump should not have been granted a state visit, and compared his methods to those of “the fascists of the 20th century.”

Trump branded Khan a “stone cold loser,” attacked his record on crime in London and mocked his physical stature.

The president was still talking about Khan while being greeted on the tarmac at London Stansted Airport, according to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was there to meet him. “He mentioned to me some of his very strong views about the mayor of London. What he said to me was consistent with what was in his tweet,” Hunt told the BBC.

Trump later received a ceremonial welcome at Buckingham Palace, had a private lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, visited Westminster Abbey and had tea with Prince Charles and Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, at Clarence House. He attended a state banquet at Buckingham Palace on Monday evening, also attended by May and other U.K. Cabinet ministers, including leadership contenders Hunt and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

The closest the president came to a Brexit reference was in his remarks at the banquet. Referring to the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings, he said: “The courage of the United Kingdom’s sons and daughters ensured that your destiny would always remain in your own hands.”

Shortly after, the White House Tweeted: “President Trump supports Brexit being accomplished in a way that maintains global economic stability while securing voters’ wishes for U.K. independence.”

A clever gift

While the first day of the tour delivered the kind of pomp and ceremony that Trump admires the U.K. for, Tuesday is set to be more of a minefield, with London at loggerheads with Washington over the Iran nuclear deal, climate change policy and the U.K. government’s openness to allowing Chinese telecoms giant Huawei access to its 5G network.

Downing Street in particular – which, with a lame duck prime minister, is viewing the trip in terms of “disaster management” – will be hoping Trump does not undermine May’s position any further at the joint press conference. He has already effectively endorsed one of the front-runners in the race to succeed her – former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – and urged her government to bring his friend Nigel Farage, leader of the insurgent Brexit Party, into the Brexit negotiating team.

But May’s choice of gift – which has echoes of a 2017 speech to the Republican Party in Philadelphia, in which she urged Trump to take pride in multilateral organizations like the U.N. – is likely to raise eyebrows in the U.S. delegation.

Robin Niblett, director of the London-based Chatham House think tank, read it as “a clever gift, making the most of British history and soft power to make an important point to Britain’s most important ally at a critical time.”

“Clearly, the U.N. is an institution Trump disparages. But the Atlantic Charter underlined the leadership role the U.K. and U.S. played together in bringing about peace post-1945. It suggests the two countries could overcome their current differences in tactics … in order to achieve common goals this century,” he said.

Tom Tugendhat, Conservative chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said the gift was a reminder that both Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who co-signed the Atlantic Charter, “knew we would need partners in the future.”

“It’s great to see history used to remind us of the depths of our alliance and our duties,” he said.

Melania Trump, meanwhile, will be presented with a “bespoke No. 10 tea set.”

Before their Downing Street bilateral, May and Trump will attend a reception for U.S. and U.K. businesses at St. James’ Palace, involving firms such as BAE Systems, Goldman Sachs, GSK and Lockheed Martin.

While May is expected to talk up prospects of a post-Brexit free-trade agreement, Trump’s visit has highlighted serious hurdles before this can be agreed.

U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson insisted on Sunday that agriculture and health would be part of any such pact, a statement that appeared to be at odds with the U.K. position outlined by Hunt and Downing Street on Monday. The foreign secretary said he could not see National Health Service procurement ever being part of trade talks, while May’s spokesman insisted that the U.K. was not going to lower its environmental standards; a likely prerequisite for some U.S.-produced foods to enter the country.