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A rocky year for the ‘special relationship’?

When British Prime Minister Theresa May became the first world leader to visit Donald Trump’s White House in January, it appeared the historic friendship between the two nations was in good health. But a series of events have driven the two leaders apart, with cracks appearing in the so-called “special relationship”.

Saturday 30 December, 2017
Theresa May and Donald Trump.
Theresa May and Donald Trump. Foto:CEDOC.

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November 2016: Trump, still president- elect at this point, catches May offguard when he tweets that ex-UKIP leader and Brexit champion Nigel Farage “would do a great job” as Britain’s ambassador to the United States. Downing Street office is forced to say there is “no vacancy,”

January 2017: May heads to the White House, where Trump predicts that “great days lie ahead for our two peoples and our two countries,” raising hopes of a swift post-Brexit trade deal. The defining image of the trip, however, is of Trump holding May’s hand as they walk outside the White House, which caused derision in Britain. The British leader invites her counterpart for a state visit. The feelgood factor lasts a matter of hours though, as the US president unexpectedly announces a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries, affecting dual British citizens and wrongfooting British officials. May says she “did not agree” with the ban, and MPs demand that she rescind the state visit invitation.

June 2017: Following previous rows, Trump again targets London Mayor Sadiq Khan following a terror attack in the British capital. Picking on a message from Khan telling Londoners there was “no reason to be alarmed” by an increased police presence, Trump removes the context and tweets: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’”

September 2017: Trump weighs in on another attempted attack, tweeting: “Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!” May responds it was “unhelpful” to speculate on an ongoing investigation.

September 2017: Weeks later, relations take a severe blow when the US imposes stiff tariffs on Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier, which employs thousands of people in Northern Ireland, following a complaint from Boeing. May says she is “bitterly disappointed” by the move, with her government warning that it “could jeopardise” future Ministry of Defence contracts for its aircraft.

November 2017: Trump retweets three videos originally posted by Jayda Fransen, deputy head of racist far-right group Britain First, purportedly showing Muslims engaging in acts of violence, although one of the videos was later debunked. May says Trump was “wrong” to retweet the messages, but the US leader hits back, tweeting to May: “don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom.”


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