In meeting with President Donald Trump today, Theresa May has become the first foreign leader to visit the new president at the White House. While the media and the establishment have been ripping into the Trump administration for its foreign policy moves, conservatives across the pond have responded very differently to our November surprise. For eight years, Barack Obama looked down his nose at one of America’s closest allies. Now, the U.K. finally has a White House that appreciates and wants to restore the “special relationship.” You won’t hear it from CNN, but Donald Trump has more than a few fans in Westminster.
In fact, while Obama and the British elite were busy chiding Brexit voters, Trump was one of the few outside observers to correctly read the public mood and endorse the British people’s declaration of sovereignty. Ever since November, May has braved flak from the British left to respond in kind: her trip has been presented as an opportunity to deepen the economic ties between our two nations and lay the groundwork for a post-Brexit Anglo-American trade deal. For the record, this is the same close ally that Obama said he would send to “the back of the line.”
Things are off to a good start. Speaking to GOP congressmen and senators in Philadelphia yesterday, May told them the time was ripe to renew ties and outlined how Britain and America could come together to once again lead the world. She invoked the best of the legacies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and she also made clear to the room that the U.K. is moving back towards a leading global role. Some observers in America might not know it, but months of heated politics and wrangling went into those words.
Since taking over from David Cameron, May has had to fight the chattering classes and bitter Remainers to prove British foreign policy wasn’t retreat into isolationism. In reality, Brexit has brought Britain to within grabbing distance of a return to its glory days. Stronger bilateral ties between Washington and London, independence and freedom from the bureaucracy of Brussels, a reengagement with the Commonwealth, and a move closer to the Middle East all have the potential to make Britain great again, and the Trump White House has already played a huge role.
Theresa May and her team might not have expected Trump to win, but they have good reason to see the new administration as a “massive, magnificent gift.” The American president with a Scottish mother has already taken us back to our roots, returning a bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office and making May the first world leader he hosts at the White House. This has all sent a clear message about how his administration views our closest ally. Most importantly, Trump has managed to completely rewrite how the Brexit negotiations between London and Brussels are going to go. Where Europe expected to bend the U.K. over the barrel just a few months ago, President Trump has made it perfectly clear Britain isn’t in this fight alone.
The bilateral trade deal Trump is now pursuing with the British might be May’s biggest win. She has had to earn it, though, with months of work to shake off the rust and reacclimate Britain to being an independent global player. A major part of that has been reaching out to the countries the U.K. helped found. Australia, New Zealand, India and others have all figured prominently in her trade talks, and the long-term opportunities that come with a trading ecosystem among countries that share the English language and British history are strong.
Perhaps even more importantly, May’s outlook includes bringing Britain back into the Middle East and helping shoulder some of the costs Americans have been paying to counter Iran and fight jihadists in the region. The British broke with nearly a half-century of tradition by opening up a new naval base in Bahrain last year, and May traveled there in December to meet with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. As it happens, the Gulf states have been some of the most enthusiastic prospective trade partners for Britain outside of Trump Tower. The Saudis have singled out the British (and the Americans) as the most important outside partners for their Vision 2030 economic reform program, and May has already promised them British support in breaking down their statist, oil-fueled system and embracing a market economy. That includes investing in infrastructure projects and job-creating industries, but also beefing up Saudi airports to conduct better screenings against terrorists.
It isn’t just the U.K. the Saudis are reaching out too, though. A good chunk of the investment President-elect Trump managed to draw in from Japan’s SoftBank back in December will be drawn from the investment fund the Saudi government is setting up. It might not seem like it on the surface, but after the Obama administration spent years coddling Iran and freeing up funds they could pour into Hezbollah and Syria, Riyadh and its neighbors have been looking forward to Trump’s takeover over the White House. Between Trump and May, it looks like we will finally be standing up to Iran’s plans for taking over the region.
This might not be Churchill meeting with Roosevelt, but the unlikely partnership between Donald Trump and Theresa May should serve as a reminder of how powerful the friendship between American and Britain can be. Britain might not be the superpower it was a century ago, but Brexit helped lay the groundwork for the results of our election and proved that Americans are not the only nation ready to seize their own destiny again. At the end of an incredibly busy first week, May’s trip to Washington should come as a boon to the administration. Where the media sees an international pariah, our closest ally sees an invaluable friend.