Opinion

Theresa May has finally condemned Trump for the first time – she may as well not have bothered

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Dave Fawbert
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Donald Trump Theresa May

So, nigh on five hours after Donald Trump decided to retweet three hate-spreading posts by the deputy leader of the ultra far-right group Britain First, our Prime Minister Theresa May has finally responded.

A spokesman for Downing Street said: “It is wrong for the President to have done this.”

However, when asked if the US President’s scheduled state visit to Britain would still happen, the spokesman said: “The United States is one of our oldest and closest allies. An invitation for a state visit has been extended and accepted. Further details will announced in due course.”

It took David Lammy 20 minutes to post a full and comprehensive condemnation of Trump’s actions:

It took the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn two hours to issue a direct condemnation:

Even Piers Morgan, a long-time ally of Trump, managed to issue an immediate plea for the president to apologise, followed quickly by a full column on the issue. Even Morgan seems to recognise the magnitude of what has happened.

Yet it took our Prime Minister five hours to issue a pathetic, weak statement, which wasn’t even delivered by herself, merely by a spokesman.

Just what will it take for our leader to show some backbone?

When I saw what Donald Trump had done, I was shocked to the core. Of course, no one can pretend that he hasn’t already shown clear anti-Muslim or racist behaviours. But, being parochial, these had been contained to the US. I did not approve of his actions and had huge sympathy for all those affected but, ultimately, he had been elected by American citizens and it was their right to do so.

But Trump wading into the politics of UK and poisoning it in such a way should be unacceptable to all of us who live here. And a few retweets might not seem like much, but symbolically, it’s huge, as Britain First and Jayda Fransen were not slow to realise. As I type, I’m watching Fransen’s follower count tick up. I’m seeing photos of her being interviewed by Channel 4, by CBS, by the BBC. This is a hateful woman, a convicted criminal, who was found guilty of verbally abusing a woman for wearing a hijab - and now she has been given a platform. She has been given legitimacy. Why those news organisations have chosen to give her airtime is another matter, but they have done so because of the President’s actions.

This could have a huge impact on British politics. People will be influenced by this. And this is dangerous. Britain has a long and proud history of never allowing the far-right to flourish, particularly in the country’s actions against the British Union of Fascists before the Second World War. Until recently, the far-right did a very good job of ruining their own chances; Nick Griffin’s famously disastrous performance on Question Time in 2009 almost single-handedly killed off the British National Party (BNP).

But today, with social media allowing lies and falsehoods to be disseminated readily and easily, these people are allowed to spread hate without ever being called out and shown up for the sheer stupidity of their abhorrent views.

And, lest we forget, Donald Trump has shown that you can get elected on a series of lies and by appealing to people’s prejudices and fears; he laughs at people pointlessly trying to fact-check him - it has no impact on him whatsoever when he can preach directly to the masses via Twitter.

So make no mistake, this is a big deal.

Which deserved a big response from May.

Of course, she is compromised. She’s presiding over a trainwreck of a Brexit with absolutely no real power. She’s only in charge because no one else wants to be blamed for the short-term mess (and that’s being optimistic) that’s going to result from our exit from the EU. She has been humiliated already for sucking up to Trump - the hand-holding and the rest - but at least that made sense at the time when she was a strong leader looking urgently to cement relations with the States, who would be hugely important given the fact that we were moving away from Europe.

And that economic imperative still remains, which is why she’s issued that mealy-mouthed slap on the wrist via a spokesman.

But, Theresa, this was your chance. You’re going down whenever Boris decides to make his strike, or when the Brexit deal turns out to be a disaster and a general election is called. Why not go out in a blaze of glory? Why not issue a full condemnation of Trump and at least leave office with your dignity intact?

You might think that, like remaining in power after the disastrous snap election, you’re taking one for the team - doing the job no one else wants to do - and you’re simply doing the same by not offending Trump in the hope that ultimately it will net us a better economic deal later down the line.

But you know what? If you believe your own hype, that Brexit is about more than economics - and is about this country’s identity - then consider exactly what damage is being done to that identity by our refusal to call Trump out for the utter disgrace that he is.

We look pathetic, craven and weak.

Let’s face it, Trump doesn’t care about a trade deal with us any more than any of his other deals. We could have stood for something. We could have made the rest of the world admire us: condemn him utterly and immediately cancel any invitation to visit the UK. 

But, no. Another show of weakness from a truly weak person. Britain First must be utterly delighted, and we should all feel sorrow that these are the depths to which we have plumbed.

(Image: Rex)

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Dave Fawbert

ShortList.com staff writer Dave’s primary passions are pop, prose, punning and power ballads (and alliteration). A lower division football enthusiast and long-suffering cricket fan, he is one of only 110 people followed on Twitter by Chas Hodges from Chas ‘n’ Dave. Follow Dave on Twitter like Chas: @davefawbert

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