Theresa May's Trump Meeting Draws Dismay in U.K.: 'History's Watching'

While British pundits, politicians and citizens level criticism at their prime minister, U.K. journalists report being temporarily denied access in Washington because their 'reversed' birthdates didn't make sense to U.S. security.

U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May walk at the White House on January 27, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Brendan Smialowski, AFP

LONDON – Criticism of British Prime Minister Theresa May seemed to be growing here Friday, as pundits, politicians and citizens expressed discomfort and even dismay with how she was handling her relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump.   

“History's watching, Theresa,” tweeted one of the world’s best known Brits – Harry Potter author J.K Rowling – even before Trump welcomed May to the White House on Friday, his first foreign visitor as president.

A vulgar cartoon from the Guardian newspaper that quickly went viral here shows the legs of a couple sleeping together – Trump’s orange feet entangled with those of May's – who is wearing her trademark Leopard-print kitten heels. 

There were some voices – like that of James Forsyth from the conservative magazine the Spectator – that argued that the meeting and press conference went “as well as the prime minister’s team could have hoped, and others – Stephen Bush from the leftwing New Statesman – who went further and noted that May did manage to “keep the idea of a trade deal on the road,” while managing not to “bend the knee to Trump,” which, per Bush, was an impressive “tightrope walk.” 

But, overall, criticism was louder than praise for the prime minister. 

Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron charged that all May had secured seemed to be “vague platitudes.” 

“Whilst she put a lot of words in his mouth, he will likely set the record straight in the early hours of the morning on Twitter,” Farron said in a statement. “Theresa May clearly spent her time with Trump dodging his despicable comments on torture, on women, on Muslims and on Mexicans.” 

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, watched the chummy press conference which followed the meeting between the two leaders, and was left – predictably – unimpressed: “Theresa May failed to challenge Trump & stand up for our values today - she prefers a US corporate trade deal for a bargain basement Brexit,” he complained on Twitter.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband was even more scathing, harshly criticizing May for praising Trump’s “renewal” of the United States. “Today he starts on wall, praises waterboarding, bullies climate scientists. She says they can lead together. Surely decent Tories feel queasy?” Miliband asked, also on twitter.

A few such “decent Tories” were quick to respond:

“You cannot lead on a global stage by advocating torture, disgusting racial stereotyping & turning back the clock on women's rights worldwide,” tweeted Sarah Wollaston, a member of parliament from May’s own Conservative Party, in response.

Meanwhile, Trump’s enthusiastic comments about Brexit left many across the European Union cold.

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron spoke up first, charging that Britain looked like it was on its way to being a “vassal state.” “Britain lived in an equilibrium with Europe,” Macron told France Culture radio. “But now it is becoming a vassal state, meaning it is becoming the junior partner of the United States.”

The U.S. under Trump, continued Marcon, seemed to be shaping up to be an “America that destabilizes things that have been built for decades. It signifies that the U.S. will no longer be in a position to co-organize globalization and be the world’s policeman with the European Union.”

And the traveling British press corps pointed out, in turn, that, despite the “special relationship” mentioned by May at almost any opportunity, her hosts in Washington clearly had not done their homework when it came to her arrival in town.

To begin with, the prime minister’s name was misspelled in the official communiqués by the office of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer: in them she was referred to three times as "Teresa May," leaving out the "h" in her first name.

In other minor faux pas, Trump’s staff seemed to be unprepared for the fact that in Britain, the format for a date is given with the day appearing before the month (the opposite is true in the U.S.). This caused no little chaos as the members of the British press corps reported that they were temporarily denied entry into the White House as the dates they had given for their birthdates (especially if they were born after the 12th of the month) did not make sense to organizers and secret service.