How May summoned up her inner Trump for her Brexit address

Jon Sopel
North America editor
@bbcjonsopelon Twitter

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Media caption,
Theresa May: "I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June"

Theresa May has not wanted for people telling her how she should have and could have done things better with regards to Brexit. But perhaps some of the most unwanted and unwelcome advice has come from the other half in the special relationship, Donald Trump.

She has taken a whole lot of heat from him over her handling of Brexit.

You'll remember that when he was over in London last summer he gave an interview to the Sun newspaper in which he said that she hadn't taken his advice on how to deal with the EU (his advice was sue them), that a trade deal would be difficult to achieve with the US if Britain was still somehow joined at the hip to the EU - and for good measure added that he thought Boris Johnson would make a fine British prime minister.


Image source, Getty Images

And he was at it again last week telling the cameras that it could have been negotiated differently, but Theresa May had ignored him and that he hated to see how everything was being ripped apart.

Add to this sense of discomfort the president's national security advisor has joined in the tut-tutting, and even Don Junior has weighed in. He took to the Daily Telegraph to declare British democracy dead if Brexit didn't happen.

Trump Jr claimed that May "ignored advice from my father," resulting in a process that "should have taken only a few short months has become a years-long stalemate, leaving the British people in limbo."

She should have been tougher. She handled it all wrong. It's a mess. What the estimable son of the president doesn't tell us is how it could have all been neatly sorted in a "few short months". And how would he solve the Irish border problem? Again we are not enlightened.

Image source, PA

But if Donald Trump had seen her address to the nation last night, I suspect he would have approved. Why? Because it was straight out of the Trump playbook.

Theresa had summoned her inner Donald. Her argument was that she was the voters' champion, trying tirelessly to execute the will of the people. And all that was stopping her were those awful, vain, game-playing lawmakers in Parliament with their procedural shenanigans and puffed up self-importance.

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Image caption,
Donald Trump Jr said an anti-establishment movement was behind both Brexit and his father's election

Leave to one side that I thought an integral part of Brexit was to re-establish the sovereignty of parliament over the institutions of the EU. Listening to Theresa May's speech last night you could be forgiven for thinking that in her eyes Parliament was an unwelcome meddler in the absolute right of the executive to do as it wishes.

That is how Donald Trump plays it too. When Congress or the courts strike down one of his measures, he rounds on those who've thwarted him. Showing respect for the other co-equal branches of the US constitution (the legislature and the judiciary) is not how he rolls.

They are weak, or they are biased or they are part of the deep state trying to subvert the will of the people.

When he wanted to introduce a ban on transgender service personnel being able to remain in the US armed forces, the Pentagon pushed back. He sought to overturn Obama's health policies - the Congress voted it down. His ban on migrants from mainly Muslim countries was blocked by the "liberal" courts.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
An anti-Brexit protester kisses a Theresa May head before a summit in Brussels

Funding for a border wall? Again lawmakers blocked it, so he declared a national emergency to secure the cash. To his base - to the people - it looks as though he is staying true to his word. I promised you I would build a wall, but those swamp creatures on Capitol Hill are blocking me. The Russia investigation is a total witch-hunt and there was no collusion. Donald Trump defines his own reality, and millions of his supporters believe what he says.

Wasn't that the force of Theresa May's appeal last night? Her reality is that Parliament is to blame for the worst mess and impasse that anyone can remember in British politics. The language she chose may be very different from Donald Trump's but her tactics look identical.

Trump's inspiration was a rough-house lawyer, Roy Cohn, who came to prominence when he worked for Senator Joe McCarthy in the communist witch-hunts of the 1950s and has been dead for thirty years. He became a mentor to the young New York property tycoon as he sought to make a name for himself in the shark infested waters of Manhattan.

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Image caption,
Cohn (far right) with Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy

Cohn was old school tough. And his tactics were uncompromising. You never apologise, you never compromise and you never give up. It is total war. Life is a zero sum game. There are no win/wins. There are only winners and losers.

How many times have you heard Donald Trump say "I really screwed up there"? Never. It's not part of his lexicon.

One other thing. Donald Trump doesn't always win. But what he has always understood instinctively is that if you are going to lose make sure there is someone else to blame. And Donald Trump does something more brilliantly that I have seen any politician do before. When he wins, he wins big. And he proclaims it loudly. But when he loses, he also manages to turn it into a win.

Although for Theresa May to win she does need the votes of these parliamentarians, and maybe slagging them off some might argue is an odd tactic.

From 3,000 miles away I wouldn't dream of guessing how the Brexit process is going to end. I have more chance of getting a perfect bracket in the March Madness basketball tournament, which kicked off today in the US (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, the chances of guessing the results of every game are gazillions to one), than I have of guessing how the Brexit denouement arrives. From Downing Street last night the blame game started.

And if Donald Trump had wandered last night out from the Oval Office to the adjoining West Wing dining room where he has installed a 60 inch flat screen TV along one wall, and watched the Theresa May speech he might have found himself giving a knowing nod of the head.

Maybe she had listened after all.

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