Theresa May seeks meeting with Trump before inauguration

Posted on November 14, 2016

Theresa May is seeking a meeting with US president-elect Donald Trump before his inauguration in January, in a sign of the prime minister’s anxiety to persuade him not to tear up the global trading system.

Mr Trump’s promise to halt the proposed US-Pacific trade deal, to unpick trade links with Mexico and impose heavy tariffs on Chinese goods has prompted fears in Downing Street of a breakdown in global trade.

Mrs May used her first major foreign policy speech at the Guildhall in the City of London on Monday to say her government would become “the strongest global advocate for free markets”, even as it left the EU.

Downing Street said Mrs May hoped to meet Mr Trump at the “earliest possible opportunity”, declining to rule out a meeting in the US before he enters the White House: trade and defence will be at the top of her agenda.

The prime minister said on Monday night that rather than putting up barriers to trade, western leaders and corporate bosses had a duty to listen and respond to the worries of people who had been left behind.

“When you refuse to accept that globalisation in its current form has left too many people behind, you’re not sowing the seeds for its growth but for its ruin,” Mrs May said.

Mrs May’s stressed her commitment to free trade to her City audience, claiming that Brexit did not mean the country was “stepping back from the world” but was an example of a flexible and open country.

But her defence of globalisation and free trade came with the caveat that business and finance must work to restore faith in open markets.

“We can recognise when a minority of businesses and business figures appear to game the system and work to a different set of rules,” she will say.

“The social contract between businesses and their employees and the reputation of business as a whole is quickly undermined.”

The prime minister’s eagerness to meet Mr Trump stems from a belief — amplified in a leaked telegram from Britain’s ambassador in Washington Sir Kim Darroch — that the next US president could be open to influence from its transatlantic ally.

Mrs May also wants to remedy the awkward perception that Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, has better access to the new US administration than the serving prime minister, following his one-hour meeting with Mr Trump at the weekend.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said that Mr Trump had told Mrs May he wanted their relationship to be like that of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. “I don’t remember there being a third person in that relationship,” she said.

Liam Fox, the international development secretary, also has strong contacts in the US Republican party and is hoping to play his part in building relations.

As well as trying to persuade Mr Trump not to turn back the clock on decades of trade liberalisation, she also wants to bind the US into the Nato alliance, which the incoming president had described as “obsolete”.

Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, refused to attend an “emergency” meeting of EU foreign ministers on Sunday to discuss Mr Trump’s election, in a sign of Britain’s efforts to win favour with the next president.

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