Brexit | CNN — It's not a great time to visit, President Trump

In the Age of the populist effect





CNNIt's not a great time to visit, President Trump


It is every dinner party host's worst nightmare. The invitations have been sent, the menu selected and the seating plan is on its second draft.

Then the guest of honor gets caught up in more scandals than you can count.

What is the best way to unpick the whole thing?

If you are British Prime Minister Theresa May, you opt for the judicious leak, distancing yourself from the whole thing by letting a friendly reporter know your guest was having second thoughts about the whole thing anyway.

Which is how we end up being told that of course Donald Trump's state visit has not been canceled. It is still very much on, even if no actual date has been set.

White House denies report Trump will delay state visit to UK

It is easy to assume that Trump's political travails and boorish missteps are the problem.

When the invitation was extended, he was a part of a trans-Atlantic populist vanguard: a fellow traveler of the victorious Eurosceptics who pulled off the Brexit vote.

The Prime Minister rushed to be the first foreign leader to meet Trump at the White House in January. The message was clear: A triumphant Britain marching out of Europe, head held high, was a Britain secure in the "special relationship."

Trump has rather spoiled that idea since then. He has riled Brits by trying to ban visitors from Muslim countries from entering the United States and withdrawn from the Paris climate accord.

The public reception would almost certainly be hostile were Trump to visit the UK now.

And imagine the scene at Buckingham Palace if Queen Elizabeth herself had to make small talk with Trump and Sadiq Khan, the London mayor berated by the American President on Twitter for his very measured, British reaction to the recent terrorist atrocity in London.

Awkward, even for a woman whose yardstick for discomfort is calibrated by Prince Philip's diplomatic blunders.

May does not need that nor any more photographs of her hand clasped by an American whose popularity ratings are worse than her own.

But there is more to this than meets the eye. It is not entirely about Trump as the embarrassing, unwanted uncle bringing unpalatable views to the dining table. It is as much about Britain's domestic problems.

May's premiership is on life support, her government likely to be propped up by reactionary, homophobic lawmakers of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. No one knows how long that will last.

The British people were asked to give her a mandate to govern last week. Instead they gave her a mandate to get lost.

With the country less united than it has ever been, somehow she has to begin negotiating the UK's exit from the European Union.

Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany and Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission have let it be known they want to punish the Brexiteers, yielding not an inch in any deal so as to deter any other departures from their club.

A strong British leader might have welcomed a Trump visit as a chance to steel the country's resolve against them.

Instead, we have a weak, disunited kingdom too fragile to survive boorish Trumpian tweets further riling European anger. Why further antagonize them with swipes at free trade and multilateral agreements?

Theresa May's Brexit to-do list is getting longer

And therein lies the rub. The UK's election results show a diminished country that is not at ease with itself or its recent decisions.

None of its political parties was given the nod to sort things out. When asked who they wanted to govern them, its population said simply: not you!

At best the country is uncertain; at worst it has entered a nihilistic rage.

Against that backdrop of foreboding, of darker days ahead, of prime ministerial defenestration and a fresh election, of chaos and confusion, what meaning is there in a state visit? What point in pomp and circumstance?

Sorry Donald, this just isn't the right time.

For once Theresa May is justified in using the classic breakup line: It's not you, it's me.