My Lords, it is easy to feel some sympathy for the Prime Minister and the other non-US members of the G7 today. It must be extraordinarily frustrating dealing with an American president given to “fits of anger”, to quote President Macron, and they must all share Chancellor Merkel’s view that it was “sobering and a little depressing”. Again, Sir Humphrey would appreciate the understatement in that phrase.
For the Prime Minister and her colleagues, though, it must be particularly depressing because a large part of the case which Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and others make for Brexit rests on the assertion that the UK will receive a warmer welcome from the other English-speaking countries in negotiating favourable free trade arrangements if we free ourselves from the shackles of the EU. America’s supposed commitment to free trade was the key to that argument, as was the closeness of the special relationship which, we were told, would guarantee British leaders easy and preferential access to the White House. President Trump has now demonstrated that he does not believe in the special relationship at all. The Prime Minister does not even feature in the list of leaders with whom he has a good relationship—or, rather, had a good relationship, before he fell out with all of them—and he rejects the principles of free trade. This leaves the justification for leaving the EU to pursue more open markets elsewhere dead in the water. How appropriate that it was World Oceans Day with the Government and the G7 so at sea.
The G7 meeting has rightly been described as a G6 plus one, with the UK aligned with France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan in resisting the arguments of the US. However, only last week our Foreign Secretary was describing our European neighbours as the enemy rather than the allies with whom we are most closely associated and with whom we share interests and such close values. It is hardly surprising that the Prime Minister appeared to play only a marginal role in this summit, while Merkel and Macron stood up to Trump. Is it not the case that we have now marginalised ourselves as a nation and lack any coherent foreign policy whatsoever? The EU will now impose retaliatory measures against the US tariffs on steel and aluminium, but the Prime Minister is urging caution. In the Statement, she says that she wants to avoid tit-for-tat measures, but that is what countermeasures are. Could the Leader of the House, therefore, explain what sort of measures the PM does think appropriate? Could she explain what the Prime Minister hopes to gain by resisting calls from the rest of the EU for a firmer response?
The Prime Minister also said that, as long-standing allies, we do not make progress by ignoring each other’s concerns but by addressing them together. What do those words mean in the context of the attitude of President Trump, and by what means does the Prime Minister propose to do this in practice? Is she really going to start replying to President Trump’s tweets, or is there some sense in her mind about what those words might mean?
The world today is in greater disarray than it has been for decades. Nothing in the Prime Minister’s Statement would give you any sense that that is the case. In these circumstances, you need to embrace your friends in order to rebuff those who do you harm. This weekend has demonstrated that our friends are in Europe, and that we should be standing with them and not planning a walk into the wilderness.