The Quick Read on Donald Trump’s Swipe at Theresa May’s Brexit Deal

4 minute read

What Happened This Week:

After EU leaders blessed UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal over the weekend, on Tuesday U.S. President Donald Trump opined to reporters that May’s Brexit agreement “sounds like a great deal for the E.U.” Which is an admittedly solid dig at his embattled U.K. counterpart, with whom Trump has a complicated relationship.

Why It Matters:

It’s easy to dismiss Donald Trump’s opinion on May’s Brexit deal as just another flippant, off-hand comment by the U.S. president without much thought behind it. But the reality is that Trump’s assessment of May’s Brexit deal, regardless of how he arrived at it, echoes the sentiments of most Britons—this is a subpar deal for the U.K., which by extension means it’s a good deal for Brussels.

That reality makes it all the more likely that May fails to get her Brexit deal through the U.K’s parliament on Dec. 11, which could yet lead to another Brexit referendum — one that keeps the U.K. in the E.U. at the end of the day. So perhaps the U.S. President who once styled himself as “Mr Brexit” should be careful what he criticizes.

What Happens Next:

The deal will likely fail to pass the U.K. Parliament, no matter how furiously May stumps for it as the only possible alternative to a “no-deal Brexit” (one that the Bank of England says could knock 8 percent off the British economy). There are just too many people who oppose May’s compromise on principled grounds (euroskeptics, Remainers, the Labour party, the Scots, May’s own Northern Irish coalition partners), and there is still enough time left to renegotiate a new deal before the March 29, 2019 Brexit deadline. So there isn’t the urgency needed yet to force parliament members to consider Britain’s future interests instead of their own.

The Key Number That Explains It:

37 — that’s the share of the British public who support May’s Brexit deal. While 35 percent oppose it, 26 percent say they neither oppose nor support it. Relatedly, 41 percent of Britons want Parliament to vote for May’s deal, and 38 percent want Parliament to vote against it.

In a nutshell, after 18 months of grueling Brexit negotiations, British society is just as divided on Brexit as ever. Hard for any politician, no matter how talented they may be, to bridge a gap this big and genuine.

The One Major Misconception About It:

That people abroad don’t take Trump’s off-the-cuff comments seriously. First off, foreign leaders do—see how quickly May’s administration moved to push back against Trump’s assessment of May’s Brexit deal.

Second, even foreigners who disagree with Trump on almost everything are not above seizing on a comment of his for their own interests. Tulip Siddiq, an opposition Labour Party MP who is no fan of Trump, said “Even Donald Trump, not the sharpest tool in the box, knows this deal is a bad deal.” In today’s era of instantaneous spin, no remark made by a person as visible as the U.S. president escapes re-appropriation.

The One Thing to Say About It:

Channeled correctly, Donald Trump may be Brussels’ most effective political weapon. Which tells you pretty much all you need to know about Brussels today.

The One Thing to Avoid Saying About It:

If Donald Trump’s comments lead ultimately to a Brexit do-over, he’ll ironically deny Britons their very own declaration of independence. US=2, UK=0.


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