This week, President Trump pulled the trigger on trade tariffs he’d been threatening for some time. In a somewhat unorthodox move, these tariffs have dealt a blow not to America’s biggest rivals but its biggest allies – Canada, Mexico and the European Union. The bruised friends were quick to respond, resoundingly and unanimously – they will not be taking this betrayal lying down. It appears we may be looking over the precipice of a trade war in the western block.
The position Britain has been left in is an awkward one. Very soon, if things go to plan – which is admittedly a big if – Britain will be out of the EU, exempt fromthe tariffs and significantly attempting to strike our own trade deal with a notoriously sensitive American President. Is now really the time to be rocking the boat? Yet as of now, we are a member of the EU, not exempt from thetariffs and don’t really want to be encouraging harmful and unpredictable actions towards allies.
Yet despite this uncomfortable position, it may just be one that offers an opportunity. If Theresa May and her Government can navigate this correctly, their actions could define Britain’s role in both European and international politics post Brexit.
This is a moment May should be seizing with the full diplomatic weight of theForeign Office. For example, if Britain is able to facilitate talks between wounded friends and a beginning of the rehabilitation of the alliance, we will have carved out a niche for post-Brexit Britain. One of a bridge across theAtlantic and of a key diplomatic player. This morning, Liam Fox took a small tentative step towards this, calling for calm on all sides and urging Brussels to step back from the edge.
Most important in all this is that Britain must take a position or else we risk compounding the belief that a post-Brexit Britain is at best a fading world power. Whether Theresa May will take advantage of this opportunity, however, remains to be seen and for now she has remained curiously quiet on the events unfolding around her.