By Eloise Todd
Many of us tuned in to watch Channel 4’s fly-on-the wall documentary inside the US Embassy in London earlier this week. It gave us unprecedented access to the diplomatic workings of one of our closest allies. Worryingly though, it also gave us an insight into how we’ve come to be seen on the international stage.
We meet Woody Johnson, Donald Trump’s chosen appointee to the role of US ambassador to the UK. He’s a seasoned businessman. The fact the president chose such a figure for an important diplomatic role is striking.
Our government needs a trade deal with the US. For Theresa May and Liam Fox, a trade deal with the US would be what global Britain is all about, providing cover for the unglamorous deals cobbled together to replace trade with our primary export destination – the EU.
In this light, Trump’s rationale for choosing a man presumably well versed in mergers and acquisitions of smaller firms becomes clearer and more ominous. There’s a worrying vibe that President Trump has sent this man to eat us for dinner in the negotiations to come.
Another revealing moment in the show comes when the embassy’s political adviser summed up Britain’s situation better than anyone I’ve heard for months. In a scathing assessment he says: “The British government aren’t interested in telling people ‘here are the range of options – there’s less good, and then there’s very, very bad’.”
He goes on to say that our government have not done any analysis of the macroeconomic consequences of our impending exit and are of the attitude that “we don’t want to know because leaving is going to be great”.
This is how ‘global Britain’ is being seen, even by the other half of the special relationship. Not as an equal power, but as a country embarking on an unwise political endeavour for the political expediency of those in power – no matter the eventual consequences.
But political expediency makes less sense for the people of this country: why should our futures be compromised so that power can cling on to power?
The final scenes showed a reception in celebration of the opening of the new billion-dollar US embassy building in Nine Elms. We saw cabinet minister after cabinet minister sucking up to the ambassador. Defence secretary Gavin Williamson requesting a meeting with ambassador Johnson with all the aplomb of a labrador puppy asking for a treat was a particular lowlight. Alan Duncan, Foreign Office minister, lamenting that he wished we had enough money in the coffers to pay for an embassy building was a sad verdict for our finances.
For all of us who take huge pride in the power and influence our country has had on the world stage, this doesn’t look good. It signals what is to come as we potentially undertake this most damaging of exits from the world’s top negotiating tables.
There’s also a point to be made about our British values. Many of us will be taking to the streets on July 13th to protest President Trump’s visit to the UK, particularly after the appaling images we’ve seen of his family separation immigration policy. We should all note the connection between this and the Brexit project at home.
The closing scene of the programme, showed ambassador Johnson in conversation with national security adviser Mark Sedwill. He suggests Trump should be the “first big visit” after we leave the EU. Trump would be the “Brexit president”.
But have hope. A different future is still possible. If you too feel sick at the thought of waking up on March 30th 2019 with Trump hailing in our country’s new era, you can fight for compassion, internationalism, teamwork and fairness.
Our real life ‘Love Actually’ moment could still be on the cards.