Wil­liam Hague:

Macron’s clever ap­proach to the US leader shows it is pos­si­ble to greet him while dis­agree­ing with his views

The Daily Telegraph - - World News - fol­low Wil­liam Hague on Twit­ter @Wil­liamjh­ague read more at tele­graph.co.uk/ opin­ion wil­liam hague

Pres­i­dent Macron may be a com­plete novice as the leader of France, but in the way he hosted Don­ald Trump in Paris last week he showed the skill, vi­sion and cun­ning of an old pro. To all of those in this coun­try who have bleated and protested about Theresa May’s in­vi­ta­tion to Trump to make a state visit to Britain, the ben­e­fits of Macron’s ma­noeu­vre are plain to see.

Trump was treated to the full charm of­fen­sive of the French try­ing to im­press: din­ner atop the Eif­fel Tower, massed mil­i­tary pa­rades, hour af­ter hour with France’s new pres­i­dent and all the ex­cite­ment of Bastille Day. Though not tech­ni­cally a state visit, it was the near-spon­ta­neous equiv­a­lent of one, pro­posed by Macron a few weeks ago with the eye of a very clever op­er­a­tor.

By the end of it, Trump went home lik­ing a coun­try he knew lit­tle of be­fore, more pos­i­tive about the per­for­mance of a key ally, more likely to con­sult the Élysée Palace in the fu­ture and ap­par­ently open to some move­ment in his po­si­tion on cli­mate change – an im­mense event in its own right if it hap­pens.

Macron no doubt had to swal­low hard dur­ing many of their talks. He is a cen­trist politi­cian who dis­agrees with Trump on a vast range of diplo­matic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues. He had to put up with Trump’s pa­tro­n­is­ing way of com­pli­ment­ing Madame Macron. He prob­a­bly had to en­dure all sorts of jibes at Euro­pean ideals, his Ger­man al­lies and other sub­jects dear to his heart. But he did all that, know­ing it was in the best in­ter­ests of his coun­try, its in­flu­ence and its al­liances.

The French pub­lic ev­i­dently share the prag­ma­tism of their new head of state: sur­veys have sug­gested that only 6 per cent of them agree with what Trump stands for, but 60 per cent of them agreed with invit­ing him. It is a fair guess that at least as many will be pleased with the re­sults. The French seem able to hold in their heads two per­fectly le­git­i­mate thoughts at the same time – that they don’t like Trump but they do think it right to make him wel­come in their coun­try and to make the most of the re­la­tion­ship with Amer­ica.

Turn back to Britain and we find a large num­ber of peo­ple who can­not hold these two thoughts si­mul­ta­ne­ously. To them, if they don’t like Trump, he shouldn’t come here and to hell with our links with our clos­est ally and to try­ing to in­flu­ence the most pow­er­ful man in the world to adopt more of our po­si­tions.

When a state visit for Trump was an­nounced, it re­sulted in more than a mil­lion peo­ple sign­ing a pe­ti­tion against it, a fu­ri­ous de­bate in par­lia­ment and a con­tro­versy that con­tin­ued through the elec­tion cam­paign. Labour and Lib­eral cam­paign­ers queued up to call for post­pone­ment or can­cel­la­tion, and have cel­e­brated the fact that it has in­deed been put off to next year.

I agree with many of these peo­ple that Trump is not the pres­i­dent we wanted the United States to elect. The ig­no­rance of world af­fairs with which he starts, his fail­ure to sep­a­rate his fam­ily from his busi­nesses while in of­fice, his at­ti­tude to women, his hos­til­ity to free trade, his mis­guided “wall” pol­icy and much of his be­hav­iour is de­press­ing or ap­palling. Had I been an Amer­i­can, I would cer­tainly have voted for Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Yet Macron and the French peo­ple are telling us some­thing im­por­tant when they show you can agree with all of the above crit­i­cism of Trump and yet still greet him with all the pomp, fuss and fly­pasts the coun­try can muster. That is what diplo­macy is about a lot more than spend­ing time with peo­ple you al­ready agree with.

In the course of four years as For­eign Sec­re­tary I vis­ited more than 80 coun­tries and some­times had to deal with dic­ta­tors and war­lords who could have made Don­ald Trump seem like a pussy­cat. Many of them I didn’t like one bit. Yet I had to talk to them, to try to stop a con­flict, or help Bri­tish na­tion­als in trou­ble, or plant a thought in their heads. If I had only gone round coun­tries we shared the same views with on ev­ery­thing I would have point­lessly ro­tated round half a dozen places for my whole time in of­fice. What is in the in­ter­ests of an en­tire na­tion is not the same as what makes you feel per­son­ally happy and com­fort­able.

Pres­i­dent Trump has been wrong about many things al­ready. He has re­voked the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, sur­ren­der­ing to China the op­por­tu­nity to lead in the fastest grow­ing part of the world econ­omy. He has helped to pro­voke the break­down in re­la­tions be­tween the Gulf States, which his rep­re­sen­ta­tives are now try­ing to mend. He has shown a dis­re­gard for sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment at home and abroad.

He has also, how­ever, shown in his first six months in of­fice that he can change his mind. He’s been tougher on As­sad than he said he would be, less of a pushover with Putin – though with a mas­sive scan­dal loom­ing over him – os­cil­lated on China, and mod­er­ated his views on with­draw­ing from the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment. In his speech in Poland 10 days ago he spoke of the ideals of free­dom, the im­por­tance of Nato’s Ar­ti­cle 5 and the com­mon se­cu­rity it brings, and the need for the West­ern al­liance – none of which fea­tured in his elec­tion rhetoric.

It may be wor­ry­ing that Trump so ob­vi­ously bears the im­pres­sion of the last per­son who sat on him, but that is all the more rea­son to stay phys­i­cally close to him. We should all want a free trade deal with the United States when we leave the EU.

Our se­cu­rity against ter­ror­ism and all mil­i­tary threats de­pends mas­sively on Amer­ica. Fur­ther­more, Bri­tish for­eign pol­icy af­ter Brexit has to show how the UK can still pull both sides of the At­lantic to­gether, and how Paris, Ber­lin and Wash­ing­ton still need to call Lon­don when they are look­ing for global ac­tions and so­lu­tions.

A state visit by a new Pres­i­dent of the United States who is still form­ing his poli­cies and views is a nat­u­ral and ob­vi­ous part of achiev­ing these ob­jec­tives. What a pity that a whole range of sanc­ti­mo­nious com­men­ta­tors in Britain have to learn that from the ac­tions of our neigh­bours rather than any good sense of their own. But learn it they should, be­cause Macron did his coun­try proud.

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