PM to steer clear of talks with Trump

PM will not hold talks with pres­i­dent dur­ing Lon­don visit amid fears it could give Labour an ad­van­tage

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Gor­don Rayner PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

The Prime Min­is­ter will not hold for­mal talks with Donald Trump dur­ing his two-day visit to the UK for the Nato sum­mit amid fears the US pres­i­dent could harm the Tories’ elec­tion chances. No 10 sources said there was a need to “bal­ance” the high-level sum­mit with the gen­eral elec­tion, mean­ing meet­ings would be kept low-key. Jeremy Cor­byn could come face-to-face with the US pres­i­dent for the first time today at a Buck­ing­ham Palace re­cep­tion.

BORIS JOHN­SON will keep his con­tact with Donald Trump to a min­i­mum dur­ing his two-day stay in the UK amid fears the US pres­i­dent could have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the Con­ser­va­tives’ elec­tion chances.

The White House said no for­mal bi­lat­eral meet­ings be­tween the two men had been planned dur­ing a Nato 70th an­niver­sary sum­mit, even though Bri­tain is host­ing the event.

Down­ing Street sources said there was a need to “bal­ance” the high­level sum­mit with the gen­eral elec­tion, mean­ing meet­ings would be kept low-key.

With the Tories’ lead over Labour cur­rently nar­row­ing in the polls, Mr John­son is keen to avoid do­ing any­thing that could help Jeremy Cor­byn.

Gov­ern­ment sources said it was im­por­tant that Mr John­son does not leave him­self open to ac­cu­sa­tions that he is us­ing the Nato sum­mit – and any meet­ings with Mr Trump – for party po­lit­i­cal gain.

Mr Cor­byn has ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to a Buck­ing­ham Palace re­cep­tion today, where he could come face-to­face with Mr Trump for the first time. He has al­ready made clear that he will ex­ploit the oc­ca­sion to make fresh claims about the US want­ing ac­cess to the NHS in any post-brexit trade deal.

Last night he sent a let­ter to Mr Trump de­mand­ing he clar­i­fies that “the NHS is gen­uinely off the ta­ble” in fu­ture trade talks. Mr Trump, who ar­rived in Lon­don late last night, will hold meet­ings with Em­manuel Macron, the French pres­i­dent, and Jens Stoltenber­g, the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of Nato, today be­fore at­tend­ing the re­cep­tion at Buck­ing­ham Palace.

The lead­ers of the 29 Nato mem­ber coun­tries are also in­vited to a re­cep­tion in Down­ing Street this evening, but Mr Trump has not yet con­firmed his at­ten­dance.

Tomorrow, when the Nato lead­ers meet for a four-hour sum­mit at a ho­tel near Wat­ford, Mr Trump is ex­pected to hold one-on-one meet­ings with Ger­many’s An­gela Merkel, Italy’s Giuseppe Conte and Den­mark’s Mette Fred­erik­sen.

His only sched­uled meet­ing with Mr John­son is at a work­ing lunch tomorrow, which will also be at­tended by lead­ers from Es­to­nia, Greece, Latvia, Poland, Ro­ma­nia, Lithua­nia and Bulgaria.

Mr Trump is keen to push Nato coun­tries to be more as­sertive in chal- leng­ing China, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Huawei and any in­volve­ment it has in 5G mo­bile net­works.

The is­sues of how Nato deals with Rus­sia and whether Tur­key should still be a mem­ber state af­ter it car­ried out mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Syria without con­sult­ing other mem­bers are set to be dis­cussed.

Mr Cor­byn will meet Nato lead­ers af­ter it emerged that he tipped off rep­re­sen­ta­tives of war crim­i­nal Slo­bo­dan Miloše­vić in 1998 that Nato was plan­ning mil­i­tary ac­tion to stop Ser­bia’s war with Kosovo.

Alice Ma­hon, the former Hal­i­fax MP, told Miloše­vić’s trial in The Hague in 2006 that she, Mr Cor­byn and Tam Da­lyell,

the then Labour MP, vis­ited the Yu­gosla­vian em­bassy in Lon­don where they told a diplo­mat their “con­cerns” that Nato would launch mil­i­tary ac­tion and that the diplo­mat was “ab­so­lutely in­cred­u­lous” at the idea that the UK would take part in any such ac­tion.

Ian Austin, the former Labour MP, said it was fur­ther ev­i­dence that Mr Cor­byn “al­ways picks the wrong side and backs our coun­try’s en­e­mies”.

It also emerged yes­ter­day that Mr Cor­byn had said he wished Nato “didn’t ex­ist” less than a year be­fore he was elected Labour leader.

A clip of his speech at a po­lit­i­cal rally in Oc­to­ber 2014 has now sur­faced, in which he states: “I am no fan of Nato. In­deed, I wish Nato didn’t ex­ist. I am no fan of West­ern mil­i­tary al­liances. In­deed, I wish they didn’t ex­ist.”

What­ever Nato’s lead­ers say to each other while gath­ered in Wat­ford, their pres­ence there is a re­minder of the huge role Bri­tain plays in the world’s most im­por­tant mil­i­tary al­liance. Among the 29 – soon to be 30 – coun­tries, ours is par­tic­u­larly in­flu­en­tial. As the se­cond big­gest con­trib­u­tor to it and the vi­tal hinge be­tween the US and Euro­pean al­lies, we count for a lot.

The role of Nato sec­re­tary gen­eral has of­ten been held by dis­tin­guished Bri­tish politi­cians – Lords Car­ring­ton and Robert­son. Today, the cru­cial roles of chair of its mil­i­tary com­mit­tee and deputy com­man­der in Europe are filled by a Bri­tish Air Chief Mar­shal and Lieu­tenant Gen­eral. We are among those mem­bers that spend at least

2 per cent of GDP on de­fence. We need this al­liance but it also needs us. If we were not fully com­mit­ted to our Armed Forces and un­shak­ably re­li­able to our al­lies, Nato would be a lot weaker.

Re­cent ac­tions or state­ments by some lead­ers of other na­tions have un­der­mined Nato sol­i­dar­ity. Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan’s de­ci­sion to buy a Rus­sian air de­fence sys­tem for Tur­key has thrown a large span­ner into the work of co-op­er­at­ing on tech­nol­ogy, while Pres­i­dent Trump’s dis­as­trous aban­don­ment of Kur­dish al­lies in Syria has raised pro­found ques­tions for many coun­tries that de­pend on the US.

The re­ac­tion of Pres­i­dent Macron to these events, la­belling the al­liance as suf­fer­ing “brain death”, has been as undiplo­matic as it is un­jus­ti­fied. His wish for Europe to have its own strate­gic mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity without the US is a dream that can­not be­come re­al­ity. For the fore­see­able fu­ture, Bri­tain and France will be the only Euro­pean coun­tries with the re­sources and re­solve to take swift ac­tion when it is needed in North Africa or else­where.

Yet Nato re­mains a more re­silient al­liance than it some­times looks. De­fence bud­gets are go­ing up across Europe, in re­sponse to Amer­i­can urg­ing and the ob­vi­ous need. For­ward de­ploy­ments in Poland, Ro­ma­nia and the Baltic states have been strength­ened in the light of Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion in Ukraine, in­clud­ing by Bri­tish troops and planes. The US is ne­go­ti­at­ing with Poland to site new per­ma­nent bases there. Ad­di­tional mem­ber states are be­ing ad­mit­ted in the strate­gi­cally vi­tal west­ern Balkans. Mil­i­tar­ily, Nato is get­ting stronger, and its de­fence chiefs have agreed a new mil­i­tary strat­egy for the first time since 1967.

There are mas­sive chal­lenges to come, on which it is to be hoped the speeches at Wat­ford will fo­cus. Cli­mate change in the Arc­tic and the mod­erni­sa­tion of Rus­sia’s armed forces mean much more at­ten­tion must be paid to the “high north”. The use of so­cial me­dia to di­vide and dis­ori­en­tate whole pop­u­la­tions re­quires Nato to be able to mount a united re­sponse, in­clud­ing in a “grey zone” that is nei­ther true peace nor all-out war. The re­silience of West­ern so­ci­eties, not just their armed forces, to de­feat dis­rup­tion needs more at­ten­tion. And the al­liance has to work out what the rise of Chi­nese tech­nol­ogy and di­plo­matic reach means for its fu­ture co­he­sion.

To tackle all these is­sues suc­cess­fully will be dif­fi­cult, but for any other or­gan­i­sa­tion of demo­cratic na­tions it would be im­pos­si­ble. The transat­lantic na­ture of Nato, com­bin­ing Europe’s prox­im­ity to trou­ble with Amer­ica’s abil­ity to con­front that trou­ble, is its in­dis­pens­able at­tribute. Without Europe, the US is eas­ily iso­lated. Without the US, Europe can’t main­tain peace in its neigh­bour­hood.

Nato is there­fore as vi­tal to our fu­ture as it has been to our past. While com­bat­ting ter­ror­ism is up­per­most in our minds af­ter Fri­day’s tragic events on Lon­don Bridge, the sur­vival of free and open so­ci­eties will de­pend cru­cially on our abil­ity to strengthen the West­ern al­liance. And that is go­ing to need po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship as well as mil­i­tary capabiliti­es, for armed forces are of lim­ited use and al­liances rapidly erode if po­lit­i­cal lead­ers do not be­lieve in their pur­pose.

That brings us to our elec­tion, be­set with so many pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of our own that ques­tions of global se­cu­rity have not fea­tured highly. Bri­tish vot­ers have per­haps be­come ac­cus­tomed to think­ing that the se­cu­rity of the West need not nor­mally be an is­sue in an elec­tion: ev­ery Labour gov­ern­ment from At­tlee to Brown has made a strong con­tri­bu­tion to Nato and so has ev­ery Tory ad­min­is­tra­tion. It is cer­tain that Boris John­son would con­tinue that tra­di­tion, per­haps even more en­er­get­i­cally in the light of Brexit.

The Labour leader in this elec­tion is, how­ever, un­like any be­fore him in the post-war world. His state­ments and votes on con­flicts, al­liances and world af­fairs would have been as re­pug­nant to Cle­ment At­tlee or James Cal­laghan as they are today to Tony Blair. At the lead­er­ship hus­tings in 2015 he “couldn’t think of a cir­cum­stance in which Bri­tain would use its Armed Forces”. He con­tin­ued: “I’m sure there are some but I can’t think of any at the mo­ment.” So what about if an ally is un­der at­tack? Or Bri­tish na­tion­als need res­cu­ing when taken hostage? Or a for­eign state is col­laps­ing into geno­cide? Are these truly unimag­in­able cir­cum­stances?

What if our own ter­ri­tory is at­tacked? We know the an­swer to that, as Cor­byn op­posed the Falk­lands War on the grounds that it was “a Tory plot”. He is, at least, con­sis­tent, for he has never know­ingly sup­ported mil­i­tary ac­tion. Even when Bri­tish in­ter­ven­tion to stop civil war in Sierra Leone was a strik­ing suc­cess, he man­aged to con­demn it. If this means sup­port­ing ag­gres­sion by other coun­tries, he is happy to oblige, declar­ing as Ukraine was un­der in­va­sion in 2014 that Nato’s “at­tempt to en­cir­cle Rus­sia is one of the big threats of our time”.

Some­times Cor­byn’s com­ments seem based on naivety, such as his in­sis­tence that ter­ror­ist lead­ers in hid­ing thou­sands of miles away must some­how al­ways be ap­pre­hended rather than killed. He even com­plained af­ter the death of Osama bin Laden that there had been “no at­tempt to ar­rest him”. But he is not naive. He is sim­ply ide­o­log­i­cally un­will­ing to take any step to de­fend the West­ern world.

If he were prime min­is­ter, it is doubt­ful that Nato would be com­ing here this week. And wher­ever it met, its prob­lems would be much greater than the un­pre­dictabil­ity of one or two pres­i­dents. At the helm of a coun­try cru­cial to the de­fence of the West would be leader who does not be­lieve in de­fend­ing it at all.

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