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Brexiters beware: Donald Trump will trample all over our sovereignty | Zoe Williams

A diagram has been doing the rounds on Twitter related to the protests that will greet the three-day visit of the US president. Split into pizza-slice segments, it lays out the various causes and categories making up the anti-Trump offensive. “Women” is one, while “families”, “anti-corporate greed”, “Europe” and “Labour and union” also feature. The format has prompted some puzzlement: what, for example, if I’m a woman and a member of a union, and I’m pro-Europe, and I’m not wild about corporate greed? What if a man were to be pro-women and also a member of the Labour party?

Any confusion on the left ends there, though. Because we know where we stand on Donald Trump. We know why his state visit repels us, and we know why receiving him with all this pomp and ceremony is an insult to any proper notion of patriotism. We don’t need to go back over the arguments about “pussy grabbing”, or consider again the implications of separating migrant children from their parents and imprisoning them, to clarify where we are on this president.

For other sections of this divided country things are a bit more complicated. Take hardcore leavers, for instance. On the face of it, Trump is their white knight, already on record as pro-no deal, pro-walking away. He’s unequivocally in favour of sticking it to the EU every which way: of denying them the £39bn that Britain has agreed to, of showing Brussels who’s boss. But what this state visit will starkly underline is the core contradiction at the heart of a “clean” Brexit.

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The key motivation for voting leave in the first place wasn’t racism or immigration, or money. Above all, it was about sovereignty. When, in measured terms, Barack Obama outlined the reality of what our future trading leverage would be outside the EU – that we’d be at the back of the queue – there was outrage among leavers.

Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage

‘Donald Trump is effectively attempting a pre-emptive coronation of Boris Johnson as the British prime minister, with Nigel Farage as his second-in-command.’ Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

But now this orange blow-in is brashly telling us how to conduct our own international affairs; and listening to him it is clear that a close relationship with Trump’s America would be as far removed from regaining sovereignty as it is possible to imagine. Allied to Trump, we’d be more of a satrapy than a nation state. We would be dominated by a power that was as raw as it was distant. Even the most ardent admirer of Trump could not find any equality or respect in our relationship with the US as its president conceives it.

Trump’s diktats over our departure from the EU have been combined with brazen interventions into British politics: the Tory leadership candidate Boris Johnson is a “great guy”; we should “send Farage in to negotiate with Brussels”. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is described as “very dumb” and a “stone cold loser”. It would be fruitless to search for diplomatic precedents for a foreign leader seeking to influence a domestic leadership contest – there are none. But Trump is effectively attempting a pre-emptive coronation of Johnson as the British prime minister, with Nigel Farage as his second-in-command.

Even among the staunchest supporters of these figures, there will be a number whose sense of national pride is challenged by such effrontery, not to mention their sense of fair play. Say what you like about the EU and its shackles, they never would have told us who our prime minister should be. And it’s hard to imagine our European neighbours making future cooperation contingent upon our relationship with Huawei.

Sadiq Khan

‘Donald Trump’s brazen interventions into British politics include describing Sadiq Khan as ‘very dumb’ and a ‘stone cold loser’.’ Photograph: Mark Thomas/REX/Shutterstock

Then there’s the NHS. This will be another issue that will test the limits of what leavers can accept. Farage’s preference is for a move away from universal healthcare, towards an insurance model. But he has kept that particular card close to his chest for a reason. Support for our health service is extremely high among leavers and remainers alike. The NHS is the last, beleaguered source of national unity. The emotion and pride invested in it led the leave campaign to parade its commitment to the NHS on the side of a bus.

In an alternative universe, Trump would have the sense not to mention it, but since his ambassador has already said that anything that can be traded – including health – should be part of a trade deal, that’s clearly not the universe we’re in. At the most basic level, Trump’s sheer lack of manners will also grate on socially conservative leavers. Trump does not have the simple courtesy to pretend to be interested in a prime minister who steps down two days after his visit.

Even more problematic are his views on the Duchess of Sussex, whom he refers to as “nasty”. It is bizarre for a politician of any persuasion to express any view on the royal family beyond “they do their duty and seem nice”. And for staunch royalists, which is surely how many leavers would describe themselves, it will make no sense at all, for the Queen – the Queen – to have to take tea with a man who has insulted her granddaughter-in-law.

The distinctive thing about the phase of politics we are now living through is how emotional it is. Positions are tenaciously clung to that make no rational sense. Senior representatives of the “party of business” promise no deal while businesses look on in disbelief. Candidates for the leadership of that party promise renegotiations with Brussels that have already been expressly ruled out. But prospective agreements plucked from a fantasy land nevertheless make sense at the level of instinct. The head has nothing more to offer at this stage: what else does a leaver go with but his or her heart?

But it will be at the level of the heart that Trump’s visit will land: it is a brutal assault not just on progressive values, but on the values of the old-school patriot. All the other fictions of Brexit have gone down like skittles. It has not been easy; countries have not fallen over each other to offer trade deals; it is not unlocking new cash for the NHS, or anything else. Sovereignty and the self-respect that goes with it was the last prize standing, and Trump will trample all over it.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


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