May harkens back to Thatcher and Reagan to reach out to Trump

Theresa May has evoked the memory of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as she called on the US to renew its special relationship with the UK.

Theresa Mayis in Washington DC to meet with Donald Trump. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Theresa Mayis in Washington DC to meet with Donald Trump. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Speaking to congressmen from the Republican Party of President Donald Trump in Philadelphia, Mrs May said the two countries had a “responsibility” to offer leadership to the rest of the world.

And she signalled support for some of Mr Trump’s key foreign policy priorities, condemning the “malign influence” of Iran, vowing to fight the Daesh terror group and promising to “stand up” for the security of Israel.

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Mrs May’s pointed references to the close Reagan-Thatcher relationship will fuel suspicions that she is hoping for a similar partnership with Mr Trump, who has reportedly started referring to the Prime Minister as “my Maggie”.

Asked whether she would struggle, as a reserved vicar’s daughter, to strike a rapport with the brash property tycoon and reality TV star, Mrs May said: “Haven’t you heard? Sometimes opposites attract.”

But the Prime Minister also sounded notes of caution over foreign policy positions taken by Mr Trump on the campaign trail, warning that his watchword with president Vladimir Putin’s Russia should be “engage but beware”. She described the Iran nuclear deal – which Mr Trump has threatened to tear up – as “vitally important for regional security”. And she spoke out in support of international institutions such as the UN, IMF and Nato, often the target of Mr Trump’s scorn, in maintaining global peace and prosperity.

Speaking a day ahead of the White House meeting that will make her the first foreign leader to meet Mr Trump since last week’s inauguration, Mrs May made no attempt to dissuade her audience from drawing parallels with the US and UK leaders of the Cold War era.

Countries in central and eastern Europe were free “because of the leadership of Britain and America, and of Mrs Thatcher and president Reagan”, she said. She warned: “We should not jeopardise the freedoms that president Reagan and Mrs Thatcher brought to Eastern Europe by acceptingPresident Putin’s claim that it is now in his sphere of influence.”