Rifkind urges May to follow Thatcher’s example on US relations

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Theresa May should seek to emulate Margaret Thatcher and develop a close relationship with the incoming US president, a former foreign secretary has said.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind said the Prime Minister should follow the example of the first female British prime minister, who struck up a close alliance with Ronald Reagan.

He said Mrs May should seek to persuade the US president-elect of the importance of Nato following Donald Trump’s criticism of the transatlantic defence alliance.

“I think Theresa May has a very important opportunity. She has already spoken to the president, she has been invited to Washington early in Mr Trump’s term of office and that’s excellent,” senior Tory Sir Malcolm told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The immediate requirement, in a sense - and I don’t want to exaggerate this - but it is to try and do with Mr Trump what Margaret Thatcher did with Ronald Reagan.

“Margaret Thatcher was able to persuade Reagan as to the need to have dialogue with Mr (Mikhail) Gorbachev and because she was the Iron Lady he listened to her in a way that he wouldn’t have listened to anyone else.

“The issues are different at the moment. The issues at the moment are Mr Trump’s rather dismissive comments about Nato.

“I think Mrs May, as British Prime Minister, as a leading member of the Nato alliance - the most important military power after the United States - is in a unique position to actually explain and discuss with Mr Trump why the commitment to come to the defence of all, particularly in the event of destabilisation of the Baltic states, is crucially important.”

Sir Malcolm also dismissed the idea of interim Ukip leader Nigel Farage being used as a go-between with Washington because of his closeness to the US president-elect.

“We don’t actually need him,” he said.

“Mrs May has already established a relationship with the president-elect, she has already been invited to meet him.

“Our embassy is, I am sure, at this very moment in close contact with senior members of the likely incoming administration.