This week’s US elections suggested Donald Trump is unlikely to disappear any time soon and the longer he stays, the more erratic he will become in attacking domestic liberties and picking fights abroad.
The latter consideration makes it critical to develop a foreign policy that does not merely follow the American lead, as has been our custom through many decades in the name of a Special Relationship which Trump has minimal interest in.
Against that backdrop, I welcome a clear statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in response to Trump’s counter-productive sanctions against Iran. The UK view, shared by EU partners, is entirely different.
The FCO said unequivocally: “The UK Government continues to fully support expanding our trade relationship with Iran and encourages UK businesses to take advantage of the commercial opportunities that arise.”
At a formal level, this is recognition that American bullying of foreign companies has absolutely no basis in international law. So “carry on trading” is no more than confirming that, legally, nothing has changed. But how will the UK – or French or German – Government give substance to that fine sentiment? Will they underwrite huge fines the Americans impose for breach of their sanctions? They have never done so in relation to Cuba which has suffered the same illegal persecution for half a century.
Support for American foreign policy in the age of Trump leads in dangerous directions, not least by keeping us beholden to Saudi Arabia in the regional power struggle to which Iran is the counter-party.
Let’s hope the FCO statement truly represents a will to diverge from the rabid ideologues who are now filling the intellectual vacuum in Trump’s State Department. The tests will soon come.