For Britain it seems to be a case of “he’s just not that into you”. Except when it comes to golf.
Donald Trump seemed less than awestruck when talking about his late mother’s homeland in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, observing: “You don’t hear the word Britain any more.”
Whereas American anglophiles are stereotypically enamoured of the Beatles, Downton Abbey and the royal family, the US president’s most urgent concern appears to be the implications of Scottish independence for the Open golf championship.
Trump spoke last week to Gerard Baker, the British-born editor of the Journal, which published excerpts of the interview, but the full transcript was only subsequently obtained by the Politico website and released on Tuesday.
After a discursive discussion about healthcare, jobs and their respective families, Baker noted that Trump had tweeted that morning about trade talks with Britain and asked if could provide more details.
The president replied: “No, but I can say that we’re going to be very involved with the UK. I mean, you don’t hear the word Britain any more. It’s very interesting. It’s like, nope.”
Brexit-besieged Downing Street will presumably be hoping that Trump meant that the term “Britain” has lost out to “the UK” in common usage, rather than that the country itself has fallen into obscurity.
The conversation moved on. Baker remarked that he is English. It was Trump’s turn to ask a question about Scottish independence: “Is Scotland going to go for the vote, by the way? You don’t see it. It would be terrible. They just went through hell.”
Baker indicated that he did not think there would be another independence referendum. The president, whose mother was from the Hebridean island of Lewis, seemed to dread the dissolution of the 310-year-old union, but not for the usual reasons.
“One little thing,” he said. “What would they do with the British Open if they ever got out? They’d no longer have the British Open.”
The No campaign never thought of that one.
Trump added: “Scotland. Keep it in Scotland.”
He and Baker then conversed about golf and the American star Jordan Spieth, whom Trump ranked alongside greats Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
The Wall Street Journal editor finally interjected: “Anyway, are you looking forward to doing a trade deal with the UK?”
Trump replied: “Yeah. I have a great relationship …”
When Baker reminded him of the “ticking clock” of Brexit, the president said: “We have a very good relationship. I have a very good relationship with the prime minister. And we are absolutely looking to do a major trade deal.”
Baker followed up: “Would the idea be that the trade deal will kick in pretty much as soon as Brexit happens?”
Trump said: “As soon as it’s appropriate to have it kick in, absolutely. And it’ll be a big trade deal – much, much more business than we do right now, many, many times.”
He went on to criticise the European union as “very, very protectionist” but ducked a question about doing an agriculture deal with the UK by changing the subject to China. He did indicate he could do a services deal with the UK but again seemed anxious to avoid details.
Baker has denied giving Trump an easy ride in the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of his presidency. A spokesperson for the paper told Politico: “We published the noteworthy excerpts from the interview. We saw no reason to publish the crosstalk that inevitably accompanies any conversation.”
Trump spends numerous weekends playing golf – despite previously criticising Barack Obama’s similar outings. A new article in Sports Illustrated offers an insight into why.
It reports: “Chatting with some members before a recent round of golf, he explained his frequent appearances: ‘That White House is a real dump.’ Trump is often at his most unguarded among the people who pay for their proximity to him.”