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The Trump and May Double Act

Did President Donald Trump really ‘walk out’ of the Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-un, reportedly forgoing one last dinner, simply in order to deflect attention from Michael Cohen’s testimony on Capitol Hill. I have heard it suggested.

Is Prime Minister Theresa May actually winding down the clock on Brexit so that the British parliament will vote for her deal out of sheer exasperation? Some observers are saying just that.
I would not put either conspiracy theory beyond the pale.

If Trump walked out because, as has been reported, Kim refused to give up all nuclear facilities, it raises the question of what exactly Trump expected from this week’s meeting with his new ‘friend’. He can’t even have been hoping that Kim would simply roll over on denuclearisation, just like that, not even in return for massive American investment and withdrawal of the 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea. Presumably his advisers would have told him that from the start of the whole summit process. If instead they insisted, as I can only assume they did, that these diplomatic exchanges yield results only in tiny increments, and patience would be the watchword, then why walk out when Kim said ‘no deal’?

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the American team either went into the talks blissfully under-prepared or that they expected Kim at least to give enough ground on the issue to enable Trump to come home with something of a diplomatic coup. Or possibly both. Such is this enormity of this president’s ego that either or both serve as plausible explanations for the collapse.

In Britain, the Brexit farrago stumbles on. Mrs May flies in and out of Brussels hoping for concessions on the Irish border issue and returns sounding hopeful but without anything fresh, let alone ground-breaking, to report. The Europeans apparently stand firm on their ‘no new negotiations’ stance. Why wouldn’t they. The longer the British huff and puff, the stronger their negotiating position.

More debates and votes are scheduled in parliament, though few people on the street could tell you what is going to be debated or what will be voted on. Few people on the street seem to care any longer one way or the other. Britain has been divided on Brexit all along. Divided has given way to bemused.

“All options are on the table” is a mantra recited in the corridors of Westminster, by both sides. “Pick one” is the retort from exhausted British citizens, usually in much riper language than would be seemly for this column. The whole Brexit business is beginning to resemble the plot for a new series of ‘Yes, Minister’, minus the humour.

Trump’s ego is nor more commendable a trait in a president of the United States than May’s doggedness in a prime minister of Great Britain. They stumble on regardless, the two of them, relying respectively on those patently unhelpful attributes.

Perhaps they should swap jobs for a week – Trump walking out of the interminable Brexit exchanges, May opening up a delicate channel of communication with Kim.

Otherwise, we seem doomed on both sides of the Atlantic to more of the same in the months ahead: sound and fury signifying nothing.

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