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Trump back in the UK: why Boris Johnson is keeping his distance

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Johnson is understood to have rejected offers of a face-to-face meeting with Trump during his UK visit

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PM to have minimal contact with US president during Nato visit in effort to keep voters on side

In Depth Gabriel Power
Tuesday, December 3, 2019 - 2:39pm

Donald Trump landed in the UK last night for a summit to mark the 70th anniversary of Nato - but Boris Johnson appears to be avoiding the US president.

“A prime minister would normally welcome a chance to perform on the world stage, especially during an election campaign,” says The Independent’s Andrew Grice. Yet Johnson will be feeling “nothing but trepidation” as Trump joins other world leaders in London at the two-day summit, according to Grice.

Here’s why.

Trump’s unpopularity

Politics expert Rob Ford, a professor at the University of Manchester, tells CNN that Trump is “unpopular with almost every voter group in Britain, but especially so with wavering voters”.

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And with just a week to go before the UK general election, that means even being seen with the US leader could come at a serious political cost.

Indeed, Trump has been “used as a weapon by many of Johnson’s opponents”, says CNN, which notes that “any association with Trump is likely to turn off the swing voters that Johnson needs to win over if he’s to win a majority”.

The broadcaster adds: “Since the campaign kicked off, he’s been doing everything he can to avoid talking about the president. He dodges questions. The Conservative Party’s Twitter account has mentioned Trump precisely zero times. He’s the man no one wants to dance with.”

NBC News says Johnson’s team has informed the White House that he will not have time this week for a face-to-face meeting with Trump, an outspoken ally of the PM

Trump has duly promised to “stay out of the election”, but told reporters in London that he was a “fan of Brexit” and that Johnson was “very capable”.

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General optics aside, the most problematic aspect of UK-US relations at the moment is the ongoing row over whether the NHS would form part of a trade deal with Washington following Brexit.

Last week, Labour announced that it had “proof” that the Conservatives were putting the health service “up for sale”, in the form of notes from six rounds of talks between US and UK officials between July 2017 and July 2019.

 Johnson has dismissed the claims as “nonsense”, while Trump has said he wants “nothing to do” with the NHS and has “never even thought about it”.

US researchers have since suggested that the classified documents were “first leaked online in a way that mirrored a recent Russian disinformation campaign”, reports the Financial Times.

Nevertheless, Corbyn has said that if he meets Trump during the Nato reception at Buckingham Palace this evening, he will tell the US leader that the NHS is not up for grabs.

The Labour Party leader said: “Obviously, we want a good relationship with the USA but the trade talks that have been undertaken by the government have been done in secret and we do not accept any idea of US companies coming in to run our NHS or the idea of extending the patents of medicine that will increase the costs for our NHS.”

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