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Trump Attempts to Get a Handle on Brexit’s Timing

As Theresa May’s resignation becomes official, Donald Trump encourages her to “stick around” for a “great” trade deal.

US President Donald Trump, like the pussycat in the nursery rhyme, has “been to London to visit the queen.” He even visited another female leader who, under normal circumstances, has more political power than the queen: Prime Minister Theresa May. Trump may have been unaware that, having announced her resignation, May has only a few weeks to ensure a shaky transition before being replaced by her yet-to-be-identified successor, who will have to find a way of bringing the Brexit melodrama to some form of resolution before the end of October or cede power to another unknown future prime minister after a general election.

Whether it was ignorance, awkwardness or an attempt at black humor, Trump made May an offer she literally couldn’t accept: “It’s an honor to have worked with you, and I don’t know exactly what your timing is but stick around, let’s do this deal.” According to Politico, this elicited “chuckles around the room.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Timing:

The art of managing events to obtain an optimal outcome, which depends on accurately reading the dynamics of a complex situation. Not to be confused with setting an arbitrary date for the sake of one’s own convenience. 

Contextual note

In a sea of uncertainty about Brexit and the fate of the British union, the one thing Trump should know for certain is the timing of May’s departure and the fact that her decision is irreversible. The prime minister’s resignation is official as of June 7, after which a new Conservative prime minister must take office at some point in July. The “chuckles” appeared to be a generous gesture by the others in the room to acknowledge an attempt at levity on Trump’s part, but the embarrassment behind the chuckles at the inappropriateness of the comment was palpable.

Politico summed up the current situation this week: “Theresa May’s authority has been draining away for weeks, but the U.K. prime minister only officially becomes a lame duck on Friday.” The article’s detailed description of the complex procedure to replace May also reveals the exceptionally high degree of uncertainty about the political consequences of the process. “If the winner looks like they do not have the support of MPs (some Tories have said they would leave the party if a hard Brexiteer were elected, for example) then opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is very likely to call a no-confidence vote. That could bring down the new government and precipitate a general election.”

The question of timing around everything to do with Brexit has become a sad and horribly stale joke, on a par with Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan, aka the “deal of the century.” The world watched as the absolute legal deadline for Brexit passed at the end of March this year. That date marked a period of two full years after the triggering of Article 50 to leave the European Union.

The confusion in the British Parliament was so profound that the EU extended the debate, announcing a series of other provisional deadlines that have now culminated in a new theoretical cutoff date: October 31. The UK has until Halloween to work things out, five days before “bonfire night” or Guy Fawkes Night (November 5), a commemoration that celebrates the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 that aimed at blowing up the Houses of Parliament. Could 2019 be the year Parliament effectively dissolves into thin air?

Already one of the candidates to replace May, Michael Gove, has called the October date “arbitrary” and claims that the UK is not “wedded to it.” In other words, Lewis Carroll may have been the first to understand how Brexit works. It turns out to be very similar to that most English of British institutions, teatime:

“It’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash things between whiles.”

“Then you keep moving round, I suppose?” said Alice.

“Exactly so,” said the Hatter: “as the things get used up.”

“But what happens when you come to the beginning again?” Alice ventured to ask.

“Suppose we change the subject,” the March Hare interrupted, yawning. “I’m getting tired of this.”

Whether it’s Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or one of the other candidates for prime minister, they may all be hoping that people will get so tired of Brexit that they’ll allow their new leader to do anything they please just to change the subject.

Historical note

Clearly, President Trump has defined himself as a “learner” in the traditional sense of education: the student who knows nothing before coming to class and takes away whatever he’s capable of understanding thanks to his teacher’s instruction. His meetings in London allowed him to begin to understand the rudimentaries of how to replace a prime minister who has resigned.

He showed his progress in his subsequent visit to Ireland, where he gave an exposé demonstrating the depth of his understanding of the play of events and the consequences for both the UK and Ireland. “Decision number one: who is going to be prime minister? And once that happens, that person will get in and try and make a deal and maybe if they don’t make a deal they do it a different way. But I know one thing, Ireland’s going to be in great shape,” he said. In a real classroom, his teacher might judge that not only had he missed the most important details, but he was rushing to an unjustified conclusion. Still, he clearly deserved encouragement for his effort.

Following Trump’s lesson in contemporary political institutions in the UK,  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar — whom Trump preferred to refer to as prime minister to avoid mispronouncing the Irish title — conducted a crash course in Irish history for the president: “Addressing the media after Trump’s departure, Varadkar said he explained the history of the border and the Troubles in their private meeting.”

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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