Donald Trump’s UK visit: five awkward conversations

Intelligence, Iran and abortion access could all be flashpoints when the US president sits down with Theresa May

Donald Trump and Theresa May
(Image credit: Will Oliver/AFP/Getty Images)

Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump will meet this week amid a maelstrom of political uncertainty.

Indeed, with Brexit unresolved and the Conservative Party leadership race already in full swing before May officially resigns on 7 June, Trump’s three-day state visit “could hardly be more badly timed”, says Politico.

That said, the news site adds, “will a transformed UK prime minister be on display - one more likely to challenge the US president she may never see again?”

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“She’s already been pretty straight-talking with him,” said an unnamed aide to May. “She will be perfectly comfortable speaking direct to him, but I wouldn’t expect a ‘Love Actually moment’.”

So what might the pair clash over? The Week looks at five potential flashpoints between the president and the PM.

Five Eyes

In recent remarks to US press, the president touched on an issue that he’s made a priority for the talks: the origins of the FBI probe into possible links between Russia and his campaign in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has “ordered his attorney general to scrutinise whether the UK intelligence services passed on information to the Americans that helped kick-start the inquiry”, reports The Daily Telegraph.

The US leader has voiced concerns that the CIA or FBI may have used information passed through the so-called Five Eyes intelligence sharing network in the investigation.

“President, are you going to talk to Theresa May about potential Five Eyes spying into your campaign,” he was asked during a press briefing last month.

“I may very well talk to her about that, yeah,” he responded, according to a transcript of the remarks released by the Office of the Press Secretary.

“There’s word and rumour that the FBI and others were involved, CIA were involved, with the UK, having to do with the Russian hoax,” Trump continued. “And I may very well talk to her about that, yes.”


Trump is also due to confront May over the potential security risk posed by using Chinese technology firm Huawei in the UK’s planned next-generation mobile network. The PM is said to favour allowing Huawei to be involved in “non-core” parts of the 5G network.

But over the weekend, two Tory leadership contenders said they would not allow the company into the UK’s telecommunications network at all.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would not want “any company, whichever country it’s from, that has a high degree of control by a foreign government to have access to our very sensitive telecommunications network”.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told CBS News that “buying products from a specific country could be a back door to espionage” that threatens UK systems.

Trump voiced similar concerns in an interview with The Sunday Times this weekend. Asked if he hoped the next British PM would take a different stance on Huawei, the president said: “Well, you have other alternatives and we have to be very careful from the standpoint of national security. You see that maybe now more than ever before.”

He added: “‘National security is so important, so we all have to be very careful together. And the UK understands that very well.”

Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, also criticised May’s apparent belief that the UK could allow Huawei limited access to the 5G network. In an interview on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Johnson said: “There’s no such thing as the centre, the core or the outlying areas. It’s all one big thing.”


Although Trump’s priorities for the discussions may be intelligence concerns, Downing Street has told the BBC that May’s goal is to press him on climate change.

According to The Atlantic, the UK government “feel as if they have gotten nothing from the Trump administration” so far on the issue.

The confirmation that May will address such concerns came as 250 climate researchers sent a letter to the PM demanding that she “robustly challenge” Trump over his failure to protect the environment.

The group wants May to ask the president to initiate and support policies to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions in the US to zero by the middle of this century, and to reverse the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

The experts warn that his administration has removed large amounts of information about climate change from the websites of the White House, government departments and federal agencies.

“The president has publicly stated his rejection of the scientific evidence for climate change and the White House is considering the creation of a committee to cast doubt on the robust and rigorous analysis presented in the United States Fourth National Climate Assessment,” they write.


At the end of last year, Trump used a phone call from May congratulating him on the midterm results to attack her for not doing more to contain Iran. According to The Washington Post, the billionaire “berated the prime minister” for not backing his decision to pull the US out of the joint Iran nuclear deal.

And there is still “much to disagree about [on the topic] in a trip that is supposed to emphasise unity”, says the BBC.

One potential sticking point is that while the UK “still supports the agreement designed to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme, the US does not and is ready to sanction any British firm or bank that trades with Iran”, says the broadcaster.


Anti-abortion politicians in the US have launched a series of assaults on abortion access in recent months - with Alabama’s Republican-controlled senate passing a near-total ban on the practice.

The situation in the US has drawn comparisons to Northern Ireland, where abortion is banned in almost every situation. Amnesty International UK has called the government’s failure to deliver abortion rights “a cruel betrayal of women”.

“Both Trump and May are likely to be quizzed about abortion during the visit,” says HuffPost. But “whether either of the leaders give a straight answer is a very different issue”, the news site adds.

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