April 15, 2018


Theresa May shows steel while Donald Trump wobbles in final countdown (Tim Shipman, April 15 2018, The Sunday Times)

When Donald Trump spoke to Theresa May on Thursday to discuss their planned airstrikes on Syria, the US president was far more subdued than he had been three days earlier when he warned Russia and its client dictator, Bashar al-Assad, that his "nice and new and smart" missiles "will be coming".

That outburst exasperated ministers and highlighted the difficulty of standing shoulder to shoulder with an ally who shoots from the lip.

"When Trump started tweeting he hadn't even had his intelligence briefing," said one cabinet source. "He was speaking without having the first clue of what he was talking about."

When May gathered her cabinet on Wednesday at least two ministers called Trump's tweets "unhelpful". Throughout Whitehall there was frustration that the president had made it easier for Vladimir Putin to accuse the West of escalating the conflict and for Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, to condemn a rush to war. He was soon accusing May of awaiting "instructions from Trump".

Behind the scenes an effort was under way to rein in the president, led by his defence secretary, James Mattis. [...]

Trump told May: "We're going to do it and we're going to do it well." But those who had heard him said that he seemed nervous. "It was a bit of a wobble," one Whitehall official said.

Aides say May was in no doubt that military action was required after intelligence chiefs briefed her last Sunday about the attack on Douma, which killed 75 people. The prime minister, who is not given to overt displays of emotion, was shocked that Assad's regime had apparently used chlorine against civilians who were unable to escape. "That was what really struck home with the boss," said one aide.

"That these were people hiding in cellars underground with no means of escape and the regime used a weapon that could penetrate there and kill people who were in hiding. It's a straightforward instrument of fear. She was very struck by the sheer inhumanity of it."

A cabinet source said: "She's been very clear and tough from the beginning."

Posted by at April 15, 2018 7:39 AM