Number 10, Downing Street. January 15, 2017, late evening. Prime Minister’s study.
Present: Theresa May, Prime Minister. Nick Timothy, Co-Chief of Staff. Katie Perrior, Director of Communications.
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Timothy: Prime Minister, Donald Trump’s given his first interview to a British paper. It’s tomorrow’s Times. The journalist is…Michael Gove.
May (long pause): I see.
Timothy: Two main points of substance. On Brexit, Trump says that “we’re gonna work very hard to get [a trade deal] done quickly and done properly”. On NATO, Gove doesn’t seem to have asked him whether the Trump presidency will honour America’s commitment’s under Article 5. He does say that NATO is “very important to him”. (Pause.) If the interview is any guide, Trump’s hostility to the EU was sparked by difficulties he encountered when seeking to expand a property he owns in Ireland.
May (pause): Right.
Timothy: It’s a joint interview with Bild. I don’t think the Germans will like it. Trump says: “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.” Well, he’s got a point there.
May: Anything about Steele?
Timothy: Yes, he says “that guy is somebody that you should look at”.
Katie Perrior: That Gove should interview?
Timothy: No, Trump seems to mean that we should look at – the Government, that is. He says that “when I just heard [the allegations] I ripped up the mat…If I did that in a hotel it’d be the biggest thing. They’d have me on the front page of the New York Post, right? And the other thing, I can’t even, I don’t even want to shake hands with people now I hear about this stuff.”
Perrior (to May): If shaking hands upsets him, you could always nod when you meet. You know, gravely – Japanese-style.
May: Anything else?
Timothy: Yes. He seems to have shown Gove your letter.
Timothy: Your letter. You know, you wrote saying that you hoped that he would manage “to find some time to pause and spend time with your family over the holiday season”, and sending him Churchill’s Christmas Address to the American people of 1941.
May: He showed my letter to Michael?
Timothy: Well, he quotes Trump as saying “I will be meeting with [Theresa May] – in fact if you want you can see the letter, wherever the letter is, she just sent it”. And the top part of the letter is shown in the Times. I suppose Gove must have taken a photo or a copy. Trump says that you are “requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and…we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”
May: Right. Anything else?
Timothy: Yes. Gove claims that Trump may cut off ties with Merkel. “Despite all of Mr Trump’s expressions of admiration for Mr Putin and Mrs Merkel, he revealed that he was prepared to cut ties with both: “Well, I start off trusting both – but let’s see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all.” He says her immigration policy is a “catastrophic mistake”.
May: Well, at least he doesn’t say that he’ll cut ties with me.
Timothy: No, and he doesn’t repeat his call for Farage to be our Ambassador to Washington, either. Though he does ask “How is our Nigel doing?” and says he’s a “great guy”.
May: We must be thankful for small mercies. Sounds helpful on the whole. (Pause.) Did Michael give the Whips notice of this, by the way?
Perrior: I spoke to him earlier: he said that he’d (studies notes) “had a word in advance with Cronus”.
Perrior: Cronus, Prime Minister. The Chief Whip’s pet tarantula.
Timothy: You might want to see Gove, Prime Minister. Have him in for a cup of coffee. Gove says that they “chatted, on and off the record, for an hour in his corner office in Trump Tower, surrounded by mementoes of his past successes, commercial and political”. They’re bound to have had a separate chat…politician to politician. Might be worthing seeing what Gove has to say. (Coughs.) Presumably the fact that you, er, dispensed with his services had been drawn to Trump’s attentions.
May: It had occurred to me. One last point.
May: Well, I mean…it’s a newspaper interview. It’s a scoop. And it’s the Times not the Telegraph. Someone we all know has missed out. Katie, would you mind getting the Foreign Secretary on the line…?