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First stop Mar-a-Lago, next stop Washington D.C. - Lord Cameron tours the States

David Cameron
By David Scane
09 April 2024
Public Affairs
foreign policy

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron found himself in a potentially awkward position yesterday as he embarked on his trip to the US, primarily for a meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, but not before a visit with presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump at the former President's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

This was the first time that any UK official has met with the former President since Trump (reluctantly) left office in January 2021.

The delicate diplomatic moment was not lost on observers, considering Cameron's past criticisms of Trump, having described him as "divisive, stupid, and wrong” and “protectionist, xenophobic and misogynistic”.

As Cameron prepared for his high-profile meeting, it served as a reminder of the timeless lesson in communications and indeed diplomacy: be very careful about what you say in public as it can (and will) inevitably come back to bite you. Cameron's previous comments about Trump, made during his tenure as Prime Minister, now threatened to add a difficult layer to his diplomatic efforts.

Trump, in turn, has been known to hold a grudge, and Cameron’s comments and previous public ‘bromance’ with his predecessor Barack Obama would not have gone unnoticed.

Nevertheless, Cameron's visit wasn’t solely about navigating potential awkwardness with the former President. It was instead focused on pressing Congress to pass a blocked $60 billion military aid package for Ukraine, amidst its ongoing conflict with Russia. Cameron hoped to garner support from Republican lawmakers, including those aligned with Trump, who had been holding up the aid package. This task was particularly challenging given one of those lawmakers, had previously invited Lord Cameron to “kiss my a**” and to “worry about his own country”. 

In addition to Ukraine, Cameron aimed to address the ceasefire in Gaza and advocate for a transparent investigation into the deaths of three British aid workers in an Israeli drone strike. These discussions were crucial in advancing UK-US priorities and promoting stability in key regions.

Since his appointment to the position, Cameron has drawn plaudits from commentators for the way in which he has conducted himself in the role. He has appeared comfortable when interacting with diplomats and foreign dignitaries and has been described by one civil servant as the “foreign affairs PM”.  His mastery of social media, including his well-received video from last week’s NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting, contrasts with the PM’s own slightly awkward Instagram appearance over the weekend in a pair of Addidas Sambas.

Despite the potential discomfort stemming from his past remarks about Trump, a UK Government official told the Daily Telegraph that it was a “productive meeting”, which emphasised the “breadth and strength” of the US-UK relationship.

The meeting was, according to a Foreign Office spokesperson, “standard practice for ministers to meet with opposition candidates as part of their routine international engagement”. Conversely, no public comment has been made by the Trump team as to the outcome of the meeting.

As Cameron embarked on his visit, he did so in the knowledge that by the time Donald Trump potentially starts a second term in January 2025, he will likely be dealing with Prime Minister Starmer (someone who has previously declared himself “pro-American but anti-Trump). 

Both Cameron and Stamer would have made their comments at a time when neither could have guessed they would be in the position to have had to deal with Trump on issues of important international security.  Yet the Cameron meeting underlines both the serious preparations that the government and opposition will need to make ahead of a potential Trump second term as well as the UK’s and Europe’s complete reliance on ongoing US support in various theatres of conflict around the world.

One thing is very clear, whether it is in international diplomacy, or in any other walk of life, nothing in the public domain ever gets forgotten, so think very carefully before you speak.