Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Trump factor overshadows English's meeting with Theresa May

English out to present credentials post-Brexit as May sets up meeting.
Bill English looks at NZ graves at Plugstreet, Commines Warneton in Belgium where New Zealanders were based in World War One. Photo / Claire Trevett
Bill English looks at NZ graves at Plugstreet, Commines Warneton in Belgium where New Zealanders were based in World War One. Photo / Claire Trevett

Prime Minister Bill English is preparing to roll up to No. 10 Downing Street for his meeting with Theresa May tonight, but few people have noticed he was going to be in town.

Instead, all the attention was on May's meeting with another leader - US President-elect Donald Trump and May had agreed to meet in the spring time.

English' winter visit does not have quite the same headline appeal.

Despite the bombastic promises about free trade deals by Trump and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, New Zealand harbours quiet hopes of sneaking in to get a top slot on the UK's post-Brexit trade dance card.

When English talks to May it will be to convince her New Zealand is happy to help out should the UK need to get some trade deals through quickly.

English will have less luck with the other perennial topic New Zealand takes to Britain: the rights of New Zealanders to live and work in the old mother land.

As Key will testify it is something of an exercise in futility at a time the UK are looking to cut migrant numbers, wherever they are from.

But God loves a trier and just as former Prime Minister John Key did, English will keep harping on about it anyway.

"When you're a small country you just have keep putting yourself forward so that they remember what your interests are, so when they make decisions they can take us into account," he said yesterday.

The squeaky wheel gets the oil approach will be easier if Theresa May and Bill English hit it off.

Despite the somewhat larger issues May has to deal with, she has set time aside to meet English over a lunch rather than a quicker turn around meeting.

It is an encouraging start - and gives English hope that New Zealand will not be bottom of the list when the UK sets about forging its new international and trade relations post Brexit.

Key found that personal relations with other leaders could take someone far in international diplomacy - opening phone lines and ears that might otherwise be dismissive of a country the size of New Zealand.

If the world leaders were on a diplomatic Tinder site, May and English would likely be judged more compatible than May and Key would have been.

That is not just because both May and English ascended to Prime Minister mid-term rather than getting the job by leading their parties to a victory at a general election.

Key was a good match for Cameron. But there was something a bit Old Boy cliquey about it. Key was driven by pragmatism and in many cases expediency.

English suffers from a conscience and those pesky things called 'principles' - and here he and May are similar.

While Key and Cameron excelled at the silver-tongued small tongue that diplomacy necessitates, neither May nor English possess the same alacrity or patience for it.

English - a vigilant Catholic - has pointed to his religion as giving him the values that guide his life.

A religious background and values are also strong in May, the daughter of a vicar.

Both are described as cautious politically.

May is a supporter of gay marriage - English was not, but his first conversion after becoming party leader was to say he would have voted differently had the issue arisen.

She might not say it, but it's a fair bet English will be more May's cup of tea than Donald Trump.

English's European diary:

Last night: English held talks with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg, Belgium PM Charles Michel and European Parliament President Martin Schulz before leaving Brussels for London.

Tonight: English meets with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and British PM Theresa May.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

Read more by Claire Trevett

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