Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May gave an important speech last week, just three days before the inauguration of Donald Trump. Her main purpose was to put paid to any suggestion her Government might want to negotiate a "soft" Brexit. It was seeking "not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out," she said. "We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave."

But she also made a more important point, and especially timely given the transfer of power in Washington. "The result of [Britain's] referendum was not a decision to turn inward and retreat from the world," she said. The vote, as she interprets it, "was not the moment Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to build a truly global Britain."

Wishful thinking perhaps, but she would not say this if she was not confident most Britons would agree. We have been led to believe last year's voting shocks in the United Kingdom and the United States arose from the same impulse to stop "globalisation" and turn inward, protecting people's national identity and jobs against immigration and international trade.

Immigration certainly. Trump was probably right last week when he told the Times and Bild he believed there would not have been a Brexit were it not for the flood of refugees into Europe the year before. He called German Chancellor Angela Merkel's misjudgment in 2015 "catastrophic" and that does not seem too strong a word now Brexit has happened and he has been elected.


The television images of masses of Syrians, Afghans and North Africans walking into Europe or landing from boats was undoubtedly a contributor to the voting "uprisings" last year, which might continue at elections in France and other European states this year. While the influx was not felt directly in Britain, it highlighted the UK's vulnerability to uncontrolled migration within the EU.

Brexit was about reclaiming control - of sovereignty. It was not about cancelling trade agreements or repatriating business, as Trump plans for America. Even in America, the people who cheered for Trump appeared more worried about immigration than jobs. The rustbelt jobs disappeared decades ago; migration from Latin America and the Middle East is the more recent worry for those who hear Trump blame it for crime and terrorism. On trade, Trump sounds more protectionist than his people.

Theresa May set out 12 goals for her Brexit negotiations. One of them was to regain control of immigration. Another was to protect workers' rights, by which she meant adopting EU labour law and adding to it by giving workers a voice in company decisions. But it did not mean blocking foreign competition. To the contrary, she wanted Britain to be, "a great global trading nation and one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world". This has been Britain's heritage, though it owes more to the 19th century's Liberals than the Tories. But, thankfully, Theresa May is no Trump.