On Friday, a few hours before President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order temporarily suspending citizens of seven nations from entering the U.S., he was photographed walking outside the Oval Office hand in hand with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May. The Oval Office sit-down between May and Trump was the new president’s first official meeting with a foreign head of state and British tabloids had a field day with the images and the idea of the “special relationship” the two leaders said their respective countries share.
Here’s a closeup photo of the hand-holding.
And here’s a video clip of the incident.
But many were left wondering: What was really behind the hand-holding?
According to BuzzFeed, Downing Street officials provided an explanation over the weekend, as reported in The Sunday Times. “Downing Street officials claimed the president’s phobia of stairs and slopes led him to grab the prime minister’s hand as they walked down a ramp at the White House,” BuzzFeed cited the paper as having reported. A screenshot of the relevant passage from the paper, which is protected by an online pay-wall, surfaced on social media.
BuzzFeed was able to find ample evidence demonstrating that Trump likely doesn’t suffer from — or at least isn’t hindered by — a phobia of stairs. Columnist Sarah Wollaston, writing in The Guardian, viewed the awkward hand-hold differently, suggesting Trump had a more manipulative motive in mind. “Some touted the hand-holding with Theresa May as the seal of a special relationship and a gentlemanly gesture,” Wollaston wrote. “To me it smacked of the unwelcome infantilizing of a strong female leader, more than capable of negotiating the White House steps on her own.”
What is not in question, however, is that both leaders are feeling tremendous heat in the wake of the meeting. According to The Guardian, May is facing criticism from politicians in her own party over her refusal to condemn Trump’s travel ban. The furthest she has gone, despite being pressed on the issue several times by reporters, is to say that she “does not agree” with Trump’s policy. Trump has taken heat from members of both parties in the U.S. over the controversial move and its abrupt implementation, not to mention criticism from around the globe.
And both are coming under fire for a planned state visit by Trump and his wife, Melania, later this year. On Monday, thousands across the U.K. hit the streets in protest of the travel ban, the BBC reported, as a petition calling for May to rescind her invitation for Trump to attend the state visit topped one million signatures.
The next time we see the two holding hands, it just might be for dear life.