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Our Reaction To The US Election Must Be To Defend Openness Wherever We Can

11/11/2016 10:16 | Updated 11 November 2016
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In light of Tuesday's astonishing events, we in Britain have to respect the democratically-expressed will of the American people. But we cannot deny or ignore the uncertainty and anxiousness this bombshell result has created, both in the United States and around the world.

After the EU referendum result, we all worried about whether our values as an open country could survive the shock. After Donald Trump's election, we worry about open values globally - about whether the impact will threaten the open trade, inclusive societies and international cooperation that define us and set our democracies apart from others.

Taking The Donald at his word, the portents are not good. His rhetoric and his policy (such as it is) suggest a comprehensive challenge to openness in all its forms.

Free trade, which I believe is vital for growing our economy and creating jobs, is threatened by Trump's election. He speaks of renegotiating America's trade agreements to make them more advantageous to the US, scrapping NAFTA, and is bitterly opposed to both the TPP deal with Pacific Rim countries and the TTIP deal with the EU. Eurosceptics are already arguing that Trump's supposed fondness for the UK means that we will be at the front of the queue for a trade deal with the US. But Trump's anti-trade rhetoric is such that this argument must be taken with a pinch of salt. British diplomats heading to Washington for negotiations could not expect their American counterparts to make any compromises that imposed greater competition on American manufacturers and farmers. Abandoning our close trading relationship with Europe for a chimera of a deal with President Trump would be foolhardy in the extreme. The next four - maybe eight - years promise a rocky road ahead for global trade.

Possibly even more worrying is the impact on foreign policy and world security. As Tom Raines of the Chatham House think tank has pointed out, the twin poles of British foreign policy for the last forty years have been active membership of the EU, and a strong relationship with an Atlanticist US. In less than seven months, both have been put under great strain. Trump's alleged closeness to Russia, ambivalence towards NATO, and general lack of foreign policy experience are worrying for anyone who believes in Western unity and resolve, expressed partly through NATO, as the only way to counter common threats. In an increasingly unstable world, an 'America First' outlook cannot be in the interests of Britain or Europe.

Much ink has been spilt about Donald Trump's more outrageous outbursts - whether directed against women, Muslims, the disabled and many others. We must not allow such sentiments to cross the Atlantic. Open Britain will stand unequivocally for a vision of our country as a tolerant place, respectful of difference in all its forms.

Of course, the UK must continue to work closely with the US, even if we must hold our noses while doing so. But, as Hillary Clinton said in her inspiring concession speech, we "must never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it."

At Open Britain that means we will fight for Britain to remain an open country - open to trade, to talent, to Europe and to the world. Nothing has changed in our respect for the will of the British people. But with the uncertainty that this result has produced, it is vital that we remain as open to our European partners as possible. That means membership of the Single Market, which supports millions of jobs through the freest possible trade with Europe; unprecedentedly close cooperation on security and foreign policy; and common action to tackle issues like climate change.

We must also learn the lessons from the victories of Trump and of Vote Leave. While the American race had many characteristics of its own, there are common factors that we need to address. Both results were in part a reaction to the profits of globalisation being shared too unequally; to anger against political and economic elites; and to immigration. It is vital that we engage in both domestic economic reform and changes to the way immigration works in order to address this.

For us our campaign starts with being in the Single Market. If we abandon it, we will erect trade barriers with our largest partner, become closed to inward business investment, and open the door to workers' rights and environmental standards being undermined.

At Open Britain, we will be taking that message direct to voters in their communities. That's why this weekend we are having a national campaign day of action in towns and cities across Britain, running small street stalls to show people the benefits of Single Market membership. Ours is a grassroots campaign, and our greatest resource are our thousands of activists who believe as passionately as I do in Britain's future as an open society.

So the response to the US election must be to defend openness however we can - at home and abroad. In our own small way, we will start on Saturday. I would urge all who share our vision for this country to join us.

Norman Lamb is the Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, and a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign

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