The world will watch as Donald Trump today becomes America’s 45th President. But how will his administration affect the UK?
His mother was born in Scotland and he’s a self-confessed Anglophile. But will a man whose chief encounter with British politicians has been to label former Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond ‘mad’ in a row over his golf courses be good news or a disaster for Britain?
With analysis from the UK think-tank Policy Exchange, here’s four ways he’s likely to have a huge impact:
1. Brexit and the EU.
Time was Trump was blithely unaware of the biggest shift in British politics, or at least its sobriquet. In an interview with Michael Wolff for The Hollywood Reporter last year, Trump was baffled.
Michael Wolff: “And Brexit? Your position?”
Donald Trump: “Huh?”
Michael Wolff: “Brexit.”
Donald Trump: “Hmm.”
But soon enough, after the seismic UK vote, Trump had adopted the epithet as his own:
Just this week, the President-Elect praised Britain as “smart” for opting out of a European Union, a bloc that he sees as being in the brink of collapse.
“I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think,” he told The Times.
And the reason? “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.”
Warwick Lightfoot, head of economics and social policy of Policy Exchange:
“The UK Government could hugely benefit from the support that the Trump administration will give to Brexit. The new President’s position transforms the previous US position on Europe. This was broadly to support European political integration and to assume that Britain should be involved, not least to help to secure US State Department policy objectives in Europe.
“Part of the UK’s mission post-Brexit will be to demonstrate that the UK is not retreating into a less liberal approach to economics and trade.
“A significant part of the UK Government criticism of EU policy, even while it was a committed member of the EU, was the EU’s lack of enthusiasm for a more liberal international multilateral trade regime and the hindrance posed by the subsidised and protectionist Common Agricultural Policy approach to agriculture and its relatively high common external tariff.”
As trading partners, the relationship between the UK and the US is significant.
The latest Office for National Statistics analysis shows the US is the UK’s largest export partner and second-largest import partner. By exporting around £30bn worth of goods and services to the US each year - similar to what we sell to Germany and much more than what is shipped to China - it’s self-evident that the US matters.
And the early signs, for the UK, are positive. His first post-election interview with the UK media confirmed much of what we were given to believe: Trump seems keen to do a deal with the UK.
Asked whether he would press ahead with a trade deal with the UK that would come into force after Brexit, Trump told The Times:
“Absolutely, very quickly. I’m a big fan of the UK. We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides.”
Yet it might be too early to pop the champagne corks. After all, this was the man who swept to power on the back of the promise to ‘Make America Great Again’ and whose trade policy is distinctly ‘America First’.
The slogan was fleshed out by his opposition to the North America Free Trade Agreement - central to his successful pitch to the crucial ‘rust belt’ states where US manufacturing has been battered.
“As a country committed to an open liberal trading order, the UK’s role as a beacon for free trade will be enhanced by the Trump administration’s critique of the way that the present global trade regime works.
“By being willing to expose agriculture to external competition the UK will immediately be a much more liberal country in terms of the role it will play at the World Trade Organisation.
“During a period when the world’s multilateral trading rules will be stretched by the tension arising from the Trump administration’s approach to trade in general and trade with China in particular, the UK will along with countries such as Australia and New Zealand be one of the beacons supporting a liberal international trade regime.
“UK trade with the US currently enjoys no free trade agreement so Brexit makes no immediate difference. A drive to negotiate a swift Free Trade Agreement between the two countries during a period trade may be disrupted by disputes over, border taxes, tariffs, dumping, and currency manipulation will help to ensure that the current trade between the two economies continues to flourish and expand.”
3. The ‘special relationship’.
It’s one of the most hackneyed phrases in world politics, and Trump’s arrival could alter the ‘special relationship’. Quite how no-one can be sure, since Trump appears anxious to demolish the existing world order and start again.
In recent weeks, he has appeared more favourable to Russia, antagonistic towards China and Russia, and utterly dismissive of the European Union. NATO is “obsolete” for supposedly not confronting terrorism, and members not paying their share.
At least that’s his position for now. His Cabinet could well exert a modifying influence, if you compare and contrast their comments.
For instance, Trump has appeared relaxed about Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS.”
But his pick for CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, is less sanguine. “Russia has reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and doing nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat of ISIS.”
In the UK’s favour - if remaining close to the world’s only super-power is the ambition - is that he likes Brexit, tweets about the UK being “very special” and invited Nigel Farage to Trump Towers before any other politician after the election win.
Professor John Bew, head of Britain in the world at Policy Exchange, and professor of history and foreign policy in the war studies department at King’s College London:
“Whisper it quietly in civilised company but there is a growing sense that the election of Donald Trump as the next American president might work well for the United Kingdom. That, at least, is part of the calculation at Number 10. May’s team are heartened by the fact that the incoming Trump administration has a favourable view of Brexit Britain, and will seek a trade deal with it. This is welcome leverage in a tumultuous year in British foreign policy.
“For the foreseeable future, then, the foreign policy course taken by the United States remains of greater importance to the national security and national interest of the UK than that of any other state. Although the term ‘special’ is now somewhat hackneyed, the Anglo-American partnership is certainly distinctive in its depth and longevity. Having challenged much conventional wisdom surrounding US foreign policy, this is one relationship that Trump does seem to value highly.
“The UK will no longer be able to perform the function of a ‘bridge’ between the US and the EU as a number of past Prime Ministers have hoped. But it will seek to take pro-active measures to ensure that it remains America’s most reliable ally in the European neighbourhood.
“Despite the newfound optimism, there is no denying that the road ahead will be bumpy. On a number of issues there is likely to be a large gap between the UK and US position that will be hard to disguise. The British government has effectively boycotted a French-led initiative on the frozen Middle East peace process, suggesting that it is unlikely to prioritise this at the expense of relations with the Trump regime. Other tensions will be harder to avoid – on climate change and the Iranian nuclear deal, both of which Trump has declare himself a sceptic about.
“It remains to be seen how the UK responds to any rapprochement between the US and Russia. The threat from Russia is an issue of priority concern for the UK government, which has been forthright in its criticism of Moscow. Notwithstanding Trump’s stated desire to work with President Putin, there will be encouragement at the comparatively more uncompromising stance taken by his nominees for Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) and Secretary of Defence (General James Mattis).
“On NATO, the UK government has already taken care to respond to growing American frustrations with the problem of ‘free-riding’ by increasing defence spending since the 2015 general election. They will hope that the alliance is not ‘obsolete’, a word that Trump has used, and may instead be reset or revived.
“The Prime Minister will visit President Trump in the Spring of 2017. She will hope to seize the initiative – and take advantage of goodwill in Republican-controlled Washington DC – to fashion a re-modelling of UK-US relations by linking trade with burden sharing on security. To the surprise of many, the mood music may be to her favour.”
4. Boost to ‘populism’.
Trump’s win is already having a curious impact on the UK political landscape, with even Jeremy Corbyn taking his cue from the Republican. The Labour leader is reportedly adopting a Twitter-focussed approach to speaking over the mainstream media - portraying himself as the leader of a populist, anti-establishment movement.
The next UK iteration of ‘Trumpism’ in the UK will be witnessed in the two upcoming by-elections, most likely in Brexit-supporting Stoke Central. Ukip, the party that most closely mirrors the anti-everything rhetoric of Trump, is eyeing a victory that would boosts its prospects of knocking Labour off its perch in the north of England.
Arguably more interesting is what Ukip donor Arron Banks does next.
The multi-millionaire joined Nigel Farage and his gang for *that* meeting at Trump Tower, underlining his links to the next President and his leading counsel, Steve Bannon. Banks has talked about forming a new political party - or “movement” - much in the image of Trump.
“Both the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election result exemplified elements of popular revulsion towards perceived elite policies and opinion. There were common themes of concern about migration, national identify and defence national security. America and Britain, however, are very different political communities.
“The greater part of the Brexit result went beyond a concern about immigration or an expression of protest and was an expression political choice about sovereignty and the democratic accountability of political institutions.”