With President-elect Trump’s victory in the US election, US Foreign, economic and trade policy takes its place in an evolving (if not new) world order. Even those who listened closely to the ‘change message’ of Donald Trump had a hard time appreciating just how his policies were, in fact, intended to reshape the US relationship with UK, EU, Russia, NATO and the consequences of Brexit. Along with our own change in leadership, these are the policy areas that will also influence the world’s future. So far, I haven’t heard the case in Europe or in the US for the sea-change many expect, especially as Europe’s economic and security concerns grow. These are the times that the world’s greatest alliance has always made the difference in peace and prosperity, setting the examples for the world.
But, the President-elect underscored just how determined he is to rethink the world order when he spoke this past week with Russian President Putin and they agreed to meet early in his term. His first commitment to meet in Europe – our most important alliance — was to talk with Russia’s leader; not the Germans, French or British. Would he dare meet with Putin and begin to shape a new US/ Russian relationship and then turn to our historic allies after the fact, with take-it-or-leave deal? He might do so out of ignorance and lack of nuance, even his own political and Trump Inc’s business/ financing need. It could be a disaster — but it could happen. We are all smart to think about. The following selections from The Guardian’s Jon Henley and Peter Walker provide a UK perspective to this US ‘pile on’ of change. It’s worth both reading and watching unfold.
It won’t have escaped your attention that Donald Trump was elected US president last week, an event that will not be without consequences. The one that interests us is: what will it mean for the government’s Brexit strategy?
The short answer is: nobody really knows. First, Trump seems happy to change his mind fairly often about most things, and it’s not clear how far we should interpret his campaign rhetoric as statement of firm policy intent.
Second, beyond “getting the best possible deal for Britain” the government doesn’t seem to have much of a Brexit strategy quite yet, and what it has, it isn’t telling us about. (According to a leaked memo, it has no single plan, is working on 500 Brexit projects, and may need 30,000 extra civil servants to deal with the workload.)
That said, as my colleague Patrick Wintour suggested, two base scenarios present themselves – one a potential opportunity, the other a threat. The tricky thing is, Theresa May doesn’t have much time to decide which way it will play.
Broadly, Trump – who raised doubts during his campaign about the US’s commitment to Nato – could be good news for May if the EU 27 become concerned about the geopolitical and security consequences, for example when dealing with Russian expansionism or the terrorist threat.
In that case, Britain’s military strength and intelligence capabilities might look more valuable to the bloc, prompting it to make Brexit concessions. Eastern member states particularly worried by Russia, for example, may prove more flexible on Britain’s aim to curtail free movement.
But there are equally strong reasons why the EU may not roll over. It might feel that the risk from the anti-establishment forces that drove Brexit and Trump is so great that only a harsh Brexit will show the Eurosceptics likely to do well in next year’s Dutch, French and German elections that leaving the EU is a seriously bad idea.
Trade could go either way. It’s possible that Trump, as he has signalled, will sign up for a future US-UK trade deal – which could strengthen the UK’s negotiating hand. On the other hand, he has blamed free-trade deals for all America’s economic woes, and could be spoiling for a tariff war with China.
If a Trump-led US, and subsequently the world, do take an inward-looking, protectionist turn, Britain could find itself quitting the EU’s single market and customs union and looking for favourable new trade deals at precisely the same moment as everyone else is shunning them.
Diplomatically, things could fall between the same cracks. In this context, Britain’s early and enthusiastic welcome to Trump – compared, for example, with German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cautious and very conditional reception – is unlikely to go down well with an EU 27 deeply alarmed by the prospect of populist contagion.
Trump, the unexpected and unpredictable new leader of a country Britain has long considered its greatest ally, has changed the Brexit dynamics. Quite how, though, we will have to wait and see.