British Hope for Trade Deal But Worry About “America First”

The United Kingdom could find itself slipping into a gap between a less effective NATO and a tighter EU.

Building of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, London, December 16, 2009
Building of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, London, December 16, 2009 (FCO)

We spoke a lot last night about the parallels between this election and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom in June. Anybody who was watching that night and remembers the “Newcastle vote” as they watched the close races in states like Florida and Michigan may have had an inkling about what the night foretold.

Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, has got the diplomatic niceties out of the way by congratulating Donald Trump on his victory. One can be sure that the possibility of an Anglo-American trade deal post-Brexit that Trump so wishes will smooth over any misgivings the British government might have about the American president-elect.

Elsewhere, the reaction is much like it has been around the world.

Unenthusiastic

The Guardian, Britain’s main left-wing newspaper, writes:

The unthinkable is only unthinkable until it happens. Then, like the sacking of Rome, it can seem historically inevitable. So it is with the global political earthquake that is the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.

On the right, The Telegraph makes the point that if the ordinary man or woman in the street feels shocked, we must spare a fought for the Foreign Office mandarin who must now work out how to deal with Trump.

As for the proposed trade deal, they argue that Nigel Farage, the former United Kingdom Independence Party leader who was the only major political figure in the country to call Trump’s victory, may be the best person to negotiate with Trump.

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, once said the only reason he wouldn’t visit some parts of New York City was the risk of running into Donald Trump. During a recent debate in the House of Commons, he called Trump a “buffoon”, a “demagogue” and a “joke”.

To say Britain’s political establishment is unenthusiastic about America’s new president is to put it politely.

Isolationism

A return to American isolationism under Trump would not be a good thing for Britain just as it is trying to find a new place for itself in the world.

There are worries related to defense. Under Trump’s “America First” doctrine, the United Kingdom could find itself slipping into a gap between a less effective NATO and an EU that, in response to Trump’s policy, deepens military and security integration.

There is now a sense in Britain that a new era of populism married with discontent at the status quo has arrived. We had Brexit, they have Trump, and across Europe and the world populist leaders are gaining traction.