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What does President Trump mean for Britain?

It is fair to say that the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has, at best, received a mixed reaction in Britain. In the run up to Election Day, a poll by Gallup found only 15% of Britons would vote for Trump, whereas 64% would vote for Clinton.

But what will a Trump presidency really mean for Britain? Will it really be as bad as people are saying?

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

First, our Special Relationship. Under Obama, this took a beating.

Although he insisted that Britain and America’s special relationship was “enduring”, in reality he was one of the most anti-British presidents in decades. One of his first acts as President was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, he claimed that he didn’t have “a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people”, and he was even accused of snubbing the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a state visit.

In contrast, Donald Trump is a big fan of Britain. His mother is from a remote Scottish island, and he has business interests here. In fact, his first overseas visit during his campaign was to Britain, where he promised to deepen bonds and described his relationship with the UK as a “love-fest”. However it may not all be smooth sailing. Relationships between Donald Trump and British politicians were strained after there was a debate in the House of Commons about banning him from the UK, and David Cameron described his comments on a ban on Muslims entering the US as “divisive, stupid and wrong”. Boris Johnson, who is now Foreign Secretary, also criticised him.

Perhaps wisely, Theresa May has largely refrained from commenting on Trump during his campaign, and so despite a few teething problems, it is likely that they will be able to form a constructive working relationship.

ECONOMY

Although there was an initial knee-jerk reaction to Trump’s presidency which saw the markets taking a hit and the Pound and Euro up against the Dollar, they quickly stabilised. It looks unlikely that the election of Trump will prove to be another ‘Brexit’ moment for the financial markets.

In the long run, Trump’s stated goal of growing the economy and not raising taxes for the middle class could be beneficial for the UK. Although he has said that he will have a more isolationist economic policy, this is more likely to significantly affect China and Mexico than Britain.

We export just over £30 billion of goods to the US (four times what we export to China), so a President that grows the economy and leaves more Americans with money in their pocket (helped by the low value of the pound) can only be good for British exports.

TRADE AND BREXIT

It is perhaps Trump’s attitude to Brexit that Brits have the most to be optimistic about.

Barack Obama (and then Hilary Clinton) were  very anti-Brexit and made it clear that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for any trade deal. On the other hand, Trump argued for Brexit and described it as a “great victory”.

Trump has suggested that he will scrap a free trade deal with the European Union in favour of making deals with individual countries. Speaking about a deal with Britain, he said “With me, they’ll always be treated fantastically… You would certainly not be back of the queue, that I can tell you”.

DEFENCE

It is likely that most noticeable impact a Trump Presidency will have in the short term is in relation to America’s foreign policy, where there will be a radical departure from foreign policy under Obama, which he called “a complete and total disaster”.

The most radical departure from Obama’s Presidency is Trump’s views on Russia which are favourable. Whilst the majority of the Western world has been criticising Russia’s actions in Syria, Trump has suggested that he wants to work more closely with Russia to eradicate ISIS (his number one foreign policy aim). Trump said “If we could get Russia to help us get rid of ISIS – if we could actually be friendly with Russia – wouldn’t that be a good thing?”. Although Britain is likely to be supportive of action to get rid of ISIS, it is extremely unlikely that we could support any action with Russia whilst they continue to support the Assad regime in Syria.

Trump has committed to boosting America’s defence capabilities (he wants an additional 90.000 soldiers, 42 ships and increased nuclear capabilities), he has also said that he will take a more isolationist approach. He has questioned the value of NATO, and has pledged not to support NATO members who “don’t pull their weight financially”. Given that NATO has recently put 300,000 troops on high alert due to rising tensions with Russia, this is likely to be very damaging for security in Europe who will struggle to contribute more to their defence spending.

THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD?

When assessing the impact of a Trump presidency on Britain, it is also important not to overstate the power of the President (foreign policy is the exception). Although the President is always very visible, their control over most policy is fairly weak. The Senate and the House can adopt or reject legislation, and the House Speaker can choose whether a Bill should be voted upon. In contract, the President can only veto legislation – and this can be overridden by Congress. This caused major issues for Barack Obama during his Presidency as he struggled to get Bills through a Republican controlled House and Senate, and often faced gridlock.

The Republicans have retained control of both the House and the Senate, and with a Republican President, you would expect the road ahead for Trump to be clear. However, some of Trump’s biggest critics during his campaign were Republicans, for example House Speaker Paul Ryan. For Donald Trump to achieve any of his stated aims over the next four years, he will need to keep them on side, which is likely to force Trump to make serious concessions over many of his policies.

 

 

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