Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Column / Brexit Briefing

Trump’s 'Brexit plus' will strengthen May’s hand

  • President-Elect Donald Trump's election reinforces many of the messages of Brexit. (Photo: Reuters)

The similarities between watching Donald Trump’s victory and Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June were eerie.

An unpopular establishment candidate defeated by loudmouthed, scare-mongering populist - check. A revived nationalism and anger among the economically dispossessed - check.

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Even the pattern of election night was the same, as the pundits’ confidence in the accuracy of the exit polls gradually unravelled as Hillary Clinton’s so-called ‘firewall’ of safe states were either lost or too-close-to-call.

In both upsets voters blindsided the opinion pollsters. Timid Trump supporters, like the silent Brexiteers of June, were missed by the polls only to vote in their millions.

Despite all the warning signs, neither result was supposed to happen.

It is Brexit Mark II.

The stark divide

The young and the university educated voted by large majorities for Mrs Clinton, just as in Britain they voted for EU membership.

The victims of globalisation, rightly aggrieved at having been ignored by the Democrat and Republican establishment alike, for a generation, voted for the anti-politics insurgent.

The ‘rust-belt’ states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and their white, blue-collar Americans - natural Democrats - backed Trump.

Of the various common dynamics at play, only the "whitelash" theory doesn’t translate quite so well to the June referendum.

While African-American and Hispanic voters overwhelming backed Clinton, Britain’s Asian and African communities actually tended to lean towards Brexit, in large part because of complaints that it was harder for them to get jobs and visas to the UK than migrants from eastern Europe.

It is no coincidence that Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, were among the first foreign politicians to congratulate him.

In particular, Farage who campaigned with Trump, speaking for him at the Republican National Convention, is now hoping Donald will give him a job.

On Friday (11 November) he joked that “I would quite like to be his ambassador to the European Union.” It’s not such an outlandish idea.

Yet Farage is not the only extremely pleased British right-winger.

UK possible big winner

Trump’s election is a huge fillip to those in the UK who campaigned for Brexit.

He is openly hostile towards the EU and, having backed the Brexit vote, warned that his presidency would offer "Brexit plus, plus, plus."

His antipathy to the trade deals with the Pacific countries and the EU also means that TTIP is now as dead as a dodo, while Britain would be ‘at the front of the queue’ to negotiate a trade deal with the US.

Suddenly the UK has more leverage in international trade talks and, perhaps, a slightly stronger hand to play in negotiations that will follow the triggering of Article 50 next March.

It is striking to compare the glum post-election reactions of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande with that of Boris Johnson, Theresa May’s foreign minister and jester-in-chief, who on Thursday called on "fellow Europeans to snap out of this doom and gloom and whinge-a-rama."

Lord Marland, David Cameron’s former trade envoy, thinks that a UK-US economic partnership would be an easy win for both May and Trump.

“Both countries will be looking for quick-fix partners post these events and I have no doubt that Trump, whose mother was born in Scotland ... will be looking very favourably on economic relationships with the UK,” he said on Friday.

Uncertainty is certain

There is an argument that Theresa May and her Brexit ministers are getting over excited about making friends with the new boy. But Trump’s victory vindicates their own campaign strategy.

Barack Obama was no more interested in Britain than he was in the rest of Europe.

It is no surprise to hear fellow Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith enthusing about the prospect of rebuilding the so-called ‘special relationship’ which has been "in the freezer now for about eight years".

If Trump’s election potentially alters the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU, it also poses a wider and more existential problem for the European Union.

The EU is, despite the intentions of Monnet and others, an elite construct, and the politics of elites is under serious attack.

In the meantime, the next target for the anti-politics insurgency must be France.

Only the very brave could now bet against Marine Le Pen becoming president next May.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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