Big Question: Is Donald Trump’s election good news for Britain?

A panel of contributors share their views

November 11, 2016
©Richard Drew/AP/Press Association Images
©Richard Drew/AP/Press Association Images

On Tuesday, Donald Trump pulled off a stunning upset. The President Elect defied the polls—and dozens of critics within his own party—to win a likely 306 electoral votes. Hillary Clinton is on course to win 232.

During the course of his campaign, Trump made a series of highly controversial claims, declaring that there should be a ban on Muslims entering the United States—and that a wall should be built across the entire Southern border. Whether he will deliver on these promises remains to be seen.

But while coverage of Trump has been negative, that does not necessarily mean his presidency is bad news for Britain. Indeed, when Barack Obama said that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” if it left the European Union, Trump spoke out against the president’s comment. In a phone call yesterday, Trump told Theresa May the UK is a “very, very special place.” The “special relationship” may be in for a boost.

Others argue Trump is unfit for office—and that Britain, or even the west as a whole, is about to face the consequences. A panel of experts battle it out below.

The best of both worlds

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard in Washington, DC

Whether or not it is good for America, Donald Trump’s election is very good for Britain. If you want to understand what Trump thinks on most issues, ask what the US consensus was in the middle of the Kennedy administration. Trump considers Britain America’s constitutional parent and closest ally. Period. No pivots, no variable geometries, no coalitions of the willing.

No “back of the queue,” either. Britain gets closer relations with the world’s top military, diplomatic and economic power—along with a mighty bargaining chip in post-Brexit Single Market negotiations with the European Union.

The Iraq War debacle shows that closer transatlantic relations can come at a steep price. But in the battle for the Republican Party’s nomination, Trump stood against 16 other candidates in calling George W Bush’s war a “disaster.” To Britons who fear a repeat, he would seem to offer the best of both worlds.

Let’s work with Europe

Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute

Trump’s election should remind the UK and the EU just how much they have in common, and how much—in both values and interests—Britain is still fundamentally a European country. By working with EU partners to develop a common response to Trump, putting its considerable diplomatic muscle behind the task, the government can mobilise more support for its efforts to soften the economic pain of Brexit. It should avoid the temptation to defer to an assertive new Republican President, the costs of which were demonstrated most clearly over the Iraq War. An important test will come if Trump decides to press ahead with withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal without agreement from the other signatories (who include the UK, France and Germany). Britain has a key role to play in preventing such damaging steps. It can do this best by working closely with EU allies.

Silver lining, orange cloud

Robert Singh is a professor of politics at Birkbeck

Only in the way it’s good for a Death Row inmate to receive a comforting swab before the syringe administering the lethal injection. The silver lining on the orange cloud is that a UK-US trade deal is marginally more likely, if Trump isn’t impeached or imprisoned before 2018/19. But its value will be diminished by the global recession Trump’s protectionism could induce, the potential shattering of NATO and trans-atlanticism (fuelled by the Vladimir Putin “bromance” and Jean-Claude Juncker’s Euro army), and fatally catastrophic crisis management from North Korea to Iran. Still, select UK beneficiaries include comedians, cartoonists, Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins, estate agents selling to American asylum seekers, manufacturers of red power ties and anti-depressants, whoever first hits pay-dirt with That’s Why The (First) Lady is a Trump, and the Queen—eagerly anticipating a State Banquet (taco salad, burgers, diet coke).

Clashes are inevitable

Thomas Raines, Europe Programme Manager at Chatham House 

Successive British governments have placed the relationship with the United States at the heart of UK foreign policy. Although closer at some times than others, the relationship has generally been strong regardless of the occupants of the White House and No. 10.

Some, mostly of a Brexit persuasion, seem to welcome Trump’s victory as a boost for Britain. Trump is the Brexit champion who will ride to Britain’s rescue with a free trade deal. He will repair relationships with Russia damaged by the EU’s unnecessary provocations in Ukraine. Farage and co probably view Trump anxiety as a scion of “Project Fear.”

Such thinking is deluded. Trump’s stated foreign policy positions are in opposition to much that the UK has worked for. He is against the Iran deal the UK helped to negotiate. He is against the Paris climate deal that the UK supports. He may drop sanctions on Russia which the UK has fought for in the EU. And as for a bilateral trade deal, Trump has just run an anti-trade campaign: anti-TTP, anti-NAFTA, anti WTO. May’s free trading aspirations rely on an essentially protectionist American president. If Trump’s foreign policy follows his campaign rhetoric, clashes are inevitable.