In 2016, many analysts saw parallels between the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, casting both as victories for populist politics.
Four years on, Trump is up for re-election while Britain will leave the Brexit transition period at the end of the year. Those analysts now say Britain’s post-Brexit future could be closely tied with the outcome of the November 3 U.S. presidential election.
The British government is looking to the United States for a new trade deal to boost its economy. However, any hopes that such a deal would be quick and easy have faded rapidly, says Ian Bond of the Center for European Reform, in a recent interview.
“Trump has been a supporter of Brexit but I think the British government has realised by now from its trade negotiations with the U.S. that there is no free lunch. The more that the U.K. wants in terms of access to the America market, the more it’s going to have to give in terms of concessions on standards and the like,” Bond told VOA.
Nevertheless a victory by President Trump would be the best result for Britain as it leaves the EU, argues Robert Oulds, director of the Bruges Group, whose members include dozens of pro-Brexit lawmakers.
“There is one candidate in the U.S. presidential election who is committed to having a good trade deal with the United Kingdom, and that’s President Donald Trump. So this is really important to the U.K., it’s not just a matter of political preference. Jobs and opportunities really do rely in the U.K. on having Donald Trump as president of the United States,” Oulds told VOA.
British media reported this week that Boris Johnson’s Conservative government is trying to build relations with Trump’s challenger Joe Biden, a past critic of Brexit who is leading in the polls. Biden recently warned Britain there would be no U.S. trade deal if Brexit put peace in Northern Ireland at risk.
“The upside [to Biden] is more predictability in the relationship and a more favourable view to transatlantic institutions like NATO,” says analyst Ian Bond. “The downside with Biden is he has very strong links to Irish-American community, indeed he springs from the Irish-American community himself. Biden would probably take a much tougher line with the British on their obligations in the [EU] Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol than Trump would.”
Some moderate Conservative lawmakers are hoping for a Biden victory — including Daniel Finkelstein, a member of Britain’s upper House of Lords and associate editor of The Times of London newspaper.
“The things that drive the Trump vote are not the same as drove people to vote for Brexit. There are some parallels between those things. But America and Britain are very different countries,” Finkelstein said in a recent interview with VOA.
“I think it’s very important for the sort of health of conservatives that a more mainstream post-[WW II] Republicanism was able to reassert itself against this sort of rather disturbing populist Republicanism of Donald Trump. And his defeat I think will be part of the [British] Conservative party’s rediscovery of those sorts of values,” Finkelstein added.
Some allies fear Britain and the United States are have become more isolationist, according to Robert Gutsche Jr., a political analyst at Lancaster University.
“You have Brexit, there’s great uncertainty there. But you also have the United States pulling out of accords, pulling out of the World Health Organization, pulling out of other forms of international collaboration,” Gutsche told VOA.
Britain faces an uncertain Brexit amid the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The result of the U.S. election could have a big role on the country’s future direction as it tries to forge a new role in the world outside the European Union.