With Theresa May expected to head to Washington next week to see President Trump, I have a look at what the Trump presidency might mean for Brexit in my Sun column this morning. Despite his protectionist rhetoric, on full show again yesterday, Donald Trump is keen on a US / UK trade agreement. He has told people that he would like to get personally involved in negotiating the deal. I understand that his transition team has done more work on it than they have for any other agreement.
Squaring the circle between Trump’s protectionist rhetoric and his enthusiasm for a US / UK deal isn’t as hard as it first looks. The UK is not one of the low wage economies that Trump rails against the US doing deals with. It is hard to imagine that a trade deal with the UK would be seen to threaten job losses in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin—the states that delivered Trump the presidency. So, a US/UK trade deal during the Trump presidency does look possible.
One consequence of Trump’s election is that Britain is more important to Europe’s security than it has been for sixty odd years. His alarmingly ambivalent attitude to Nato and his desire for better relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia despite its actions, means that democratic European countries can be less sure of America’s protection than at any time since the founding of Nato.
The new president has also reversed US policy towards the EU. For sixty years, Washington has—often unthinkingly—supported European integration. But Trump has changed that; he and his team prefer strong nation states to big, supranational organisations. He talks about how other countries will follow the UK out of the EU and is planning to appoint a Brexit backer to be the US’s ambassador to the EU.
Trump’s hostility has rattled EU leaders. I understand that when Theresa May spoke to Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk after her Brexit speech on Tuesday, they both brought up Trump’s comments about other countries leaving the EU. They both stressed how pleased they were that May had made clear that she wanted the EU to succeed.
This has been a major factor in the constructive EU reaction to May’s speech; Tusk compared it to Churchill’s vision of Britain and Europe. It opens-up the possibility of a sensible Brexit deal. This would see Britain outside the EU but bolstering it on security as it tries to deal with the Islamist terrorist threat and Russian aggression. The relationship would be underpinned by continued, close trading links between the UK and the EU.
If Britain can secure free trade deals with both the US and the EU, then this country would have a real chance to secure a more prosperous future for itself.