At a recent discussion in the House of Commons hosted by the Bow Group, one particular question peaked my interest. This question — and the one on which the entire event focused — was whether Donald Trump’s presidency would be advantageous or not to Britain.
At this event, the relative merits of Trump’s attitudes towards the United Kingdom were debated, and what certainly became clear was the fact that his presidency already presents a marked contrast to that of his predecessor’s. Obama’s relationship with the United Kingdom was not, shall we say, one of brotherly love. As President, he infamously moved a bust of Winston Churchill out of the Oval Office. His advisors did not take the historic and strategic relationship very seriously, describing it as “unrequited”.
Obama’s preferred European partner was instead the German Chancellor Angela Merkel — naming her at the end of his time in office as “my closest international partner these last eight years”.
By comparison, Trump is far more conciliatory. He moved the Churchill bust back into the White House, he has personal and business ties to the UK, and — crucially — he has expressed support for a post-Brexit free trade deal.
However, there is still much to be considered when it comes to “the Donald”. Although a beneficial trade deal is supposedly on the cards, one must not forget his tendency to play hardball – his “free and fair trade” motto does not entail a straightforward agreement, rather a patchwork of negotiations designed to score “wins” for America. It would be unwise to assume that he would abandon his protectionist leanings for the sake of a partnership that is symbolic as much as practical.
In terms of interpersonal relations, we still benefit from having a Conservative government. The bulk of the Conservative Party is not outwardly hostile to President Trump, and despite a mood of discomfort, there is ultimately a desire to work with him.
The same most certainly cannot be said for the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn denounced Trump as “dangerous and inhumane”, and spoke out against May’s “red carpet treatment” which she displayed for his arrival. Numerous Labour MPs such as David Lammy are actively protesting his visit, taking part in the Stop Trump Coalition.
There is clearly a vocal segment of the British population that disagrees with much of what President Trump is implementing in America, and it is only right that they are allowed to make their grievances clear.
However, what I would caution against is forgetting what the man represents — he is the democratically elected head of state of the United States. And it is in the UK’s best interest to reach out to his government and maintain the partnership which has delivered mutual benefit in the past. In the Trump era, the special relationship can only prevail when there are conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic – today’s Labour Party is not the same as the one from past years.
Nevertheless, at this moment there is a golden opportunity to achieve lasting goals with a president that is willing to work with Britain. Bilateral trade has grown between the US and UK in recent years, with our exports to America at over £51B per annum. Indeed, Trump’s tax cuts for businesses may allow them to expand and hopefully set up shop in here in Britain.
The decision to leave the European Union means that we are, in a sense, going into the world on our own, which inevitably brings uncertainty as much as it does opportunity. It is now up to us to choose our allies and partners carefully. Sure, we can maintain strong relations with Europe – but outside the EU, we will be obliged to reach out across the globe.
So, keeping a strong relationship with the United States is vital. After all, which other major power aligns so closely with the values and interests of the UK? China? Russia? It makes sense from a practical standpoint to maintain the special relationship now more than ever, even if that means having to deal with confidently controversial, highly outspoken, unpredictable heads of state.
Ultimately, it is true that President Trump has his own agenda – an America First policy intended to give his voters faith in the democratic process. However, he seems receptive to restoring and enhancing the special relationship over the course of his presidency, particularly after Brexit. I say we try and get the most we can out of his fondness for us – American presidents are only around for two terms, after all.
Jack M. McClure is a student and Editor of Barrister not Barista.