What would a Trump win mean for the UK?

A Trump return which not so long ago felt inconceivable, feels like peering into a deep abyss which could have a profound impact on Britain.

Right-Wing Watch

If we thought things were pretty dire in Britian politically, they have to be a damn sight more dysfunctional in the US. The prospect of a man whose turbulent time in the White House tested the resilience of democratic US institutions, threatened alliances abroad, and concluded in absurd claims of a ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen’ election, securing a second term, is as unfathomable as it is terrifying. Yet the latest polling shows the former Republican president, who is juggling campaigning for the White House with several potentially explosive legal battles, has a slight edge against Democratic President Joe Biden in swing states. And it is these states that are likely to decide the outcome of the November 5 vote.

A Trump return which not so long ago felt inconceivable, feels like peering into a deep abyss which could have a profound impact on Britain, both at a direct and indirect level. More disturbingly still with a second term promising to be even more autocratic than the first, with Trump declaring he intends to be even more vengeful, it’s “time to start making contingency plans,” as the Independent’s associate editor Sean O’Grady warned.

A threat to UK security

Trump has long made his opposition towards NATO public. “I don’t give a shit about NATO,” he famously yelled at his national security adviser John Bolton. Given his deep antagonism towards the mutual defence treaty, Trump 2.0 would be ‘problematic’ for the UK’s national security, warns Richard Dearlove, former head of the UK’s secret intelligence service.

With the war in Ukraine, NATO has become increasingly important on the world stage, with the current president, Joe Biden, giving it his backing. Trump though, wouldn’t need to pull out of the alliance to effectively bring it to an end, as Politico informs in an article on ‘How a second Trump presidency could tear Europe apart. In February, the former president called into question Washington’s adherence to NATO’s Article 5 mutual defence provision. Article 5 requires allies to rally in support if one of its members is attacked. Trump declared he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO members that weren’t spending enough on defence.

A Trump re-election and the prospect of a fundamental change for NATO, whether he decided to withdraw from it or not, for Dearlove, poses as a major political threat to Britain’s national security.

“We’ve put all our eggs in defence terms in the NATO basket. If Trump really is serious about, as it were, changing the balance, I mean the American nuclear umbrella for Europe is, in my view, essential to Europe’s security and defence,” the former MI6 boss told Sky News.

Brexit and Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda

The eradication of a trans-Atlantic defence alliance would mimic the madness of Brexit.  As an EU official said, a second Trump presidency is set to be just like 2016, “But at the same time, so much worse.”

On trade, the Republican candidate has made no secret of his proposal to revive his “America First” agenda. With the aim to incentivise American domestic production, treble the US government’s intake, and target the European Union, which Trump not only dislikes, but, first time round set out to destroy,  is a proposed 10 percent tariff increase on all imported goods. As the European economy depends heavily on exports to the US, Trump’s return strikes fear into the heart of Brussels. “It’s on everyone’s mind: what if the elections go the wrong way?” an EU trade diplomat told Politico.

Yet for Britain, securing a UK/US trade deal, hyped as the king of post-Brexit prizes but which has which has managed to elude Joe Biden, Trump, and a string of UK Conservative prime ministers, will be “a priority” if Trump wins a second term this autumn. Brushing aside questions about past failures to secure the elusive trade deal, Robert Greenway, former deputy assistant to the president on Trump’s National Security Council told Politico’s Power Play podcast that he is thinking it’s in “both of our interests to do so.”

On April 8, Foreign Secretary David Cameron had dinner with Trump in Florida, before heading to Washington.  According to the Trump campaign, the pair discussed the upcoming US and UK elections and Brexit policy. Cameron also urged Congress to sign off on extra help for Ukraine in its war against Russia, following months of gridlock over the $60 billion package.

“This was [the meeting] entirely in line with precedent of government ministers meeting with opposition politicians in the run-up to elections,” said Cameron.

But with Labour flying high in the polls, the prospect of a Trump administration dealing with a government led by Keir Starmer, looks more probable. However, envisioning a UK/US trade deal negotiated between Starmer and Trump is more difficult to see than one struck between a Trump administration and Rishi Sunak. Making such a scenario even more unlikely, were the words of Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds earlier this year, that Labour has “no appetite” to lower food standards for US exporters.

If Sunak sticks to his “working assumption” of an autumn election, it will be the first time since 1964 that UK and US voters will have gone to the polls in parallel. If a concurrent trans-Atlantic election battle took place, UK prime ministerial candidates would no doubt have to answer how they would work with a “Trump presidency 2.0.” This could prove more problematic for Keir Starmer, whose more liberal values contrast sharply to the Republican’s, and whose core voters would be likely to resent any suggestion that a Labour government may work with Trump.

Yet Labour’s leader seems to have already softened his tone on Trump. Speaking to the BBC’Political Thinking podcast in September, Starmer said of a potential Trump presidency:

  “We have to make it work. That doesn’t mean that … we would agree on everything, but we have to make it work.”

Of course, a Starmer/Trump alliance wouldn’t be the first seemingly incompatible UK/US ‘special relation.’ Following the 9/11 attack, Tony Blair developed a close alliance with Republican president George W. Bush. This alliance played a leading role in supporting the Iraq war, something which of course many on the Left of the Labour party have never forgiven Blair for and led to his characterisation as ‘Bush’s poodle’.

A simultaneous UK and US election race would possibly see common themes raised on both sides of the Atlantic, such as migration. Candidates are likely to get quizzed on Trump’s extreme anti-immigration rhetoric. This could prove more challenging for Sunak, who has made ‘stopping the boats’ a key promise but will not want to be drawn too deeply into a dangerous migrant narrative. The PM could find himself at odds with a number of right-wing Trump-supporting figures in the party, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss.

“Trump polarises the argument so much, it makes those more culturally conservative positions quite risky,” says James Johnson, of JL partners, who was head of polling for Theresa May.

Just this week, Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister was back in the US, where she can’t seem to get enough of the radical right. The ‘Trump fangirl’, as the Guardian’s Washington correspondent David Smith named her, was promoting her new book at one of her favourite haunts it seems – the Heritage Foundation. The former PM obviously feels at home at the influential Washington-based think-tank, where she’s seemingly adored by some for ‘going all Trumpy,’ as she wages war on the ‘global left.’ Truss’s round of book promos in the US followed her UK promotional tour last week, where she told the media that it “has to be” Trump in the White House, and that “the world was safer” when the Republican was in power.

The right-wing Tory MPs who welcome a Trump return conflict with more centrist figures like Jeremy Hunt, who warned that a return to US protectionism would be a “profound mistake,” and Alicia Kearns, chair of the foreign affairs committee, who referred to a Trump re-election as ‘completely mind-blowing.’ This would leave Sunak, who somewhere deep down seems to have a preference for traditional conservatism, in an awkward position (not that he’s not used to those).

Then there is Reform UK, which is threatening to snatch seats from the ruling party. With a deputy leader who suggested this week that migrants should be left to drown in the Channel by the UK, the right-wing anti-immigration party would have no scruples in endorsing Trump’s harsh position on the likes of immigration, which, again, could prove problematic for Sunak. On Question Time last week in Buxton, Reform’s leader Richard Tice incited laughter from the audience, when he said that the “world was a much safer place than it is now” when Donald Trump was president, which at least suggests that right wing narratives don’t always play out as they expect with electors.

Green transition

Reform UK also shares Trump’s resistance to green transition. The party plans to make scrapping the UK’s Net Zero climate targets central to their UK general election pitch, in a bid to pocket climate-sceptic voters. And it is the fate of climate action which is one of the most worrying prospects about a Trump second term.   
Trump has previously called human-caused climate change a “hoax,” and  attacked “draconian climate rules.” In his first term, he pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, rolled back environmental regulations, and unleashed oil and gas drilling. A second Trump presidency promises to be even more detrimental to the global fight against climate change. According to Republican policy advisors he would take the axe to Biden’s climate agenda, expand gas, coal and oil development, end the pause on new LNG (liquefied natural gas) export permits, scrap electric vehicle mandates, and withdraw the US from an UN pact to fight global warming.

Meanwhile in Britain, Starmer has touted climate action as the UK’s ‘single biggest opportunity.’ In its Green Transformation: Labour’s Environment Policy document, the party states that ‘tackling climate change will one of labour’s most important tasks in government.’ If Trump was to withdraw from international agreements on climate change, it would represent a significant set-back to Labour’s environmental ambitions.

For the global fight against climate change, a Republican win in November and the reversal of Biden’s energy policies, would add an extra four billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to the atmosphere. This roughly equates to the combined annual emissions of the European Union and Japan.

When it comes to epic election battles like the forthcoming 2024 presidential race, you tend to think that good will eclipse bad, and voters will see sense when they’re in the ballot box. But as we can remember from the gut-wrenching feeling on the morning after the EU referendum, shock results are never far away. For Britain, a victory for Donald Trump would present an enormous challenge for the so-called ‘special relationship’ with the US. For the world, a vengeful Trump left off the leash, would be simply dangerous.

Right-Wing Media Watch – Tory press glorifies the passing of a clearly inhumane and tragic bill

Rishi Sunak is “finally throwing some punches,” exalted the Daily Mail, following the passing of the Rwanda bill this week. The controversial deportation bill was finally given the green light after the House of Lords gave up the fight with MPs over amending the legislation.

The newspaper devoted its frontpage to the story, screaming: ‘Sunak vows… Enough is enough! We’re ready for Rwanda lift-off.’ The story delighted in repeating the PM’s brags that the planes have already been booked, and migrants will soon be detained ahead of the deportation due to take place in “10 to 12 weeks.”

The Telegraph also made the Rwanda passing its lead story, boasting how Sunak set aside “150 judges and 25 courts to get flights off the ground by the summer.”

Conservative Home however, expressed more caution. ‘Spoiler alert: the Rwanda policy will not stop the boats,” wrote assistant editor William Atkinson, who argued that even if flights take off, the “crossings will continue, and get worse under Labour, whether they cancel the scheme or not.”

ConHome deputy editor Henry Hill took this cynical or maybe realistic position further, arguing that the electorate will punish Sunak for staking his premiership on Rwanda. Hill compared the Rwanda farce to David Cameron’s pre-Brexit failure, arguing that Sunak has fallen into the same trap of arguing for something that they cannot deliver on.

“Voters don’t grade politicians on effort, they judge by results,” wrote Hill.

Tragically, within hours of ministers passing the bill, five people, including a child, died as they attempted to cross the Channel in a small boat. The right-wing press immediately jumped on the tragedy, using it to score political points.

‘Lords and Labour should hang your heads in shame over today’s migrant tragedy,’ the Express splashed.

“The truth is both Labour and the Lords tried to wreck this bill because they’re terrified it might actually have worked, that it would have acted as a deterrent. Because who’d pay a trafficker £4,000 knowing they could be dispatched to Rwanda the minute they set foot on British soil?” preached commentator Caroline Malone.

What stands out for me in the national conversation about the Rwanda plan is the lack of empathy, or indeed conversation, about the stories of the migrants who risk everything to reach Britain, and indeed their fate if they are forced to board a plane with a one-way ticket to the densely populated, land-locked east-central African nation.

Both Radio 4 and Victoria Derbyshire invited migrants to speak on their shows this week, who confirmed that the Rwanda policy will not act as a deterrent.

In reality, the only way to stop such tragedies is to create safe new routes to Britain, as humanitarian groups have long been calling for, calls which are being ramped up following the Rwanda legislation being given the green light.

“Waking up to news of men, women and a child dying in such a harrowing way is devastating. This was entirely preventable,” said Wanda Wyporska, chief executive officer at Safe Passage International.

“This loss of life comes just hours after the government ruthlessly pushed through the cruel Rwanda bill. It won’t disrupt the smugglers’ grip on dangerous journeys, with refugees suffering for this government’s failures. We need safe routes, such as a refugee visa, urgently,” Wyporska continued.

The challenges migrants are likely to face when arriving in Rwanda are also broadly missing from the narrative of the pro-Rwanda bill, anti-migrant Right.

With an unemployment crisis, brutal suppression of opposition and unlawful invasion into neighbouring DRC, Rwanda is ‘not a safe country for refugees,’ as Margaret Owen, president of Widows for Peace
Through Democracy has explained.

Following the parliamentary passing of the bill, the UN, the Council of Europe, human rights groups, and the medical community, all condemned the move, labelling it an inhuman piece of legislation that endangers crucial medical care for some of the most vulnerable people.’

What is really strange, perverse almost, is that the right-wing media which spends so much time in wrapping itself in the flag and decries those who take a more critical perspective on British history, persistently denigrate, deny and undermine our role in helping to create the worldwide humanitarian agencies and treaties which sprang out of the second world war. It is a strangely selective patriotism that they espouse.

Woke-Bashing of the Week – New report suggests voters are not buying into culture war ‘smear’ tactics

‘Woke Gen Z bin Adidas shoes after Nigel Farage’s hilarious video’ splashed the Express this week. For context, many TikTok users decided to ditch their Adidas Gazelle trainers after Farage donned a pair on the video sharing channel.

The ‘woke’ loathing newspaper obviously hasn’t seen a new report that confirms voters in Britain are frustrated with culture war tactics.

The ‘Backfire: Culture Wars and the General Election’ report was compiled by the More in Common think-tank and commissioned by 38 Degrees. The research is aimed at understanding how ordinary voters react about culture war tactics and narratives being employed by political leaders, and when reactionary campaign leaflets come through their letterboxes.

The research analysed the responses of 2,000 voters in three different focus groups who were shown culture war campaigns and neutral political messages. It found that the public were more likely to throw campaigns adverts that focused on culture war messages instead of local issues ‘in the bin.’

The study confirmed that as most voters are cynical about politicians’ rationale for exploiting cultural issues for political gain, with many seeing such attempts as ‘unauthentic,’ there is a ‘very real risk that using culture wars will backfire electorally.’

Instead of cries to ‘protect our children from drag queens,’ and ‘save us from the woke blob,’ voters would respond much more positively to receiving leaflets from parliamentary candidates that promise to deal with bread-and-butter issues, such as saving the high street, job creation, or fixing potholes, the report found.

The foreword of the report notes how ‘a glance at the headlines on any given day shows the increasing regularity with which culture wars are being employed by politicians – from across the ideological spectrum – as a campaign tactic.’

Perhaps the binning of aggressive campaigning leaflets, such as those resembling penalty notices but contain incorrect claims that Sadiq Khan has committed to implement pay-per-mile road charging that have littered London of late, will be accompanied with the newspapers that back the US-style culture war stoking nonsense?

We can live in hope.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

Comments are closed.