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Brexiters shouldn’t toast Trump just yet

by Alan Wheatley | 11.11.2016

Brexiters can’t believe their luck. In Donald Trump they now have a like-minded populist-nativist in the White House who they think will help the UK cut a better deal with the EU and put us at the front of the queue for a free trade pact. The president-elect even called Theresa May before Angela Merkel! Oh joy.

“I’ll help you ditch the EU” was Friday’s headline in The Express. Why not crown the revival of the special relationship by sending UKIP leader Nigel Farage to Washington as our ambassador, the Telegraph mused?

Before Brexiters crack open the English sparkling wine, they need to explain how some of Trump’s key election promises serve the UK’s interests. Here are four.

Trade. Trump has risen to power in good part by blaming free trade for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. He has called the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada the worst trade deal the US has ever signed. He has promised to slap 45% tariffs on imports from China and threatened to walk out of the World Trade Organisation. It could be campaign bluster, but it could also herald a new era of protectionism reminiscent of the 1930s. If trade barriers go up around the world and globalisation is in retreat, how does that help the UK to prise open new markets to make up for the loss of membership of the single market?

Iran. A signature achievement of President Obama’s term of office was the international agreement to lift most sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran’s suspending its programme to develop nuclear weapons. Trump has called the pact the worst deal ever negotiated and vowed to tear it up. If he means what he says, Iran is likely to resume work on a nuclear bomb, which could lead to a new war in the Middle East. How many more economic migrants and refugees would then head for Europe? How would Britain’s security be enhanced?

Nato. Trump has accused the alliance of freeriding on America’s huge military spending and mused that it might not honour its treaty obligation to come to the collective defence of a Nato member. You might have thought that this open invitation to Vladimir Putin to flex Russia’s muscles in eastern Europe would ring alarm bells, especially after his annexation of Crimea. On the contrary. Crispin Blunt, the Conservative MP who chairs the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, argues that Europe will be forced instead to turn to the UK to deter Russia, strengthening our hand in Brexit talks with the EU. Leaving that wishful thinking to one side, how would the UK be a safer, more secure country if Trump turns his back on Nato?

Climate change. Trump has called global warming a hoax perpetrated by China. If so, it failed to fool world governments, which have ratified in record time last December’s Paris agreement to limit the rise in global temperature to less than 2 degrees centigrade. Trump cannot cancel the Paris deal but he can block measures to implement the plan in the US. “If Trump steps back from that, it makes it much less likely that the world will ever meet that target, and essentially ensures we will head into the danger zone,” Professor Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the New York Times. How would the prospect of rising sea waters and ever more droughts and floods, to say nothing of the eventual threat to the planet itself, serve British interests?

It would be as foolish to assume that Trump will carry out all his campaign pledges as it was to dismiss his chances of beating Hillary Clinton. But Brexiters should be careful what they wish for. There is every chance they will marry in haste and repent at leisure.

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Edited by Jane Macartney